Alternatives to College: Trade School, Bootcamp and More

Plenty of good jobs don't require a bachelor's degree — or any degree. It's worth exploring apprenticeships, certificates and associate degrees before you commit to a 4-year college.

4-year College Alternatives and Career Training Programs

Frequently asked questions about college alternatives

Plan your career path

These are by no means the only college alternatives. You can also enlist in the military, start a business or get an entry-level job to earn money while learning what you enjoy and are good at.

How to pay for career training

If you decide you need any schooling:

  • Submit the FAFSA first. The first step is submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA, to see what federal grants, work-study, scholarships and student loans you qualify for.

  • Consider federal loans before private ones. If you must take out student loans, exhaust your federal options before borrowing private student loans, because federal loans have more borrower protections.

  • Be cautious about financing programs. If you attend a private technical school, you may find the school offers its own loan programs or the equivalent of a "buy now, pay later" financing option. Use these with caution since rates may be much higher than federal student loans.

Student Loan Reviews

Federal Student Loans Review: Subsidized and Unsubsidized Direct Loans


NerdWallet rating 
Federal direct student loans don’t require credit or income to apply. They are the most widely used college lending option.

Ascent Bootcamp Loans Review

Ascent provides loans to pay for approved tech bootcamps and career training programs. The loans may also cover living expenses.

Sallie Mae Private Student Loans Review

Sallie Mae offers flexible repayment options and is one of the only lenders serving part-time students.

Job training options

Consider setting your sights on jobs that will be most in demand in the future. Not the sci-fi “hotel concierge on Mars” future, but the next-decade future. The best jobs for the future are ones that are expected to grow and pay well between now and 2030.

Want a more traditional college experience?
A bachelor's degree is usually worth the cost — if you graduate and are able to pay back your debt.