You’ve probably heard the spiel about college. Whether it’s “College is an important investment for your future”, or “You won’t be able to find a job if you don’t go to college,” the point of most conversations is that college is vital for your success. However, it’s important to note that college isn’t always the best option for students, especially considering that there are still a variety of opportunities available.

Before we begin, let me make something clear: graduating from high school is essential. Without a high school diploma, finding suitable employment is difficult. I personally hold no preference over the different options students can undertake after high school graduation as long as the student has a concrete plan in their mind. Therefore, as you read this article, take in consideration the different consequences that may arise from your choices.

Why No College?

Here’s the question: Why do some high school graduates not to attend college? There are numerous reasons, but I’m going to synthesize these into a list of more prominent ones students give.

1. College is too expensive. Unfortunate, but true. When you begin your search for the right college, or even when you are accepted, you eventually come to realize the expenses that follow a post-secondary education. While a majority of low-income students receive a large enough financial aid package to attend, there are some who lack the resources to discover the opportunities to apply for financial aid. On the other hand, students in the middle-class who are expected to pay quite a bit are in a financial bind. Once decision day arrives, most of the students from each group are unable to finance for college and end up declining their admission.

2. College isn’t right for me. For some, college just doesn’t feel like the suitable choice. I can say from personal experience that college wasn’t even on my mind freshman or sophomore year. Occurrences like this for students may be caused by factors ranging from socioeconomic background to the academic setting, but in general there are usually reasons why students may feel this way. In addition, there are a handful of students who already have a plan for their future, whether it may be vocational training or military service.

3. College just isn’t an option for me right now. Students with extenuated circumstances are put into a difficult situation where they must decide between two or more possible choices. Whether it’s taking care of family member(s) or constant traveling, there are some instances where attending college seems close to impossible. Although they may have aspirations, external factors present in their lives prevent them from achieving such goals.

4. My grades aren’t good enough to get into college. Students feeling like their academic performance prevents them from attending college is another issue. However, grades may not truly reflect students’ true potential, and this self-conscious feeling could potentially be a permanent setback. Students who believe they are not “smart” enough to go to college may even choose not to enter the college application process at all.

The list goes on. While I wasn’t able to (and will never be able to) list everything, the point is that there are legitimate reasons for not attending college. This prompts the question, what do people do if they don’t go to college?

Weighing Your Options

So what are the options available for high school graduates? To break things down, I’ve included a few options a lot of people take:

  1. Military Service (Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy)
  2. Workforce Employment
  3. Gap Year
  4. Internship/Apprenticeship
  5. Self-Employment

Military Service

In terms of military service, it’s always a good idea to look ahead. Try to speak with a recruiter for the specific branch you intend on enlisting in, and learn more about the requirements (including assessment testing) and application before training begins. Joining the military not only gives you the opportunity to serve our nation but also gives educational benefits for those who are a part of the United States Armed Forces. The best way to find out more information is to go on each branch’s official website or speaking directly with a recruiter.

Workforce employment doesn’t follow a specific guideline besides being a part of the workforce. What happens is that students either are already working since high school and continue working or seek another place of employment now that they have earned their high school diploma. Although not all job applications require resumes, it’s nice to have one already prepared if needed.

Gap Year

There are two different interpretations of taking a gap year. The first involves having the student apply to the college their senior year and then choosing to not to enter that college (which has already accepted them) until the following year. The second involves students who do not apply to any colleges their senior year and then choosing to apply for colleges the following year. I will be referring to the second interpretation. You may decide to not attend college right after you graduate, but what if you want to the following year? Taking a gap year is sometimes helpful for people feeling burnt out immediately following high school. However, taking a gap year does bring up the problem of graduates forgetting the material they learned from the year before. It should be noted though that taking a gap year can sometimes get expensive and that you should be prepared to have some sort of plan at least before the summer (the summer you graduate) ends. Take note that you are still bound to fulfill the requirements of the college.

Internships and Apprenticeships

Internships and apprenticeships usually require students to apply before the end of senior year, but can be available throughout the year. These give graduates the opportunity to get hands-on experience with the type of work they’re interested in. It’s helpful for graduates to learn the basic skills they need for employment, but most of the time internships and apprenticeships are unpaid. There are, though, programs offered that pay you. You just have to find them!


Self-employment is something not commonly spoken of. From creating new innovations to developing your own business, anything is possible as long as you dedicate time and effort. However, most of the time self-employment isn’t the best idea as it can get quite expensive (especially if you choose not to work) and there’s a chance everything may not work out. The best advice I can give is to give yourself financial stability before you begin venturing off.

Additional Tips and Advice

  1. Have a plan. If you don’t have one after graduation, life is going to be rough.
  2. If you’re unsure about whether or not you want to attend college, try taking a class or two at a local community college. Not only are costs much lower, but you‘ll also be able to decide whether or not college is right for you.
  3. Keep an open mind. Don’t jump to conclusions too quickly or make rash choices you may regret. Take your time and explore your options.
  4. Prepare for change. What if you suddenly decide to attend college? You don’t want to be that person who’s rushing to take the SAT or ACT at the last minute.
  5. Stay calm. It’s perfectly normal to be unsure. Time may not be on your side, but rushing yourself isn’t going to help either. Relax, take a few deep breathes, and continue researching.
  6. Never sell yourself short. Believe in yourself and what you have to offer.

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the author

Raised in the outskirts of Austin, Texas, Eric Po is a freshman at Harvard University studying Economics. He loves listening to country music (particularly Rascal Flatts and Brad Paisley), but you can’t blame him; he’s a Texan after all! He also enjoys outdoor activities, including soccer, running, and Ultimate. While he’s not sweating outside in the heat, Eric enjoys volunteering for nonprofit organizations that work with youth. Although he hopes to be a financial analyst in the future, he eventually wants to work with students as a counselor.

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