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Here are four alternatives to a four-year degree program (from US News)

1. Earn a certificate: “In this economy you have to demonstrate some sort of aptitude in a particular area. If it’s not with a college degree, then some sort of postsecondary education is still required and important,” says Lateefah Durant, officer of college and career readiness and innovative programs for Prince George’s County Public Schools.

Community colleges offer more than a cheaper path to a four-year degree. Students can earn certifications in various industries, some high-paying, and get to work in less time than it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree.

[Read about four degrees that are better to earn at a community college.]

2. Try an apprenticeship: Students who want to get paid while they learn a trade in an in-demand field that can lead to a high-paying job should consider apprenticeships. The length of an apprenticeship varies and in some cases trainees have the opportunity to earn an associate or bachelor’s degree, without the student debt.

“I have paid you a full salary. I’ve given health care. I’ve given you a 401(k). I’ve given you a skill set that you can clearly take anywhere in this country because it’s highly sought after and I don’t require you, if you left the day after graduation, to pay me back,” says Bill Ermatinger, corporate vice president and chief human resources officer at Huntington Ingalls Industries, a shipbuilding corporation that owns two apprentice schools.

The programs can be competitive. Ermatinger says that he receives more than 10,000 applications to fill about 480 spots.

[Learn more about the ins and outs of apprenticeships.]

3. Join the military: The military is another way for students to get specialized training in a wide range of fields and free or reduced education.

“The military provides superb training in various areas,” says PGCPS’ Durant. “The military gives candidates an assessment to help them find the best fit. Following your service that training is something that you carry with you for the rest of your life.”

Some high schools offer JROTC programs, which can give students some insight into military life and procedure.

4. Consider a gap year: Dale Stephens, 23, dropped out during his freshman year of college.

“I ended up being really frustrated with my college experience because I found that most people who were there really didn’t have a lot of intention as to why they were there. They wanted to be told what to do, and there wasn’t really a lot of freedom to have agency or choice in what I was learning,” he says.

Stephens was in the first class of the Thiel Fellowship, which gives participants a grant to focus on work, research and education outside of a university. After he dropped out of college, Stephens wrote about his experiences on his blog, landed a book deal and developed UnCollege, an organization that teaches participants practical skills to help them with personal and professional growth. His goal is to teach young adults the skills that they need to be functioning and successful self-learners so they can advance in any path they choose, even if that’s college.

[Determine how a gap year can make a student successful.]

Organizations like the Thiel Fellowship and UnCollege can be a great way for teens to explore their interests before they commit to a path. But with limited space, the programs can be competitive.

5. Have you ever considering being an exchange student? If so, consider checking out Greenheart International at

Gilbert Community School District

Gilbert Community School District

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