What if I don’t want to go to college? Exploring Alternative Paths

Senior year of high school can be incredibly stressful. Everyone talking about SATs and college applications. But maybe you don’t want to go to college. Let’s look at the options.

No one must go to college. There are plenty of options available if a four-year degree is not for you.

Don't Want to Go To College

It’s understandable that not everyone wants to go to college. But with everyone talking about it, especially teachers and parents. How do you tell everyone it’s not for you?

Why do you not want to go?

All through high school, someone has held your hand. Led the way. High school has nothing but structure. And now, here you are, senior year, and the very last thing you want to do is go on for another four years. We have to understand why this is before we make any huge decisions.

Don’t like school

Surprising as it may seem to teachers and parents, some kids just don’t like school. It’s not a lazy thing. Many kids that don’t like school actually achieve high grades. But school is not for everyone and for these, college just doesn’t seem to be an option. You may hate the structure of school life. Class after class, studying items you have no interest in. But remember college is different. You attend classes you are genuinely interested in. And they usually are not 9-3/4 all day, every day.

Pressurized by parent

Lots of kids go to college because their parents insist on it. They have worked hard to ensure you get the best education possible and can’t understand why you don’t want to go.

They see a college education as the key to the best future for you. And in a way they are correct. Going to college certainly increases your chances of higher future earnings in specific areas and the ability to apply for certain jobs. But going to college to pacify or please your parents is not a good idea.

The dropout rate for freshmen is about 30%. I see this with our daughter’s class. She is a sophomore and yes about a third of her freshman class has already gone. And there are a few more that are not going to go the distance through lack of interest. Going to college is most certainly a choice that needs to be a personal decision.


Maybe the reason you are reluctant to go is because of finances. This, regrettably is the reason why many don’t go. There is financial aid but sometimes it is simply not enough to cover all the costs. The thought of putting an extra financial burden on parents might feel like too much.

My post; Accepted to college but can’t afford it may be a good read.

Talk to Counsellors

Depending on your reason, I would advise you to talk to as many people as possible. That’s not to say you will change your mind about going to college, but it is important to have all the facts available before you commit to any decision.

Counselors are there for that reason. They know that college is not for everyone, but they also don’t want you to just drop off the world. You have managed to get to your senior year of high school which, to be honest, is a great achievement in itself. Every year about 25% of high school kids fail to graduate either on time or at all. 7 thousand kids per day drop out. That is a whopping 1.2 million per year (dosomething.org)

There are so many different routes now available as an alternative to the traditional college degree. School teachers and counselors are your best first option to chat about this. It is also important to keep your parents informed and in the loop. Maybe you have siblings already in college. Chat with them about how you are feeling.

Seek out friends of your parents or parents of friends who didn’t go to college. Discuss what route they took. Are they happy with their choice? Did they regret not going? Or are they happy that they chose a different course? Are they financially stable? These are all important, viable questions. Get a good cross-section of people. Don’t see it as people trying to change your mind but as getting an overall view of what not going to college will look like for your future.

What are the college alternatives?

The world is your oyster. There is so much on offer as an alternative to college. Let’s look at a few.

  • Entrepreneur
  • Apprenticeship
  • Military
  • Internship
  • Gap Year


Perhaps you are the kid that has been selling lemonade on the sidewalk since you were 8 years old. Or you have the ability to sell anything to anyone. You could of course still go to college to develop this skill but sometimes entrepreneurs are just gifted with people or an idea. Maybe you already have a website up and running that is making money and you want to develop it further. There are so many outlets available online now, you could be selling all over the world and not just from the sidewalk outside your house.

Apprenticeship / On-Site Training

This is another avenue available. If the reason you don’t want to go to college is that you prefer hands-on work to bookwork. You could consider an apprenticeship with a master craftsman or think about a job training program. A craftsman will teach you all he knows as you work alongside them. Job training will include a short training period (up to 10/12 weeks) and then you are able to start work earning a real wage. These jobs can be anything from a pilot to a realtor.


Joining the military is not a decision to be taken lightly. However, there are great benefits to being part of the armed forces. It will teach you independence. But also how to be part of a team. It adds structure to people’s lives. It provides a salary and somewhere to live. The military also very much thinks about the future of each recruit. You have the option of contributing to an education fund (GI Bill) that enables you to attend college in the future should you choose to. It is a fantastic option for those that might not be clear on their future just yet.


An internship is a good way to get some experience in a particular field. These positions are sometimes paid but often the experience you are gaining is in lieu of payment. If a company sees that you are keen there are usually education bursaries available for you to train one day a week or attend night school. Sometimes it is difficult to do everything. If you are not getting paid you may need another job and that may prohibit you from attending night school.

Gap Year

If you don’t want to go to college it may be because you are totally burnt out from school. The thoughts of another 4 years (at least) send shivers through you. Maybe you should just take a year out. Recharge the batteries. Refocus the mind. This idea may send your parents into a tailspin. Before you mention this do some research. Have a plan. If you’re thinking of traveling, how are you going to fund this? If volunteering, where is this going to be? The more organized you are, the more likely this plan will come together.

In relation to this, my post getting into college after a gap year may be of interest.

Still sit your SATs

I know what you’re thinking, what’s the point in SATs if I’m not going to college? Well, it’s a good idea to sit them for a few reasons. The most obvious is that you might change your mind about college in the future.

SATs are compulsory. I’m really advising that you actually put some skin in the game and try and get the best result you can. Even if you never plan on going to college it still may come up in conversation at a job interview. The fact that college is not for everyone is completely understandable but that doesn’t mean we just give up on our education.

You’re going to have to do something when you leave high school and the better your high school diploma and SAT results read the higher your chances of success. There are minimum SAT results and GPA scores for almost everything. (Military require GPA 2.5 / SAT 920 min)

If you are interested, I also wrote the following articles on SAT’s and GPA’s;

Should I take both the SAT and ACT

What is a good GPA?

Is GPA or SAT score more important?

Taking SAT first time senior year

Even apprenticeships will require some form of SAT result and a high school diploma. If you are struggling with the academic side of things a senior year, go and speak to a teacher or a counselor. They are all there to help you succeed. They don’t want any student to fail. And they understand that a proportion of all senior years just don’t wish to go on to college. They will provide you with all the local alternatives to what your options can be post-graduation.

Long term plan

I know it is hard for any 17/18-year-old to think of a long-term plan. In your class, there will be some that have their life mapped out. College degree – doctor, lawyer, family business. But for most, the answer is much more vague.

How can you make that decision when you have no experience of anything? My advice is if you don’t want to go to college after high school try and set out a plan for the next year. Break it down into smaller sections. List all the things you are good at or really enjoy doing.

Do you like playing a team sport? Maybe consider coaching a little league. Do you like being around people? Perhaps volunteer at a shelter or a retirement village. Having even a short-term plan will allow you to see what you enjoy doing (and what you don’t).

This might shed some light on you as to where your future might lead you.

Tara Cunningham

Tara Cunningham is a Mum and Graphic Designer. My children's education has always been very important to me. I feel that if you are willing to put in the time they will appreciate the effort. I hope that you find our thoughts and ideas useful and interesting.

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