things to do after high school

What to Do After High School [12 College Alternatives]

Written by: Kristine Thorndyke

These days, college isn’t the universal pathway that it once was. Many high schoolers aren’t sure they want to go to school immediately, or at all. They’re wondering what to do after high school if not a four-year university. Fortunately, there are many alternatives to going to college straightaway that will be beneficial to your college application (if you decide that is the right path for you).

12 Alternatives to Starting College Right After High School

Take a Gap Year

things to do after high school

If you want a break from academia or aren’t sure what to pursue in college, you might consider a gap year. In fact, gap years have become so popular that now about 1 in 10 students considers taking one.

Gap years are extremely flexible, both in their time frame and their structure. No two look exactly alike. You can do what feels right for you.

The point of a gap year is to learn about the world outside of academia. You might travel to different places, enter the workforce, complete an internship in a field that interests you, get involved with your community, do other volunteer work, or anything else.

When you’re considering what to do after high school, it’s worth noting that a gap year often looks great on a college application, especially if you did an internship or community service. It helps you become a more well-rounded individual, who understands things beyond simple grade point averages.

You can listen to UnJaded Jade discuss some ideas she has for a gap year in this video: 



Another path you might consider is through Americorps. Americorps is a federal agency that focuses on community service and unity. The goal of the organization is to connect volunteers and resources to those in need in local areas within the USA.

Americorps has a decades-long history of community service. They began with the Volunteers in Service to America program, which was designed to reduce poverty in underprivileged communities in America.

One of the major benefits of Americorps is that it broadly deals with various community issues. Whether you’re passionate about access to education, the opioid crisis, or helping after a natural disaster, this organization has work that you can be interested in so that you can thrive and truly feel like you’re making a difference in the world.

Join the Peace Corps

The Peace Corps is another federal agency that’s focused on community and service. However, instead of being based in your local community, the Peace Corps provides services abroad. Members of the Peace Corps work with the leaders of overseas communities and organizations to help improve their lives.

This can be a great experience if you are still looking for work that you can put on your resume or application but also still have that travel itch that you would get from a gap year abroad. 

The ultimate goal is to create a spirit of international cooperation and friendship. The organization sends trained volunteers to help meet community needs. The volunteers get to learn about these communities, and the communities get to learn more about the volunteers. It’s a vital process of cultural exchange.

The Peace Corps serves all over the world and uses volunteers with a wide variety of skills. You can visit their website to see what options are available to you.

Start Classes at Community College

You might decide that you do want to go to school immediately. But there are plenty of reasons that you might choose not to go to a four-year university right away, whether that is a financial decision or an opportunity to stay close to home as you warm up to taking college classes.

Community college is a much more affordable resource to take your basic classes, and you could also look into transferring these credits to another 4-year degree college later on (if you choose to do so).

Most general education classes in the first two years are the same regardless of university. If you haven’t decided what to major in, then you can explore your options on campus without wasting money. You can also pick up one or two classes at a community college without needing to enroll full time!

Join the Military


The military isn’t for everyone, and you’ll need to make sure that you’re qualified to serve. But they do have benefits that many people find extremely helpful. For example, you get access to better healthcare plans, better home loan rates, and an extensive range of retirement options.

There are sometimes perks for new recruits like enlistment bonuses of thousands of dollars. Just keep in mind that no matter what job you do in the military, it is a choice that comes with a lot of obligation.

Start Working

office job

Some people choose to start working immediately after high school. Oftentimes jobs like retail don’t pay enough to live on, but there are other careers available to you as well. For example, if you’re tech-savvy, you might be able to get a job in programming or IT without a formal degree.

Similarly, many well-paying office and clerical jobs don’t require more than a high school diploma. You can explore the options in your area and decide whether any appeal to you and your skillset.

If you hope to go to college in the future, this can be a great opportunity to save a bit before enrolling in the next school year.

Start an Online Business

online business

Starting an online business may seem easy, but it’s actually a big undertaking. If you’re trying to create a new startup, for example, you’ll need a business plan to get investors interested. Many people do go to business school for that.

But there are simpler ways to start online businesses. You might freelance with websites like Fiverr, which allow you to sell design and content creation services. Or if you’re crafty, you might create a shop using an online platform like Etsy. You can see this list for more online job opportunities with low barrier to entry.

Go to Trade School

Gone are the days when trades were considered “unskilled” labor. Many trades pay excellent wages with incredible benefits. There’s also a major shortage of qualified professionals in many trades, so the job market is easier to navigate.

Trade schools can specialize in a variety of different trades. You’ll typically undergo a program lasting 2 years or less, in which you’ll become a hands-on expert in your field. Some examples might be learning about electrical work or becoming a plumber.

Take an Online Skills Bootcamp

The internet has made information and education more accessible than ever before. Video and article tutorials are available for free through a quick search. You can learn new skills online that can be turned into a career, especially through platforms like Springboard.

Springboard functions as a more intense version of an online school. You’ll attend intensive part-time classes to learn skills for specific jobs. Typically, the boot camp can ready you to apply for jobs in less than 9 months. It’s a much speedier alternative to a full college degree!

Intern Internationally

Many young people choose to travel and experience new cultures and languages. But there are ways to make the most of your travel. If you have a specific field that you want to enter as a career, you might consider an international internship.

There are internship abroad programs like Projects Abroad, which match candidates to their specific field. One of the benefits of Projects Abroad is that they have a huge range of opportunities, so they’re able to match you with the genuine best option for your future.

Related: Shop These 70 Best Gifts for College Students

Earn a Degree Online

online degree

Some people want to get a college degree, but they don’t want the traditional college experience. They don’t want the massive debt, rigid scheduling, massive time commitment, or other logistical concerns. For these people, the ability to earn degrees at online universities is vital.

Getting an online degree is ideal if you have a job, financial concerns, or a family. It’s also ideal if you simply prefer to have a flexible schedule and extra free time. While not everyone thrives in an online learning environment, many people do say that online college changed their lives.

Get a Realtor License

realtor license

Have you ever wondered what it takes to be a realtor? While this might not be the first career path that comes to mind, it is a job with major benefits. Successful realtors can earn commissions of thousands of dollars per sale.

Real estate licenses are issued by the state, and the process varies depending on location. Typically, you’ll need to take either an official course or a few classes. You can find real estate courses for your state with test prep companies such as Kaplan. Then you’ll need to pass an exam showing that you understand the rules and regulations. From there, you can receive your official license and ID.

Deciding if College is Right for You

People often treat college as the default for what to do after graduating high school. But this path actually doesn’t work for everyone. College is expensive, time-consuming, and difficult to navigate. A degree also doesn’t get the same opportunities that it did 20 years ago, unless you’re in a very specific field.

College might not be right for you if you never liked schoolwork, studying, or staying still. It’s not ideal for people who want to go into trades like manufacturing or plumbing.

If you’re still undecided on what you want to study or on the fence about going to college altogether, it may be in your best interest to delay going for the year and trying to figure out if this is an investment that will be worthwhile for your future. If you decide to pursue college, you can consider looking into this list of the best college admissions consultants who can help to guide you through the application process and get your foot in the door.

Benefits of Taking a Year (Or Two) Off Before College

Gaining Work Experience

If you don’t transition immediately to college, you have time to enter the workforce. There are jobs in many fields and environments that only require a high school degree. The more you learn about different workplaces and careers, the easier it’ll be to decide on your future.

Saving Money

Student loans are enormously expensive, with many people paying them back for decades. You’ll need to pay for tuition, school supplies, housing, and food. On top of that, you won’t have as much time to earn an income while you’re studying. Saving up for a year or two can be a good financial bet for some. Don’t forget scholarships as an additional way to help pay for school.

Exploring Opportunities

There are tons of non-academic opportunities to explore. Maybe you want to travel, get involved in your community, take up a new hobby, or otherwise engage yourself. When you take a year off, you have flexible time to devote to whatever adventures you want.

FAQ on What to Do After High School

Do colleges look at gaps in education?

Gap years can actually strengthen an application, depending what you do with them. They show that you’re a well-rounded person with non-academic skills.

How long can you take a gap year?

Your gap year can last as long as you want. Some people spend just 3 weeks on their adventures, while others might spend 3 years!

What can I do for a living without college?

Many jobs don’t require a degree. Trades, cosmetology, freelancing, basic office work, and even some online marketing jobs are all open to high school graduates.

Final Thoughts

You have the final choice of what to do after high school. There are dozens of options after high school, many of which don’t include immediate enrollment in a four-year university. The right pathway for you will simply depend on your own desires and needs. 

Whether you take a gap year, go to community college, go to trade school, enter the workforce, or join the army, there’s an alternative that can help you thrive in adulthood.