By Mary Hager

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 66% of 2019 graduates ages 16 to 24 were enrolled in colleges and universities…That’s 2/3 of your high school graduating class. While it seems everyone around you is planning to apply to a college or university immediately following graduation, you may have a gnawing feeling college isn’t for you. And with the cost of college outpacing wage growth since the Great Recession, going directly to a four-year institution immediately after high school may not always be feasible. If these words resonate with you, read on. Know there are plenty of alternatives to reaching your goals and dreams, whatever they may be.

Your local community college is a public institution with two-year programs geared towards either career training or as a path to a Bachelor’s degree. If you live in Arizona, you are fortunate to live in a state committed to serving their residents who are looking for an alternative path to their four-year degree. The MAPP program (Maricopa Area Pathways Program) is for students who want to start their education at a Maricopa Community College and complete their Bachelor’s degree at ASU. You will earn an Associate’s degree and at the same time, meet the general education requirements. If you live in a different state, be sure to check how local community colleges work and opportunities. Another feature of community college is the opportunity to train in a specific career, earning certificates through programs such as Building Inspection, Network Administration and Security and Dental Hygienist.

If these types of careers pique your curiosity, then you may want to research what vocational or trade school has to offer. Trade schools typically have training in fields such as Auto Mechanics and Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC). The time to explore if these field are right for you is in high school. Many high schools offer classes through their Career and Technical Education programs, where you can take classes in areas such as Culinary Arts, Graphic Design, Computer and Engineering Pathways, Television Production or Digital Photography. Taking electives within CTE can provide some direction for your interests and provide a path for you to reach your goals through trade school or community college. As the knowledge-based economy evolves, so does your opportunity for jobs.

Another option for students after completing high school is enlisting in the military. This choice may be right for you if you are looking to serve your country and would like the disciplined structure and community the military provides. Your choices to enlist include all military branches, including the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Space Force, Coast Guard or Air Force. You’ll have a secure job, while gaining leadership skills.

Whatever you choose, know there are rewarding alternatives to pursuing a four-year degree. Do your research, set your goals and create a detailed plan to make your dreams come true. You got this!


Mary Hager of Hager College Consulting has spent the last seven years helping high school students identify and apply to their “right fit” colleges. Prior to launching Hager College Consulting, Mary worked as a college counselor in Arizona’s highest performing charter schools. She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work from University of Wisconsin, Madison and a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work from St Catherine University.