What if I Don’t Want to Go To College?

As you approach the end of high school, the pressure can be strong to go to college. Sometimes that seems like the safest choice. After all, you’ve spent your entire life in school. You know how to do school. But what if you have a nagging voice in the back of your head saying “I don’t want to go to college.” Is that even an option?

College is absolutely the right choice for many high school students. But as it turns out, not going to college is also the right choice for many other high school students for a variety of reasons. Maybe you want to pursue a career that doesn’t require a college degree. Perhaps you don’t know what you want, and you’re reluctant to commit to college because you fear you’d be wasting your time. Maybe you’re concerned about piling up debt in the form of college loans. Take the first step of exploring why “I don’t want to go to college” keeps echoing through your mind, then explore your alternatives so you can make a wise decision.

Explore Why You Don’t Want to Go to College

Ask yourself some tough questions about what you really want out of your life, both long-term and short-term. Do you have career goals that require college (whether you want to go or not)? If you’ve always dreamed of being a nurse, for instance, college is a requirement. If you have an entrepreneurial bent and want to start your own business, you may be able to do that on your own, but you might find that you’d learn skills you need in college.

Many people are worried about graduating from college saddled with debt from student loans. This is a valid concern, and you’re wise to crunch the numbers and see what you can afford before you even begin any college applications. If financial worries are your prime consideration for skipping college, take a look at some of the alternatives. Low(er)-cost state colleges can make that four-year degree affordable, and by taking two years at a community college shaves off the cost even further.

If you’re hesitant about college because you don’t know what you want to be when you “grow up,” you might be surprised to learn you’re far from alone. Up to 80 percent of students don’t have a major in mind when they start college, or they change their mind along the way. If you’re in this category, it’s possible that going to college will help you discover parts of yourself that you haven’t met yet and enable you to set a direction for your future.

Reasons to Go to College Even If You Don’t Know What You Want

These days, most people think of college as a stepping stone to a high-paying job. While college can be that, it’s important to remember that the intended purpose of going to college is furthering your education. There’s an inherent benefit in learning more about the world around you, discovering your place in that world, and understanding how the past has created the present that you live in. Well-educated people are more interesting to hang around with, and you make yourself more interesting (as well as more employable) by adding to your education. While you can certainly work on your education on your own, having a few years to focus on it is a privilege and a source of personal benefit to many.

College is also a great place to discover who you are as a person, where you fit in the grand scheme of things, and what you want to do with your life. Because you have the opportunity and freedom to explore different subject areas, you can expose yourself to options that you might not have otherwise. You also meet people in college who will become lifelong friends and colleagues, and these relationships alone can be worth the four year experience.

Alternatives to College

Many young people graduate from high school and turn their attention toward service to their country. One of the main ways to do this is by joining the military, of course. The five branches of the military offer a wide variety of specializations and opportunities to develop new skills that can be of value in the marketplace after you’re discharged. (And of course, the G.I. Bill provides college opportunities for many veterans after they’ve completed their service.) But military service isn’t the only option. Programs such as Americorps and Teach for America open doors for many young people.

Many job opportunities exist in what have traditionally been known as blue-collar jobs. If you want to enter the work world right away but don’t want to be stuck flipping burgers, consider spending a short amount of time at a vocational or trade school to learn skills that range from plumbing to physical therapy. Millions of well-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree exist in these trades, and millions of people build happy lives pursuing them. Other jobs are available that don’t require a college degree or trade school, especially in the retail world.

Need some advice? Find out if a trade school or community college is right for use with this simple tool:

Trade School vs College Tool

Do You Just Need a Little Time to Decide?

Many high schoolers don’t have anything against the idea of college, but they just don’t feel ready to make a commitment. Maybe you feel you need a little breathing room after 13 straight years of schooling. If this is the case, consider taking a gap year. Your parents are probably willing to let you continue living at home (even if they’ve been pushing for college) if you get a job and contribute to household expenses. You can even go through the entire college application process while you’re still in high school (where you have the benefit of college counselors and teachers who see you every day and can write good recommendations), and then have your admission deferred — Most colleges are very happy to grant a gap year to incoming students who request it.

As you spend some time paying your own expenses, your future may start to form itself in your mind so you can enter college with realistic expectations and a firm goal. Students who are financially able to do so often use their gap year to travel or to do volunteer work as a way to help determine who they want to become and what they want to do as adults.

A final exercise that may help you make this important decision: Even if you don’t know what you want, try making a list of what you don’t want in life. That exercise alone may help you determine whether or not college is the right choice for you.