Alternative Education Options Other than University

Happy end of June! Which means that not only is 2018 half over (yikes!), but also that its graduation season. Graduation is always a sentimental and exciting time for me. This year, my brother graduated high school and being a part of it made me re-live it all over again. I’ve also spent a couple of years working for a few universities so graduation is always an exciting topic.

However, I do think that with the excitement of finishing school to move on to the next adventure, there’s a lot of pressure to maintain a certain image by going to a prestigious school or having a particular career path. Even student advisors and internet articles will encourage students to enter into certain degrees or career paths that either may have a large job market/pay salary, but may not suit the personal needs of a student. There are a lot of voices when it comes to choosing a career and the best decision you can make is an informed decision, even if the suggestions of others sound really good.

For instance, there’s a lot of encouragement for students to choose a STEM career, which is a great route! However, most careers require a 4 year (if not more) formal education. If you don’t enjoy studying those topics, you may both might not finish the program and not enjoy work. That’s why it’s so important to do research and ask yourself the right questions.

For a list of what to ask, check out my last post on Must Ask Questions Before Choosing A Career Path/University Major.

Education is an invaluable investment but there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing a technical school, diploma, certification, or a dozen different options.

Here are only few options looking into:

Option 1: Community College

I know, technically this is cheating because it is still post-secondary school, but I find that this is grossly overlooked. A part of it I think comes down to the status of larger schools. When choosing a college or university, it’s easy to be drawn to the schools you’ve heard of, the schools with the highest rankings, etc. However, a lot of students, especially high school students, don’t know what they want at 18. And fair enough, it’s hard at 18 to decide what you want for the next 40 years.

When looking at post-secondary, it’s important to remember that a lot of colleges offer transfer credits. This means that your courses will directly transfer to another school if you choose to pursue that degree and transfer to a bigger name college or university. Going to Community College before also allows you to experiment with different subjects and try different majors with little financial impact. So when you are ready, you can still transfer to a bigger school (and can enter it with the confidence that this is the place for you!). Below are some resources to research your potential transfer credits:

For Canadians – Credit transfers from schools are managed by the Province. Click here for the BC Transfer Guide and here for the Ontario Transfer Guide.

For Americans – It looks like each school manages their own transfer credit program; check out this article from Community College Review on things to do to ensure your credits transfer.

Option 2: Technical School

A trade school can be anything from a Red Seal trade (i.e. plumber, electrician, etc.) or anything relating to a physical skill including culinary school, salon school, make-up artistry school, etc. Depending on the trade, it can be incredibly high in demand and well paying. I know people in the trades industry that when to school for about half the time I did, and make almost double the amount of money I do. In contrast, I also know make-up artists/hair stylists that now own their own businesses or make their own schedules.

Like I said at the beginning, it’s not always about the money or status, because studying or working in a job is worthless if you hate it. However, if you do enjoy working with your hands instead of in a classroom, it is definitely a great alternative worth looking into.

Option 3: Work Experience

Depending on the field you are in, sometimes, pure work experience can assist with advancement in a job. Of course, you’ll never become a doctor (and legally can’t) through work experience –  a lot of careers don’t necessarily require a certain designation or certification. Sales and managerial positions are a great example of not requiring a specific education for advancement. Sure, the company may have internal education and training workshops, but a specific degree is generally not required. Most companies value internal candidates because they understand how that specific company operates, and this internal knowledge is far more valuable than someone who walks in with higher credentials but no experience with the company.

Option 4: The Internet

Everything lives on the internet these days. Basically every topic you can think of has a YouTube video or video series to help you with it.

This is an especially important option if you are looking to work in the digitalsphere or as a freelancer/entrepreneur. There are tons of online courses that teach coding, digital marketing, graphic design, and so much more. And while they are many post secondary programs to also teach them (which have their own merits), it’s also something that you can learn on the side or on your own if you work hard enough.

One of the reasons I think this is a great option as well is because technology is constantly changing. Many educational intuitions have to take years to create curriculums and programs but there are jobs today that weren’t even heard of 10 or 20 years ago. The choices aren’t just limited to doctor, lawyer, accountant, teacher, anymore. Now we have a huge wave of need for UX Designers, SEO strategists, web developers, and so much more. It’s an ever-expanding market that if you’re interested in, you don’t need formal education to get started.

Want to get into coding? Sites like teach basics for free and you can set up a free online portfolio on GitHub to work on open source projects. While you may have to pay for certain education advancements, it’s definitely something you can easily look into if you want to start learning and not commit to a 4 year school.

Other amazing online resources for classes are,,, and I personally have used these courses to learn about SEO, designing my logo, and keeping up with my French. They are great and have endless topics for you study!

Option 5: Employer Paid Programs

This is similar to Option 3 but instead of gaining work experience to advance, some employers either pay to further their employees’ education programs or have create fast-track programs to ensure that education is a part of their work experience. Here are two examples (government because that’s what I work in):

1. Training/Advancement Programs. For Example:

Financial Officer Recruitment and Development Program (FORD) and the Intern Officer Development Officer Program with Public Works and Procurement Canada

I have many friends that completed the FORD program and really enjoyed it. Essentially every year in these programs, you move up a level and continue learning more so it is a fast-track to gaining a higher position. It’s a great opportunity to look into because many of us cannot choose between education and work (cause like bills) but it integrates learning into the work experience so instead of going to school for 4 years and hoping a higher level position opens up, you are a part of program that will help pay for you to get there as long as you stay with the organization.

2. Employer Paid Education

I will currently be starting this path in the Fall – surprise! I’m going back to school. During my performance review, my employer encouraged me to look into furthering my education as I was turned down for a promotion since I was new (like 3 months new) and while they really enjoyed working with me, my undergraduate degree was not enough for the position. So they are paying for my education to advance by completing an additional certification program. This is a great option for people like me because the education will be directly related to my field of work. Plus, I don’t have to pay for it.

I’m not downplaying the value of an education, but there are different means to education that may suit much more than others. Even though I attended a 4 year school, I’m a huge advocate that not everyone needs to go to university to get a degree. Not only does it not guarantee a job, but at 18, these decisions can be very costly.

I get so frustrated with the societal pressure and idea that somehow you are a “better” person because you attended X school (this coming from someone who did attend a great school). No, everyone is different and everyone will have different paths to obtain their definition of “success.”

And that’s okay. It does not make you more or less of a person. I repeat, you are not a worse or better person for going not spending thousands of dollars for something not for you, just because your friends are doing it.

Whatever you choose – good luck!


Sparkles Emoji (Apple/iOS Version) Kimberly


Author: Kimberly

Hi there! My name is Kimberly and I created MLA as a personal development, career, and finance resource for millennials. MLA focuses on helping career-driven millennials create the personal development habits to achieve work-life balance and manage their money. Throughout this blog, you’ll find articles that give specific and detailed advice because I’m not into the fluffy advice. There’s plenty of that on the internet. Here you will find tangible advice on how to find a rewarding career (that you love!), where you can help others, and learn how to save and invest your money for the future. I hope you’ll follow along!

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