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Practical Homeschooling® :

There Are Many Paths to Success

By Russ Beck
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #31, 1999.

Alternatives to four-year colleges.
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Russ Beck

It is vital that students acquire some training beyond high school in order to compete successfully in the world of work. The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that by the year 2000 the number of unskilled workers will fall to 15 percent of the workforce, professional workers will stay constant at about 20 percent, but the skilled worker group will grow to 65 percent of all workers in America.

In tomorrow's workplace there will be many high-skilled, high-paying jobs that do not necessarily require a four-year degree. However, these numbers reflect the growing need for technical and career education beyond the high school level.

In addition to the four-year degree, other career paths include one- to three- year educational and training programs available through vocational schools, community colleges, apprenticeship programs, and the military. Let's take a look at each of these alternatives and the opportunities they offer.

The Four-Year Degree

The four-year degree has become part of the American dream. It is associated with career success and never having to stand in the unemployment line. It's still a fact that, overall, the more education you have, the more you will earn in your lifetime. However, the workplace is changing, and more emphasis is being placed on skills. Therefore, it's important for students entering college to have a focus and have a career plan in place. This does not necessarily mean knowing the specific job you want, but it does require knowing your talents and interests and then matching them to a college program that makes sense in terms of a career.

Recent studies show that 50 percent of students entering college out of high school will drop out. This is a result of poor planning and a waste of time and money. It is true that some students should not enter a four-year degree program, but careful planning and goal-oriented thinking can make a big difference. There is a wealth of information in print and on the Internet relating to college admission. Two Internet sites that relate directly to homeschoolers are www.concentric.net/~Ctcohen/ and www.learninfreedom.org/colleges_4_hmsc.html.

Community College

One option that should be high on the list of possibilities is your local community college. First, they are relatively inexpensive. Second, they are community-based and work with employers and other organizations in the community to provide excellent programs. Finally, they offer a wide range of quality one- and two-year programs that provide training in specific career fields. Community college curriculums include two-year associate degree programs, transfer programs for pursuing a four-year degree, internships, co-op work programs, and one-year certificate and diploma programs that provide job-entry skills. A good library resource is Peterson's Guide to 2-Year Colleges. Also Peterson's Vocational and Technical Schools guide is an excellent reference for technical programs. Personally, I advocate the community college because it made it possible for me to go to college and to acquire a four-year degree.


Apprenticeships offer training opportunities that develop specific skills and usually combine classroom training with hands-on work experience. Apprenticeships enable participants to acquire life-long skills that will keep them in demand in the workplace.

We often think of apprenticeships as only being available in the construction trades. Programs in the trades do account for 65 percent of all apprenticeships. However, there are currently over 100,000 apprentices in the United States who are not in a construction-related program. Opportunities exist in agriculture, culinary arts, health care, theatre, and law enforcement to name just a few. To find out more about apprenticeships contact the Department of Labor's Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training Office in your state. Contact information for the national office is listed below under Resources. Also, look for a copy of Ferguson's Guide to Apprenticeship Programs at your library; it can be very helpful in locating programs.


Internships are another excellent way to prepare for a career. Many internships are for college students, but there are plenty of opportunities for teenagers and high school graduates.

While internships can provide valuable work experience, most, but not all, are unpaid. To find out more about internship possibilities, check at your public library for the latest edition of The National Directory of Internships published by Gale Research. This book is published every two years and lists thousands of internships in more than 85 fields. Another good resource is Peterson's Internships, which is published every year.

The Military

The military offers attractive financial incentives and excellent training programs that can lead to good careers. The military isn't for everyone and enlisting in the military is an important decision that takes careful consideration. But if it seems like a viable option there are some good financial packages available, including: Reserve Officers' Training Corp (ROTC) scholarships which are offered in hundreds of colleges and universities; enlistment scholarships that, if you qualify, will pay for a four-year degree; and the National Guard, which will pay you $200 a month in college benefits in addition to a monthly salary if you agree to serve on weekends for six years with two-week sessions each summer. There are many additional opportunities for training and education while serving in the armed forces.

These are some of the options your children can pursue to prepare for a career. Whatever path is chosen, it is important that it be well-planned for the individual's goals, abilities, and interests. A career is a lifelong endeavor and a solid beginning will make it a happier and more rewarding journey.


  • Choices for the High School Graduate, Ferguson Publishing Co., 200 West Madison Street #300, Chicago IL, 60606. (800) 306-9941. $9.95. [This is an absolutely terrific book. - MP]

  • Entering the Military (www.k12.doleta.gov/military.htm) This website provides information on opportunities in the military services.

  • My Future (www.myfuture.com) This website provides information about alternatives to four-year colleges.

  • United States Bureau of Labor - Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training Office, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington D.C. 20001. (202) 219-5921. Web: www.doleta.gov
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