For parents (and students) who might be out there right now fretting over college tuition and applications and aren’t rich Hollywood players , here are some college alternatives to consider. Free yourself from the “labels” of elite institutions. If they’re thinking of becoming a lawyer (but seriously, how many more of those do we need??) or an engineer then obviously you’ll need to pursue institutional options. But if they’re just not sure about their paths and/or might have skills that are immediately marketable, here are some ideas to give some serious thought. I’ve seen plenty of parents and students take these paths, and almost to a person they are far, far ahead of their peers in terms of earning, achievement and job satisfaction.
- Teach English in a foreign country. I headed straight to college from high school but I had a few friends who headed overseas to teach English to the students of hopeful and/or rich parents desiring to give their kids an advantage by learning Western culture. Typically, you don’t need any type of special training or education. Often times living expenses are paid for. It’s a great way to earn for a year or two and learn about different cultures and lifestyles firsthand. It’s basically getting paid to be educated!
- The military. Somewhere in the last few decades the idea that the military was the “last resort” for people who are too dumb or too poor for college became pervasive. This idea couldn’t be further from the reality that military service can be a fantastic conduit to a successful and fulfilling career. Military life teaches discipline and teamwork, two extremely valuable skills in the civilian job market. They’ll also educate you for free and provide healthcare and housing subsidies. There are a plethora of non-combat tracks to pursue that can lead to incredibly elite and specialized careers, including information tech, health services and other support personnel. You can pursue a lifetime career or serve for a limited amount of time and leave with a degree, money in the bank and the very distinguished resume enhancer of having served your country. It is a legitimate career path that boasts some of our greatest minds.
- Charitable service. The Peace Corps, missions work through a religious organization, volunteering with a UN or WHO organization that provide healthcare and sustenance in third world countries — if you’ve got a child with a heart for serving others and a thirst for new experiences, it might be a great idea to look at volunteering for a fixed time. Again, often the basics are paid for and you’re learning skills in an intense environment that could offer an invaluable advantage in the job market back home. Also, the quickest and best way to find contentment in your own life and a perspective that makes you flexible and resilient is to see firsthand how challenging life is for most of the rest of the world. Like military service it is also a fantastic resume-enhancer. Few things are more valuable to potential employers than an employee who can easily shift gears and refocus when things get tough.
- Work on a cruise ship. This isn’t for everyone, but it can be a great option for those who endeavor for careers in the arts. Cruise lines need entertainers and often hold mass auditions once or twice a year in port-of-call regions like California or Orlando. They’re always in need of comedians, dancers, singers, musicians and also production staff…pretty much any position in stage entertainment. Not only are your accommodations paid for but you’re also earning a competitive salary, one that often ends up being far and above the yearly income for a struggling artist on land. It can be an adventure and an opportunity to intimately connect with other artists who will no doubt be the one to lead you to more work once your cruise stint is over.
- Take a gap year…or two. The bourgeois fantasy of a gap year includes travel and adventure, but it doesn’t have to be that. A gap year can just be taking some time off to simply work and get a better feel for what you want to do in the future. It’s also a great way for parents to help their kids when they aren’t in a position to pay for college tuition. You may not be able to pay for four years of college, but you can allow your child to continue to live at home rent-free, get any job they can find and then save their money to pursue something more fulfilling once they’ve figured out what it is. Don’t turn your nose up at a year or two behind the counter at McDonald’s. Some of the wealthiest people in America started right there.
- Instead of paying for four years of college, pay for a couple of years of living expenses. A young friend of mine decided that she would like to pursue a career in film production. Her parents had some means to pay for schooling but they made her an offer — they would pay for a few years of college or pay for two years of reasonable living expenses and she could move to L.A. and start working her way up the food chain. She chose the latter, found some less than ideal roommates in L.A. and began volunteering for every crap job on every indie film set she could get close to. By the time the two years were up she had worked her way into a steady job in the industry, earned enough money to get her own place and is now a working executive producer in Hollywood for the independent film scene. If you’ve got a child who is disciplined enough to take on the challenge of forging their own way, this is a great alternative to college. There’s no replacement for real-world experience and some career paths aren’t really enhanced by a degree. In some industries, employers only need to know you can do the job. If you can earn while you learn, you should!
- Trade school. A Gender Studies degree might get you a job teaching Gender Studies to other Gender Studies students but more likely (statistically speaking) it will get you a minimum wage job to help pay the bills while you search for another career path. You know who does work steadily and lucratively? Plumbers. Electricians. Morticians. Mechanics. Even if you’re the type of snob who feels those jobs aren’t “elite” enough, don’t worry…there are actually elite positions in most trade jobs that can satisfy that perverse need. Someone has to fix the toilets at Buckingham Palace. The Queen poops too!
- Nothing. Let your kid figure out how to pay for school or travel or whatever all by herself. Offer her advice on budgeting, living frugally, give her a timetable for complete independence and then back away. The notion that we parents are obligated to pay for our kids’ higher education is a big part of our debt problem in America. Your children are in the prime of their lives. They have energy to burn. They can go to school, work/party through the night and get up the next day to do it all over again. You remember the days! You (and I) on the other hand are nearing retirement age. Our window for earning enough money to carry us through our later years is closing quickly. There’s nothing wrong with just letting your child pay their own bills and choose their own path while they’re in the physical position to be able to work hard, work long and work smart. Let them take advantage of their youth and concentrate on padding your future so you don’t overly-burden them down the road with the financials of your care just as they’re incurring their own family financial burdens. I know it’s a shocking thought, but it’s really not that crazy to about 99% of the rest of planet Earth. The idea that we’re supposed to provide every single privilege for our kids no matter the cost is embarrassingly Western and relatively new. I’m not saying you have to choose this option, I’m just telling you it is an option and there’s nothing wrong with it.