THE BLOG
01/20/2015 05:16 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

5 Alternatives to a Traditional College Education

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With the rising student loan debt burden many are beginning to think "outside of the box" in terms of ways to gain an education. After all, life's lessons aren't strictly learned inside the four walls of a classroom. With the average graduate around $30,000 dollars in debt, many fiscally minded adults are reconsidering that pricey four-year degree.

With technology leveling the playing field between economic classes, there are more "self made" successes than ever before. For those who plan to eschew a traditional college education, here are five great alternatives to consider:

Learn a Trade

Fact: there is a generational shortage of workers skilled in a trades like plumbing, electrical, welding and manufacturing. The demand in these fields is only expected to grow in coming years. A recent study found that the average 2-year graduate can expect to earn $1.7 million over a lifetime, with 28 percent of that group earning more than the average 4-year degree holder, and taking on a significantly less debt burden- usually 10k or less.

So for those who like to work with their hands, solve problems, but don't like school, learning a trade may be for you. Not only that, since these jobs will increase in demand, this likely means higher wages down the road.

Travel the World

Many countries mandate teenagers take a "gap year" between high school and university in order to travel and find out where their true passions may lie. How many people do you know that have a degree in one thing, but a great career in something unrelated to their degree? That is often how it goes.

You career should align both with what you are talented at, and what you're passionate about. One of the best ways to discover these ideals and reflect on your personality is through travel.

Launch a Business

Nowadays it seems everyone is trying to sell an app or launch the next big tech startup. Launching a business, however, doesn't always have to be technology related. Entrepreneurs get their start every day, often from the most humble or bootstrapped of beginnings. If you have a great idea, some business know-how, or a proven business model (like a landscaping business or a few graphic design clients) why not forgo college and see where the opportunity goes? Launching a business is guaranteed to teach you a few things you won't learn in school, and even if you fail, you'll have one of the most valued life experiences.

Don't Be Scared to Spend on Professional Development

Not every big "break" in your career will come while you are sitting at a desk. In undergrad and beyond an opportunity may arise to attend a prestigious program, speak at a conference, or study abroad. Never be afraid to develop yourself professionally, whether you pursue a traditional education path or not.

Build a Portfolio

Writers, musicians, graphic designers, interior decorators, actors, and artists rejoice- while a traditional education will take you far, most employers are concerned with your portfolio, or proof of your work. The good news is that you do not need to go to college in order to put together a slam-dunk portfolio.

For those in artistic fields- the "proof is in the pudding" as they say. You just have to get out there and practice, build expertise, and network.

Of course, one thing these alternatives to college have in common is that they require money. They're not as pricey as a traditional four-year school, but they still require financing to get it off the ground. It is important when evaluating these options to shop around for the best loan and interest rates, as this is the single biggest factor in determining how much you owe over the lifetime of the loan. You can use aggregators, such as Achieve Lending's first-ever loan search engine to shop and compare interest rates.

This post originally appeared on the Achieve Lending website.