student at table with mug, phone, and notepad

I can pinpoint moments of career and personal growth to specific times in life when I’ve been intentional about learning from everything around me. Often, this has led me to seek out new ways to learn – whether taking an online executive development course, joining a book club, or working with a career coach.  

In today’s job market, education is essential. The competition is fierce, and as you fight for the attention of the country’s fastest-growing companies, your schooling could be what lands you your next dream gig. But, there are many different ways to get an education. When it comes to learning, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. 

Outside of a four-year university degree, there are alternative education options like trade school and online career training that may make more sense for your situation. By exploring all options, you are more likely to find a path to learning that works for you, or take multiple approaches throughout your life to continuous learning and development. 

Attending a university is one of the most common educational paths. It typically takes four years to complete a bachelor’s degree, costing an average of $127,000. Of course, some students may take longer, depending on personal circumstances. 

Universities are accredited by national and regional accrediting bodies and offer a wide curriculum with a variety of tracks and emphases. Most require a core curriculum outside of your chosen specialization, which means you’ll take some classes that aren’t as relevant to your future career path as others. 

A university education may be right for you if qualifying for your desired career requires a four-year degree or you want to expand your knowledge across a wider array of topics than one specific skill. 

Why wouldn’t a university education be your path? 

  • College tuition has gone up 213% in the past few decades.
  • Most people take 6 years to earn a four-year college degree.
  • 44% of college graduates are underemployed.
  • The average student debt from four-year public schools in 2018 is $26,900.

Trade School
For learners who want a classroom experience but are looking to gain specific skills outside of a University degree, trade school — also known as vocational, technical, and career school — can be a very viable option.

Trade school training generally takes two years to complete, but like a Bachelor’s degree, this time frame varies based on personal circumstances. These institutions offer certifications and Associate degrees in areas like construction, auto repair, plumbing, interior design, cosmetology, and food preparation. The average cost of completing a trade school program is $33,000.

And, this lower cost of tuition doesn’t result in a massive difference in earning potential. Graduates of a trade school have a median annual salary of $35,720 while the predicted earnings for four-year degree holders is $46,900.

Online Learning
eLearning enables students to learn 5 times more material for every hour of training.

Online learning is an option for learners who want to get quality training at a lower cost and enter the workforce in months rather than years. For many learners, completing coursework leads to online certification that is nationally recognized in a specific field. Many people find this option viable for lifelong learning and continue to earn certificates and professional development credits even after completing a university degree. 

Online learning has been in the news a lot this year as many students have shifted their K-20 learning environments to online. But, online learning also provides a viable option for lifelong learning. Learners can complete courses from the comfort of their own home and at their own pace. Many programs can be completed in six months or less. Which means that those with full-time jobs can continue working while completing their training. 

Being intentional about lifelong learning can lead to career growth and, more importantly, a more fulfilled life.