Yes, there are alternatives. No, they won’t teach you how to shotgun a beer.

IF I HAD BEEN TOLD 10 years ago, before embarking on my university career as an English major, that I’d end up working 11-hour days struggling to make ends meet as a freelance writer…well, actually, I would have stubbornly applied anyway.

I value my educational background. I became more open to new things, and was given my first real taste of travel through a study abroad program at my school.

I also learned how to shotgun beer, experiment with hallucinogens, and somehow maintain a pretty good GPA despite partying three nights a week and rolling into class at 8am each morning.

But never once did I question my decision to immediately enroll in university right after high school. My friends and I talked about this recently. Alternative routes were never discussed with us before we left home. University was a given.

1. Some things you can learn on your own.

You can’t become a doctor by studying WebMD, but some careers require your own exploration. I started out as a writer by stapling pieces of paper together and creating squiggly lines that resembled words.

I was a creative kid, not a prodigy.

Lucky for us, we live in a time when any information we desire is at our fingertips.

My buddy, Dan Nahabedian, is someone who spent several years devoted to learning the tools of his trade as a photographer. In addition to a few good books (like The Digital Photography Book by Scott Kelby), Dan used online resources and forums to post his work and receive feedback. Now he’s a working professional, and one of the faculty members behind MatadorU’s photography program.

2. You might not be “book smart.”

Maybe you’ve heard of Howard Gardner’s theory of “multiple Intelligences,” an idea based on extensive cognitive research that proves students learn, remember, perform, and understand in different ways. There’s even an “interpersonal intelligence,” the ability to effectively understand and interact with others.

Photo by Simon Shek

“Book smart” nowadays seems to be a term used to describe people who excel at their studies but fail to function as a normal person. Sometimes they miss social cues and forget to change their underwear. Unfortunately, much of college is catered to these people.

When we spend so much time studying and absorbed in text books, we may limit ourselves to other possibilities. Hey, maybe I could have been a ballerina.

3. You’re not financially prepared.

I’m more than a little pissed off about my debt.

In the USA, student loan debt is expected to exceed $1 trillion soon. In Canada, the information is a little more obscure, but is estimated at something like over $14 billion.

If there’s one thing lacking in our education system, it’s a prep course on how to handle money and a reality check for what happens once you graduate.

I spent my student loans without a thought. Hoorah, free money! Now the majority of my pay cheques go toward paying off that money I threw around.

In the USA, student loan debt is expected to exceed $1 trillion soon.

I would have worked my way through my undergrad, even if it meant taking a few extra years to finish my degree. Instead, I’ve been out of school for nearly four years, and I’m still below the “poverty” line. And my university had the cheapest tuition in Canada.

4. You haven’t had the opportunity to travel yet.

While the gap year has been basically a rite of passage for some students around the globe, especially in the UK and Australia, it’s only recently becoming more accepted here in North America.

Most parents look at it as an excuse to be careless, ditch responsibilities, and partake in a round-the-world jaunt just to party, make new friends, and to engage in unprotected coitus.

And to that I say hell fucking yeah.

Travel experience provides valuable life skills that employers consider extremely attractive on a resume these days. Attributes like confidence, awareness of the world, and people skills could be your gateway to greater things.

5. Experience can be just as valuable as a degree.

My father was a born woodsman — a lumberjack who built his own house and could survive a week in the wild with just a pocketknife and a shotgun. His skills and experience have made him more self-sufficient than most, and his ability to turn lumber into gold has made him employable for over 40 years.

Nowadays you can’t be taken seriously unless you have a Doctorate of Philosophy in Ufology.

What happened to recognizing practical skills and talent when you see it? My friend Liz from Toronto works in PR/advertising/marketing, and she’s never had any formal education. Back in her early 20s, while working as an intern at Heinz Canada, Liz became very close with the marketing department and was snatched up due to her talents.

She’s one of the most successful people I know, and she spent most of her life struggling through school.

6. Go to vocational, technical, or trade school.

When I was in high school, only the “dumb” kids went to trade school. “Smart” kids were encouraged to attend university. The dumb kids are now making six-figure incomes.

Hands-on work is in huge demand in the workforce. Trades usually takes much less time to complete, and you’ll usually pay much less.

7. Be an entrepreneur.

During my brief time working at a marketing company, I interviewed a young local guy named Scott Oldford, an entrepreneur since he was 13 years old. Now he owns a business specializing in online marketing, web development, and mobile and online applications. In less than a decade, he’s expanded his company to five other locations in Canada.

Plus he was diagnosed with multiple learning disorders when he was seven years old. He’s just a really, really hard worker.

Now I’m working for him, writing web copy. Go figure.

8. Start off as a volunteer.

If there’s a cause you truly care about in the world –- wildlife conservation, hunger relief, world domination –- you’d do well to start out volunteering. With some hard work, you’ll be able to prove yourself and move your way up through the ranks. At the very least, you’ll get some stellar recommendations.

9. Become an expert in something.

Jay Canter, a professional photographer whose career has taken him all over the world and even on music tours, became internationally known for his work in the motor sports world. “When I wasn’t driving a car, I was photographing them,” he says. At the age of 16, he was offered his first real gig for a magazine.

By finding his niche, Jay became an authority, and then expanded his career into other fields of photography.

Just the same, I’m not sure what you can do with a Doctorate of Philosophy in Ufology.

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