How To Learn Without Going to College

Not everyone can go to college, that is a sad truth but that doesn't mean that your education has to end, there are ways to learn without going to college. Below I will list several non-traditional routes that you can take to advance your education.

I always wanted to go to school. College was on my radar back in elementary school and following high-school, I did attend a 2 year community college. Unfortunately, after graduating with a 2 year degree, I couldn't afford to go on to a traditional 4 year college and finish my degree. Because of this I had to get creative when it came to my education and career. That's why I have my own business now and why I am so passionate about learning on my own!

I remember learning about Abraham Lincoln when I was a kid and being amazed at the fact that he was self-taught. He went from not having much access to formal education to becoming the president of the U.S. and at the age of "15 years old he had about a year of education." but even so he "was an avid reader and sought books to read from neighbors, he was mostly self educated.". In our days we hear about billionaire dropouts but they all still had a good amount of formal education behind their endeavours, so can you imagine teaching yourself to be a lawyer with only one year of education!

Another role-model in my life was my mom, who has taught herself nutrition and english with only having been able to attend school up to the 6th grade. Are there any people in your life that have achieved amazing things without having a college degree?

Whatever the reason is that you can't attend college, learning is still a possibility for you! Below I will list several ways to self-educate yourself and I will also share some college-style routes that you can take if college is still the type of education you are seeking.

Education Vs. Knowledge

Before I start I want to make a distinction between several terms in order to help you understand a few differences.

Education "1. the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life. 2. the act or process of imparting or acquiring particular knowledge or skills, as for a profession. 3. a degree, level, or kind of schooling: 4. the result produced by instruction, training, or study: 5. the science or art of teaching; pedagogics."

Knowledge "1. acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation; general erudition: 2. familiarity or conversance, as with a particular subject or branch of learning: 3. acquaintance or familiarity gained by sight, experience, or report: 4. the fact or state of knowing; the perception of fact or truth; clear and certain mental apprehension. 5. awareness, as of a fact or circumstance: 6. something that is or may be known; information: 7. the body of truths or facts accumulated in the course of time. 8. the sum of what is known:"

Learning "1. to acquire knowledge of or skill in by study, instruction, or experience: 2. to become informed of or acquainted with; ascertain: 3. to memorize: 4. to gain (a habit, mannerism, etc.) by experience, exposure to example, or the like; acquire:"

The reason I think it is important to distinguish these terms is because even though they are similar and can be used interchangeably at times, they can also be mutually exclusive. There are career paths that only require you to have the knowledge necessary to do the work but don't require you to be formally educated and have a degree to prove your education. Other careers require you to prove that you have received the necessary education in the form or a degree, license, or certification. Many jobs and careers also allow you to learn on the job and provide training and their own certification to ensure that you have the correct knowledge for the work being done.

It is important that you find out what is required in your field. Certain careers must have formal college education and unfortunately there isn't a lot of wiggle room to change those conditions. Many other careers, though, have a lot more leeway and the process of attaining the knowledge required is based solely on your willingness to learn.

Vocational and Trade Education

The first and the road most traveled for someone who can't attend a 4 year university is usually a 2 year degree. There are different types like an Associate Degree, a Vocational Degree, and a Trade School.

Associates Degree:

"Two-year college degree from a community college, university, college, or career school. Associate's degrees are normally earned with about sixty college credits, including general education courses, electives, and courses required toward a specific college major"

Vocational Degree:

"A vocational degree is either career or trade-specific."

Trade School

"A secondary school teaching the skilled trades"

In many cases receiving a 2 year degree is enough to work in a field and you don't need to continue your education unless you want to or are able to. You can take the route I did, by attending a community college and gaining an associates degree. One of the benefits of attaining an associates degree is the possibility of continuing your education in the future because accredited associate degrees transfer easily to 4-year universities and they require you to take general educational courses which are required for any other type of college degree, meaning you won't have to repeat many courses and can always add on to attain a new degree.

Many community colleges also offer both vocational and trade programs that allow you to access more specific educational programs dedicated to specific industries like Health, Automotive, Technology, Education, Legal, and Agriculture. Trade schools are usually dedicated to specific industries. There are tons of different industries and countless careers and jobs that they lead to. The benefits of taking this road are that it takes less time to start your career and start earning money with your degree or certification, the programs are usually very specific and don't always require you to take all of the general education courses that associcates degrees require, and the skills learned in these programs are in high demand meaning that, gaining employment, usually takes less time.

These routes still require you to be able to pay for your education and if you come from a home with a low yearly household income you can apply for financial aid to help you cover the costs of going to school. Many of these schools also offer distance learning for programs that don't require hands on practice which is helpful for people with difficult schedules do to work or childcare.

For-Profit College

I am sure you have seen commercials on TV for schools like College of America or the University of Phoenix Online, these types of schools are For-Profit colleges that focus on vocational or trade degrees but allow flexibility in scheduling and distance learning. These colleges spend a lot of money into marketing and reaching people, usually those who fall into disadvantaged groups like low-income or minorities. Most of them offer valid education but it is important to do your research because even though they offer regular degrees, they don't always transfer to regular colleges and may require you to repeat courses. These types of schools have been under a magnifying glass in the last decade because they do make claims about post graduation employment rates and some schools have been known to target disadvantaged groups using "misleading recruitment practices."

Online College Courses

So what if you can't afford to go to school, even a trade school? There are ways to gain college style education through online programs. These types of programs allow you to take college courses and even earn certifications without gaining college credits of having to enroll into an institution of higher learning. Many of the programs are relatively new and are becoming more abundant.

With more and more of us getting online to do our learning, schools, are recognizing that online is the way to go. Many of these programs offer completely free courses and they are taught by certified teachers while some of them require a monthly subscription but are still taught by certified instructors or college professors at some of the world's major universities. Some of the programs share courses that are taught at major universities like Harvard and allow people to just audit the classes and watch videos online and do the homework.

The benefit to this type of platform is that you can learn without any commitment, you can choose what you want to learn, follow the courses at your own pace, and know that the information being taught is on the same level as other colleges. Some of the downfalls are that in order to get graded on your work you do have to sign up and pay for the certifications although the certifications for the courses are much cheaper than it would be to actually take the course at the school (Usually around $50 per class or $50 per month vs $100- $1000 per credit at a college!). For many of the subjects, just taking the course, is a major benefit because the skills are applicable to many careers.

These platforms are accredited and the certifications could be a plus on your resume to set yourself apart from others when applying for jobs. While there are tons of online college course platforms, I will list a few of the most popular ones here: (check out this article reviewing some of the platforms below.)

  • Coursera - Offers thousands of courses to audit from major universities and some of them offer a Certificate of Completion.

  • Shaw Academy - My School! :) offers Accredited Diplomas in major industries.

  • EdX - Offers thousands of courses to audit from major universities and some offer a Certificate of Completion.

  • Khan Academy - offers on demand course lessons.

  • - offers Certificates Of Completion for courses.

Industry Education Programs

Another path to education is to join a company that offers education in its own industry. Many online businesses now offer courses taught by industry professionals. I personally have learned a lot from programs like these. Personally all the programs that I have joined have been in the marketing field in order to learn about marketing, blogging, and online business. These kinds of programs are everywhere although most do require some sort of membership to join. Some of them offer affiliate programs so that you can earn when you share them. So let me shamelessly share the ones I am familiar with here: (if you know of any that you would like me to add, comment below!)

Self Education

The last but not least way to learn without college is self-education. This is for everyone because you can always keep learning even after you are done with school but it's most helpful for people who haven't had the opportunities mentioned above. For those who can't afford to join a program or pay for school, learning how to educate yourself is vital.

There are tons of ways to go about doing this but the basics would be to choose a topic, research it, and continue.

I personally have looked up college degrees, listed the courses that are required, then googled the curriculum for each course, then researched each lesson plan. These days pretty much everything is online and the resources that are available for students are also available for anyone else.

There are many sites that can quiz you on information or that show you how to create projects related to certain topics.

You can find Youtube pages that focus on educational topics and there are many sites devoted to self education.

You don't have to be enrolled in school to buy school books and a lot of them are even available at public libraries.

Another thing I do is to look for people who are experts in the field and follow them on social media and go to their websites. I also join groups on Facebook for certain interests like nutrition, marketing, and blogging.

The benefits of this method are that you are free to learn anything you want, just like Lincoln, your possibilities are endless and all that is required is for you to want to learn more. The downfalls are that your work may not be recognized without proper certification and that you don't have anyone to structure your learning for you.


We live in an incredibly advanced society, definitely wayy more knowledge-accessible and learner-friendly than Abraham Lincoln's days. Learning is accessible to us now more than ever before and if you are able to read this post, you are able to embark on a journey of education.

I really hope that this post helps you see that there are alternatives to learning without the traditional college experience. If you have extra sites or sources that you would like me to add to this list please email I wish you the best of luck in your knowledge journey :)

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