Sadly that is not the case any more (just ask any under or unemployed college graduate with umpteen thousands of dollars in student loans to pay). These days people need to think like a business person (kind of hard to do when you are a teenager with zero real life experience but I digress...) and craft a career path that make financial sense over the long haul.
First, if you are one of the special snowflakes who has a full ride scholarship or grandma is paying for your entire higher education, by all means grab that opportunity with both hands. But for everyone else, consider the following alternatives:
- Join the military. The benefits are pretty good and you will get a good amount of college paid for through the GI Bill.
- Consider an apprenticeship. These usually provide on the job training and a path to good paying jobs in the trades.
- Pick a career that requires a shorter term (and often cheaper) licensure or certification course. Careers such as an EMT, paramedic, nursing assistant, real estate agent, massage therapist, paralegal, registered nurse, tax preparer, etc. usually require less than a college degree (however watch out for for-profit schools that will charge you an arm and a leg to get such certificates).
- Start your own business. Obviously you will need some sort of skill to do this (which can range from buying low and selling high to repairing motorcycles to cutting and selling fire wood to opening a bar, etc).
- Go be what you want to be sans a college degree. Obviously if you want to be a doctor you will need a real (and really expensive) university degree, however there are many careers that people think you need a degree for but you really don't including scientist (Jane Goodall didn't have a degree, she made her own path to being a scientist), a social worker (start your own non-profit), a writer (start writing and publish your own books), a lawyer (some states allow people to become a lawyer without a law school degree), a minister (become ordained online), etc.
- Check out unique alternatives to college such as the Thiel Fellowship, coding boot camps, becoming a poker pro, or running for office.
- Get an entry-level job with the possibility of upward mobility (or high pay). Some waitresses in Las Vegas make more that $100,000 a year, good sales people who work on commission can make bank if they are in a good market and have good sales skills, etc.
- Use what makes you unique to fashion a career. One young woman I know is fluent in a half dozen languages. To date she has worked as a translator, a tour guide through multiple countries, and a language teacher. Got acting skills? Audition for TV and plays. One woman even made a career out of not being able to choose a career.
- Invent something. Or many somethings. Such as this woman who you can hardly miss on TV these days.
- Create multiple streams of income from a mixture of a few or all of these alternatives. I know one guy who has literally done all of these. He started out in construction, decided to become an EMT, joined the military which paid for his medical school, become a doctor, started a medical-related business, got paid big buck on the medical speaking circuit, and invented a couple of medical devices along the way.