American college students owe more than $1.5 trillion in debt, with the average student loan debt of a 2017 graduate carrying a little more than $37,000, per CNBC. That’s a hell of a lot of money to payback over the course of your career. And, as the cost of a sheepskin continues to accelerate — remember, $37K is the average, many students have more than $50,000 in debt — it’s time to consider what else you could have spent that money on.
Here are some alternative purchases that a graduating high school student can make instead of a bachelor’s degree. Some are fun, but some are surprisingly good alternatives (at least financially) to a four-year college degree.
About 10 AA Degrees
Believe it or not, you can make more money with certain Associate’s degrees than you can with many Bachelor’s degrees. The healthcare field is exploding as baby boomers age and new technologies evolve. There are more than 40 specialized certificates, diplomas and AA degrees in the healthcare field, many of which offer high salaries, full benefits and long-term stability. Radiation therapists and MRI techs, for example earn $80,000 per year.
Nursing is moving to a field that will require a Bachelor’s, but some types of nurses will still only need an AA degree to earn roughly $60,000 per year. Dental hygienists make more than $72,000 annually. Radiology and MRI techs start at roughly $60,000. Those who move up to become managers make more.
Like planes? Air traffic controllers can make $122,000 a year. Good with computers? Programmers earn more than $79,000, while Web developers average $66,000. Other jobs that pay between $60,000 and $70,000 per year include avionics techs, police officers and electronic engineering techs.
A Small Business
Interested in starting your own business and being your own boss? You don’t need to start a tech firm or invent a product, just look around your town at the services your friends and neighbors want. Landscapers. Wedding Planners. Painters. Caterers. Deck remodelers. By simply thinking about the services small businesses in your area need, you can create a nice career for yourself.
You might not want to push a lawn mower or climb a ladder with a paintbrush your entire career, but, after just a few years, you can have crews working for you while you’re the boss in an office. Many landscapers and painters have started businesses that now generate millions in revenues each year. This type of business can be sold for a nice fat early retirement, too.
Many small businesses only cost a few thousand dollars to start. Others might require an investment to purchase a vehicle, equipment, liability insurance and marketing, but still won’t cost you near $37,000, which, again, is the average student loan debt.
A Professional Certificate
With baby boomer auto mechanics and truck drivers retiring more frequently, there’s a shortage of workers in these important fields, causing potential earnings to climb. A variety of healthcare jobs also only require one-year certificates. Tennis teachers can get certified after taking a weekend training course — which sounds amazing. In fact, the tennis industry is facing a shortage of teaching professionals. Many pros make a living without being certified, but getting that piece of paper from the Professional Tennis Registry, or United States Professional Tennis Association, can put you on the path to a six-figure country club director of tennis one gig day.
Certified Auto Technicians start out at around $40,000 per year, but if they work for five years and become master technicians, they can make six-figure salaries. How many college students take five years to graduate, don’t earn $40,000 each year while doing so and then pile up massive student loan debt?
A House Down Payment
Want to own a house? Down payments on a home or condo often range from 3.5-to-20 percent of the purchase price. If you switch from a Bachelor’s to an AA degree, diploma or certificate and hit the job market two years earlier, you’ll be able to save enough for a down payment for your first starter home much quicker.
Personal Or Used Vehicle
A truck or van is often the main expense of a new small business. You don’t need to buy a new car, but with $37,000, you probably can. A better low-cost option that helps you avoid buying a lemon is to get a factory certified used vehicle that comes with a great warranty.
A House To Flip
In some, still-depressed real estate markets, you can find homes for a song. Most of your $37,000 might go into your remodeling costs, and, in some cases, you might find homes at auction for less than $5,000.
Bribing a politician is easier than you think, and, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case, it’s legal! Many local city council members, state-level politicians and even members of Congress can be swayed to vote for, or against, a law that favors your business for just a few thousand dollars. Of course, that would be wrong — but, hey, it’s still cheaper than your student loan debt!
If you have a house and want to increase its value, consider upgrading one or more rooms. Many upgrades that boost the sale price of a home don’t pay for themselves, but others do. With $37,000 worth of home upgrades, you can generate enough income to start a home business, pay for an AA degree or get a professional certificate or diploma — and you might find out it’s a great investment.
After some home upgrades, if you can time the market right — that is, before the next real estate crash and recession — you can sell your current house at the top of the market, rent for a year or two and then take your cash and buy a new, nicer home when prices are rock bottom.
All images via Getty