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Now what? 6 Alternatives to university when you finish high school 

Education, Tertiary

For most Year 12 kids there’s nothing more important in life than getting good grades and being offered a place in the university course they want. Yet this comes with an incredible amount of pressure. Plus not every kid is cut out for — or interested in — tertiary study when they finish high school.

Thankfully, university isn’t the only pathway available to teens when they finish high school. In fact, there are many other options beyond Year 12 where good grades are not important at all.


TAFE Queensland is the largest, most experienced training provider in the state and a popular alternative to a university degree.

With more than 500 nationally-recognised qualifications to choose from across 50 Queensland locations, TAFE delivers practical, industry-relevant training across a wide variety of industries. Business and IT, Creative industries, education, trades, service industries, health and science are just some of the options to choose from. Teachers are often from the industry, and regularly return to the industry they teach in, keeping their skills and knowledge up-to-date. A TAFE course is more ‘real life’ than a university degree and is great for kids who want skills and a diploma, without the academics.

Courses range from entry-level certificates to bachelor degrees and across a variety of study modes. Beginner courses usually require students to have finished Year 10. These courses can be the foundation for more advanced diploma levels, should kids choose to progress.

Apprenticeship or Internship

If TAFE still looks like too much studying, an apprenticeship is a great way to get started in a profession without the class time. Most apprenticeships offer on-the-job training, backed up with a module of study (the ratio of work/study depends on the apprenticeship).

Apprenticeships can often lead to a full-time job upon completion, making the transition into the working world an easy one. What’s most appealing about this option is that apprentices gain a nationally recognised qualification while earning a wage, rather than having to choose one over the other!

If kids don’t need to earn a regular salary, an internship is another great bridge into a career without a university degree. An internship is quite different to a job. It offers hands-on work experience, but is structured around what the intern would like to achieve. Think of it as the missing link between academic studies and work experience.

An internship program is usually unpaid, with the main aim for the intern to achieve their objectives.

Join the Defence Force

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is another way to kickstart a career. The ADF offers a range of entry options and kids can join when they turn 17 years old. There are no gender restrictions in the Navy, Army or Air Force.

Their DUS program (Defence University Sponsorship) allows participants to study for a job-relevant degree at a choice of accredited university, have your fees paid for, earn a salary while you complete your degree, and walk straight into a great ADF role following graduation. They also offer trade and professional employment training, learning the skills for your chosen profession under the guidance of Army instructors.

Take a year off (Gap Year)

For those young people struggling to find something they want to pursue, a gap year can be a great chance to take stock and explore likes and dislikes. Living in Australia, it’s the ideal location for an epic year.

A gap year is often taken after Year 12, before starting the next stage of education, training or employment.

Taking a gap year is a big decision. On the surface, it may look like you are simply delaying career decisions for a long holiday. Yet, done right a gap year can be the perfect way to experience new things and learn new skills. This can spark career pathways.

Use the time to work in different spaces. See what it’s like to pour schooners at a regional pub, pick fruit, patrol the beaches, meet people, write a blog. However, activities need to have a purpose. Taking a gap year and sitting around at home isn’t the idea!

You can also take a gap year through the Defence Force. Spend 12 months in the Navy, Army or Air Force, where you’ll get paid for meaningful work while travelling around Australia and gaining skills for life.

Get a job

For those who aren’t sure what they want to study, perhaps getting a job in an industry of interest is the way to go. Curious about law, for example? Look for an administration job at a local firm. Considering a career in the building industry? Check out work as a labourer on a construction site. It’s an opportunity to get some money while testing the waters.


Another great way to get experience of the world is to volunteer. Times are changing, social issues are rising and lots of people spend their time volunteering in an effort to do some good. It’s also real life experience, which develops skills in handling real world stuff.

A qualification is beneficial because it provides those undertaking study with the knowledge and theoretical skills they need to do the job they want to go into. Volunteering can be a stepping stone or an opportunity to get some practise in that field.

Volunteer at an animal shelter, a care home, a charity or community centre. There are many good causes in desperate need of an extra pair of hands. You’ll be getting experience, meeting new people, learning how to communicate more effectively and even developing the skills needed for coordinating events and managing fundraisers.

Where will your post-high school path take you?

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Search tags: Teens | Tertiary Education
By Angela Sutherland
After spending many years hustling stories on busy editorial desks around the world, Angela is now mum of two little ones and owner/editor at Kids on the Coast / Kids in the City. She is an atrocious cook and loves cutting shapes to 90s dance music.

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