Alternative Opportunities to Four-Year Degrees

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Attending a 4-year university straight out of high school (or after completing a GED) isn’t the only way to learn new skills, grow professionally, and prepare for the workforce. There are a variety of credential opportunities that you might not even be aware of! Trade, technical, vocational schools, and certificate programs are fantastic options for those looking for specific careers, hands-on learning, and shorter education commitments.

Before diving in, let’s clear up some terms first:

Types of Credentials

Certificates are a type of credential that involves the successful completion of a brief course of study. It usually takes one year or less to complete. You can earn a certificate through a community college, university extension program, or a non-degree granting postsecondary institution like area career and technical education schools.

A type of credential that indicates mastery or competency in specific knowledge, skills, or processes. It can be obtained through trade schools, community colleges, state examinations, etc. Certifications often require maintaining the currency of the certification (through assessments, training, exams). 

Examples of certified careers include: Certified Early Childhood Education Teacher, Certified Welder, and Certified Logistics Technician

Associates Degrees are a type of credential that results in an academic degree for completing a program or courses of study. It usually takes two or more years to complete, depending on a part-time or full-time course schedule. 


If you are interested in earning a bachelor’s degree in the future, be sure to ask your academic advisor or CoFo Coach about the differences between associate degrees (some are transfer-friendly, others are not).

“Where can I obtain a credential?” you might ask. See below

Types of Institutions

An umbrella term for either trade or technical schools.

These are a type of institution that offers associate’s degrees and specific certifications necessary to enter technical job fields. Technical school curriculum includes classroom lectures and simulated job training. These programs can often be completed in just 1-2 years (compared to 4-year universities) and for half the typical tuition! 


Examples of technical careers include medical assistant and administrator, software engineer, and electrical engineer.

These are a type of institution that teaches skilled trades. They can be thought of as more labor-focused industries with “hands-on” programs of study. 

Examples of trade careers include: auto mechanics, electricians, carpenters, welders, etc. 

A type of institution that offers Associate degrees as well as certificate and certifications through technical and vocational programs.


If you chose to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in the future, ask a college advisor or your CoFo coach about community colleges that have transfer partnerships with 4-year colleges!

So what types of courses and programs can you take at these institutions? See below!

Types of Courses

A type of course that can be taken through a community college or vocational school,  which provide transferable college credit (certificate, associates degree, bachelor’s degree)

 A type of course that can be taken through a community college or vocational school. Typically only counts towards Certificates and Associate of Applied Science degrees. Does not count towards transfer-friendly associates degrees (Associate of Science, Associate of Arts, etc.) or bachelors degrees and are typically classes that specifically prepare you for the workforce. 


NOTE: there are both credit and non-credit certificate program options available

A type of course or certificate program designed for those who want to obtain career training for immediate employment in specific occupations and generally do not include transferable college credits. They can take weeks to months to complete. 

A type of course or program, usually for coding and other computer and information technology (such as HTML, Javascript, UX/UI Design, Python, etc.) that prepares you for entry-level roles in IT or computer science through a condensed, rigorous format. These programs vary in length and quality based on their content, structure, and admission criteria. 

NOTE: Technical certificates from accredited universities are sure to meet current industry standards. Bootcamps are generally NOT regionally or nationally accredited unless they are affiliated with a university! 

A type of course usually taken to satisfy basic learning such as literacy, writing, and math. Other adult education courses include GED test prep programs, which allow adults to earn the equivalent of a high school diploma, and ESL courses, which help adult students learn and improve their English language speaking abilities.

A type of courses or programs that offer formalized learning and training related to one’s current or future career path goals. Continuing education courses are offered on a non-credit and credit (referred to as CEU’s or continuing education units) basis. 

NOTE: CEU’s are different from college credits. CEU’s were originally designed for professionals who had already attained a certain level of education and needed to take a certain amount of continuing education and training per year to renew their license or certification.

A type of course or program that offers professional development and skills needed for in-demand occupations. These courses and programs are open to everyone! They generally do not offer transferable college credits.

Now that we’re all on the same page, go on and explore the following postsecondary opportunity program links! 

Photo courtesy of www.austincc.edu.

Austin Community College

ACC offers associate degree and career/technical certificate programs in about 100 areas of study. ACC  has 11 campus locations throughout the Austin Metropolitan Area and surrounding Central Texas communities. They provide certificate programs (credit and non-credit options) and Fast Track Career Programs


Credit certificate programs include:

ACC also provides entry-level career certificate programs from Austin Community College’s Continuing Education Division for students interested in joining the workforce ASAP. These non-credit options are designed to prepare you with specific skills sought out by Central Texas employers. These non-credit courses are currently 50% through December 31, 2021!

ACC Fast Track Careers (Non-Credit) programs include:

Lone Star College

Photo courtesy of www.lonestar.edu.

Lone Star Colleges serve the northern parts of the Greater Houston Area and have 7 campus locations. LSC offers associates degrees , certificate (credit) and Fast Track (non-credit) programs, and even a few bachelor’s degrees.

Check out LSC’s Credit Programs to join the workforce or accumulate transferable college credits:

Tarrant County College

Photo courtesy of www.tccd.edu.

Tarrant County College serves Tarrant County, including Fort Worth, Arlington, and Hurst. It has 5 campus locations. TCC offers associate degrees and certificate programs (credit and non-credit).

Check out TCC’s Credit Programs to earn a certificate and or accumulate transferable college credits:

If you want to learn a new set of skills to enter the workforce for the first time, change careers or pick up a new specialization, check out these Non-Credit Courses & Programs:

Houston Community College

Photo courtesy of www.hccs.edu.

Houston Community College serves Houston, Missouri City, Greater Katy, and Stafford, with 23 HCC campuses throughout these regions. HCC offers associate degrees and extended learning options, such as adult education, continuing education programs, and The Corporate College program (training and development solutions)

They also offer a variety of certificate programs (credit and non-credit options) in the following areas:

Texas State Technical College

Photo courtesy of www.tstc.edu.

TSTC offers Workforce Training to help you reach the next level in your current job or prepare to start a new career. TSTC also offers Certificate Programs that can count towards an associate’s degree (credit) and certificate level programs (non-credit). Check out their programs:

University Extension Programs

Photo courtesy of www.baylor.edu. 

Did you know you can take courses at 4-year universities without undergoing the strenuous application and admissions process? If you’re looking for specialized skills or professional development, check out these university extension programs:

As always, if you have any other questions or need assistance in applying for these programs, feel free to reach out to your Coach! Or, contact programs@collegeforward.org to get connected to a College Success Coach. 

Download our free CoFo Connect App on Google Play or App Store to explore more postsecondary opportunities right at the touch of your fingertips!

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