Building Your Path

How Do Non-college-bound Students Get Credentialed?

We’ve said it before, but we think it is worth reiterating that students have more post-secondary options than ever. Credentialing students can take place at a traditional 4-year college or community college, an apprenticeship, the military, a coding bootcamp, or in the workforce.

Most credentialed students go through a 4-year college. According to The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, the percentage of high school students who directly go to college was 62.5% in 2010 and increased to 63.1% in 2016. This number dropped to 66.2% in 2019.

This drop in direct-to-college enrollment could be attributed to the growing worry of the impact of student loan debt. Since 2013, Princeton Review’s College Hopes and Worries Survey has identified student loan debt as being the biggest worry for students going to college.

With the worry of how debt will impact their lives, students are looking for cheaper ways to get a credential. Despite this worry, going to a 4-year college is still the conventional path to a credential.

Credentialing students the conventional way

This route to a credential through a 4-year college is the paradigmatic, conventional pathway. A conventional pathway is a series of steps that are commonly understood and broadly marketed. Conventional pathways have the benefit of being time-tested and well established. Most personalized learning plans direct students to enroll in college.

[Read more about our thoughts on Personalized Learning Plans]

For a student to start their path on this conventional path, they work with their counselor to pick and apply to a college of their choice.

The process of applying to college is standard unlike what non-college-bound students experience.

A student and guidance counselor work together to complete the college application process:

  • First, a student meets with their counselor, coming with a list of schools to which they would like to apply
  • Then the counselor helps them understand the requirements of their applications
  • The student then submits their application and their counselor send along their transcripts and letters of recommendation.
  • Once the student is accepted, the counselor can walk them through the process of applying for scholarships and financial aid.

With the Common App, this process can make applying to multiple colleges at the same time incredibly easy. The problem, though, is that conventional pathways don’t positively serve all students the same way.

Credentialing students the non-conventional way

The non-conventional path to a credential is not as templated as a conventional plan through college. These paths are often perceived as being less beneficial to students despite clear evidence that shows the opposite.

Non-college-bound students do not have just one way of getting their credential. Often times, application processes for credentialing schools are different from one another.

A student that is not going to college has the options that they most likely know about (military, trades schools, and local employers) and the ones that they don’t (apprenticeships and coding bootcamps). 

These paths are often hyper-localized, requiring students to do a lot of the research on their own if they want to pursue opportunities out of their local area. 

What would a student in the Monadnock Region of New Hampshire have to do to be a master welder? 

  • First, they would need to be interested in welding.
  • Next, they would need to talk to someone about how to go about becoming a welder. If they participate in a CTE program, they would likely have access to someone who could help. If they aren’t, then hopefully their guidance counselor can direct them in the right direction.
  • Then they will need to do their own research. This is a niche path to a credential, so the counselor may not have all the answers.
  • After some research, the student has discovered that PHAZE Welding Technology Center is nearby and can put them on a path to become a master welder.
  • Then the student enrolls in Phaze’s 130 Hour AWS Standard D1.1 Certification Program
  • After completing the program, Phaze connects its graduates to local employers in need of welding apprentices.

Even finding a local opportunity like Phaze requires students to do the research to enroll in these programs due to the limited time and resources of their counselors.

[Read more about high counselor strain and its negative effects]

Since students often do this research themselves, let’s take a look at how students can pursue a couple of different types of non-college credentials. 


According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 23,400 registered apprenticeship programs are credentialing 238,000 individuals in the apprenticeship system.

The same report found that there are almost 26,000 active apprentices in the New England area alone, with nearly 3,000 in our home state of New Hampshire.

Pursuing an apprenticeship has become a more popular pursuit for students over the last decade. Students are in need of a low or no-cost education option that results in higher wages and low debt.

The easiest way, right now, for anyone interested in getting an apprenticeship in the U.S is to visit Apprenticeship.gov’s apprenticeship finder. 

Students also have the option of reaching out to local unions to inquire about possible apprenticeships. 

Trade School

Like apprenticeship programs, trade school enrollment has seen a rise in popularity. In 2014, trade-school enrollment in the US had increased to 16 million students compared to the  9.6 million enrolled in trade schools in 1999. Most students that enroll in a trade school pursue HVAC or an electrical trade with 63% of students seeking out these programs.

Trade schools often have open enrollment and are shorter and cheaper than getting an associate’s degree from a community college.

Enrolling into most trade schools require a high school diploma or GED, completing an application, and submitting the application with an individual at the school. Many of these schools are small have limited automation, requiring the application process to be manual. 

Participation in a CTE program at the high school level will help with getting familiar with local trade schools and making the application process easier.

Coding Bootcamp

Compared to a degree program, a coding bootcamp program focus on a very specific subject job skill and only take a couple of months to complete. These programs are a way to up-skill oneself to move up in their current career or take the first step in a new career path.

These programs teach students coding languages like HTML, CSS, JavaScript, SQL, Ruby, and Java.

According to Course Report, there were over 23,000 students enrolled in a bootcamp. That is up from a little over 2,000 students in 2013. Online bootcamps are available for individuals looking for a career change or who have other commitments limiting their availability for in-person training.

Physical locations of these programs can be found in major U.S. cities, but the availability of online bootcamps has made them more accessible for students across the country.

Students leave these programs with a certificate, portfolio of work, and connections to hiring partners that these bootcamps ofter partner with. These partnerships give students a path from a bootcamp to a career.

Giving students one place to pursue credential options

Students need an easy way to pursue and compare all of their post-secondary options, including their non-college options. The process of identifying and comparing paths that will be the cheapest, yield the highest salary, and be the best fit for a student is hard.

Awato can easily start the process of credentialing students by:

  • Helping students best understand their interests through our engaging assessments
  • Giving students a clear understanding of all of their career and education options
  • Placing them on a flexible path that allows them to compare all of their options
  • Connecting students with local career and education options that will help them get the credentials they need.

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