Lesson Plan Guide: Find At Least One Alternative/Complement To Traditional College

By Matt Andrews

Student Paths Outcomes and Standards:

Students understand how to manage their money and time to accomplish career and life goals.

Students combine strengths and abilities with professional aspirations and preparation to engage in purposeful life activities.

Common Core Standards Addressed:


Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.


Show students how to consider multiple-dimensions of preparation for a career, and better appreciate how college and training are pathways for career preparation. Some students focus too narrowly on classroom grades to prepare for college without consideration of activities beyond school that prepare a person for a job and life; other students are disengaged from school and feel hopeless in the pursuit of a degree; while advanced students need to be integrating their coursework in school with activities along a career trajectory.

The primary audience for the article and lessons is students in Grades 11 and 12. The primary message for the teacher to deliver is that doing well in high school and college alone is not enough for a successful transition to a career after graduation; students need experience and training in the real world to complement academic studies.


Student Paths article, “UnCollege? Nanodegrees? Technology and creativity are opening up new options for post-high school learning”

White board/poster paper with markers

General Procedure:

Discussion Starter and Diagram (5-15 minutes):

Motivate the idea of planning for college and preparing for a career by tasking the whole class to draw a diagram on the board that explains how a student utilizes school to succeed in a career. Instruct the class, “Let us draw/diagram a path through college and into a successful career,” and begin writing what students take as common sense for success in life.

Students are likely to agree that these three points are achievements along the path to career success:

  1. Graduate High School
  2. Graduate College
  3. Start a Career

Teachers should push student understanding further by including the following in the diagrams on the board:

In high school, students on a path to the most selective colleges need:

  • Rigorous classes, such as AP or college class
  • Study and take SAT/ACT
  • Leadership position for an organization

Preparing for applications and transitions may need:

  • Deadlines, Transcripts, Test Scores, Letter of Recommendation
  • Acceptance letter, statement of intent to register, housing applications, final transcripts, apply for FAFSA and work study

In college, students need to consider:

  • Selecting a major and preparing for specific degree
  • General education requirements
  • Paying bills, housing, transportation
  • Internships, volunteering, jobs, and career preparation

Doctors and lawyers tend to be popular professions, so include graduate school and residency.

To fill out the life of a student, the diagram may also include:

Family, dating, marriage, entertainment, travel, special events, coming of age ceremonies, and the other things students find important in life

The point of diagramming a common sense career trajectory is to demonstrate that there are many paths, and that college is only part of the pathway to career preparation. It is an essential part for most of the highest paying professions, but students must understand that experience outside of school, in a paid or unpaid position along a career path is a key to success beyond college.

Once the diagram is complete, explore programs that serve as alternatives and complements to college.

For teachers who would like to integrate data into a presentation, and show students how ways to analyze data for career planning, may find the following sites helpful:

It may not be surprising that white females whose parents have a college degree and high incomes are the most likely to attend and graduate college. Careers and preparation for careers are always changing; a college education is essential for many paths, but too many students are not considering how to take small steps every day to become better prepared for a career.

Prepare to Read Discussion (5 minutes):

Write the following vocabulary words on the board:

  • Uncollege
  • Gap Year
  • Bootcamp
  • Nanodegree
  • Global Freshman

Read each term aloud, ask students to raise hands if they have heard of the term, and write down how many students raise their hand. Then, ask students to explain what these words mean.

This activity is to activate prior knowledge and engage students in the reading. Note student answers students provide.

Read article (5 minutes):

Distribute the Student Paths article, “UnCollege? Nanodegrees? Technology and creativity are opening up new options for post-high school learning,” and assign the students to read independently for 5 minutes.

Short Discussion (5-10 minutes):

Return to the vocabulary list on the board, and ask for students to define the words more clearly as options for learning after high school.

Ask the students: what are the advantages and disadvantages with each of the opportunities introduced in the article?

Reflective Writing (5-10 minutes):

After the group diagrams and discusses traditional and alternative paths through college and into careers, have students take out journals or paper to answer questions.

The first writing prompts force students to choose one activity over another while the second activity challenges students to combine school with extracurricular activities to take steps along a career path.

Remind students that the question is rarely “either-or,” not a choice between school and a job, but a question of how to combine school with a job along a path for career advancement.

Ask students to respond to and explain their answers to the following questions:

  1. Would you rather… Go to class or work at a job?
  2. What class is the hardest to complete?
  3. What class do you enjoy the most?
  4. Where do/would you work?
  5. What career is this work providing me experience toward?
  6. Would you rather spend time on a technology screen or doing community service?
  7. Would you rather work hard or enjoy your time?
  8. Would you rather work to earn money today or study to earn more money tomorrow?

Let us turn the questions around to help students plan for career advancement.

The decision about college is not: Should I go to college or work?

Instead: How do I go to college while I work?

  • What do I enjoy enough to persist with when the work gets more difficult?
  • How do I earn money today while I am preparing to earn more money tomorrow?
  • How do I try something that interests me today so that I have a satisfying career tomorrow?

Conclude to integrate college and career planning (5 minutes):

Ask the class to write a few specific plans for themselves in response to this question:

How do you combine a class with an activity outside of class to gain professional skills in the real world to complement academic accomplishments?

Here are 2 examples to demonstrate how students can integrate coursework with extra-curricular activities in their career planning:

  1. Student enrolls in Advanced Placement U.S. History and Composition while volunteering at a legal office to acquire professional skills with a genuine experience that prepares a student for a degree Pre-Law.
  2. Class in Auto Tech at community college while helping grandfather refurbish an old car.

Conclude with a clear plan that includes a class and activity along a career trajectory.


UnCollege? Nanodegrees? Technology and creativity are opening up new options for post-high school learning

About the Author

Matt Andrews