College is a popular route for young Americans looking to build their educational prospects. It’s believed that over 33% of Americans aged 25 or older have at least a college degree – and with many different institutions out there all offering diverse courses with different employment prospects, it’s easy to see why this choice is made by so many people.

Higher learning can be achieved in other ways though. With the advent of the internet, it’s easier than ever to acquire qualifications online – and there’s a rich history of correspondence courses in the US. For those who are keen to pursue learning for its own sake, the large bases of knowledge that exist on the internet are the perfect resource.

Online education

Perhaps the most obvious route to take if you’re looking to move into higher education without actually attending a physical college is to go down the online route. Online education has a wide range of advantages: it’s possible to learn and study at the same time, for example, while it also offers flexibility. This is because online education provided through a website can be structured in a largely bespoke way.

With many of the key tools needed for a successful education – such as educational materials and lectures – able to be transmitted online, it’s possible to simply pick up your laptop computer or even your tablet and study on the go. Whether it’s during your work lunch break, at home or on the train, you can catch up with work towards your qualifications wherever you are. For those who are concerned about the financial aspects of going to college (whether that’s the time cost of missing a few years of full-time workforce experience or simply the problem of sourcing cash for fees), having the ability to work around your studies is a vital one for many students.

Correspondence courses

Correspondence courses have been popular in the US for a long time, and in some ways, they’re very similar to online education. In both cases, it’s possible to access materials for perusal in your own time. The hard work of a correspondence course can be done in almost any location and can be made to fit around pre-existing commitments – just like with online education.

However, in some ways, correspondence courses are going out of fashion thanks to the increasing appeal of other distance learning formats that are easier and more time-efficient. Waiting for a set of documents to be sent to you is often less preferable than receiving the materials online, while the assignment submission software of an online course provider is much less time-consuming than printing out an essay and posting it off. However, some correspondence courses are still popular – and they may work for you.


The internet has transformed learning, and there are now vast repositories of knowledge in existence in all corners of the web. Self-teaching has been an obvious beneficiary here: with many organizations ranging from biography dictionaries to NASA making knowledge freely available, it’s possible to devise a self-taught program of study with relative ease. It’s also possible to engage with organizations that offer loose structures for those who want to learn together while avoiding the sort of strict hierarchies that physical colleges have. The University of the Third Age, for example, brings together older people who are looking to expand their knowledge without necessarily gaining formal, institutional qualifications. Self-teaching doesn’t have to rely on the internet, either: it’s possible to self-teach using other resources, such as physical libraries.

Self-teaching is not suitable for everyone, however. The main disadvantage of self-teaching yourself a higher education subject is that you won’t usually receive a qualification, unless you later enroll in an organization that offers accreditation. For that reason, self-teaching tends to be the exclusive preserve of those who are looking for higher education purely because they take pleasure in becoming more knowledgeable about the topic in question.

Higher education has long been a popular choice for those who want to expand their job opportunities, their horizons or their knowledge – or all three! While college is the obvious choice here, it’s also possible to make the most of various non-college options. Online education and its older counterpart distance learning are certainly worth considering, while self-teaching is also appropriate for those who are in the game merely for the knowledge expansion benefits.