The Rise of College Alternatives

A Collection of the Best Alternatives to Traditional Universities

I spent four years at Macalester College getting my liberal arts undergrad degree and two years at The University of Chicago getting my MBA.

Did I learn a lot? Yes

Was it relevant to the work I do today? Somewhat

Was it wildly expensive? Absolutely

Are there cheaper and faster routes to good jobs today? 100%

There are a rapidly expanding number of alternatives to traditional college.

Student debt in the U.S. has reached record levels, putting traditional higher education out of reach for many people.

Vocational training with lower costs and a more clear cut path from skills development to a good-paying job is on the rise.

I loved my liberal arts education, but learning Chinese art history isn’t really necessary for most jobs.

Income Share Agreement: A Better Financing

Many of these college alternatives are offering $0 upfront cost in exchange for an income share agreements(ISA) on the backend.

ISAs provide a “financial structure in which an individual or organization provides something of value (often a fixed amount of money) to a recipient who, in exchange, agrees to pay back a percentage of his/her income for a fixed number of years.”

This aligns the incentives of the school and the student. The school only gets paid when the student lands a good paying job.

Lambda School, an online bootcamp that trains students to become software engineers at no upfront cost, has popularized ISAs recently. Students receive the equivalent of a four-year Computer Science degree in 9 months of intensive full-time training. Instead of paying tuition, students agree to pay 17% of their income (after they land a job making $50k+ per year) for the first two years that they’re employed, up to $30,000. Students also have the option to pay $20,000 upfront if they’d rather not go with an ISA.

Austen Allred, Founder of Lambda School


Lambda School gets most of the press, but there are actually a ton of options ranging from sales training in as little as one week to cutting-edge 2 year schools. Graduates of these alternate schools land jobs comparable to college grads and earn $80,000+ in many cases.

Here is a list of the top alternatives to college that I’ve found. I’ve left off the 100s of generic coding bootcamps unless they are doing something especially unique. Please send me any others that I’m missing and I’ll add them.

We are actively investing at Builders VC in the future of education. If you are working on something interesting, please send me a note at @ColinKeeley or at


  • Lambda School — 9 month remote CS bootcamp with $0 upfront + ISA option. Median salary of $60k with 85% of students hired within 180 days.
  • Holberton School — a 2 year program (9 months onsite + 6 month optional internship + 9 month optional specialization, onsite or remote) for CS with $0 upfront + ISA option.
  • Make School — a 2 year San Francisco based program where students earn a Bachelor’s in Applied Computer Science while studying liberal arts, computer science theory, and product development. $0 upfront + ISA option and a $95k average starting salary.
  • Thinkful — a 4 month (full-time) or 6 month (part-time) program in web development, data science, or design with $0 upfront + ISA option. $70k average starting salary.
  • Kenzie Academy — 6-month to 2-year programs in CS, UX, and marketing with a paid apprenticeship after 6 months and a $0 upfront + ISA option. In-person classes offered in Indianapolis or online courses for remote students.
  • Modern Labor — Pays students $2,000 per month for 5 months to learn to code in exchange for 15% of their income for 2 years thereafter. In YC W19 batch.
  • App Academy — a 12 week intensive computer programming school. The first coding school to base students’ tuition on their first year’s salaries after the course.
  • Andela — a 4 year paid Technical Leadership Program in Lagos, Nigeria and Nairobi, Kenya.

Sales / Marketing / Other

  • SV Academy — a 12-week skill building and mentorship program that connects job-seekers with employers hiring for full-time sales and marketing roles in Silicon Valley and New York with $0 upfront cost+ ISA. $78k average salary including commission.
  • Praxis — 1 year program (half development bootcamp + half paid internship at a startup) with $12k tuition cost + internship pay $14.4k ($15/hour) = net $+2.4k at end of year. 96% get a job after with an average salary of $50k.
  • Vendition / Sales Bootcamp — online sales bootcamp + apprenticeship
  • Always Hired — a 4 week, M-F from 6:30 — 9:30pm, sales bootcamp for $350 ($150 application fee + $200 course material fee). Tech companies sponsor Always Hired’s Sales Bootcamp and pay $5-$10k as recruiting fee. 90% of students get jobs averaging $84k including commission.
  • FlockJay — a 12 week, Mon-Thurs 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Pacific, remote sales bootcamp with $0 upfront + ISA option. In YC W19 batch.
  • Techpoint — a 6 week sales bootcamp based in Indianapolis. 90% of participants to date have received job offers upon completion of the program.
  • Foundry College — a 2 year Associate’s Degree in Business Management program designed to teach students “future-proof” skills. All Foundry College classes are taught online in real time and tuition is $6,000 per year for a full course load or $1,000 per course.
  • Minerva School — a competitive 4 year undergraduate program with low fees, $10,000 in tuition, plus room and board for living around the world, which together amounts to about $28,000 a year.
  • Victory Lap — a free 1 week (50+ hours) intensive sales training course based in Chicago with a 91% placement rate. Sponsored by partner companies.
  • Concourse Education — a non-profit educational program that lets you spend 10–15 hours on work per week to earn a BA in as little as two years. Costs $3,250 per 6-month term with potential for federal financial aid, which can cover up to 90% of costs.
  • GenM — marketing apprenticeships for students to get hands on experience and for businesses to get ~10 hours/week of free labor. This is awesome if you are cash-strapped startup and need some content marketing or social media help. Use this link for $25 off.
  • Smartly — free 10 month MBA program. 7% admission rate. Not yet accredited. Businesses pay a fee to hire graduates.
  • Inside Sherpa — digital internships platform

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