When it comes to getting a secure, well-paying job, it’s not always necessary to get a college degree first.
Some students may choose a career training program to learn the necessary skills for a specific job, often more quickly and for less money than a four-year college degree. These programs may also be referred to as career certificate programs, usually certifying the students to work in a particular role once the course is completed.
Recent high school graduates or those who have attained their GED can often attend career training programs and get started on their careers after receiving their certificate.
Why Do People Choose Career Training Programs?
Two big factors in choosing to go through a career training program before or instead of going to college are time and money.
Career training programs typically can be completed in less time than it generally takes to complete an undergraduate degree. Some programs can be finished in as little as four months.
In addition, they’re also less expensive, which may mean that students have less student loan debt. On average, a career certificate program may cost around $100 per credit. By comparison, the average annual cost of in-state tuition at a public two-year institution is $3,862, and at a public four-year college, the in-state tuition averages $9,377 a year.
For instance, at Minnesota State University, certificate programs consist of nine to 30 credits, which can be completed in one year or less of full-time study. If these programs cost the average $100 per credit, they would cost between $900 and $3,000. This is fairly affordable compared to the cost of tuition at either a two-year or a four-year institution.
Another reason some people choose a career training program is that they need to, or would like to, start earning money relatively soon after graduating high school. And that way, if they borrowed money to help pay for their certificate program, they can put more money toward student loans to pay them off.
A career training program could be a more direct route to employment than getting an associate or bachelor’s degree for people who are sure about their career path. This could also be a beneficial route for students who want to save money to attend college later in life.
Choosing a Program
The most important thing to look for when choosing a career training program, whether it’s in-person or an online career training program, is accreditation. Accreditation verifies that an institution is meeting a certain level of quality. Usually, a certificate will need to come from an accredited institution for it to be considered legitimate.
Accreditation is done by private agencies, and most programs or institutions will list accreditations on their website.
The most up-to-date accreditation information can be found in the database of postsecondary institutions and programs compiled by the US Department of Education or with the specific accrediting agency’s website.
Once it’s clear that the potential programs are accredited, students can begin to narrow down which one will be best for them. This will be a highly personal choice, but there are a few factors worthy of attention, including cost, course length, and type of instruction (online vs. in-person).
Job search assistance—which might include resume writing workshops, job fairs, or interview prep—is another element that may help set students up for success.
Top Paying Jobs For Certificate Holders
In addition to career training programs having the potential to save students time and money, people want to know that they’ll be able to make a good living with those jobs. They also want jobs that can help pay off any money borrowed for school.
These are some of the highest paying jobs for those opting to go through a career training program:
1. Web Designer
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual income for a web designer is $78,300, with the educational requirements ranging from a high school diploma to a bachelor’s degree. This job is growing faster than average, so it has a promising future.
2. Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants make, on average, $56,230 per year. The required education for an entry-level job as a paralegal is a certificate or an associate degree. This job is also growing at a rate much faster than average, showing great potential for a long-term career.
3. Solar Photovoltaic Installer
Solar panel installation is a growing field with decent pay and a lot of projected growth for the future. The median annual pay is $47,670, with only a high school degree or a certificate required to begin working.
4. Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses
Training to become a licensed practical or licensed vocational nurse typically takes only one year of full-time study, and the median annual salary is $48,070. This job is growing as fast as average and is in a field that will certainly always exist. This could be a good choice for someone who wants to be in the medical field without the time and financial commitment it takes to become a doctor.
5. Medical Records Technician
Working as a medical records technician usually only requires a certificate, and sometimes an associate degree. This job has a median annual pay of $46,660 and the potential to work from home.
6. Pharmacy Technician
The median pay for a pharmacy technician is $36,740 per year. This job is growing at an average rate and typically requires on-the-job training or a formal training program, most of which last one year. Some longer pharmacy tech training programs culminate in an associate degree.
7. Computer Support Specialist
The role of a computer support specialist can vary widely, which means the educational requirements may also vary. Some jobs in this field may require a bachelor’s degree, but others may only require an associate degree or a certificate. The median annual pay for a computer support specialist is $57,910, and the field is growing as fast as average.
Phlebotomists draw blood and may work in hospitals, labs, or doctors’ offices. Professional certification, which can be gained after completing a phlebotomy training program, is the credential generally preferred by employers. This job has a median annual pay of $37,380 and it’s growing much faster than average.
9. Medical Assistants
Medical assistants have a median annual pay of $37,190 and the job only requires a certificate or on-the-job training. This job is growing much faster than average.
10. Wind Turbine Technician
The median pay for this job is $56,260 per year and the only education required is a training certificate through a technical program. This job is growing at a rate much faster than average, which could make it a great choice for students who are ready to start their career shortly after graduating high school.
Paying for a Career Training Program
Just because career training programs are typically less expensive than college doesn’t mean they’ll be easy to pay for. Some programs last longer than others and could end up costing a fair chunk of money. Here are some ways to help cover the costs.
Pay for it. One way to pay for a career training program is to save up the amount of money needed before starting it, especially if the program is short or has a lower cost. Paying in full with cash means no debt to worry about.
Financial aid. Another potential way to pay for a career training program is to apply for federal student financial aid, which may be available to students enrolled in eligible degree or certificate programs and who meet other eligibility requirements. Completing the Free Application for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step. After submitting the FAFSA, students will find out if they’re eligible for federal student aid, which could include federal student loans and/or work-study.
Scholarships. Students who aren’t eligible for financial aid or those who can’t cover tuition costs may want to look for scholarships. There may be fewer scholarships available for certificate programs than there are for degree programs, but they’re out there.
The best place to start looking for scholarships is with the school the student is attending. Some schools set up their own scholarships. Alternatively, students can search for scholarships offered by professional organizations in their related fields.
Private student loans. A private student loan may be another option to cover the cost of a career training program.
One of the basics of student loans is that loan terms will vary from lender to lender, and applicants are encouraged to shop around. It also makes sense for students to exhaust all federal student aid options before considering private student loans.
Learn more about how private student loans work with this private student loans guide.
Student loan refinancing. If you took out student loans and the payments are difficult to manage, or you’d like to get a lower interest rate, you can look into refinancing student loans.
One of the advantages of refinancing student loans is that you may be able to qualify for more favorable terms or a lower rate, which could help you save money.
Just be aware that when you refinance federal student loans, you lose access to federal protections and programs like income-driven repayment plans. Be sure you don’t need those benefits if you choose to refinance.
Students can be under a lot of pressure to go right into a four-year college or university after graduating high school, but career training programs provide an alternative that can also set them up for success, typically in less time and for less money.
There are a number of options to help pay for a certificate training program, including saving up for it, applying for federal student financial aid, looking for scholarships, and taking out a private student loan.
If you have student loans and you’d like to get a more favorable rate or better terms, consider student loan refinancing. SoFi offers loans with low fixed or variable rates, flexible terms, and no fees. And you can find out if you prequalify in two minutes.
SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.
SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.