Conventional wisdom often tells us that a college degree is needed to land a secure, high-paying job. However, going to college can be expensive and require taking on considerable debt.
Alternatively, there are a variety of rewarding jobs that pay well without a degree. Instead of an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, these careers often prepare interested candidates through certificate programs, apprenticeships, and on-the-job training.
Read on to learn about careers that pay well but don’t require a college degree.
1. Elevator Technician
Though it may appear as a niche industry, there are approximately 28,900 people employed as elevator and escalator installers and repairers in the United States.
To enter the field, the National Association of Elevator Contractors offers two types of certification: Certified Elevator Technician (CET) and Certified Accessibility and Private Residence Lift Technician (CAT). Completing CAT Education Program involves two years of coursework and paid on-the-job training, whereas the CET Education Program is a four-year program.
Both programs require applicants to be at least 18 years of age and possess a high school diploma or equivalent.
Although the training and certification requirements parallel the time it takes to earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, this field has some of the best jobs without a degree from a financial standpoint. In 2020, the median salary for elevator technicians was $88,540, and the sector is projected to grow 7% by 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
2. Computer Programmer
Obtaining a bachelor’s or associate’s degree in computer science or a related field are common paths to computer programmer jobs. However, it’s still possible to forgo a formal degree program to enter this career path with the right skills and knowledge of programming languages, such as Java, SQL, and Python.
There are a variety of platforms offering free coding classes for beginner and experienced programmers, including Coursera, Udemy, Codecademy, and edX. In some cases, these courses are drawn directly from top universities.
With a median 2020 salary of $89,190, computer programming is one of the top-earning jobs without a degree. It’s worth noting that computer programmer jobs are expected to decline 9% between 2019 and 2029, according to the BLS.
3. Commercial Pilot
There are several levels of certification for pilots, ranging from recreational purposes to a career flying commercial and passenger aircraft. Becoming a commercial pilot requires a high school diploma or equivalent and a commercial pilot’s license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The commercial pilot certification process involves a minimum of 250 hours of flight time in varying conditions and in-depth training requirements.
Commercial airline pilots are able to operate charter flights, rescue operations, and aircraft used in large-scale agriculture and aerial photography. To work for an airline, such as Delta or JetBlue, pilots generally need a bachelor’s degree and an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate.
The median annual wage for commercial pilots was $93,300 in 2020. This is competitive with many of the highest paying jobs out of college.
4. Real Estate Broker
Looking for high paying jobs without a degree or serious mechanical or tech skills? A career in real estate could be an option worth considering.
Every state has its own set of requirements for obtaining a real estate license. Generally speaking, this entails taking a set module of coursework and passing an exam.
Once certified, real estate agents are authorized to help clients buy, sell, and rent real estate for a sponsoring broker or brokerage firm. Depending on the state, real estate salespersons may also need to complete additional training or work a certain number of years to become a real estate broker.
Brokers are able to start their own firm and hire agents to work under them. This extra training and work can pay off, as the median salary in 2020 for real estate brokers was $60,370, compared to $49,040 for real estate agents.
5. Flight Attendant
The airline industry offers other high-paying jobs, with no degree required. Working as a flight attendant can be a well-paying job that also affords the ability to travel.
Requirements can vary somewhat between airline carriers, but some universal qualifications include being at least 18 years old, passing a background check, and holding a valid passport.
Flight attendants may also need to pass physical and medical evaluations and meet certain vision and height requirements based on the airline.
Once hired, flight attendants will complete training with the airline, which typically runs from three to six weeks. Training can cover emergency procedures, first-aid, and soft skills related to customer service.
The median flight attendant salary was $59,050 for 2020, and total jobs are expected to grow 17% from 2019 to 2029.
As of 2019, there were over 739,000 electricians employed in the United States, and the number of jobs is expected to increase by 8% by 2029, says the BLS .
Instead of finding a job that pays for your college degree, how about getting paid for learning on the job? Through paid apprenticeship and education programs, that’s exactly what most electricians do to begin their careers. Typically, apprenticeships span four to five years and include a combination of classroom instruction and paid on-the-job training every year.
Rules for electrician apprenticeship programs vary by state and location. A handful of industry groups, such as Independent Electrical Contractors and the National Electric Contractors Association , provide resources for finding apprenticeship programs.
Electrician earnings are impacted by specialization and location, but the median wages for the industry totaled $56,900 in 2020.
Installing and repairing piping and plumbing fixtures can be counted among jobs that pay well without a degree. Plumbers accounted for 490,200 people in the workforce in 2019, and the BLS predicts the profession will grow 4% over the next ten years.
The path to becoming a plumber parallels the apprenticeship and training requirements for electricians. A standard plumber apprenticeship spans four to five years and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and classroom coursework. In most cases, a high school diploma or its equivalent is required to be accepted into a program.
Apprentices can be sponsored by plumbing companies or trade unions. This map , managed by Explore the Trades, is a helpful tool to find apprenticeships by state in plumbing, HVAC, and electrical professions.
Plumbers can be called in on evenings and weekends to respond to emergencies, such as burst pipes. This, among other factors, is why the median annual pay for plumbers ($56,330) is higher than some other trades.
8. Wind Turbine Technician
Considering careers without a degree but worried about long-term prospects? A job in wind energy could be a safe bet. Between 2019 and 2029, the BLS projects wind turbine technician jobs to grow by 61%, making it one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States.
Wind turbine technicians may perform tasks related to maintenance, repair, inspection, and analysis of wind energy systems. Community colleges and technical schools often offer associate’s degrees and certificates in wind energy technology that can improve a candidate’s prospects.
Upon hire, technicians usually complete about 12 months of on-the-job training related to electrical safety, equipment operation, and climbing wind towers. Wages can vary by location, but the median pay for wind turbine technicians was $56,230 in 2020.
9. Court Reporter
If Court Reporter
Median income is $61,660 per year. No special degree is required. Short-term on-the-job training
Education: Postsecondary non-degree award
Median Income: $57,150
Job Growth: 7%
Court reporters type word-for-word transcriptions of a trial, deposition, or other legal proceeding, using shorthand, machine shorthand, or voice writing equipment. They may also be asked to read back portions of the transcript by judges.
Court reporters often work with private law firms or local, state and government agencies. There is some training required, but not a four-year college degree. Court reporting programs may be offered at community colleges, technical schools, or court reporter schools.
To enter a program, you may need to take an entrance exam that tests typing and English language skills.
In 2020, median income for a court reporter was $61,660 per year.
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Finding a high-paying and meaningful job doesn’t always require going to college.
But, while you may not need a bachelor’s degree for many of these rewarding careers, you will likely need some kind of education, such as an associate degree, some trade school, or other specific certifications or apprenticeships.
Whichever career path you choose, it can be a good idea to factor in education costs, and to start saving up these expenses as early as you can.
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