The true value of the four-year degree is the subject of much debate as we recover from the Great Recession. Millions of young adults are currently saddled with crippling debt, with slim prospects of employment related to their degree. So what if you are in a position where you are contemplating your next career move? The evidence for pursuing a four-year degree isn’t promising at the moment.
Thankfully, you have options. In some cases, you can get the education you need in two years or less. In other cases, you can get started right away. Here are 20 high paying careers with little schooling.
Computers and Technology Careers:
In the digital age, web developers will remain in demand no matter how technology progresses. All business is done on the web, and everyone needs a website. Despite the growing sophistication of DIY website-creation tools, companies and organizations will still hire an expert who can do a more professional job than these tools can manage.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which uses national research to get its numbers, reports that the median wage of web developers is $69,430 per year, $33.38 per hour. The industry is expected to have 24,400 new positions by 2026, up 15% from the 2016 figure of approximately 162,900 active positions.
While it’s true that a computer science degree can be a metaphorical blank check for one’s future earnings, a good programmer doesn’t need a bachelor’s degree.
You can learn the languages and technologies you need with free online resources, supplemented by a few fundamental computer science courses. In the world of computer programming, hands-on experience trumps theoretical knowledge every time.
Best of all, there are so many different languages and technologies that it is easy to find an area where you won’t meet much competition. Use a tech-focused job search site to get an idea of which technologies are most in demand in your area and get started learning them!
According to the BLS, the median wage of computer programmers is $84,280 per year, $40.52 per hour. In 2016, there were approximately 294,900 positions.
The essential trait for a successful graphic designer is artistic creativity, and while it can be developed through formal education, this fundamental talent can’t be taught. So why go through a four-year degree before you put it to use to earn money?
These days, computer literacy is a must-have skill for a graphic designer, so you might want to seek out courses specifically geared toward common graphic design software. But while you can teach anyone how to use a design program, you can’t necessarily teach them to use it to create something beautiful. If beautiful is your game, you can get started on a graphic design program that will prepare you to seek a career in the field.
The median wage of graphic designers is $50,370 per year, $24.21 per hour. With a current workforce of 266,300, the industry is expected to have 11,100 new positions by 2026.
Network Systems Administrator
A network administrator ensures that the computer infrastructure of a company remains in good working order. The job can be stressful at times, as the problems that arise generally require immediate attention and resolution.
Because this position requires a lot more proactive knowledge and skills, you generally can’t walk into a network administrator position without some sort of formal education and certifications. Luckily, these qualifications can be met without enrolling in a four-year program.
An associate’s degree in a network-related program can be completed in two years, and a combination of lower-level experience and certifications, such as the CCNP or CompTIA Network+, should put you in good standing for a position that pays well.
The median wage of web developers is $82,050 per year, $39.45 per hour. The industry is expected to have 24,000 new positions by 2026, up 6% from the 2016 figure of approximately 391,300 active positions.
The traditional trade schools may have taken a back seat to colleges in the previous generations, but that has created a tremendous need for skilled tradesman to fill positions being created by the retiring baby boomers.
The BLS expects the number of electrician jobs to increase by over 20% by 2022, adding over 114,000 jobs to the current figure of 583,000. If you are looking to jump in right away, take advantage of an online program and search for the availability of local apprenticeships. You won’t earn as much as your fully-licensed teacher, but not many other jobs on this list will pay you to learn.
The median wage of electricians is $55,190 per year, $26.53 per hour. The industry is expected to have 59,600 new positions by 2026, up 9% from the 2016 figure of approximately 666,900 active positions.
All of the arguments outlined above for electricians apply here to plumbers as well. When it comes to work as a plumber, the old adage comes to mind: “It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.” In this case, homeowners and building owners will happily pay someone else a good bit of money to do it.
Obviously, there is much more to the plumbing trade than just dealing with toilets and clogged drains, so if you don’t mind working with your hands, don’t dismiss it so easily. As with electricians, plumbers have the choice of going to a trade school or jumping straight into an apprenticeship.
The job outlook for plumbers is even better than for electricians, according to the BLS. Job growth in this field is expected to be in the neighborhood of 16%, adding 75,200 positions to a current workforce of over 480,600. Plumbers make $53,910 per year, $25.92 per hour.
Are you starting to see a theme yet? HVAC technician jobs are also in high demand, with expected job growth similar to that of plumbers and electricians. In this case, almost 48,800 positions are predicted to join a workforce that is currently 332,900 strong, good for 15% growth. HVAC technicians make $47,610 per year, $22.89 per hour.
In the case of an HVAC technician, apprenticeships aren’t as popular as the traditional trade school education. However, we still aren’t talking about a four-year time commitment.
This job isn’t for everyone. Very few truck drivers work a traditional 9-5 schedule. While not all positions require long days and nights on the road, it is unlikely that you will be home in time for dinner.
However, the earnings potential is better than most realize, and the industry offers something for everyone. Rank-and-file types can find plenty of companies looking for able drivers, while drivers with a more independent disposition can find plenty of work as an owner-operator.
Obtaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL) in your state is the only requirement for this job. While a certification from a training program might increase your attractiveness as a candidate, there is certainly no need for a post-secondary degree of any kind.
The median wage of commercial drivers is $43,680 per year, $21.00 per hour. With a current workforce of roughly 1,871,700 drivers, the industry is expected to have 108,400 new positions by 2026.
Construction and Engineering Careers:
Every construction project involves dozens of moving pieces, hundreds of simultaneous tasks, several subcontractors and a crucial need for everything to be done safely and correctly. It’s up to the manager of the project to make sure the whole operation runs smoothly.
This sounds like a very complex task, and it is. However, getting a job in construction management does not require a four-year degree. Associate programs can get you the education and certification you need to start your career in two years or less.
The median wage of construction managers is $93,370 per year, $44.89 per hour. The industry is expected to have 44,800 new positions by 2026, up 11% from the 2016 figure of approximately 403,800 active positions.
Drafters are responsible for taking the plans drawn up by the architect or engineer and putting them into an electronic format using AutoCAD software. Drafters are employed in a variety of offices, so you aren’t limited to seeking a position with an architect. Civil planning and engineering offices also employ drafters.
This career isn’t likely to experience a growth explosion in the next decade like some other jobs on this list. However, if this career is a better fit for your particular skillset, you’ll be happy to know that you can obtain the necessary education and certifications in a two-year program.
The median wage of architectural drafters is $55,550 per year, $26.71 per hour. The industry is expected to have 14,600 new positions by 2026, up 7% from the 2016 figure of approximately 207,700 active positions.
Civil Engineering Technician
This position is essentially a civil engineer’s assistant. The job is more than just fetching coffee and dry cleaning, though. If you enjoy engineering and building projects, but you would prefer not to go the four-year college route, you can get an associate’s degree and jump into the job market in two years.
As with drafting, this isn’t a fast-growing field, but it is the type of job that will make sure no two work days are ever the same.
The median wage of a civil engineering technician is $52,580 per year, $25.28 per hour. The industry is expected to have 6,600 new positions by 2026, up 9% from the 2016 figure of approximately 74,500 active positions.
Office and Professional Careers:
Claims adjusters assess insurance claims and determine how much the insurance company will pay on the claim. It might not be the most popular job among the American public, but with a median salary approaching $60,000 a year, it is a comfortable, honest living.
As you look to advance in the field and move up the career ladder, a degree will help you, but entry-level positions require no special education. Strong analytical skills and good interpersonal skills go a long way, but neither of those need to be acquired in a college classroom.
The median wage of a claims adjuster is $65,670 per year, $31.57 per hour. With a current workforce for 328,700, the industry is expected to remain steady.
Law offices create and process a mind-boggling amount of paperwork, but the lawyers themselves don’t have the time to draft every word and collect every piece of information they need for their cases. Instead, they employ paralegals to perform a lot of this grunt work.
Lawyers may spend seven years and thousands of dollars to get where they are, but paralegals don’t have to follow suit. To qualify for a paralegal position, you can complete an associate’s degree program and be out in the job market in two years.
The median wage of a paralegal is $50,940 per year, $24.49 per hour<. The industry is expected to have 41,800 new positions by 2026, up 15% from the 2016 figure of approximately 285,600 active positions.
Banks receive loan applications all the time from businesses and individuals. A loan officer evaluates the application and makes a decision on whether or not the bank is going to award the loan. A background in business and accounting is helpful for a loan officer, and you might run into postings requiring a bachelor’s. However, this isn’t a hard and fast requirement, so some combination of experience in a bank and college coursework can put you in line for a position.
The median wage of a loan officer is $63,040 per year, $30.31 per hour. The industry is expected to have 36,300 new positions by 2026, up 11% from the 2016 figure of approximately 318,600 active positions.
Almost everyone has experience working in retail somewhere along the way, so we don’t have to tell you that this job isn’t for the faint of heart. But if you enjoy customer service and you are used to the unusual shifts that come along with a job in the retail industry, a managerial position can pay better than you might suspect.
Because burnout and turnover in this industry can be high, companies use compensation incentives to keep good managers on board. This may not be the most attractive job on the list, but there aren’t many careers where your summer jobs in high school can count as serious job experience.
The median wage of retail managers is $124,220 per year, $59.72 per hour. The industry is expected to have 28,900 new positions by 2026, up 7% from the 2016 figure of approximately 385,500 active positions.
Medical and Dental Careers:
What would you say if someone told you that, using only an associate’s degree, you could produce a job where the median annual salary is over $70,000 a year? Believe it or not, that is the going rate for a dental hygienist.
Careers in the medical industry are growing at pretty much every level, but not many can match the explosive growth rate the BLS predicts for dental hygienists in the next decade. If you don’t mind poking and prodding at strangers’ mouths all day, you will find yourself ahead of even most bachelor’s degree holders.
The median wage of dental hygienists is $74,820 per year, $35.97 per hour. The industry is expected to have 40,900 new positions by 2026, up 20% from the 2016 figure of approximately 207,900 active positions.
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
As sonography technology improves, medical professionals are finding new uses every day. As a result, this is one of the few medical professional fields that is genuinely expected to grow nearly as fast as dental hygienists.
A two year associate’s degree program will train you to use the imaging equipment to help physicians and obstetricians get a better, but less invasive look at their patients.
The median wage of sonographers is $67,080 per year, $32.25 per hour. The industry is expected to have 21,100 new positions by 2026, up 17% from the 2016 figure of approximately 122,300 active positions.
Medical Lab Technician
The growth of the medical industry is easy to see from a consumer’s perspective when you notice all of the new medical facilities going up across the country, but the corresponding growth behind the scenes is equally impressive.
Every time a doctor takes a sample from a patient, the sample is sent to the lab. At the lab, medical laboratory technologists and their assistants, known as technicians, actually run the tests. Technologist positions require a bachelor’s degree, but technicians generally only require an associate’s degree or some other post-secondary certification.
The median wage of lab technicians is $52,330 per year, $25.16 per hour. The industry is expected to have 42,700 new positions by 2026, up 13% from the 2016 figure of approximately 335,700 active positions.
If a patient has trouble breathing, the specialist that treats them isn’t always a doctor. In some cases the patient will see a respiratory therapist. Surprisingly enough, respiratory therapists are not doctors themselves, and the education required to become a licensed respiratory therapist consists of only an associate’s degree.
The median wage of respiratory therapists is $60,280 per year, $28.98 per hour. The industry is expected to have 30,500 new positions by 2026, up 23% from the 2016 figure of approximately 130,200 active positions. As with other fields in the medical profession, job growth for respiratory therapists is faster than average.
Nurse – RN, LPN or CNA
If you have the heart and the stomach to become a nurse, you have options for how much schooling you wish to pay for before you start your career. There are three basic tiers in the nursing profession:
- CNA: Certified Nursing Assistants require only a certification program, which can be completed in 6 to 12 weeks. Earning potential is limited, but this can be a good way to get working experience while you enroll in school for one of the other certifications.
- LPN: Licensed Practical Nurses must complete a certification program, the length of which varies from state to state. One year is a good estimate for the time needed to complete an LPN program. LPNs perform a lot of the hands-on care for patients in hospitals and other institutional settings, but advancement opportunities are limited.
- RN: Registered Nurses supervise the nursing staff at a hospital or institution and make decisions regarding patient care and treatment. Because this is more of a “thinking” position than a “doing” position, the education requirements are more extensive. It is possible to become an RN with an associate’s degree program, but the more common route is to obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
The median wage of registered nurses is $71,730 per year, $34.48 per hour. The industry is expected to have 438,100 new positions by 2026, up 15% from the 2016 figure of approximately 2,955,200 active positions.
Hopefully we have given you some great options to think about as you try to find a few high paying jobs with little schooling. The next step is to contact an educational institution and find out what it will take to enroll in the program. As the saying goes, “The best time to start was two years ago. But the next best time to start is right now.”