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Good Careers That Don’t Require a Four-Year Degree

Published September 28, 2020

7 minute read

David Ning

By David Ning

One of the pitfalls of modern society seems to be the idea that you need at least a four-year degree to get a good job. We are often told it’s the only way to make a decent living. One of my mom’s biggest regret was not having the money to go to college. That’s why she was adamant that my sister and I both at least graduate with a four-year degree. Saying that she felt strongly that having a college degree was the only way to success is an understatement. She considered it so important we didn’t really have to do anything around the house growing up, because we needed all our time and energy to make sure our grades were up.

The truth, though, is that being able to earn a solid living isn’t just about a four-year degree. In many cases, it’s more about developing a marketable skill. Not all of those skills take four years to learn. And someone will still be willing to pay you for those skills.

While I don’t think that you need to pay for an expensive college education to succeed, I do still think it’s a good idea. Any sort of certification or training in something marketable is going to add value. It’s also important that what you are going after is in demand. Here are some good careers you can get into without going through four (or more) years of school. None of these are pie in the sky dreams, either. Becoming a viral YouTuber who makes it big isn’t very likely for anyone. These are achievable careers that you can get into, as long as you put in some effort.

Medical Assistant

You don’t need a four-year degree to get into medical assisting. Plus, the health care field is expected to grow in the coming years. If you are in a health care field, chances are that you will have job security for quite a while. After all, there’s always going to be a need for someone with medical training.

Getting into medical assistance doesn’t require all of the education that comes with being a nurse or a doctor. All you need is a few months of training. This can be a rewarding career, with decent pay. And you won’t need to complete four years of school to make it work.

Dental Hygienist

If you can handle two years of school, consider this option. Getting an associate’s degree to become a dental hygienist might be for you. Since this is technically a health care field, you can earn a decent amount. The median starting salary is about $61,000 according to Payscale.com. You’ll also enjoy a certain amount of job security.

It’s true that some dentists struggled a bit during the COVID-19 shutdown. However, business is expected to be back to normal once things return to normal. At the end of the day, people need to take care of their teeth. They can’t avoid the dentist office forever.

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Personal Trainer

People are always looking to get healthier. This career choice is expected to grow again when pandemic fears subside. You can get certified as a personal trainer in as little as six months. If you can add some level of nutrition training to the mix, you’ll do even better. Learn the basics of helping others meet their health goals, and you could do reasonably well. Of course, this career depends on where you live and the type of gym you work at too.

Personal training was another field severely impacted by the pandemic. However, now is likely a good time to start your training. Demand is super low. People will more likely be ready to hit the gym by the time you get the certificate, since it will take another six months once you start studying for it. Then you’ll be in prime position to help people shed those extra pandemic pounds.

Plumbing

My plumber makes $150 an hour. That’s not bad, considering he didn’t go to a traditional four-year school. He had vocational training instead, and did an apprenticeship.

I have another friend who makes six-figures a year being a plumber. One great thing about being a plumber is the fact that it’s a hands-on job. Therefore, it can’t be outsourced to someone with a laptop in another country. Robots are unlikely to be replacing these professionals either. We are still a long way away from robots being complex enough to be able to diagnose and fix plumbing issues. Other vocational jobs, like becoming an electrician or a car mechanic, have similar benefits. You don’t have to get a four-year degree, but you can make a good living with these types of jobs.

In fact, my plumber friend told me business has been going gang-busters lately. Everybody is stuck at home and realizing the work they’ve been putting off needs to get fixed. He’s got so much work lined up that he is now referring potential clients to his competition. If you are handy, then this is a great career to get into.

Trucker

If you like to travel, you can take a course to get certified in operating a large commercial vehicle. Then you’ll be ready to embark on a career as a truck driver. You can look for a regional route if you want to be home more, or you can do long-haul if you don’t mind seeing more of the country.

It’s pretty hard work due to the concentration and long hours the job requires. However, the salary can be worth it. Indeed.com lists postings for a Regional Class A Driver at $103,000 a year. You can even receive better pay if you get a HAZ-MAT certification. I bet you’re surprised these guys can make that much!

Female Trucker Smiling in Front of Trucks

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Firefighter

Depending on where you live, firefighters can make a lot of money. Most fire departments are unionized and funded by municipal governments that deem them an essential service. Contracts between municipalities and firefighters can be quite lucrative.

Many firefighters earn $75,000 a year or more. Some firefighters with seniority and overtime pay make more than $100,000 per annum. And that’s without a college degree of any kind. Many firefighters only have a high school education and on-the-job training.

Real Estate Agent

The market can be up-and-down, but when it’s hot, real estate agents who hustle can make a lot of money. While the average commission charged by a real estate agent has fallen to about 2% from 5% in recent years, the increase in home valuations and sale prices has ensured that agents continue to do well for themselves.

A 2% commission on the sale of a $500,000 home is $10,000. And many real estate agents will sell several homes each month. For this reason, it should come as no surprise that a good real estate agent can earn a comfortable six figure annual salary. Top agents earn $200,000 or more. And the only education needed is experience.

Police Officer

Like firefighters, police officers in most jurisdictions are unionized and have iron clad contracts with cities and other municipalities. As such, police officers tend to have extremely good pay, pensions and benefits. It’s a dangerous job and police are compensated for the risks they take.

Police officers can also earn lucrative overtime pay by working double shifts and on statutory holidays. Put it altogether, and many police officers earn $85,000 or more a year. And most of them have only attended police college to learn how to effectively do their job.

Physical Therapist

Physical therapists help people to rehabilitate physical injuries. Whether it is an athlete who has been injured playing a sport or a senior citizen experiencing mobility issues, physical therapists help people regain their movement and independence.

Most physical therapists attend one year of community college to become certified in their profession. Becoming a “physiotherapist” can require a four-year university degree. But physical therapists who are not required to know as much about human anatomy can get through with a year of training. And a physical therapist typically earns $55,000 to $60,000 a year. Not bad.

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Insurance Agent

Most insurance agents work primarily on commission, and those who work hard can earn a very good living. Agents put money into their pocket with each home, auto and life insurance policy they sell, and that commission can lead to annual salaries of $60,000 to $70,000.

Most insurance agents learn on the job with no requirement for a four-year degree. It’s a sales job and requires a high degree of knowledge about the industry and products being sold, as well as an outgoing personality. But for the right people, insurance sales can be very lucrative.

Massage Therapist

Like physical therapists, licensed massage therapists tend to have a year of training under their belt, usually from a community college. Massage therapists can also help people overcome an injury or simply relax and destress.

And licensed massage therapists can make a good amount of money. Many private insurance companies cover massages provided by licensed therapists, who can charge up to $35 an hour for their services. Massage therapists with a big clientele can earn $50,000 to $55,000 a year.

The Bottom Line

There are many well-paying jobs available that do not require years of study at a university or college. Many people make a very good living without a four-year degree. And the jobs that pay well without a college degree can be very satisfying as well.

People need only look around to see the options available to them if they don’t have a four-year degree. It maybe surprising how many lucrative and meaningful careers there are for people who only have a high school diploma. The key is to find an occupation you will enjoy. If you like what you are doing, the money will follow.

David Ning

Experienced Finance Writer

David is a published author, entrepreneur and a proud dad. He firmly believes that anyone can build a solid financial foundation as long as they are willing to learn. He runs MoneyNing.com, where he discusses every day money issues to encourage the masses to think about their finances more often.

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