In case you haven’t heard, we’ve got a bit of a student loan crisis in our country. Americans carry about $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, which is over $600 billion - BILLION - more than the total credit card debt in the United States. I don’t know about you, but I think these statistics are pretty terrifying.
As more people become aware of the financial conundrum that attending college presents, more people are investigating potential alternatives. Our scholastic system still promotes obtaining a degree, but plenty of workers have achieved success without spending four years at a university. Employers are catching on to this trend as well, as companies start to search for the most qualified, as opposed to the most accredited.
Working with people from so many backgrounds, I’ve learned about a lot of jobs that don’t require a degree, and I want more people to be aware of these opportunities. College is a great choice, but it’s not everyone’s choice. If you want a good career but don’t see earning a degree as a realistic option, here are five jobs worth considering.
It’s been almost 20 years since average Joes started designing websites and earning good money, and the industry has since become massive. At this point, a huge number of developers earn a BSc or even a master’s before joining the workforce, but that’s definitely not the only route, or even the preferred one.
The ability to work freelance makes web design a particularly good gig for this conversation; if you’re looking for jobs that don’t require a degree, being self-employed is a huge plus. This industry also comes with an acceptance of degree-less workers, as people needed websites built long before universities caught on and created the related graduate programs. If you can do the work and have links to sites you’ve built, you should be able to find clients.
It’s worth noting that this is a highly competitive field. Large companies have monopolized entire industries within the world of web design, and anyone with a computer can enter the fray. However, if you start within your immediate circle, you can build clientele and eventually start getting more references. One client can also provide steady work and income as you work to build your resume.
If you’re looking to get a leg up without going full bachelor’s degree, there are plenty of certificates and courses to help you with design, development, coding and user experience. These programs usually aren’t cheap, but they cost considerably less than what you’d pay to get a four-year degree. A little education goes a long way in this field; you’ll be better prepared to do the work asked of you, and web design firms are more likely to hire someone with even a little bit of expertise.
Best of all, this type of work allows for a lot of creativity and control. You’ll be answering to clients, but you aren’t just a paper-pushing employee. For those who think the only jobs that don’t require a degree are minimum-wage positions at multinational corporations, web design puts that theory to bed.
Some industries present bubbles that eventually burst and leave hundreds of thousands of people without work. It’s highly unlikely electricians will every face this problem.
Barring a global disaster that can’t really be comprehended, we’re going to keep using electricity. It’s also safe to say average home and business owners will continue requesting the services of trained electricians instead of attempting to do the work themselves and risking electrocution.
Like many other jobs that don’t require a degree, working as an electrician relies heavily on experience. If you’re fascinated by how things work and started taking apart and rebuilding your toys when you were a just a little kid, your training is already underway. Certificates and accreditation can be useful when it comes to earning potential, but if you start working early enough and know what you’re doing, you can make good money and enjoy a long career as an electrician.
As the world becomes more automated, job availability for electricians continues to rise. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts above-average job growth for electrical engineers and repair workers over the next eight years. There are also a number of specializations within this field on which workers can focus, including:
Some electricians do it all and maintain a team that can tackle any job; others find a particular skill and build a career around that talent. Whatever your preference, this is a job that doesn’t require a degree and can also lead to running your own business if you play your cards right.
Whether you want to scale power lines and handle tricky repairs or help small businesses optimize their efficiency and electrical systems, there’s a good career waiting for you as an electrician. If you commit to this line of work and start climbing the ladder, you could find yourself retiring early and just fixing faulty wires for fun.
If you want to be an RN, there’s some additional schooling required. In most cases, you’ll need to get an associate’s degree, though a diploma might be enough to get you started. Fortunately, the importance and growth potential of this field makes the education component more manageable - and often more rewarding - than other industries.
We need more nurses. We need them at virtually every hospital in every city in every state, and these are not low-paying positions that America needs to fill. These shortages have created a number of incentives through hospitals, universities and grant programs to certify more RNs. Even those who didn’t qualify for financial aid at other schools might be eligible for a nursing scholarship.
This is also an excellent field to ease into. Lots of people start by finishing a one-year licensing course to become an LP. After that, a good deal of jobs open up. Once you’re working and get a schedule established, you can go back to school on a part-time basis and complete a bridge program resulting in an associate’s degree. If you talk to a handful of nurses, it’s a good bet that at least one of them will have completed his or her degree while working in a hospital or clinic.
Of all the jobs that don’t require a degree, or at least a four-year degree, nursing is probably the most accessible. The shortage of practitioners means nurses can find work almost anywhere, both in the United States and abroad. Lots of hospitals offer housing stipends and pay moving costs in order to get nurses on staff, and this is all in addition to the excellent salary most RNs earn. With the ability to specialize your training on the job and through additional schooling, this is a long-term career choice most people find very rewarding.
Whether you’ve just graduated high school and are on the fence about paying for college, or you’re in your mid-30s and want to change careers without getting a second bachelor’s, a career in nursing is a legitimate option. I’ve worked with a lot of healthcare professionals and have the utmost confidence recommending this professional path.
For some, it feels like school gets in the way of a career that’s already in the works. If you grew up in a rural area and have been working the land since you were young, it might not make sense to uproot for half a decade and go get a degree. At the same time, circumstances may dictate the need for change, either of location or profession.
The word manager gives some people pause, making them think a business degree is required. For an agricultural manager, that’s rarely the case. The most important qualification for this job is experience, and farming experience usually comes from - you guessed it! - working on a farm. A growing number of universities now offer a Bachelor’s Degree in Agricultural Management, but this job market is still dominated by those who get started young and keep working in agriculture as they enter adulthood.
Because the work depends on previous experience, agricultural managers typically busy themselves with whatever they do best. They oversee harvesting and planting, hire and train new employees, market and sell crops, and help farmers and ranchers to operate more efficiently. Some managers work on one property, others serve a network of agricultural enterprises.
Like nursing, this industry serves the entire country and could greatly benefit from more bright minds entering the workforce. From the cornfields of Nebraska to urban farms in San Francisco and New York, opportunity awaits people who understand agriculture. This is also an exciting career for those interested in resource management, environmental issues related to food production, and many other current and important matters.
Salary-wise, it depends on where you live and the experience you have, but the median is just under $70K. For work that mostly takes place far from price-inflated cities, that’s a very respectable income. As you work your way up and build your resume, there’s plenty of opportunity for upward mobility.
I love this career option. I love how it helps people ascend without even sniffing a student loan; I love that it makes great use of training that often starts out of necessity at a young age; I really love that young, proactive farmers can step into this role and bring up those around them, helping local communities and creating opportunities for everyone involved.
When you’re on the hunt for jobs that don’t require a degree, you shouldn’t just look at salaries and statistics. Find work you enjoy so your career won’t feel like a chore. For people who love the outdoors and tending to crops and livestock, an agricultural management position isn’t a lesser alternative to a college education - it’s the beginning of an important and fulfilling career.
Everyone knows about the web design jobs I discussed earlier. Customer support isn’t as widely known, but it’s another career option that’s sprouted from the Information Age and has a lot of people making good money from the comfort of their own homes.
When you think customer support, you might immediately recall exhausting conversations with unhelpful technicians who didn’t seem to care about your problem. Fortunately, there’s been a backlash to that old standard, and a lot of small tech companies are employing well-trained workers with the sole purpose of making clients happy. This makes user experience better, and it also opens the doors for average folk to get good support jobs with excellent companies.
As more and more virtual businesses open, selling services and products exclusively online, those enterprises shift overhead from rent and utilities to online service providers who work remotely. Even the companies that still have brick and mortar buildings need customer support, so training in this field can lead to opportunities at almost every business you can think of.
With relation to this industry, the usefulness of a degree depends on the type of company you want to work for. In some cases education will matter, but more often than not these jobs go to the most capable, helpful applicants. If you have good communication skills and can help users to better understand a service, you’ll be a valuable asset to a company.
Starting wages in this industry aren’t particularly high, but they’re better than you might expect. The median salary is $33K, and steady growth and on the job training can lead to quick ascension and good pay. With businesses of all sizes constantly adding support jobs, any amount of experience and a decent reference may help you move to a better position.
In today’s market, companies can’t afford to offer bad customer service. This means support reps serve a more significant role and are treated accordingly. If you have a computer and/or a phone, you can entertain this career choice. If your interest is piqued, my advice would be to stalk the job board of a company you love; if you already identify with the business and use the product or service it sells, you’ll probably have an advantage over other applicants and enjoy the job once you’re hired.
These are just five of many jobs that don’t require a degree. Even if none of these appeals to you, I hope you take away an understanding that college isn’t the only path to a successful career. Education is undeniably important, but schooling is something you can continue at any stage of your life, and the pressure to get a four-year degree shouldn’t lead anyone to take on oppressive student loan debt.
It’s your life, your career and your goals. Do what motivates you and resonates most with who you want to be and the life you want to live. If a college education doesn’t fit with your current circumstances, there are still a lot of great options for you to consider.