Career Advice

Fast-Growing, High-Paying Jobs that Do Not Require a Degree

by Troy Norton

Fast-Growing, High-Paying Jobs that Do Not Require a Degree

So…you’re thinking 12 years of school is enough. And after that senior year of high school, you plan to bid sayonara to the hallowed walls of knowledge and trade your cap and gown for a 9-to-5 with a steady paycheck, dental insurance, and a 401k.
Good for you!
Wait…what? Was that just a high-five for choosing NOT to attend college?
That’s different, right? Because according to conventional wisdom, a four-year degree is THE way to go. And while, on average, individuals with a college degree do make a lot more per year than individuals with only a high-school diploma, that doesn’t mean that the only way to a fast-growing, high-paying job is via that four-year college degree.

College isn’t for everyone

You’ve no doubt heard it said that college isn’t for everyone. And that is so true. But that statement is often interpreted with a negative tone…as though the people who choose not to get a four-year degree are somehow not as intelligent, not as capable, not as deserving, or not as rich as the people who do get those degrees.
That’s so silly. Especially in light of these facts that are challenging the conventional thinking about college degrees:
  • College is now more expensive than ever: the average four-year degree costs $192,000! Many graduates start out their working lives buried by a debt that takes 10-20 years to pay off.  
  • By delaying work for four years, you miss out on four of the most important money-earning and money-saving years (money saved while you’re young has more time to earn interest and become HUGE by the time you’re ready to retire).
  • Some of the most in-demand jobs in the U.S. don’t require a degree.
  • A few rare but amazing companies don’t care if you have a degree; they only care about what you can do. Self-taught knowledge, initiative, and a portfolio that shows what you can do is far more attractive to them than a piece of paper that indicates what you’ve learned.  

But everybody needs a skill

Now, all that said, the reality is you still need a skill, one that will make you employable. The better your skills, the bigger your paycheck. And the bigger your paycheck, the better your quality of life. Do you want to drive a car that doesn’t break down every other month? And live in a house with working bathrooms and reliable cable (so you can watch SportsCenter while you…um, bathe?)
Then you need a skill. And (other than a four-year degree) that comes by:
  • Apprenticeship: working with an expert who will teach you on the job
  • Vocational training or a certificate: programs run anywhere from 6 weeks to two years
  • On-the-job-training: learn as you work, and advance as you learn
  • Independent study: a hobby that becomes a passion that becomes a profession, like coding or social media marketing.
So, if you determine that college is not for you, that’s fine. It’s not the tragedy it was once thought to be…so long as you still acquire an employable skill.
You’ll also need to make sure those skills are in demand. To help you with that, here’s a sample of six of the fastest-growing AND highest-paying jobs that don’t require a degree (in random order). When you look over the list, keep in mind that these jobs are projected to have incredible growth through 2026 (far above the current average of 7%) and offer a decent median salary for someone with five or less years of work experience.

Social and Human Service Assistant

Entry-Level Education: High school diploma or equivalent
On-the-Job-Training: Short term
Projected # of New Jobs through 2026: 63,900
Projected Growth Rate: 16%
2017 Median Salary: $33,120

What they do: Social and human services assistants work for non-profit organizations or government agencies to help provide support to struggling individuals and families in a community. Different specialties could include rehabilitation, psychology or counseling, and social work. The different services could include helping a family secure groceries for the week or helping a senior citizen get to a dentist appointment. Sample job titles include casework aide, family services assistant, and addictions counselor assistant.

Medical Assistant

Entry-Level Education: High school diploma or equivalent
On-the-Job-Training: Moderate term
Projected # of New Jobs through 2026: 50,000 or more
Projected Growth Rate: Much faster than the national average
2017 Median Salary: $37,870

What they do: Medical assistants can be involved in a wide range of clerical assistance for a medical office. They can transcribe dictation, prepare reports, take medical histories of patients, and process payments. The reason for the moderate-term on-the-job training is the specialized terminology, codes, and procedures that a medical secretary must learn in order to be able to perform the job.

Self-enrichment education teachers

Entry-Level Education: High school diploma or equivalent
On-the-Job-Training: None
Projected # of New Jobs through 2026: 57,400
Projected Growth Rate: 16%
2017 Median Salary: $38,440

What they do: Self-enrichment education teachers teach non-degree self-improvement classes such as ballet, ceramics, driving, martial arts, and swimming. They can instruct students individually or in groups, and need to be aware of a variety of teaching methods since no two people learn in the same way. A typical workday might include monitoring student performance to make suggestions for improvement, maintaining student records, enforcing policies or rules about student behavior, and modeling the correct way to perform a task so students can imitate it. These individuals should be good communicators who can listen and instruct, who understand strategies for improvement and are patient, observant, and detailed.

Plumbers, pipe-fitters, steamfitters

Entry-Level Education: High school diploma or equivalent
On-the-Job-Training: Apprenticeship
Projected # of New Jobs through 2026: 75,200
Projected Growth Rate: 16%
2017 Median Salary: $52,590

What they do: Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install and repair the pipes that carry water, chemicals, acids, or gases to homes, factories, and businesses. A typical day could involve reading blueprints to understand safety codes, selecting equipment to do a particular job, installation of pipes and fixtures, inspections and testing to make sure there are no leaks, and troubleshooting to find why a problem exists.

Dispensing Opticians

Entry-Level Education: High school diploma or equivalent
On-the-Job-Training: Long-term
Projected # of New Jobs through 2026: 11,600
Projected Growth Rate: 15%
2017 Median Salary: $36,250

What they do: This is not the same as an eye doctor, although a dispensing optician typically works very closely with ophthalmologists and optometrists. A dispensing physician is a person who fits glasses and contact lenses to patients, following the physician's prescriptions. This is a job that requires long-term training; many states require dispensing opticians to be licensed. A typical day as a dispensing optician might include measuring a customer’s eyes and face, to better fit them for lenses, adjusting or repairing existing eyewear to make it fit better, and educating customers on eyewear concerns like how to take care of contact lenses. Depending on the type of setting, a dispensing optician may also be involved in routine business tasks, like ordering inventory and maintaining sales records.

Solar Photovoltaic Installers

Entry-Level Education: High school diploma or equivalent
On-the-Job-Training: Moderate-term
Projected # of New Jobs through 2026: 11,800
Projected Growth Rate: 105%
2017 Median Salary: $39,490

What they do: These individuals install and maintain solar panels for private residents and companies. If you’ll take a look at the projected growth rate, you’ll see that it’s a whopping 105%. That’s because solar technologies are becoming more efficient and less expensive, meaning more and more consumers and companies are turning to solar to power their homes and business. Most of the work on solar panels is done outdoors, but often a PV technician will have to crawl around in the attic or basement in order to get to wiring or panels. There’s travel involved, too, since solar panels can be installed just about anywhere. A typical day might involve planning a solar system for a customer, measuring or cutting solar panels, working with electricity to get the solar panels connected to the power grid, testing systems, and doing repairs.

So make a plan!

You don’t need a four-year college degree to have a successful career. You simply need a plan, some skills, and a lot of initiative and hard work. So take the time to do your research, and chart a career path that will get you where you want to go…degree or not.
Here’s something that will help you narrow in on a good career…The CareerFitter work personality test. It’s a valuable tool for gaining insights into who you are at work and will shed light on how you like to work, the type of work environment that will help you excel and be happy, and the work strengths and weaknesses that can help or hinder your performance and advancement. So before you choose a career – find the career that fits you best.


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