10 Hot Jobs That Don’t Require a College Degree

There is no simple answer to the question, “Is college worth it?” Simply put, there are too many variables to consider. But the debate over higher education — and specifically, the value of a degree — is one that must continue in high schools, homes, and communities all over the country.

The return-on-investment, or ROI, of any college degree will always depend on what school you go to, whether you qualify for financial aid, how much effort you put into it, and what major you choose, among other things.

Some factors you can’t always predict ahead of time also play a part. For example, how much money will you make right out of college? And, how much will you be making five, 10, or 20 years after graduation?

No matter who you are and what your educational goals are, it’s hard, if not impossible, to know the answers to those questions. The problem is, in a lot of ways, your financial future depends on them.

The graduating class of 2015 is leaving college with an average student loan debt of $35,000 – the highest level of student loan debt ever. Although some young adults plan ahead and have a good understanding of their debt loads, many others experience shock and fear when they realize what repaying those loans really means. Even worse, some don’t end up in careers that justify the expense, which makes you wonder: Why isn’t society placing an emphasis on researching potential outcomes ahead of time?

Unfortunately, it isn’t because the information isn’t out there – it’s because we choose to ignore it.

It’s Time to Change the Way We Think About College

No matter what, it’s time we all realize that, when it comes to the value of a college degree, we’ve reached a tipping point. There was a time when going to college was the epitome of success and the ticket to a golden future. But a convergence of factors have changed the way we must move forward.

The truth is, college isn’t for everyone, nor should it be — consider the thousands of kids who drop out of school each year, with piles of student loan debt but no degree to show for it. And if we want to stop saddling our young people with mountains of student loan debt they can’t afford to repay, we need to do our part to change the narrative.

We’ve written about the many vocational and technical degrees students can earn before. In many cases, students who complete these programs can enter the workforce quickly without spending tens of thousands of dollars on training and certification.

We’ve also written about the value of two-year degrees, and how associate’s degrees in certain high-demand fields can even lead to higher pay and better job prospects than careers that require four-year degrees.

But, did you know that there are a wealth of promising careers that don’t require a college degree at all?

10 Hot Jobs that Don’t Require a College Degree

If you want to become a doctor, lawyer, teacher, or engineer, you’ll need to go to college. However, there are plenty of careers that focus more on the skills you acquire, and less on how you got there.

While many promising careers that don’t require a college degree require an apprenticeship or on-the-job training, others only require that you learn a trade or master a tool or sequence of skills or tasks.

If you’re considering all of your options outside of traditional college, these 10 high-paying careers are a good place to start:

Mechanical Insulation Workers

Mechanical insulation workers apply energy-saving insulation to the inside of businesses, factories, and other large buildings. They inspect pipes and structures, remove old or deteriorating insulation, read blueprints and building plans, and provide innovative insulation products that improve energy efficiency and save money over time.

While many of these workers learn the trade on the job, others complete an apprenticeship. Due to the ongoing demand for new structures and a general focus on improving efficiency, the future for these workers is bright.

  • National annual mean wage (2014): $50,160
  • Anticipated increase in employment, 2012-2022: 47%
  • Education required: Learn on the job, apprenticeship

Brickmasons and Blockmasons

Brickmasons and blockmasons use bricks and other construction materials to build foundations, entire structures, walls, and decorative features. They read blueprints, lay out patterns, and fulfill their jobs with exacting standards using bricks, mortar, and grout.

Although some brickmasons and blockmasons complete two-year programs at trade or technical schools, most learn their skills on the job or through an apprenticeship. The skills that brickmasons and blockmasons acquire cannot be outsourced, which is part of the reason demand remains high.

  • National annual mean wage (2014): $51,500
  • Anticipated increase in employment, 2012-2022: 36%
  • Education required: Learn on the job, apprenticeship

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors

Substance abuse counselors help former and current addicts learn to control their impulses and ultimately kick their destructive habits. Through goal-setting, counseling, and outreach, they create personalized plans to help others recover and lead happy and healthy lives.

Although one might assume that a college degree would be required, many in this career get started with a high school diploma and on-the-job training. Substance abuse counselors with a college degree are simply able to offer more services, including one-on-one counseling.

Either way, our country’s continued struggle with addition — to drugs, alcohol, and even food — is expected to keep demand high for those with the right skills and temperament.

  • National annual mean wage (2014): $41,870
  • Anticipated increase in employment, 2012-2022: 31%
  • Education required: High school diploma, learn on the job

Elevator Installers and Repairers

These workers do exactly what you’d think they do – they install elevators, perform basic maintenance, and get them back up and running when they break down. Because of the complexity of elevator systems, elevator installers and repairers need extensive knowledge of not only elevators, but also cables, motors, and control systems.

Almost all elevator installers and repairers learn their skills on the job during an apprenticeship, which usually includes 144 hours of technical instruction and 2,000 hours of paid training. The best part is, earning an income while you learn a new skill can help you avoid student loans altogether.

  • National annual mean wage (2014): $76,490
  • Anticipated increase in employment, 2012-2022: 25%
  • Education required: Learn on the job, apprenticeship

Solar Panel Installers

Solar panel installers, also known as solar photovoltaic installers, use their skills and expertise to install complex solar energy systems in or around buildings or structures. In addition to installing solar panels, they also repair them, connect them to appropriate power grids, and perform routine maintenance and system tests.

Since the use of solar power is on the rise, it shouldn’t surprise you that trained workers are in demand. In most cases, these workers learn their skills on the job or through a work-sponsored training program that lasts up to one year. Some, however, complete a program at a trade or technical school.

  • National annual mean wage (2014): $41,770
  • Anticipated increase in employment, 2012-2022: 24%
  • Education required: Learn on the job, technical certificate


Carpenters harness their skills and creative powers to build wooden structures, interior features, and complex woodwork systems. They create drawings and blueprints, cut and mold wood to exacting standards, and erect wooden structures and frameworks.

Because of our continued reliance on wood as a major component of buildings and homes, carpenters continue to remain in demand. Those who desire quick entry into the workforce could also benefit by completing on the job training with a senior carpenter or completing an apprenticeship.

  • National annual mean wage (2014): $45,590
  • Anticipated increase in employment, 2012-2022: 24%
  • Education required: Learn on the job, apprenticeship

Structural Iron and Steel Workers

Although job descriptions vary, structural iron and steel workers all work with iron and iron fixtures in order to build structures and other buildings. In most cases, these workers unload and organize steel beams and components, lift them into place with motorized equipment and cranes, and weld them into place.

Although many structural iron and steel workers learn their skills on the job or complete an apprenticeship, many become certified in welding or rigging as well. Either way, our dependence on steel as a building material continues to drive growth in this promising trade.

  • National annual mean wage (2014): $53,140
  • Anticipated increase in employment, 2012-2022: 22%
  • Education required: Learn on the job, apprenticeship, certification

Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters

As with many other trades, the jobs of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters cannot be outsourced. These professionals must climb in the underbelly of buildings and structures to install and maintain the pipes and fixtures that carry water, dispose of waste, supply gas to ovens, or heat and cool buildings. Not only does this job require technical skills, but it also requires an understanding of blueprints and a broad understanding of local building codes and guidelines.

Because this career is technical in nature, most plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters learn their skills on the job or during an apprenticeship. With new and more energy-efficient buildings in demand, learning this trade could be your best investment yet.

  • National annual mean wage (2014): $54,620
  • Anticipated increase in employment, 2012-2022: 21%
  • Education required: Learn on the job, apprenticeship

Pharmacy Technicians

Although pharmacists are typically in charge of dispensing and mixing various medications for their patients and customers, they need qualified technicians to assist them in their efforts. Pharmacy technicians do exactly that; under the supervision of a pharmacist, they measure prescription medications, label and package medications, and assist customers with questions or concerns.

Because of the huge demand in all aspects of health care, job openings in this career are expected to surge during the coming decade. If you’re interested in getting started in this career, you’ll need a high school diploma and a prospect for on-the-job training. Since some states regulate pharmacy technicians, you may also need to pass a state-approved exam or complete a training program.

  • National annual mean wage (2014): $31,090
  • Anticipated increase in employment, 2012-2022: 20%
  • Education required: Learn on the job, training program

Executive Secretary or Assistant

If you’ve worked in an office and are competent with word processing software, customer service, and computers, you might want to consider a career as an executive secretary or assistant. These workers perform administrative tasks and clerical duties under the wing of the top professionals who hire them.

Although no formal education is required, proficiency with computers, a professional attitude, and several years of work experience can help candidates get hired in the best positions.

  • National annual mean wage (2014): $53,590
  • Anticipated increase in employment, 2012-2022: 12%
  • Education required: Several years work experience

Should You Pursue a College Degree?

If you’re on the fence about earning a college degree, it’s important to do your research. Before you sign up for a pricey degree program, check the stats to see what your future salary and lifestyle might look like. Then look at the cost of the degree program you’re considering, and see it compares.

Meanwhile, take the extra step to figure out how much you might need to borrow to make your college dreams a reality. What you find might surprise you. If it’s more than you’re prepared to borrow, it might make sense to look at options you haven’t considered before.

Then again, it’s also important to consider the fact that a college degree might be exactly what you need. Like it or not, such credentials are required for many of the highest paying and most rewarding careers out there. And if you want to get your foot in the door, failing to complete the right program could leave you in an impossible situation.

No matter what, researching all of your options is the best way to position yourself for a promising future in whatever industry or field you choose.

Do you think a college degree is still worth it? What kind of advice would you give someone trying to decide on a future career?

Holly Johnson

Contributing Writer

Holly Johnson is a frugality expert and award-winning writer who is obsessed with personal finance and getting the most out of life. A lifelong resident of Indiana, she enjoys gardening, reading, and traveling the world with her husband and two children. In addition to The Simple Dollar, Holly writes for well-known publications such as U.S. News & World Report Travel, PolicyGenius, Travel Pulse, and Frugal Travel Guy. Holly also owns Club Thrifty.