We’ve always been told that the best way to get a great job is to go to college.
But for a variety of reasons, going to college might not be the right choice for someone.
Unfortunately, college degrees are very expensive. Tuition fees plus interest on loans has created more than $1.7 trillion in estimated total student debt.
Degrees also don’t guarantee a great career. Many of the most-pursued college degrees are in fields with fewer jobs than new graduates, resulting in highly competitive job markets and underemployment.
College also means learning in a classroom through textbooks and lectures, which isn’t the best fit for every student. Many students learn best when they get to participate in more hands-on activities and demonstrations.
The good news is that needing a degree to get a good job is a bit of an exaggeration. While some popular careers do require a bachelor’s, master’s or even doctorate degree, there are many exciting and desirable careers that don’t require a university diploma. In fact, seven out of every 10 jobs actually don’t require a degree!
Here are 10 great career options that don’t need a college degree.
Carpentry is a classic career where skilled professionals build structures by cutting, shaping and installing wood and other materials.
Skilled carpenters are an important part of the construction industry, especially in residential construction. Rough carpentry, including framing and drywall, works to lay out the basic shape and support for a building. Finish carpentry hones in on the finer details such as crown molding, stairs and cabinets that gives each building their unique feel.
Carpenters are in high demand, with more than 1.3 million more needed across the United States. This career also pays well, with base hourly wages at almost $27/hour. Combining both math and art, carpenters can get started via apprenticeships, industry training programs or technical school.
If you’ve ever turned on a light or plugged in your phone to charge, you can thank electricians.
Electricians install wiring and other components such as switches, light fixtures and circuit breaker panels. The systems they create help provide power for our homes, offices, schools and factories.
Electricians are also in high demand. And with skills that are critical to keep a modern society running, their importance will endure through the ups and downs of the economy. Electricians can earn more than $30/hour as a base salary.
Most electricians go through an apprenticeship program for training. They are required to have certain certifications and licenses to work in many states, and need to be aware of local and national electrical codes.
Welding is an important and specialized trade that requires lots of skill and attention to detail. Using heat, electricity or pressure, welders fuse metals together by melting them and then allowing them to cool and bond.
Welders are needed in a variety of industries and projects. They might help build support beams for a skyscraper or bridge. Or they could help in assembling vehicles like trucks or even large ships.
When the sparks fly, welders combine the steady hand of an artist with knowledge and understanding of sciences such as heat mechanics and metallurgy. Some community colleges offer welding programs, while trainees can also learn through apprenticeships.
Welding is among the highest-paying trades, with base salaries averaging over $71,000. Added incentives such as travel and overtime can push total annual pay over six figures in some areas.
Driving a bulldozer, excavator or dump truck around a construction site is a lot different than driving your car. That’s why getting specially trained to operate heavy equipment can be a lucrative career option.
From demolition to digging to hauling, heavy equipment is an important part of preparing a site for a new structure to be built. Precision and understanding of the equipment are needed to get the job done safely and correctly.
Heavy equipment operators have an average wage of almost $30/hour. Almost 700,000 more operators are needed across the U.S., making it a great opportunity for someone interested in joining a training program.
What makes cranes different through is that their machines lift heavy objects such as building materials to great heights. Crane operators need a strong understanding of physics and need to work closely with their riggers to make sure loads are being lifted safely and precisely.
Crane operators can make more than $66,000/year. Technical school and industry training programs help prepare these operators for a career, including the use of simulators to help students get a feel for the work before climbing to the top of a real crane.
Everyone wants to live and work in comfort, which is why air conditioning has been such an important modern invention. With all that equipment must also come the specialists who know how to install and repair it.
HVAC technicians work on the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems that keep our homes cool in the summer and warm in the winter. HVAC systems also play a big role in maintaining good air quality by filtering dust, odors, bacteria and even viruses, which has come into even greater focus in the wake of COVID-19.
Most people think of air conditioning units in their homes, but some HVAC techs also specialize in larger industrial or commercial systems, such as those needed in factories and hospitals.
HVAC technicians can earn more than $30/hour and the importance of their work means a steady and reliable demand – not bad for a career that doesn’t need a college degree.
Another trade with lots of opportunity due to high demand is masonry. Masons use materials like bricks and stone to build walls, pathways, and other elements of a construction project.
Masonry materials are strong and durable, meaning that a mason’s work can stand the test of time. Some masonry is structural and is an important part of a building’s support. Other types of masonry are more decorative and meant to improve the appearance of a home or office.
Masons earn more than $27/hour on average, so if you enjoyed building with blocks and Legos as a kid, consider joining an apprenticeship or training program for masonry.
Clean water is needed for drinking, bathing and more, which is why plumbing is an essential career. Plumbers install the water and drainage systems in and under our buildings, including the pipes, valves, fixtures and other components.
While pop culture and the media have often framed plumbers in a bad light, plumbers are a critical piece of keeping our communities sanitary and healthy.
Plumbing doesn’t require a college degree, yet professional plumbers can still earn more than $29/hour.
Pipefitting might sound a lot like plumbing, but rather than dealing with water systems, pipefitters work on systems that transport other materials, such as chemicals and gasses.
Because the nature of the materials being transported is different, the pipes used by pipefitters are typically heavier duty and require special skills. Welders and pipefitters often work in tandem to cut, position and install these pipe systems.
Earning more than $30/hour, pipefitters typically get started through an apprenticeship or industry training program.
If you’re interested in making a positive impact on the environment, becoming a solar photovoltaic installer might be a good path.
With solar power becoming more important, there will need to be professionals trained to install and maintain rooftop solar panels and other photovoltaic systems. A growing field, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the solar PV installation market will grow by 52% between 2020 and 2030.
Community colleges, technical school, apprenticeships or other training programs can prepare students for this career.
University degrees aren’t the only way to find a job that is fulfilling and pays well. These 10 trades are just a few of the career options that can be started via other training and education methods.
To learn more about the different ways skilled craft professionals can build their careers, check out our interactive career path.