High Paying Jobs That Don’t Require a Four-Year Degree

Throughout your years in middle or high school, your teachers might have drilled into you that you needed to go to a four-year college and earn a degree to have any chance to earn a decent salary. That might have filled you with terror and dread, particularly if you know that college wasn’t the right choice for you.

While in many cases getting a four-year degree does lead to a higher-paying job, there are also plenty of careers that pay well and don’t require a bachelor’s degree. You can start many of these careers after earning a career certificate or associate’s degree. In some cases, the way to get your foot in the door is by pursuing an apprenticeship.

If you’re more interested in learning skills, not degrees, take a look at a few non-office jobs that pay well.

What to Do When College Isn’t for You

College isn’t right for everyone, for various reasons. You might not enjoy spending your days in a classroom or you might prefer a more hands-on approach to learning. Some people prefer to skip college because they don’t want to end up tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

If that describes you, you have plenty of options. You can join the workforce right after high school, spend time in the military, or enroll in a vocational training program. You can also take the entrepreneurial route, starting your own business.

How to Get Educated Without Going to College

A four-year degree program isn’t the only educational path available to you. If you want to skip college, you have two primary options for getting training and education.

The first option is to pursue an apprenticeship. Apprentices learn as they earn. They work for an employer in a particular field and the employer provides training to them as they work.

At the end of the apprenticeship, the successful apprentice becomes a journeyperson, meaning they are qualified and skilled in the occupation they pursued.

While not every industry offers apprenticeships, many do. Some of your options if you’d like to try apprenticing include:

  • Cybersecurity

  • Electrician

  • Masonry

  • Plumbing

  • Childcare

  • Healthcare

If you’re interested in a field that doesn’t have an apprenticeship program, another way to get started is by enrolling in a career certificate program. A career certificate program takes much less time than a four-year degree, usually a year or less.

The programs are also much more affordable than the typical college degree. Some, such as skills-based training programs for in-demand careers, will often offer grants to cover the cost of admission.

Best Jobs for College Drop-Outs

Whether you’ve started college and ended up leaving or decided not to go in the first place, here are a few high-paying jobs that don’t require a degree.

  • Licensed Practical Nurse: LPNs earn a median salary of $48,820 per year1 and typically need to complete a one-year training program. After earning a career certificate, you can take an exam to earn your license.

  • Makeup artist: You don’t have to have a million followers on YouTube to earn a good salary as a makeup artist. The median salary of makeup artists working in the performing arts is over $100,000 a year2.

  • Masonry worker: The median salary for a masonry worker is $47,710 annually3. If working with your hands and building things appeals to you, you can pursue a career as a mason through an apprenticeship.

  • Bus or Truck Driver: If life on the road appeals to you or you enjoy driving, a career as a commercial driver might be a good fit. The median salary is around $47,000 annually4, depending on the type of vehicle you drive. You can complete a commercial driving training program in about a month.

  • Plumber: Plumbers earn a median salary of 56,330 per year5. Like masonry workers, you can become a plumber after completing an apprenticeship.

  • Cook: How much you can earn as a cook depends on your role in the kitchen. Head chefs bring in around $56,000 per year6, all without a four-year degree.

  • Dental Hygienist: The median salary for dental hygienists is $77,000 yearly. To become one, you need to earn a two-year associate’s degree. One way to get your feet wet and see if you like working in the dental field is to train as a dental assistant, which takes about 10 months full-time.

If you know what college isn’t for you and you’re looking for a career that pays well and is fulfilling, Orange Technical College can help you get on a career path. We offer career certificates, skills-based training programs, and apprenticeships. To learn more, contact us today.


  1. Licensed Practical and Vocational Nurses, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/licensed-practical-and-licensed-vocational-nurses.htm

  2. Data for Occupations Not Covered in Detail, BLS, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/about/data-for-occupations-not-covered-in-detail.htm

  3. Masonry Workers, BLS, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/brickmasons-blockmasons-and-stonemasons.htm

  4. Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers, BLS, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/transportation-and-material-moving/heavy-and-tractor-trailer-truck-drivers.htm

  5. Plumbers, BLS, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/plumbers-pipefitters-and-steamfitters.htm

  6. Chefs and Head Cooks, BLS, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/food-preparation-and-serving/chefs-and-head-cooks.htm

  7. Dental Hygienist, BLS, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm