Considering the high cost of college these days, I’m not a die-hard proponent of “all kids need to go to college.” Twenty years ago, a college degree made a difference in income levels, but today I’d beg to differ. I also don’t tout the importance of college compared to the cost of tuition. When I read stories about how the typical college student graduates with an average of $27,000 in student loan debt, I begin to think we’re doing a disservice to some students telling them they “must” go to college to secure a decent job. At what cost?

With a little researching (and I mean barely any!), there are plenty of jobs out there that require no more than an associate’s degree, or two years at a local community college at a fraction of the cost, and pay hefty salaries compared to jobs that require a lot of college (hmmm..teaching, anyone?!) and don’t pay nearly as much. Some examples of these jobs include: *I’m assuming salaries aren’t starting salaries listed below.

  • Computer network specialists – $59,090 annual wage, associate’s degree needed
  • Engineering Technicians – $59,440 ¬†annual wage, associate’s degree
  • Claims adjusters – $59,960 annual wage, high school diploma or equivalent
  • Gas plant operators – $61,140 annual wage, high school diploma or equivalent
  • Subway operator -$62,730 annual wage, high school diploma or equivalent
  • Dental hygienists – $70,210 annual wage, associate’s degree
  • Radiation therapists – $77,560 annual wage, associate’s degree
  • Air traffic controller – $122,530 annual wage, associate’s degree (this job is notorious for ¬†high-stress work related issues and I recently read that they won’t look at anyone over 30 or 35 years of age)

This isn’t a complete list, you can see a more complete list here, or here. However, it’s a great start. Surprisingly (or not) is that subway operators can make more than other types of medical technicians, web designers, and a host of other careers. I’m sure it’s not the most interesting job, but hey, you get to run a train all day long.

A high school student who might not be able to afford a 4-year university could get some ideas from this list. Those switching careers could also benefit, especially if they don’t want to accrue debt or take two to four years out of their busy schedule to go to school, complete homework, possibly go into debt and all the other stresses that are included in returning to higher education for the sake of a career.

So it’s definitely possible to secure a decent salary without paying for a 4-year degree, it just depends on where your interests lie.

Do you have a job that doesn’t require a college degree? Do you think some people could benefit more from a 2-year degree rather than a 4-year one?


  1. Money Beagle Reply

    I think it’s possible to make a high income without a college degree but I think the numbers would show that the odds are substantially better for those who have graduated college.

    • @Money Beagle- I’m sure the statistics lean towards people with higher degrees earn more money, but I wonder if that data will change over the coming years.

  2. I don’t have a degree and I know heaps of people with no degree who earn a lot. I think what it comes down to is what you are willing to do, what you enjoy doing and how likely the job is to be around in 20 years or so as well. I know other people with no jobs because they trained in something that is now obsolete.

    I am just going to encourage my kids to do the career they enjoy.

    • @Kylie- Thinking of jobs that will be around in 20 years is another great tip. For instance, getting a Master’s in Library Science may not be such a great idea with so many cities and schools cutting librarians. I think it does really boil down to what you like to do and if you’re willing to work hard to get there (and having some common sense!)

  3. Jon @ Money Smart Guides Reply

    I’ve worked in the financial services industry my entire adult life and you need at least a bachelor’s degree to get a job in this field. If you really want to make money, then you need your CFP or CFA designations. It’s a shame because my first job out of college in this field was being a basic administrative person. I don’t think I used anything I learned in college for a few years. But you are right, there are tons of jobs out there that don’t require a college degree and that allow you to earn a good wage.

    • @Jon – There are definitely jobs out there that absolutely require degrees to even get your foot in the door. However, it’s good to know there are plenty of careers that don’t require degrees and still pay well. I truly believe that not everyone should go to college and that’s been the big push in the schools I’ve worked in, instead students should be exposed to all options.

  4. Paul @ The Frugal Toad Reply

    I teach Middle School Science and I’m always preaching to my students that they need to have a goal of obtaining a 4 year college degree or receive a technical degree/training at an accredited institution. Over 50% of incoming freshman at US colleges never finish their degree, slightly higher at 2 year degree institutions (excludes community colleges). There are many reasons for the high dropout rate, financing, not prepared, poor study habits. The key to making a decent living is finding a career that you enjoy and working hard to constantly improve your skills.

    • @Paul – I’m also a middle school teacher and this semester, last month of school, I’m focusing on careers and budgeting in one of my classes. I’m going to have them research careers, look into how much education they need, then budget living expenses based on the career they choose. Sort of an intro to “real life” choices.

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