With Americans accumulating over $2 trillion in student loan debt and college tuition costs continuing to rise, more people than ever are reevaluating their education and career options. While many top-paying careers, like those in law, finance, and medicine, require extensive education, many well-paying positions require far less time in the classroom.
For some careers, certification from a trade school or an associate’s degree from a community college can lead to a high-paying job. If college isn’t right for you, discover nine of the highest-paid jobs that require only trade school or community college qualifications.
1. Radiation Therapist – $39.80/Hour
Radiation therapists work in hospitals, outpatient centers, and other medical facilities. Their duties involve working with patients to develop a treatment plan, update patient notes, and operate machinery to administer doses of radiation to patients, primarily those with cancer.
To become a radiation therapist, you need, at minimum, an associate’s degree in healthcare from a community college. Most states also require radiation therapists to be certified or licensed. The certification process involves taking and passing a national certification exam, such as the ARRT exam. Many community colleges and trade schools offer radiation therapy programs to help students prepare for the certification process.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are 16,400 radiation therapist jobs in the United States as of 2021, with the position expected to grow at a 6% rate. The BLS also projects that there will be approximately 800 radiation therapist job openings annually.
The median pay rate for radiation therapists in 2021 was $39.80 an hour, about $82,790 annually for full-time workers.
2. Dental Hygienist – $37.41/Hour
A dental hygienist is responsible for performing preliminary exams on dental patients and educating patients on proper oral hygiene. Dental hygienists work at dentists’ offices; however, they may also work in hospitals or other healthcare facilities.
While the exact licensing procedure varies between states, all states require dental hygienists to be licensed to work. Most students attend community college to become dental hygienists.
The Commission on Dental Accreditation lists 300 accredited dental hygienist programs at schools across the country. ADHA, a national dental hygiene licensing body, requires the following conditions to be met for students to receive a license:
- Graduate from an accredited dental hygiene program, such as those offered at many community colleges and trade schools
- Pass the written National Board Dental Hygiene Exam
- Pass a regional or state clinical board exam
Data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are currently 214,000 dental hygienist positions in the United States, with the number of positions expected to grow by 9%, with a projected total of 16,300 job openings per year.
The median hourly wage for dental hygienists in the U.S. in 2021 was $37.41 an hour, equivalent to $77,810 annually for full-time workers.
3. Aircraft Mechanic – $31.52/Hour
Aircraft mechanics perform maintenance on aircraft and avionics equipment. They may work for airlines at an airport or for private clients to repair personal planes.
Students can take various routes to become aircraft mechanics, though most aircraft mechanics must be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
To receive this certification, aircraft mechanics must attend a Part 147 FAA-approved aircraft maintenance program at a community college or trade school. These programs provide a certificate of completion that may be used instead of experience. Students earn the right to sit for FAA exams by completing these programs. To be hired, applicants must satisfy the requirements stated in Title 14, Chapter I, Subchapter D, Part 65 of the federal regulations.
Once certified, there is plenty of demand for qualified aircraft mechanics. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that there are 151,400 aircraft mechanic positions in the United States, with that number expected to increase by 6% over the next decade. The BLS also projects that there will be approximately 13,100 job openings for aircraft mechanics per year.
The average aircraft mechanic in the United States earns $31.52 an hour with a median salary of $65,550 annually as a full-time worker.
4. Respiratory Therapist – $29.73/Hour
Respiratory therapists care for patients with impaired lung function or other conditions that make breathing difficult. Patients with asthma or COPD receive treatment from respiratory therapists, primarily in hospitals.
Most employers prioritize hiring respiratory therapists with at least an associate’s degree, although this is not required. In all states except Alaska, respiratory therapists must be licensed. While licensing requirements vary by state, many require potential respiratory therapists to pass board exams, such as the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) test.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 135,800 respiratory therapist jobs exist in the United States. The respiratory therapy job market is growing at a rapid 14% rate, with 18,400 new positions expected to open by 2031 and almost 9,400 job openings per year.
The median respiratory therapist makes about $29.73 an hour, earning an average salary of $61,830 annually.
5. Plumber – $28.79/Hour
Plumbers perform various services, primarily installing and repairing plumbing and piping systems. They may also advise clients on the logistical aspects of plumbing. They can work in various settings, from homes and businesses to industrial applications like factories and warehouses.
Most plumbing positions only require a high school diploma and gain on-the-job experience through a 5 0r 6-year apprenticeship. However, you may need to attend a trade school or community college for technical instruction in math, chemistry, and applied physics. Although you need minimal educational qualifications, most states require plumbers to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary among states.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that there are 469,000 plumbing positions in the United States as of 2021, and the field is expected to grow by 9,100 positions by 2031. The BLS projects that there will be 48,600 openings for plumbers per year.
The median hourly wage for plumbers in the United States is $28.79 an hour, while the median yearly income for full-time plumbers is approximately $59,880.
6. Civil Engineering Technician – $28.04/Hour
Civil engineering technicians assist civil engineers in planning and constructing infrastructure, housing, and development projects. They may also perform the duties of a project inspector, observing engineering and construction projects and collecting test materials from job sites.
Most civil engineering technicians require an associate’s degree, and many complete specialized civil engineering technician courses at their community college or trade school.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are 66,300 civil engineering technician positions in the United States as of 2021, with the field expected to shrink by about 100 jobs by 2031. The BLS projects there will be about 6,500 job openings for civil engineering technicians per year.
The median hourly earnings for civil engineering technicians is $28.04 an hour, equivalent to $58,320 annually.
7. Electrician – $26.11/Hour
Electricians install, maintain, and repair electrical systems. Electricians may work on communication, lighting, safety, control systems, electrical power generators, power lines, or electrical components in residential locations or businesses.
No postsecondary education or college degree is required to become an electrician. Despite this, some electricians attend community colleges or universities, increasing their earning potential and learning valuable background information on electronics and related scientific topics.
Others receive this background knowledge from technical or trade schools that offer electrician programs. While these are options for students interested in entering the electrician field, the majority of training received by electricians is on-the-job through an employer-provided apprenticeship or training program.
Some states require electricians to be licensed. However, licensing requirements vary by state, and many states require continued education to maintain your license.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows 711,200 electrician positions in the United States as of 2021. The field is expected to grow by 7% (50,200 new positions) by 2031, with nearly 80,000 anticipated job openings annually.
The median hourly wage for electricians in the United States is $28.87 an hour, and the average annual salary for full-time electricians is $60,040.
8. HVAC Technician – $25.02/Hour
Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) technicians install, repair, and maintain heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. The position usually involves working for an HVAC company or as an independent contractor. Homes, businesses, schools, medical facilities, and other indoor locations are common sites for HVAC work.
There is no postsecondary educational requirement to become an HVAC technician in most cases. However, since HVAC systems have significantly increased in complexity in recent years, many employers prefer applicants with some tertiary education, such as an associate’s degree or an HVAC certificate from a trade school.
An apprenticeship is another excellent way for potential HVAC technicians to gain experience. Apprenticeships provide first-hand, on-the-job training. Most states do not require licensure for HVAC technicians.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 394,100 HVAC technician positions in the United States as of 2021. The market is expected to grow by 5%, adding 20,200 jobs by 2031, with an expected 40,100 job openings per year. The median hourly wage for HVAC technicians in the United States is $23.38. equivalent to $48,630 annually.
9. Licensed Practical Nurse – $23.11/Hour
Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) provide basic medical care to patients in various settings. Some LPNs work in hospitals or doctors’ offices, while others work in urgent care centers, extended care facilities, hospice centers, or private clients.
Students must complete an accredited vocational program to become licensed practical nurses, typically at a community college, vocational school, or trade school. These programs usually last one year and vary in content by state.
Most LPN programs require students to have earned a high school diploma to enroll. Once this program is completed, students must apply for testing permission from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and pass the NCLEX-PN exam.
Once licensed, entry-level licensed practical nurses will have plenty of job opportunities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are currently 657,200 LPN positions in the United States, with 41,300 additional positions expected to be added by 2031.
BLS projections show that there will be approximately 58,800 LPN job openings annually. The median hourly income for an LPN in the United States is $23.11, equivalent to $48,070 annually.
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You don’t need to attend college to start down the path to a rewarding and well-paid career. On-the-job training and trade school can provide the qualifications you need to find an occupation you love.