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6 High-Growth Career Fields That Don’t Require a Four-Year Degree

6 High-Growth Career Fields That Don’t Require a Four-Year Degree

For decades, a traditional four-year college has been the standard postsecondary goal for many K–12 students. But, college is not the only avenue to fulfilling, challenging, and lucrative careers. As college costs rise and student loan debt becomes a growing concern, more and more students, parents, and educators are embracing alternative options like trade schools, military service, community colleges, bootcamp programs, and high school career and technical education (CTE) courses.

Learning isn’t a one-size-fits-all practice; so why should postsecondary plans be? The key is for every student to have a plan that fits with his or her unique interests and skills. To help you and your students explore opportunities that break the college mold, we’ve put together this list (with figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from May 2019*)  of six high-growth career fields that don’t require a four-year university degree.

1. Wind Turbine Technician

  • What they do: Install, maintain, and repair wind turbines
  • Perfect fit for: Students who enjoy spending time outside, show an aptitude for being mechanically inclined, feel passionate about the environment and green energy, enjoy hands-on projects, and demonstrate excellent troubleshooting skills
  • Median salary: $52,910
  • Certification and training: Certificate with long-term on-the-job training, although some employers give preference to professional certifications

2. Solar Photovoltaic Installers

  • What they do: Assemble, install, and maintain solar panel systems on rooftops and other structures 
  • Perfect fit for: Students who show an aptitude for being mechanically inclined, are highly detailed-oriented, enjoy outdoor hands-on projects, and feel passionate about the environment and green energy
  • Median salary: $44,890
  • Certification and training: High school diploma/GED with on-the-job training; with some employers requiring certifications

3. Occupational Therapy Assistants

  • What they do: Assist patients recover and improve daily living and work activities
  • Perfect fit for: Students with strong interpersonal skills who like helping others and who are compassionate, creative, and patient
  • Median salary: $55,100
  • Certification and training: Associates degree from an accredited program

4. Physical Therapist Assistants

  • What they do: Help patients who are recovering from injuries and illness to regain movement and manage pain
  • Perfect fit for: Students who are organized and empathetic, enjoy helping others, and thrive in physically active environments
  • Median salary: $58,790
  • Certification and training: Associates degree from an accredited program and a license or certification

5. Fire Inspectors

  • What they do: Conduct fire hazard examinations to ensure federal, state, and local fire codes are met
  • Perfect fit for: Students with excellent communication skills who are detail-orientated problem solvers that can analyze situations thoroughly 
  • Median salary: $61,660
  • Certification and training: High school diploma/GED, on-the job training in inspection and investigations, a valid driver’s license, and typically have previous experience as a firefighter

6. Animal Trainers

  • What they do: Teach animals how to display certain behaviors, such as obedience, performance, security, and assisting people with disabilities
  • Perfect fit for: Students with high levels of discipline and compassion who enjoy working with animals
  • Median salary: $30,430
  • Certification and training: High school diploma or equivalent with on-the-job training, although some employers may require advanced training and certifications  

Looking for resources to help your high school students get a jump-start on working toward their career goals, no matter what their postsecondary plan is? Check out Edmentum’s career and education courses

*Per an economic news release in September 2020, the data the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statics (BLS) uses to make employment predictions is “intended to capture structural change in the economy, not cyclical fluctuations. As such, [the projections] are not intended to capture the impacts of the recession that began in February 2020.” However, the release goes on to state that, “the pandemic may cause new structural changes to the economy” which will influence subsequent annual employment projections.