Acquiring a bachelor’s degree is a logical first step towards landing a well-paying job, but it’s not a prerequisite. In this ever-developing economy, some of the highest-paid professionals are people with a certificate or diploma from a one to two-year program who have climbed their way to the top of the corporate ladder without a bachelor’s degree.


Whether you’re fresh out of high school or you’ve been working in your field for a while, and you’re ready for a change, there are plenty of great options if you’re not ready for the time and financial commitments associated with pursuing a bachelor’s degree:

1. Web Developer

Web developers use code to create, edit, and maintain websites to meet a client’s needs. Everything you see online exists because a web developer created it. Cool, right?

Some companies require that applicants hold a bachelor’s degree, but many others don’t. Employers, especially those in the tech field, recognize that a degree doesn’t make a great developer. Tesla’s Elon Musk, for example, places little value on formal education, and instead looks for “a track record of exceptional achievement.”

College programs range in duration from one to two years. Some web developers self-teach using free (or inexpensive) online resources, like MIT OpenCourseWare. Some organizations host intensive, all-you-need-to-know “bootcamps,” but reviews are mixed, and organizations who claim to teach such specialized skills in such a short time should be approached cautiously.

Web developers have an average salary of $59,000. Developers in San Francisco and Seattle have the highest salaries, on average. Web developers can choose to work in an office setting or remotely.

2. Technical Writer

Technical writers are sometimes called technical communicators, because they uncomplicate complicated (or technical) information, using charts, diagrams, and comparisons, so that it’s easy to understand for someone with little-to-no expertise in the field.

Technical writing programs range in duration and can be completed through full-time or part-time studies, which is great if you need to work while you study.

Technical writers make an average of $59,000 annually. Technical writers in New York and Seattle have the highest average salaries. Professionals in this field can work for one company, as an in-house technical writer, or for many companies as an independent contractor.

3. Firefighter

If you’re looking for a career that’s both exciting and rewarding, look no further! Firefighters are real-life superheroes.

To become a firefighter, you’ll need a valid driver’s license and a clean criminal record. You’ll need to pass drug and fitness tests before you can take the written tests. Testing procedures and additional requirements vary by state.

Aside from great benefits (nearly 90% of firefighters have medical benefits), the average salary is quite enticing, at $48,000. Firefighters in New York and Chicago make nearly double the national average, and report an annual salary between $90,000 and $100,000.

4. Licensed Residential Appraiser

A residential appraiser works for buyers, sellers, and lenders to estimate the actual value of a home.

Requirements vary by state, but in general, applicants are required to complete a series of courses before taking an exam, called the National Appraiser Licensing and Certification Exam.

Residential appraisers report an average salary of $60,000 per year. Appraisers who plan to work in cities with a high concentration of expensive homes, like New York and San Francisco, can earn more than $100,000 per year.

5. Graphic Designer

If you’re creative, perhaps you’ll enjoy a career in graphic design. Graphic designers create attractive illustrations for branding, websites, and product packaging.

A certificate or associate’s degree is usually enough to break into the field.

Graphic designers have an average annual salary of $48,000. Some work with specialized agencies, while others work with many different clients on a contract basis.

6. Real Estate Agent

Real estate agents are present for some of the most important moments in their clients’ lives. Real estate agents ensure that real estate transactions go as smoothly as possible. If you’d like to have control over your work, then real estate could be an excellent field for you.

Education requirements vary state-to-state, but you don’t need a degree to become a real estate agent. You’ll need to complete several courses and pass a standardized exam.

Real estate agents are usually paid a salary ($48,000 per year, on average) and commission. The sky's the limit in terms of how much a real estate agent can make.


*All salary estimates are from PayScale.