Home > Articles > Highest-Paying Jobs That You Can Train for in 2 Years or Less
Here's a common question: Is it possible to get a job that pays well without spending four or more years at a traditional college or university?
The answer is yes. Absolutely. In fact, a lot of people choose to bypass that longer path and end up with some of America's highest-paying jobs. Without a degree like a bachelor's, they are still able to out-earn many four-year college graduates.
So, what does it take? It takes a broader view of your educational options as well as the enthusiasm to learn what kinds of skills are actually needed in the marketplace. That's what this article is for. Let it be your introduction to a world of high-paying careers—with little schooling necessary—that you might not have considered before. The opportunities for those with just two years or less of trade school or vocational training can be surprising.
The Trouble with Many Conventional Degrees
Many traditional four-year degrees aren't all they're cracked up to be. For example, on average, people who attend conventional colleges and graduate with bachelor's degrees in majors like the humanities go on to have some of the lowest earnings of all their peers.*
And did you know that almost 75 percent of people with a traditional bachelor's degree in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) aren't even employed in the fields they studied?* That's the reality. Science majors, in particular, often have difficulty finding work in their fields. In many cases, success in these areas requires spending additional time in school to earn master's or doctorate degrees.
The result is that a lot college graduates who choose the conventional route end up underemployed in jobs like retail or food service. Those who major in science or the liberal arts are especially vulnerable unless they go on to graduate school to increase their opportunities. In 2013, the median annual wage of a retail salesperson in the U.S. was only $21, 140. For cashiers, it was even less: $18, 960.**
Clearly, whether traditional college is worth the time and investment often depends on the major you choose.
The Opportunity for Students Who Think More Broadly
In contrast to most traditional four-year institutions, career and technical schools specialize in putting students on a more defined path to succeeding in the job market. And they offer the chance to earn quick degrees or diplomas and complete fast certification programs. In fact, many of the highest-paying entry-level jobs can be attained with only two years or less of focused career education.
That's the real value of short vocational schooling. It's all about getting new opportunities and positive return on investment (ROI), which is the extra amount you can earn in your lifetime as a graduate, after subtracting the cost of schooling and the amount that a typical non-graduate would earn.
The ROI of graduating from a vocational college or trade school is often very good since you're being taught marketable skills and technical abilities that employers need instead of just theory. Plus, your time is valuable. Why spend extra time in school when you can get trained and start making money in a good career sooner?
High-Paying, Fast-Growing Careers That Require Little Schooling
The following career examples don't require much post-secondary education. In a lot of cases, all you need is a simple two-year associate's degree. And for some of them, a diploma or certificate is enough to get you started, which can often be earned in a matter of months.
National salary and job growth data is taken from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment in each of the 15 careers below is projected to increase at a rate that's above the average of seven percent for all occupations between 2014 and 2024.*** Salaries are based on estimates from May 2013. Keep in mind that what you can earn might vary depending on which part of the country you work in and how much experience you have.
Cleaning teeth, inspecting mouths for signs of disease, and educating patients about proper oral care are the primary duties for people with this career.
- Median pay—$71, 110
- Top pay—$96, 690 or more
- Job growth—19 percent
These healthcare technicians use special ultrasound technology to capture images that help doctors correctly diagnose and treat their patients.