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Career Advice

Do I Need to Go to College to Get a Good Job?

A college degree isn't always necessary for a good job. Skills often matter more. Many $50k+ jobs don't require a four-year degree, but some need special training or certification. So, how to choose an alternative to college for a good-paying job?
Lauren Ambrosio

Lauren Ambrosio

Some people think you need a college degree to get a good job, but that's changing. Nowadays, what you can do (your skills) is often more important than a college degree. In fact, many jobs that pay around $50,000 or more each year don't need you to have been to college for four years. But, some of these jobs might require special training or certification. So, how do you decide what to do instead of college so that you’ll land a good-paying job?

Do you have to go to college to be successful?

No, college is just one of many paths you can choose to be successful. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, IT (information technology) support specialists, paralegals, graphic designers, and EKG technicians all make on average over $50,000 a year without needing a four-year degree.


Alternatives to a four-year college degree

Did you know that companies, including Apple, Tesla, IBM, Delta Airlines, and Hilton – huge employers in the U.S. and worldwide – no longer require a college degree to land an interview? Skills, mindset, abilities, and passion are what employers are looking for.


If you’re worried that not having a college is holding you back, it’s good to remember that a degree isn’t your only path to getting a good-paying job. In fact, the number of job listings needing a four-year degree has dropped, meaning that more employers are hiring based on skills and experience over a degree in many industries. So, how can you get a good-paying job without a college degree?



What is upskilling? Upskilling means learning new things to stay on top of your industry and add new skills to your resume. It can lead to more money, job security, and even promotions.


Here are two examples of upskilling to earn a bigger paycheck:

  • Accounting Essentials Certificate: Are you in the finance industry? This course focuses on financial management and learning industry-standard accounting programs. Get ready to learn something you’ll actually use at your job!
  • Business Management Essentials Certificate: Do you want to go for that promotion but are worried you aren’t ‘management material?’ This certificate course teaches you how to build strong decision-making, leadership, and organization skills, prepare various business reports, and be a responsible, ethical manager.


Read more: How To Find A Job After Being Laid Off


Earn your high school diploma

For some people, not finishing high school can be a real setback. But luckily, getting your high school diploma can open up a lot of doors to job opportunities and career advancement. It's also a fundamental step for those who want to pursue vocational training or other specialized courses. Most higher-paying jobs require a minimum of a high school diploma to apply. Learn more about online high school and if it’s right for you.


Read more: Going Back to School as an Adult (FAQs)


Trade school

If you’re looking for a job where you can work with your hands and use your brain to solve problems, then you may enjoy learning a trade! Trades are skills that don’t need a degree. However, they do require training and licensing in many cases.


Some popular trades alternatives to four year degrees that pay well are:


Read more: 10 Skilled Trades Jobs In Demand for 2024


Career diplomas

Earning a career diploma can lead to specialized jobs in fields like healthcare, technology, or the arts. These programs teach you the practical knowledge required for a specific job. Some career diploma programs that can lead to higher-paying jobs include:


Read more: What’s the Difference Between a Career Diploma, Certificate, and an Undergraduate Certificate?


Undergrad certifications

An undergraduate certificate can be a good way to take your current job to the next level or start on a new path. While you may not need a degree in some positions, having some formal education under your belt can show employers how dedicated you are. Some undergrad certifications that can help you get a jumpstart on an undergraduate degree or a job starting at $50,000 or higher are:


Read more: Job Guides in Healthcare, Tech, Trades, and more


Associate degrees

An associate’s degree can be a stepping stone to a bachelor's degree or stand on its own. These two-year degrees can be completed at your own pace, which is helpful if you are working while earning your degree. Here are a couple of associate degrees that may lead to a better-paying job:


Read more: Why An Associate Degree Pays Off


Is going to college worth it?

There are many reasons, aside from earning a degree and hopefully getting a good-paying job, that make going to college worth it. But it’s an individual decision that only you can make for yourself. Attending on-campus college provides you with social benefits and new experiences and can give you a sense of community. If you’re a working adult, an online undergraduate degree program can be time-consuming and may not end up getting you a high-paying job, but it could also be incredibly fulfilling.


Deanna LeVito, a Penn Foster grad, went back to college to get her degree at age 50. She says, “You think, ‘I’m doing this myself,’ but there are so many people to reach out to. They’re all in the same boat as you are. You’re not out there drowning, the professor checks in on you. You’re not alone.” It’s important to weigh the costs–both in time and money–against what you’re hoping to gain by getting a bachelor’s degree.


Read more: I Graduated High School - What’s Next?


6 reasons why you don't need a college degree to be successful

Our modern workforce is shifting to skills and experience over education in many industries, but it can be hard to ignore the voice in your head telling you that you have to go to school and get a degree. Here are some reasons why you may not need a college degree to get a good-paying, satisfying job:

  1. Skills > degrees: A lot of industries look more at your skills, experience, and portfolio than your education.
  2. Trade schools: Being an electrician or plumber, both high-paying jobs, does not require a degree, only specialized training.
  3. Certifications: Look at obtaining certifications in your field for those desirable upskills employers are looking for.
  4. Entrepreneurship: Starting your own business doesn’t require a degree, just a lot of passion and a great idea.
  5. Online learning: There are countless online learning platforms wherein you can obtain new skills for your current or new job.
  6. Work in a high-demand field: Do you have a niche set of skills in an in-demand industry? What you can do can be more valuable than a degree.


Take the next steps toward a rewarding job without a college degree

No matter what stage you are at in your education or career, Penn Foster may be a good option for gaining new, immediately usable skills. From veterinary to construction, wedding planning to criminal justice, you can forge a new path or expand on your current skillset with our courses and career diploma programs. If you have questions about any of our courses or are ready to enroll, contact our friendly Admissions Specialists at 1.888.427.6500.

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