Do I Really Need a College Degree?

With the No Child Left Behind Act now holding all students accountable to standardized academic achievement criteria, high school campuses around the country have become more academically driven than ever.

While the media and high school counselors readily tout U.S. Department of Labor data indicating college graduates stand to earn up to $20,000 more per year than their non-college bound peers, the assumption that a college degree is the best career path for everyone seems to be crashing on the banks of reality.

The fact that not everyone is cut out for college, and that college is but one of several options available for today’s high school graduates seems to have eluded the public education system in the race for academic accountability.

Though the dominating opinion in student service offices across American that teenagers should proceed directly from high school to college still prevails, real life doesn’t always work out that way.


According to the latest census data, only 27 percent of Americans over age 25 hold bachelor’s degrees or higher.

Despite these statistics, the lack of a college degree has not trapped students into dead end jobs as fry cooks.

Independent studies have identified 16 jobs in growing industries, that pay more than $25,000 a year available to workers holding an associates degree or less. Furthermore, most of these positions in various fields — nursing, carpentry, bookkeeping, plumbing and electrical engineering — are entry level positions requiring little to no previous work experience.

Going Against the Grain Has Its Costs

However, gaining access to these non-degree paying positions is no simple task.

While registered nursing tops the list paying the highest salary and will enjoy the greatest projected annual job growth, that job poses barriers for some lower-skilled entrants, including training programs that tend to be highly competitive and full-time.

Certification as a licensed practical nurse, however is often available through part-time training programs, making that occupation a more a more accessible entry point for students tending to full time jobs and families.

Alternative Post-Secondary Training Programs


An apprenticeship is a combination of on-the-job training and related classroom instruction which affords students the opportunity to learn both the practical and theoretical aspects of a highly skilled occupation. Apprenticeship programs are sponsored by joint employer and labor groups, individual employers, and/or employer associations. The Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training (BAT) oversees and approves apprenticeship programs in the U.S.

Job Corps

Job Corps is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive residential education and job training program for at-risk youth, ages 16 through 24. Private companies, state agencies, federal agencies, and unions recruit young people to participate in Job Corps, where they can train for and be placed in highly specialized job fields such as welding, carpentry and business.

A number of other training and education programs exist for students seeking career training options after high school.

Top 16 careers that do not require a four year college education:

  • Registered nurse, $48,090
  • Customer-service representative, $26,240
  • Sales representative (in nontechnical wholesale and manufacturing), $42,730
  • Truck driver, heavy and tractor-trailer, $33,210
  • Maintenance and repair worker, general, $29,370
  • Bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerk, $27,380
  • Executive secretary and administrative assistant, $33,410
  • Secretary (not legal, medical and executive), $25,290
  • Carpenter, $34,190
  • Automotive-service technician and mechanic, $30,590
  • Police and sheriff’s patrol officer, $42,270
  • Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurse, $31,440
  • Electrician, $41,390
  • All other sales and related workers, $35,170
  • Computer-support specialist, $39,100
  • Plumber, pipefitter and steamfitter, $40,170

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