5 Careers That Don’t Require a 4-Year Degree

For many people looking to further their education, a four-year commitment to a bachelor’s degree is unrealistic. With personal responsibilities, the prospect of being overwhelmed by student debt, or being away from the workforce full-time for four years all in mind, many are searching for other options.

The average amount of student debt per borrower was a little over $28,000 in 2013. This number is still rising, leaving many recent graduates scrambling to make enough money to pay the minimum amount due on their loans. As an alternative to attending a bachelor’s program, many associates programs exist that only require a two-year commitment. These associate degree programs offer better than average starting salaries, opportunity for furthering education in the future, and a much more cost effective schooling option.


Average Salary: $47,000

Paralegals complete essential and procedural legal work in coordination with the law. They work under an attorney and obtain a substantial amount of legal knowledge. They perform a large array of tasks and are a vital part of the legal system.

In order to become a paralegal, you can pick from a few different paths, one of which is obtaining an associate degree. A two-year degree in paralegal studies that you are able to obtain through a community college will enable you to work as a paralegal without a mountain of student debt. There are many benefits that come with an associate degree in paralegal studies, one of which being the high average salary and a minimal education commitment.

Dental Hygienist

Average Salary: $68,000

Dental Hygienists are oral health professionals that focus on treatment and prevention for oral diseases, general dental health, and other important dental procedures and care. In order to become a dental hygienist and work in an office setting, an associate degree is efficient to work in the field. A bachelor degree may be required if you plan on joining a clinical practice so do your research and decide where you’d like to be in your field before committing to a two-year degree.

Dental hygienists have one of the highest average salaries for all careers obtained with an associate degree and many of those employed in this field work part-time. The average salary for a dental hygienist is well over the average salary for those who have a bachelor degree and have less schooling and, therefore, less student debt.


Average Salary: $37,000

Every business needs a bookkeeper. Because of this, bookkeeping is an extremely versatile career in that you will be able to work at virtually any type of business to do their books. Bookkeepers balance the books for businesses and keep financial records. They crunch numbers, are proficient in a variety of bookkeeping software, and are responsible for keeping track of expenses and revenue. Obtaining an associate degree in accounting will enable you to become a bookkeeper while keeping student loans at a manageable rate.

One of the many positives associated with an associate degree in accounting is the options for furthering education at a later date. If you decide to become a CPA using the knowledge gained from obtaining your associate degree and gaining experience in the workforce, your average salary will go up slightly over $10,000 annually. And to top it off, there were more accounting staff jobs available in the U.S. halfway through 2014 than there were in all of the previous year.


Average Salary: $53,000

Electricians maintain, install, and repair electrical power systems in a variety of different establishments. They install wiring, troubleshoot electrical problems, and tend to have varying shifts based on weather, different projects, and specific need. Electricians are able to work in their field with limited schooling. Most prefer at least a two-year technical or trade program.

Unlike the other options on this list, there are four to five years required in an apprenticeship before being able to perform duties independently. However, the time spent in the apprenticeship is paid work experience and normally does not cost you anything to complete. While the pay is lower during the apprenticeship, they are at the top in terms of salary for careers in similar trades.

Registered Nurse

Average Salary: $66,000

Registered nurses provide direct patient care, assist physicians during medical procedures, and maintain patient health. Nurses are known for their passion for patient care, working long shifts, and being on the front lines of healthcare. An associate degree in nursing typically takes two years to complete. Similar to the associate degree in accounting, an associate degree in nursing has great options for furthering your education at a later date.

There are many associate to bachelor degree programs known as RN to BSN programs. Because of the nursing shortage caused by an aging nursing workforce, nurses are in steady demand thus causing salaries to rise. Another reason for the salary increase being the rise in BSN options that are creating nurses that are furthering their education and gaining more experience.

In order to keep education options open for prospective students, many lucrative associate degree options are available to help further education while helping students to keep their heads above the ocean of student debt plaguing the country. These options have higher than average salaries, a maximum of two years spent in school, and future options for education advancement. The options aren’t over for those that can’t afford student loans, four years away from a full-time job market, or giving up other responsibilities to spend time on a bachelor’s program. With these options, there is still hope to make an above-average salary.

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Chelsy Ranard

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