Not All Careers Require a Hefty College Price Tag
In 2015, college graduates borrowing $30,000 to obtain a bachelor’s degree may have diminished their retirement savings by $325,000 compared to their peers who did not take out student loans, according to the LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute. Keeping in mind the cost of a college education, it’s important for students and families to think through the investment and how it will shape the student’s future. Will the time and money invested provide the intended return? While some career paths require a bachelor’s degree, a number of professions don’t. Parents can help their children weigh the option of a bachelor’s degree against other job training and educational opportunities that may offer lower time and financial commitments.
While exploring post-high school education options, alternatives to a traditional degree may include:
Certificate Program: A growing number of careers accept certificates, which can be earned within weeks to a few years depending on one’s schedule. For example, many health care occupations, including certified nursing assistants, phlebotomy technicians and electronic health records specialists, require certificates. This gives students the opportunity to get into an in-demand field quickly, start earning a paycheck, learn about the industry and work their way up the career ladder as they gain experience and earn additional certifications.
Apprenticeship: Apprenticeships enable experienced professionals to share their craft in occupations like carpentry, baking, plumbing and even some jobs in factories. Apprentices often earn a paycheck on the first day and receive both hands-on learning as well as classroom instruction. This approach allows one the opportunity to jump right into a career.
Trade (Vocational) School: Some students choose to attend trade school before beginning an apprenticeship. Trade school offers hands-on technical training focused on a chosen profession rather than classroom study on a wide range of topics. Depending on the program, it could take several months or one to two years to complete. Due to the shorter time commitment and the lower tuition rates, trade school graduates begin earning a paycheck sooner. For example, someone who wants to be an electrician can attend trade school for several months and then become an apprentice, where he or she will receive paid on-the-job training for several years before becoming a licensed electrician. In 2015, electricians earned an average annual salary of $51,110.
Community College: Community colleges offer a well-rounded education in a traditional setting, generally resulting in an associate's degree within two years. This includes careers such as dental hygienist, paralegal and computer networking support specialist. Community college is also a great option for students who are undecided on a career path. Due to the lower cost, one can choose a two-year college to complete general requirements before selecting a profession and transferring to a targeted university program.
Just as there are a variety of post-high school education options, there are a variety of occupations as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, following are professions that do not require a bachelor’s degree and offered a competitive starting salary in 2014.
Air Traffic Controllers: Someone who works well under pressure and has strong communication and decision-making skills could earn a median annual salary of $122,340 as an air traffic controller. Applicants should have at least three years of progressively responsible work experience or some post-secondary training if they do not have a bachelor’s degree.
Power Plant Operators: This position requires attention to detail and the ability to concentrate and solve problems. Power plant operators made an average of $70,070 in 2014, power distributors and dispatchers made $78,240, and nuclear power plant operators made $82,500.
Radiation Therapists: In the growing field of health care, many positions require an associate’s degree or certification. In 2014, radiation therapists, who administer radiation treatment to patients with cancer and other illnesses, made an average of $80,090.
Detectives and Criminal Investigators: Police officers, detectives and investigators need strong communication, leadership and problem-solving skills as well as the physical strength and stamina to do the job well. Police officers earned a median annual salary of $56,810 in 2014, and detectives and criminal investigators earned $79,870.
Elevator Installers and Repairers: These technicians keep people moving in elevators, escalators, moving walkways and other lifts. They learn their trade through a four-year apprenticeship, which includes classroom instruction and paid on-the-job training. In 2014, elevator installers and repairers earned a median annual salary of $78,620.
You can see additional salaries and the education needed for the profession here.
While a traditional undergraduate college experience is a great option for many, it may not make the most financial sense for everyone. Parents can help their children discover their skills, abilities and career aspirations and start on a path to achieve those goals, whether that means a bachelor’s degree, an associate’s degree or other job training opportunities.