6 Ways to Get Paid to Get an Education (Instead of Paying for One)

can't afford college
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If you’re like me, you love to learn — but find college a tedious and boring way to do it.

And perhaps you don’t want to wait years to start making a living. Then there’s the average student debt to consider, now above $35,000.

College isn’t the right choice for everyone.

What if instead of expensive classes, years of waiting and starting work under a mountain of debt, you could get a paycheck now, while having interesting experiences and learning new things?

If that sounds good to you, keep reading. Here are six ways to get paid to learn valuable skills.

1. Be a Paid Apprentice

The Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship funds various apprenticeship programs at companies across the country, including CVS and UPS.

“Registered Apprenticeships are innovative work-based learning and postsecondary earn-and-learn models that meet national standards for registration with the U.S. Department of Labor (or federally recognized State Apprenticeship Agencies),” the DOL website explains.

You’re paid from day one, making an average $15 per hour, with “incremental wage increases” as you become more proficient.

The DOL estimates you can make an annual $50,000 once you complete an apprenticeship.

You receive a nationally recognized credential from the DOL, and you might even get college credit, depending on the program.

There are over 1,000 potential career areas accessible through the DOL’s Registered Apprenticeship program, but these are their top occupations:

  • Able seaman
  • Carpenter
  • Chef
  • Child care development specialist
  • Construction craft laborer
  • Dental assistant
  • Electrician
  • Elevator constructor
  • Fire medic
  • Law enforcement agent
  • Over-the-road truck driver
  • Pipefitter

You may apprentice for up to six years, but most people complete programs in four.

In addition to 2,000 hours of work each year, you’ll typically spend at least 144 hours in a classroom — though this may be unpaid time.

2. Serve and Learn

Want to help people and learn new skills while earning a modest stipend?

Consider one of these volunteer service options:

The Peace Corps

As previously explained on The Penny Hoarder, you’ll get training, a living expense stipend, health benefits and a payment (currently $8,000) upon completion of a 27-month assignment.

Then you get job placement help and preference applying for any federal position.

What are the qualifications?

The Peace Corps website says 90% of positions go to volunteers with a bachelor’s degree, but they also consider an applicant’s “work, hobbies and volunteer experiences.”


Sometimes referred to as the “Domestic Peace Corps,” AmeriCorps is part of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

As a volunteer, you work on projects in the U.S., first receiving general training and then assignment-specific training.

The CNCS FAQ page makes it clear your “pay” is minimal. You get a living expense stipend, and possibly housing.

But once you complete a term of service (10-12 months), you also receive an AmeriCorps Education Award to help pay for college.

AmeriCorps is actually a “national network of hundreds of programs throughout the U.S.,” and you’ll need special skills or a bachelor’s degree for some assignments.

For other programs, you don’t even need a high school diploma. But, you do have to be between 18-24 years old when you start your service.

Volunteering for service organizations is an opportunity to do some good, learn new skills and make some money — plus it looks good on your resume.

3. Be an Intern

Serving as an intern is a common way to learn skills and get job experience.

You can even search for paid internships on websites like Internships.com. For many of these positions you need to be a college student, but not necessarily a graduate.

Kristen Pope’s recent post lists a dozen internships that pay more than $5,400 per month, so enrolling in college for a while might make sense if that’s what it takes to qualify.

4. Use a Job as Business Training

One of the most effective ways to get paid to learn valuable skills is finding employment in the industry in which you’d like to do business.

For more on this idea, see my post on how to use a job as training to start your own business.

5. Get Selected for the Thiel Fellowship

Yes, you can still get paid $100,000 to drop out of college.

Billionaire Peter Thiel’s foundation has been offering the Thiel Fellowships for years.

If qualified, you’ll get $100,000 over the course of two years — if you’re willing to leave school and work on something visionary and/or entrepreneurial.

Past fellows include Eden Full, who invented a tool that uses solar energy to provide clean water to off-grid communities, and Paul Gu, who created online lending platform Upstart.

6. Look for On-the-Job Training Opportunities

Almost all jobs involve some on-the-job training, so you might want to look at job prospects related to what you want to learn.

For example, as part of a job working with adults with developmental disabilities, I was paid to learn how to de-escalate situations and restrain people without harming them.

I received certification, just as I did when I was trained as a highway flagger by a temp agency, and when I learned CPR as a security officer.

To find jobs that offer valuable skills training, use the big job websites.

On Indeed, a search for “paid training” (no location specified) turns up more than 100,000 jobs.

For Sarasota, Florida (near me), the results included Red Cross positions, a company willing to train you to add captions to videos and no-experience-necessary cable installation jobs.

Steve Gillman is the author of “101 Weird Ways to Make Money” and creator of EveryWayToMakeMoney.com. He’s been a repo-man, walking stick carver, search engine evaluator, house flipper, tram driver, process server, mock juror and roulette croupier, but of more than 100 ways he has made money, writing is his favorite (so far).