You Don’t Need a Bachelor’s Degree For These 10 Hot Jobs in 2019

With more than 7 million job openings in the U.S. and the economy continuing to break records, this might be the time to look for a career change.

Before you envision taking on $50,000 — or more — in student loan debt and sacrificing the next four years of your earning potential for a bachelor’s degree, we have alternatives. There are plenty of great jobs you can snag with an associate’s degree or even a high school diploma.

We’ve done some number crunching using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to come up with one ambitious list: The Penny Hoarder’s Best Jobs of 2019 that Don’t Require a Bachelor’s Degree.

10 Best Jobs That Don’t Require a Bachelor’s Degree

To create this list, we looked at careers that are projected to grow faster than the job market as a whole, the median annual pay and how that pay has grown. To show you where the best opportunities lie across the country, we also looked at the cities with the largest concentration of each occupation.

Some on our list are traditional “dirty jobs” — like crane operator or brickmason — while others fall in the medical fields, such as dental hygienist. You might need some schooling for some of these careers.

But doing two years at a community college can cost five times less than staying for a bachelor’s degree. And this much is certain, you can make good money, expect to see rising wages and plenty of open jobs without having to grind through four years of college.

1. Solar photovoltaic installer

A solar technician installs a solar array
Solar Source technician Shane Prody installs solar arrays. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Median annual pay: $42,680
Projected job growth: 104.9%
Percent employed without a Bachelor’s degree: 93%

It seems like every year, solar photovoltaic installer gets a mention in a “best job without a degree” list — and it’s with good reason.

Of the more than 1,000 occupations the BLS tracks, this has far and away the highest projected growth rate (as it has the last several times the department released these figures.) The growth in pay is among the highest — a handsome 7% over the last year. Plus, think of all the good you’ll be doing for the environment!

Most solar photovoltaic installer jobs are in the residential sector, so you’ll spend your time climbing onto houses installing hardware that harnesses the power of the sun. The job also requires working in attics while connecting solar panels to houses’ electrical systems.

You only need a high school diploma for this career, and training on the job lasts from a few weeks to a year. Since this career requires a lot of heavy lifting, the right candidates will be in good shape and be able to work in the sun.

The Interstate Renewable Energy Council provides a map that highlights the licensing requirements by state.

And the U.S. Department of Energy in 2014 launched a program that helps connect veterans with jobs in the solar industry, which is now an independent program called Solar Ready Vets.  

Top Cities:

  • Burlington, Vermont
  • Kahului, Hawaii
  • Bakersfield, California
  • Chico, California
  • Santa Rosa, California

2. Respiratory therapist

Median annual pay: $60,280
Projected job growth: 23.4%
Percent employed without a Bachelor’s degree: 69%

Respiratory therapist is another job that will skyrocket in demand as the U.S. population continues to age. And the current demand for these workers is at its peak, according to the American Association for Respiratory Care.

To get into this field, you’ll need an Associate’s degree and certification — low hurdles to get into a lucrative medical field. As a respiratory therapist, you’ll mainly be helping doctors examine patients and diagnose breathing issues. You may also be expected to test, monitor and treat said patients.

This map can help you shop schools that have respiratory therapy programs.

Top Cities:

  • Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania
  • Morgantown, West Virginia
  • Winston-Salem, North Carolina
  • Gainesville, Florida
  • Muncie, Indiana

3. Dental hygienist

Median annual pay: $74,820
Projected job growth: 19.7%
Percent employed without a Bachelor’s degree: 62.2%

If you aren’t grossed out by close-talkers or someone chewing with their mouth open, and you have an interest in the medical field, you might want to look into a career as a dental hygienist.

These are the dental workers who clean, X-ray and examine your teeth and gums before you see the dentist. Yes, the ones who use that little sucky thing and hold full conversations while you have a mouth full of cotton.

OK, that’s just a cliché, but according to the BLS you should have good communication skills for this job. Further, you will need an Associate’s degree in dental hygiene and a state license to practice. Those two years are definitely worth it when you consider the $74,820 median annual pay for a hygienist is more than double that of the average U.S. worker, who makes about $38,640.

Top Cities:

  • Medford, Oregon
  • Flint, Michigan
  • Grants Pass, Oregon
  • Pocatello, Idaho
  • Midland, Michigan

4. Forest fire prevention specialist

Median annual pay: $39,600
Projected job growth: 26.6%
Percent employed without a Bachelor’s degree: 80.7%

Here's how one guy found his dream job getting paid to start fires.

Forest fire prevention specialists — also known by the badass moniker burn boss — are key in making sure a lightning strike or other natural or manmade spark doesn’t lead to disaster. As development encircles wildlife parks around the U.S., federal and state governments will need to go on a hiring spree to prevent such incidents.

The demand for burn bosses shows in the pay bump as well, as these specialists have seen more than a 5% increase in median annual pay in the last year.

Tony Clements, the burn boss and park manager at Oscar Scherer State Park in Florida, embodies the analytical mind and passionate spirit to succeed in this growing career path.

“I take great pride in being the steward of this land,” he said while surveying a recent patch of pine flatwoods his crew scorched in May. In fact, he and his family of four live for free on the preserve.

It may seem counterintuitive, but burning away non-native species and “fuel” that could spark serious wildfires actually helps preserves the wildlife in the 1,400-acre park — along with keeping the neighborhoods sprouting up around the wilderness safe.

As a child growing up in Wales, Clements enjoyed being in nature. Working as an air conditioning installer in his 20s in southwest Florida, he thought back to that time in choosing a more permanent career he’d actually love.

He started out as a volunteer at Oscar Scherer in 1993, then worked his way up to his current position. That came after stops in Seattle and the Orlando area.

“I just had to get my foot in the door,” he says.

As burn boss, Clements is in charge of identifying the areas that are prime for a prescribed fire and choosing the best conditions for undertaking the burn. This requires knowledge of ecology, biology and meteorology. Further, Clements has to develop a strategy for any situation that arises during the burn.

Teams use a 20-page book outlining the purpose, strategy and contingencies for each burn called a “prescription. (Get it? Prescribed burn?)

“You have to run through every worst-case scenario,” he said. “The thing about fire is you never know when it’s going to bite back.”

Top Cities:

  • San Jose, California
  • San Diego, California
  • Los Angeles California
  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • Houston, Texas

5. Veterinary technician

Median annual pay: $34,420
Projected job growth: 20%
Percent employed without a Bachelor’s degree: 78.4%

After 11 years a veterinary technician, Jessica Villareal is still learning — and that’s just one of the reasons she loves her job.

Always an animal lover who harbored a deep interest in medicine, this field melded the two, making it the perfect career for her. Villareal specializes in anesthesia, but finds that there is always something new to pick up.

“I have yet to stop learning,” she says.

Pro Tip

In this field, it pays off to focus on one area of the job, like anesthesia, and specialize your skills around that topic.

An Associate’s degree in animal sciences and certification from your state will get you on the road to becoming a veterinary technician. The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America has plenty of information for current students interested in becoming technicians.

But remember, the job can get heavy.

Villareal recalls a beagle that came in with blood leaking into its abdomen. With the amount of blood loss, she says the situation looked dire. However, the team was able to quickly get the patient into the operating room and fix the ruptured tumor that caused the bleeding.

“It might be some of the scariest times for the clients, but that’s when we really thrive as technicians,” she says. “The best part is seeing them back in two weeks later when they’re bouncing off the walls and the owner can’t keep them quiet and they’re just doing great and it’s a whole different patient.”

Top Cities:

  • Corvalis, Oregon
  • College Station, Texas
  • Ithaca, New York
  • Fort Collins, Colorado
  • Gainesville, Florida

6. Flight Attendant

Median annual pay: $56,000
Projected job growth: 10.2%
Percent employed without a Bachelor’s degree: 60%

Tracee Roberts remembers the highs of life as a flight attendant: A convivial Stevie Wonder snapping photos with passengers in first class on a short trip from Las Vegas to Los Angeles in 2000. Riding bikes through San Francisco or helicopters over New York City during layovers. Oh yeah, and it’s how she met her husband, a pilot.

Those high points easily outweigh the lows, like lifting a nearly-dead 300-pound man from his seat to perform CPR as her plane was diverted from Phoenix to Las Vegas.

The incidents highlight the fast-paced, and always exciting, nature of working as a flight attendant.

Pro Tip

Just because you don’t need a degree doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a winning resume. Make sure you incorporate keywords from the job listing in your resume — and no fancy fonts or colors.

“The thing is, once you get into it it’s like a drug, because you love it,” she said. “Flying… it gets into your blood.”

Roberts retired in 2016, and since then, demand for flight attendants has fueled double-digit wage growth and tens of thousands of job openings, according to The Penny Hoarder’s analysis. The nearly 10% growth in annual pay for this occupation reflects the need, as well.

“Anybody can do it,” said Roberts. “It’s a great experience, it’s a great job and wonderful for people who want to explore.”

Delta Airlines receives about 100,000 applications when they open up positions, a spokeswoman said. Generally the airline does its hiring in the fall and trains applicants in the spring.

Here’s a video series outlining the training process. This nifty guide will help you find which airlines are currently hiring.

Generally, you’ll have a crummy schedule and be on call for the first year on the job, Roberts said. That might make it difficult if you have a family.

“This is something that in my opinion is for the young single person or the older person who doesn’t have a lot of commitments,” she said.

Top Cities:

  • Dallas, Texas
  • Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Denver, Colorado
  • San Francisco, California
  • Chicago, Illinois

7. Brickmason

Median annual pay: $50,950
Projected job growth: 10.3%
Percent employed without Bachelor’s degree: 96.7%

You can get on the brickmason career path with a high school diploma or GED, but as a skilled trade, you will likely spend a couple of years in an apprenticeship. You’ll still get paid while learning the craft, however.

Brickmasons are responsible for the building blocks of most solid structures — think walls, concrete buildings or walkways that have any type of brick incorporated. Not just relegated to manual labor, a skilled brickmason has to understand how to read blueprints, along with mixing the materials and breaking down rocks and stones.

The International Masonry Training and Education Foundation is a good starting point to figure out how to get into the brickmason business. You should also look up your local masonry union, which can point you toward apprenticeship programs.

As we’ve highlighted before, the infrastructure sector is prime for growth and provides rewarding careers in which you can eventually make upwards of six figures.

Top Cities:

  • The Villages, Florida
  • Provo, Utah
  • New Bedford, Massachusetts
  • Lancaster, Pennsylvania
  • Cape Coral, Florida

8. Dental laboratory technician

Median annual pay: $40,440
Projected job growth: 14.4%
Percent employed without a Bachelor’s degree: 85.7%

Dental laboratory technicians are the ones behind the scenes creating molds, crowns and bridges for dental patients.

Although there are some college programs that award dental laboratory technicians with an Associate’s degree or certification, it’s not necessary. You’ll spend most of your time learning on the job, and depending on your experience, you can go on to train new technicians or even open your own lab, according to the American Dental Association.

“With advancements in technology and materials, there is an increased demand for restorative and cosmetic dentistry,” according to the ADA. “As a result, there currently is a great demand for dental laboratory technicians. Employment opportunities will be excellent well into the next century.”

Top Cities:

  • Gainesville, Georgia
  • Huntsville, Alabama
  • Racine, Wisconsin
  • Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
  • Manchester, New Hamphshire

9. Crane and tower operators

A crane operator stands next to a crane
Although Freddie Cruz dropped out of high school, he has made a very good living first as a truck driver and now as a crane opertor. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Median annual pay: $44,410
Projected job growth: 8.6%
Percent employed without Bachelor’s degree: 95.9%

Freddie Cruz’s athletic future faded during high school when he tore his meniscus on a Florida football field. After dropping out, the 19-year-old was left with a pregnant girlfriend, no job and a father calling him a bum.

“I gave up on school, I gave up on my career and I gave up on everything,” he said.

Despite lacking a high school diploma, the now 44-year-old Cruz makes six-figures working as a crane operator in the Tampa Bay area. He evangelizes a career that is easy to get into (you can start out making $65,000 as an apprentice), fulfilling and always interesting.

Cruz’s pay isn’t necessarily typical, since wages vary based on the need for workers in different markets. The Tampa Bay area is experiencing a building boom, which means he can demand higher wages and has more opportunities for overtime.

“The money’s there, I just don’t think we publicize it enough,” Cruz says. “It’s word of mouth — somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody gets you in.”

Cruz, who commands a GMK 4115 that he says drives like a Cadillac, has taken apart a water tower, lifted a barge out of the water and recovered a helicopter following a deadly crash.

It generally takes four years to become a senior crane operator, but you will be working alongside an operator during those years as an apprentice. Cruz started eight years ago.

“You have to pay your dues,” he says, noting you can find your local crane operator union to get started. “The funny thing is, you’re getting paid to pay your dues, which is awesome.”

The job doesn’t require a college degree, but construction firms prefer candidates with a few years of experience in another area in the material moving sector, according to the BLS. Cruz spent years as a truck driver — even owning his own before switching careers.

But if you want to start without that experience, you should enroll in trade school. Although Cruz recommends jumping right onto a job site.

“If I had known about this business years ago, I’d probably be on the verge of retiring now,” he says.

Top Cities:

  • Houma, Louisiana
  • Gary, Indiana
  • Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • Corpus Christi, Texas
  • Mobile, Alabama

10. Medical appliance technician

Median annual pay: $39,190
Projected job growth: 13.6%
Percent employed without Bachelor’s degree: 85.7%

As a medical appliance technician you’ll be at the crossroads of two major growth fields: the technology industry and the medical industry. An aging population and the need for more hands-on labor makes this one of the best jobs to look at in 2019.

This job requires you to measure, build and fit casts, braces or even prosthetic limbs. That means the best candidate for a new career in this field should be technically inclined and have decent dexterity.

Most of the training in this field happens on the job, according to the BLS. A certificate isn’t required, but the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics does offer licensing.

Top Cities:

  • South Bend, Indiana
  • Gainesville, Florida
  • Morgantown, West Virginia
  • Springfield, Missouri
  • Bridgeport, Connecticut

How to Land Any Job in 2019

Curious about what occupations are growing the fastest overall? Hint: they're in the health care and green energy sectors. Here are 2019's Top 10 fastest-growing jobs.

If you’re intrigued by any of these careers, we have lots of advice to help you land your dream job.

The first thing you’ll want to do is get your resume in order. There’s more nuance in writing a resume than just throwing together a list of your past jobs and education, and these 31 tips will help you craft the perfect, professional document.

And don’t undersell yourself if you don’t have a lot of experience.

The next step is writing a solid cover letter for the position you’re seeking. Some of the jobs on our list may seem like they wouldn’t require it, but you should write a cover letter anyway.

Something like LinkedIn might be an afterthought if you’re hoping to become a crane operator, but it can’t hurt to make sure a Google search of your name will yield a professional-looking profile. You can create an expert LinkedIn page in just a half hour with these tips.

Every now and then, companies — like Delta — will hold hiring fairs to fill hundreds of positions quickly. Tracee Roberts, the retired flight attendant, walked into one the day she was laid off from a bank and landed her dream job.

These six tips will help you stand out at a mass hiring event.

And when you do snag an interview for one of The Penny Hoarder’s Best Jobs of 2019 that Don’t Require a Bachelor’s Degree, study this list of common interview questions so you don’t fumble through the process and blow it.

Methodology

To develop our list of hot jobs you can get without a Bachelor’s degree, we merged multiple Bureau of Labor Statistics databases, including the recently-updated annual pay data for more than 1,000 jobs.

We wanted to include jobs that saw pay bumps over the last two years and the largest projected growth, but we also considered overall pay, pay differential between the top and bottom 10% of the workforce and the percentage of those without a bachelor’s degree. Further, we considered average annual wage growth over the last five years.

That’s why you may see some occupations with slower wage growth ranked higher.

Alex Mahadevan is a data journalist at The Penny Hoarder.