By Jeff Paul
They were unschooled their entire lives. They had never taken a test prior to scuba certification and drivers licenses in their teens. And they never desired going to college. My two oldest boys are now 22 and 18 years old. They’ve had odd jobs and some entrepreneurial gigs, but now they’re interested in making consistent money.
They’re not interested in college. So they have been pursuing high salary certificate professions. These are high paying careers that only require short course work to get a certificate. They also usually require state licensing.
My oldest is currently taking a course to become a certified real estate appraiser, and the other is taking a course to become a licensed home inspector. These are high-paying professions with surprisingly short course work. And, as with many certification professions, they’re ideal for self-employment – which may be essential to avoid encroaching vaccine mandates.
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Since large corporations are pushing vaccine mandates with or without legislation, I thought it would be valuable to identify the best certificate professions that 1) pay very well, 2) require short courses, and 3) enable self-employment.
Why College Is A Poor Choice For Most People
Before we dive into the best certificate professions, let’s quickly examine why college is a poor choice for most people. As a two-time college dropout, I can still admit that it is useful for certain professions in the medical and engineering fields. However, college is very expensive, takes years of study before you can work in those fields, and they don’t prepare you to “work for yourself.” What’s more, because of the response to the plandemic, most colleges now require vaccines and offer a worse in-person experience than they once did.
That said, I think in-person trade schools are worth every penny. In fact, I’d prefer my boys learn hard skills like welding or plumbing because I think they’re more resilient occupations. Trade schools offer many useful 2-year Associates Degrees in fields that fit my criteria as high paying and great potential for self-employment. However, in this article I want to explore professions that require courses less than one year long.
Here are 10 high-paying certificate professions from short courses that can be leveraged to work for yourself:
In Washington state where I live, the average salary for a home inspector is around $70,000/year. And there is potential to make much more when self-employed. Not bad for an 18-year-old without college or even a formal high school diploma.
A licensed home inspector in Washington is one of the highest-paid professions on this list. Home inspectors thoroughly examine homes and write reports detailing any deficiencies. It requires a strong understanding of all of the home’s systems and construction methods, materials and best practices. With some additional training, home inspectors can also become commercial building inspectors, construction inspectors and/or code inspectors.
Becoming a home inspector requires 120 hours of coursework and 40 hours of field study under a licensed inspector. Home inspector training classes in Washington must be in-person or live over Zoom. They’re as short as 2 weeks and they cost around $2500-$5000. Once the course is complete, you must pass a state and national exam to get your license.
Most professions on this list require some period of apprenticeship before you can open your own business, but once the home inspection license is obtained, you are able to start your own practice right away. Other states may differ.
In Washington, the average salary for real estate appraisers is around $60,000. Like home inspectors, there is potential to make much more when self-employed. My 22-year-old is already earning money completing appraisal reports while studying for his license.
Real estate appraisers are hired by mortgage lenders to evaluate properties based on a number of factors to make sure it is worth the amount a homebuyer is looking to borrow. Appraisers perform a short home inspection and complete a market review of comparable homes to determine its value. Findings are compiled into a comprehensive report for the bank.
Coursework for entry-level appraisers can cost around $1500 and is 80-160 hours depending on which state. Appraisal courses tend to be cheaper because they can be taken online. After passing an exam, you can work for other appraisers as a “licensed appraiser trainee.”
Some resources will claim that a bachelor’s degree is required to become a “Certified Residential Real Property Appraiser,” but a licensed trainee can become a certified appraiser with 5 years of experience and additional training instead of a college degree. One could spend 5 years making good money as an appraiser or go into debt for 4 years in college to get the same certification. Seems like any easy choice.
Note: Appraiser trainees are NOT able to open their own practice until they become “Certified Residential Real Property Appraisers.”
Real Estate Agent
Full-time real estate agents make an average of $92,669 in Washington state. That is A LOT of money for minimal education!
Residential real estate agents market and sell homes. They typically work on commission only. As such, there is almost no limit to how much an agent can make. However, it requires a lot of unpaid work in hopes of making sales.
Pre-licensing education is required. These courses range from 63 hours to 180 hours depending on which state you live in. Online pre-licensing real estate courses cost around $500. Once completed, you must take the state exam before working for a brokerage.
You must become a broker to open your own real estate office. This has additional education and experience requirements depending on your state.
Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)
The average salary for a CDL driver is well over $50,000 per year, especially now with shortages for truck drivers. And there is a very wide range of jobs for CDLs.
CDL is almost synonymous with “truck driver.” But these days a CDL is required for all sorts of jobs besides the tractor trailer drivers you see on the highway. Most local delivery jobs and Amazon drivers (who make more than $52K/year) are required to have a CDL. Hauling trailers of any kind over 10,000 lbs like large horse trailers, equipment trailers and or campers also requires a CDL.
CDLs are fairly easy to get. They require a short 3-6 week in-person course with on-road training. Courses seem to cost around $5000, so it is one of the more expensive trainings on this list. After the course, you must pass an exam at DMV to receive your CDL.
You can work independently in many capacities as soon as you have your CDL.
Heavy Equipment Operator
Heavy equipment operators make a median salary of $65,000 per year in the United States. The ones I know make much more than that.
Operating heavy equipment is a hard skill (as opposed to selling or writing reports). An experienced equipment operator can do the work of many man hours in a fraction of the time. It’s a highly valuable skill in good times or bad, with a license or without.
There are 6-8 week training courses and apprenticeships available to become a heavy equipment operator. Courses are in-person and can cost up to $10,000, making it the most expensive training on this list. Under apprenticeships, training can be paid for as part of a work or union arrangement. Apprenticeships seem to last around 3-4 years.
However, in most states you can simply buy a machine and offer your services with minimal licensing. Yet if you’re transporting heavy equipment to a job site, you’ll also need a CDL.
Entry level electrical technicians can make more than $50,000 while learning a hard skill.
Becoming an electrician is a long process with multiple stages of expertise along the way. All must start as an apprentice, trainee or electrical technician. They all basically mean the same thing – beginner – with varying degrees of certification based on state laws.
For example, Washington state requires 96 classroom hours and 8000 hours (about 4 years) working as an “electrical trainee” under a licensed electrician. 75% of the work by technicians or trainees must be monitored by a licensed electrician during that period.
As a technician or trainee, you can move on to become a journeyman electrician or specialist electrician and then to a master electrician. Once you’re an “electrician” you can open your own business.
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) technicians make around $30/hour or around $60,000 per year.
In most states, HVAC technicians are similar to electrical technicians in that they have a short course, exam and then long field training or apprenticeship. HVAC technicians assist with the installation or repair of all aspects of heating and air conditioning systems.
To become an HVAC Technician in Washington state, one must simply be an “electrical trainee” (as above) working toward a specialty. In other states it requires specific coursework and separate training.
Learn to code. Software programmers and engineers make a median salary in excess of $100,000 per year. Average salary for entry level developers is more than $70,000 per year. This is the highest paying certificate job.
These days, nearly every business needs software developers. All major corporations require multiple positions. Demand is so high that working as an independent contractor is viable. And the skills enable you to build software projects on your own.
There are a handful of highly respected 12-32 week coding bootcamps that will all but guarantee that you get an entry level position. For example, MIT offers a 32-week full stack development program with a coding certificate for $6,950. There are language-specific courses available for much less as well.
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
There are LPNs who make more than $40/hour at long-term care facilities that my wife manages. This amounts to over $80,000 per year, not including extra shifts and bonuses.
Most hospitals do not employ LPNs, but at long-term care buildings they perform nearly the exact same duties as a registered nurse and can even become nurse managers. In fact, due to shortages, Washington state is providing a path for LPNs with over 5 years experience to become registered nurses (RN) without additional schooling.
LPN training courses can be completed in as little as 6 months. Schooling or training courses can cost from $5000 to $15000 depending on the program. After completing the course, students must pass the NCLEX-PN exam before they can begin working.
Although it is nearly impossible to work for yourself as an LPN, there are more independent positions like home visit nurses that allow for some autonomy.
Personal Trainer and/or Diet Coach
On average, personal trainers or diet coaches make around $50,000 per year. However, there is no limit to the amount a coach can make. If they’re very good and highly sought after, they can charge a premium.
Trainers work at gyms, schools, sports teams, or make house calls or Zoom consultations with clients to help them get physically fit. Diet coaches or nutritionists work with clients to create and maintain an eating plan to achieve their desired results. This, too, can be done in person or over Zoom.
There are 6-month certification courses that can prepare you to be a professional personal trainer and/or diet coach. Training courses can cost between $1000-$3000 depending on the depth of learning. This is an ideal certificate profession to work for yourself and stay in good shape.
There you have it. If you don’t want to go to college for four years but want a high salary career, look into the certification programs for these professions in your state.