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Picking a career that makes you happy is important, but so is financial stability.

3 minute read

Student loan debt is a huge burden. But if you ask college-age Americans, they’ll say it’s a solid investment.

In fact, most everyone — those who did and did not attend college — think so, regardless of debt. A study from Bankrate says 73 percent of all Americans believe college is important. [1]

What most don’t consider is paying off that debt when they graduate. So how do you find a job that gives you a sense of accomplishment, that still allows you to overcome your student loans?

If you’re going to school, use the resources your university provides. And if you aren’t sure whether or not to go to school, there’s still hope — maybe even more than your college student friends.

Here’s how to choose the right career path for you…

Consult a career adviser

Most college seniors acknowledge that not feeling prepared is their fault — not the fault of schools they studied at. A majority say they would’ve felt more prepared for a career if they had more internships and professional experience.

Students are often provided resume support, job fairs, and career advisers to help them in choosing a career path. But a majority admit to never using any of those resources, and students who do rarely use them, according to a McGraw Hill survey. [2]

Career advisers can take your situation into consideration when you’re looking for a job. They’ll consider your major and interests, along with how much debt you’ll have once you graduate. That way you’ll be able to make payments on your student loans when you get a job.

The truth is jobs are seeking new applicants with basic work experience, which can’t be taught in a classroom. Many report feeling they have gained a lot of skills from their college experience, but are lacking real-world skills.

Career advisers are available to people who don’t go to school as well (most are a part of the National Career Development Association). [3] They can help you find the right job and gain experience, and you may just get paid more than someone getting their degree.

Jobs that don’t require a four-year degree

Ask a recent college grad if getting their degree was worth it, and they might complain about their monthly student loan payments, or say that they can’t find a job because their degree isn’t worth anything.

But there are plenty of jobs out there with high earning potential that don’t require any degree at all, which is great news for Americans who don’t believe that higher education is affordable.

Here are the top five highest paying jobs that don’t require a four-year college degree, ranked from highest to lowest paying. All salaries are based on the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. [4]

1. Elevator installers and repairers

  • Job: Install and maintain elevators, escalators, and other lifts.
  • Pay: $79,480
  • Qualifications: High school diploma and apprenticeship.

2. Dental Hygienist

  • Job: Clean teeth, examine patients for oral diseases, and assist dentists in anesthesia or dental radiography if needed.
  • Pay: $74,070
  • Qualifications: Associate’s degree and licensed by the state.

3. Diagnostic medical sonographer

  • Job: Assist doctors and surgeons by operating special imaging equipment, like ultrasounds. Some assist physicians during surgery.
  • Pay: $71,410
  • Qualifications: Associate’s degree.

4. Electrical power-line installers and repairers

  • Job: Repair electric wires and fiber optic cables.
  • Pay:$69,380
  • Qualifications: High school diploma and apprenticeship.

5. Boilermakers

  • Job: Assemble and install steam boilers, which are large tanks or vessels that produce heat and hot water for office buildings, hotels, hospitals, restaurants, schools, and government buildings. They inspect and repair boiler furnaces as well.
  • Pay: $62,260
  • Qualifications: High school diploma (usually requires an apprenticeship and previous welding).

College students don’t know how long it’ll take to pay off their loans

Picking a career that makes you happy and gives you a purpose is a noble choice. Unfortunately, college seniors may be somewhat naive about their college costs and plans to pay down their student debt.

While some may graduate without any debt thanks to scholarships or working part-time, many will have unexpected debt. And, they may not fully understand how long it will take to pay off.

The standard repayment plan for federal student loans estimates about 10 years to pay off the debt. [5] But previous research suggests that the average borrower takes 21 years to pay down their loans for a bachelor’s degree. [6]

College students aren’t realistic about the amount of time they’ll carry their debt. That leads them to choose a job that doesn’t pay enough to keep up with their payments.

Calculate exactly how long it will take you to pay off your debt with the job salary you’re considering. That way, you can see if the job pays enough, and if it’s the right career path for you.

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About the Author

Cameren Boatner

Cameren Boatner

Cameren Boatner is a contributing editor of Debt.com. She is currently working toward her bachelor's degree in multimedia journalism from FAU, where she serves as editor of the student-run newspaper.

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