So, you don’t want to go to university? That’s not a problem! You’d be surprised at just how much you can earn from a career built at a trade school. Our list of the 15 highest paying trade school jobs will point you in the right direction. With the growing demand for trade skills, particularly in the health industry, you might even find that you end up with a better job than your university graduate friends.
We collected our data in February 2020, using the average salary for each job title according to Indeed. As these are average salaries, there’s always the potential to find a job that will pay more – just be prepared to put the work in!
1. MRI Technologist
Average Annual Salary: $95,411
Requirements: radiography and MRI programs to an associate’s degree, ARMIT certificate
According to Indeed, MRI technologists had the highest average salaries from all the potential trade school jobs. Although it will take you several years of experience on the job to reach a salary near that level, you’ll have plenty of room for career growth in the medical industry. In fact, there is a growing demand for MRI technologists so once you are trained, you’ll have no trouble creating a promising career for yourself.
MRI technologists operate the MRI machine and work closely with radiologists. MRI and radiology courses are available at many trade schools and you might be able to take an associate’s degree there too. As part of your training (usually up to 2 years) you’ll do coursework and need job training or a clinical internship. You’ll also need a certificate from ARMIT.
2. Radiation Therapist
Average Annual Salary: $94,536
Requirements: radiation therapy/radiography programs leading to an associate’s degree, ARRT certificate
A radiation therapist plans, administers and monitors radiation treatment for patients. You might also operate x-ray machines and assist radiologists as your career grows. Due to the aging population and increase in medical conditions across the US and the world, radiation therapists are in high demand just like MRI technologists.
To get this high paying trade school job, you’ll need to take a radiography program for 1 or 2 years (potentially leading to an associate’s degree) at a trade school. You’ll then need to apply for an ARRT Certificate which qualifies you to work as a radiation therapist.
Being a radiation therapist isn’t just about having technical/medical knowledge. As radiation therapists work directly with patients, it’s great if you have good people skills to provide comfort and support.
3. Construction Manager
Average Annual Salary: $81,437
Requirements: construction/engineering program, associate/bachelor’s degree, extensive experience
Yes, even though it will take years of experience working construction to build up the skills needed to manage the entire construction site, it’s still a job that you can reach through a humble trade school job program.
Construction managers oversee a construction site, managing the entire project from sorting tasks for workers to keeping everything on time and on target. Construction and engineering programs are the best places to start – you might even be able to work part-time on a construction site while you study. Working towards an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree will make you a better candidate to become a manager too.
Management skills are a must, but these can be built up over years of experience. This is a job position you work your way up towards. Once you reach the top, your salary will be quite impressive.
4. Dental Hygienist
Average Annual Salary: $79,545
Requirements: dental hygiene program leading to an associate’s degree, National Board Dental Hygiene License
A dental hygienist mostly works with dental tools, machines, and software, from using x-rays to explaining procedures to patients. As dental hygienists work closely with patients, having good people skills is essential. People will be in pain and it’s your job to help treat their dental problems to fix that.
Start with a dental hygiene program at a trade school to get your associate’s degree in 1 or 2 years. You don’t need any further degree for most standard dental hygienist positions but furthering your education will open up more career paths for you within the dental industry.
You’ll also need to pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Exam from the American Dental Association. Depending on the state, you might need regional qualifications too.
5. Web Developer
Average Annual Salary: $75,480
Requirements: web design and development programs leading to an associate’s degree
The web developer job title covers a huge range of web development jobs – some so simple you only need a high school degree and others so complex that employers will request a bachelor’s degree. For most web developer jobs, having an associate’s degree from your trade school program is enough.
The average salary for a web developer varies widely depending on the type of website and your role. You could be working as part of a team for a large corporate company… or you could be freelancing and running your own web development company for small businesses.
This is one of the highest paying trade school jobs that offers complete flexibility. Technology is always growing and pushing forward, so to be a successful web developer you should be interested in the field and always be familiar with the latest tech!
6. Respiratory Therapist
Average Annual Salary: $73,816
Requirements: 2-year associate’s degree in respiratory care, National Board of Respiratory Care License
A respiratory therapist is pretty much self-explanatory. You’ll be working in the healthcare industry to assist those with respiratory illnesses, such as COPD or other chronic lung conditions. Your main duties will be meeting and diagnosing those patients with respiratory problems, referring them to doctors for treatment.
You need a minimum 2-year associate’s degree by taking relevant classes. Emergency care, respiratory care, and cardiopulmonary topics are all relevant. You could also refine your skills by specializing in pediatric or adult respiratory therapy.
Once you’ve completed your degree from your healthcare trade school, you need to apply for a license from the National Board of Respiratory Care.
All the healthcare-related jobs on our highest paying list are great options as there is a growing demand for staff across the healthcare industry.
7. Occupational Therapy Assistant
Average Annual Salary: $67,678
Requirements: Occupational therapy program for an associate’s degree, COTA exam pass
As an occupational therapy assistant, your main role will be supporting the occupational therapist in the workplace. You’ll be handling the administrative side of things and helping your patients to understand their exercises and how to use the equipment.
The 2-year associate’s degree program at a trade school is all you need to get a job as an occupational therapy assistant, although an extra COTA license will help! There’s lots of on-the-job training to soak up and this career path can also push you towards taking further education to become a licensed occupational therapist too. Even as an assistant you earn a decent salary that can help you afford that education.
Besides having good people skills and compassion for your patients, it’s also wise to only take a physical therapy career path if you’re physically fit and healthy too.
8. Aircraft Mechanic
Average Annual Salary: $67,515
Requirements: Aircraft mechanic training school graduation, or on-the-job training
Becoming an aircraft mechanic is one of the highest paying trade school jobs that require a longer training period than most – up to 5 years. Combining training at a dedicated trade school with experience in the field assisting a qualified mechanic takes time. You’ll need meticulous attention to detail and in-depth knowledge of aircraft. So, it’s no surprise that many aircraft mechanics begin with roots in the army. Nonetheless, you can still reach this job position through a certified trade school. You’ll need to pass written and practical exams to achieve your final certification.
We’ve calculated the average annual salary, but it can vary widely. You might be working on commercial aircraft or hired by a private company. You might even end up working on military aircraft.
9. Auto Body Technician
Average Annual Salary: $60,082
Requirements: automotive technology program leading to an associate’s degree
As an auto body technician, it’s your job to fix and repair cars that have been in traffic accidents and collisions. You’ll need a working knowledge of car mechanics and safety mechanisms to ensure that the cars you work on are as good as new once you’re finished. Unlike a general mechanic, you could be working on cars that have been in serious accidents and repairing extreme damage. This is why you need a little more training and, of course, your salary is higher.
Although you could probably find a job at a mechanics or even assisting an auto body technician with just your high school education, if you want the high paying salary you’ll need to attend a trade school for 1 or 2 years. The more education and experience you gain, the higher your salary will likely be.
Average Annual Salary: $58,320
Requirements: electrotechnical program at a trade school, relevant license for your state
Along with plumbers, this was probably the first job role you thought of when you heard the words “trade school”. But with the right training and some hard work, becoming an electrician can be very lucrative. The electrician who comes to your home to fix the wiring is only one kind of electrician. Others might work for commercial businesses, the power grid, or even installing electrics into newly built homes. Becoming an electrician opens quite a few doors for you!
Not only will you need to attend a trade school for an electrotechnical program (or equivalent program) but you’ll also need to gain hands-on experience with an internship or apprenticeship. Once you’ve passed all your tests, you’ll also need to acquire a license for the state you’re going to be working in.
11. Commercial Diver
Average Annual Salary: $57,639
Requirements: career-related trade school program, diving physical check
Becoming a commercial diver is one of the most exciting jobs on our list of the highest paying trade school jobs. Furthermore, the requirements are blissfully small compared to the likes of working in the healthcare industry.
To get started, you’ll need a high school diploma and you’ll need to pass a physical check to make sure you’re healthy and know how to dive safely.
However, you might also need to take a trade school program, whether it’s simply to expand your diving skills or acquire specific knowledge. For example, you might want a career in underwater construction, in which case you’ll need to take a construction or engineering-based program as well as the diving one. Other commercial diver career paths can take you towards deep-sea exploration, marine conservation or simple repair and maintenance work.
Average Annual Salary: $56,035
Requirements: boilermaker program leading to an associate’s degree
A boilermaker does exactly what it means. They make boilers that contain hot liquids or gasses. They also work on boiler maintenance, assembly, and checks. It sounds simple, but it can actually be quite dangerous work as you’re dealing with potentially pressurized gases and liquids, hence the high salary.
You’ll need good engineering skills – blueprint reading, welding, and metalwork – and a great deal of respect for following the rules and keeping yourself and others around you safe as you work. There are some great trade schools that offer boilermaker programs, but you could also take a more general engineering program and then find a boilermaker apprenticeship or assistant position to work your way up.
Boilermakers often work on commercial sites across the country, so this job will take you away from home for extended periods.
Average Annual Salary: $55,685
Requirements: carpentry program leading to an associate’s degree, apprenticeship
Carpentry sounds old-fashioned but actually, it’s a thriving industry. From huge wooden construction building to heritage property maintenance, to simply creating and assembling cupboards and cabinets. Becoming a carpenter requires technical knowledge, like reading blueprints, as well as manual labor for working the appropriate machines or hand-carving.
If you want to reach those higher salaries, you’ll want to specialize in your carpentry skills to one area, like bridge construction for example.
To become a carpenter and work towards that $50k+ salary, you’ll need to take a carpentry program at your trade school and earn an associate’s degree. After that, you’ll find the best way to get work and start earning is with an apprenticeship. Employers will be more willing to hire you if you have practical experience, so the apprenticeship is the best way to get your foot in the door.
14. Funeral Director
Average Annual Salary: $55,453
Requirements: mortuary science program leading to an associate’s degree, state-relevant license
Being a funeral director, undertaker or mortician is morbid – there’s no point in pretending otherwise. But it can also be very rewarding work that requires a lot of compassion and empathy. Essentially, your work honors the lives of many people and helps to bring closure to their loved ones.
A mortuary science program is the best place to start your career. You can also find apprenticeships to take while you study, for practical experience.
Once you’ve finished your trade school program, you’ll then need to apply for a license to work in your specific state. Then you’re off to a flying start! To earn the highest salaries, you’ll need several years of experience at least. You can also take a bachelor’s degree to enhance your skills and take your career further.
15. Landscape Designer
Average Annual Salary: $54,667
Requirements: landscape architecture program leading to an associate’s degree and apprenticeship
Last on our list of high paying jobs is landscape designer. To be a landscape designer, you’ll need an associate’s degree at the very least. While most landscape designers hold a bachelor’s degree, it is possible to get a job in the industry with the trade school and apprenticeship path. Working as an apprentice or intern with a licensed landscape designer while or after you study will help you gain experience and possibly a job.
To work as a landscape designer, you’ll also need to pass the Landscape Architect Registration Examination for your license. Once you’ve got that, you have the option to work freelance or find employment. Everything from private gardens to government buildings and public landmarks could have a need for a landscape designer.
Good skills to have include a love for nature and the outdoors, artistic flair and an eye for detail.
4 More Trade School Jobs Earning $50k+
Haven’t found your calling yet? Don’t sweat it. You can still earn more than $50,000 per year (roughly around the average US salary) with these 4 trade school jobs.
Automotive Mechanics – $54,040
Plumber – $52,170
Home Inspector – $51,786
Diesel Mechanics – $51,777
As you can see, going to trade school can open up incredibly varied careers. You can find dedicated programs for everything from landscape designing to occupational therapy to commercial diving. Any one of these programs can give you the valuable skills needed to earn an amazing salary for life!