Don’t Want a 4-Year Degree? Try One of These 6 Alternative Certifications

jobs without a degree
Matej Kastelic under Creative Commons

What if your dozen years of schooling prior to college was enough, and you don’t want to buckle down and study for four, six or eight more years?

Or what if you make too much to get help paying for college, but not enough to pay for it yourself? Or maybe you just want something different than the usual college degree.

Of course, you still have to pay the bills, so you might want a piece of paper that qualifies you for a better job than your high school diploma.

Fortunately, there are a few cheap and fast ways to get an educational wall decoration and an interesting job. These alternative diplomas, degrees and certificates cost as little as $373, and you can earn them in two days to 18 months — instead of four or more years.

1. Take Your Class Clown Reputation to the Professional Level

You’re so funny! But maybe you need to hone your skills and get some credentials to make comedy into a paying career.

You can do that with the Comedy Writing and Performance Program from Humber College in Toronto, Ontario. You can get a diploma after four semesters, and Humber says:

“You’ll learn stand-up, improvisation, scriptwriting, sketch comedy and all other aspects of the craft. In addition, the program’s strong alumni network supports graduates through reunion shows, business opportunities and continued coaching.”

Where are the jobs? Humber says its graduates have worked at Yuk Yuk’s and Second City. They have also appeared on major television networks like Comedy Central, CBC and CTV, and in television commercials.

Unfortunately, the four-semester program will cost you about $12,000 — and even more, if you’re not a Canadian resident.

2. Grow Your Own Green

Marijuana is legal for recreational use in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia, and medical marijuana is legal in 24 other states.

Of course, someone has to grow and sell this profitable product. Once you have your education in cannabis cultivation from Oaksterdam University in Oakland, California, that could be you.

If you take the “Classic Semester,” you’ll spend 14 weeks and $1,295 to get your certificate of achievement. Or you can opt for one or more of the seminars offered, which last from two to four days and cost $595 to $1095. If you’re a veteran, you’ll get a 15% discount.

The job prospects aren’t quite clear, but with legalization looking likely in at least five more states, you’ll be on the right side of the trend.

3. Become a Professional Nanny

Do you love kids? You can graduate with a Professional Nanny Career Diploma from Sullivan University in Kentucky in one year. You’ll learn about child development, safety, nutrition, CPR/first aid, special event planning for children and more.

Unfortunately this ridiculously expensive diploma will cost you $29,380 with tuition, fees and books, and $13,320 more if you want on-campus room and board.

An alternative, if you already have some experience and a CPR certification, is to get assessed and certified by the International Nanny Association. Your INA nanny credentials will cost you just $50 for the test fee, plus whatever you spend on study materials.

The median nanny salary is just $13 per hour, according to PayScale, but your nanny papers might make it easier to get the better jobs with wealthy families.

And if you become a celebrity nanny, you can make up to $185,000 per year, plus get a car, living quarters and big bonuses.

4. Get Really Metal: Become a Farrier

As a farrier, you’ll put shoes on horses and trim their hooves. And with 9 million horses in the U.S., it seems likely you can find work. If you work on race and show horses, you can make $100,000 a year, according to The Farrier Guide.

At Mesalands Community College in Tucumcari, New Mexico, you can sign up for the Farrier Science Program.

The college offers an associate’s degree, but to get started sooner in your new career, opt for a Farrier Science Occupational Certificate. It will take you one semester and about $3,400 for tuition and supplies — or less if you’re a New Mexico resident.

5. You in the Back Row: Become an Auctioneer

Hey bidder, bidder! The average wage for an auctioneer is $46,000, according to Indeed, and you can make more than $100,000 if you’re a cruise ship art auctioneer.

Are you ready to be an auctioneer? How much would you pay to get there? Sold!

For just $5,240 and one year of your time, you can buy an auctioneering diploma from the Harrisburg Area Community College in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

You’ll develop your auction “chant” and learn about everything from appraisal to how to conduct an auction. Once you’ve completed your classes, you have to pass a state examination to become a licensed auctioneer in Pennsylvania.

6. Want Real Earnings? Try Real Estate

The median annual pay for real estate sales agents and brokers is $45,610, but if you sell a lot of high-priced homes, you can make much more.

You’re not paid as an employee, but as an independent contractor, so you can make a fortune if you sell enough properties. On the other hand, if you have a hard time selling, you might not make minimum wage.

Every state has its own procedures, but usually you take an online course and then take a licensing exam. For example, if you live in Colorado, has a 168-hour program that costs $373 and guarantees you’ll pass the license exam (or you get your money back).

You’ll have other expenses, like an exam fee, as well as fees to join the Multiple Listing Service and other organizations. In some states, you may need to be sponsored by a broker in order to get licensed. To see what you have to do where you live, see a state-by-state real estate licensing guide.

More Alternative Education and Employment Opportunities

You’ll find many other certifications and licenses to put you a step above a basic high school diploma when it comes to finding interesting work that pays decently.

For example, I recently wrote about becoming a casino dealer. You can qualify for this job with as little as a few weeks of classes and a few hundred dollars.

Numerous driving jobs require just enough training to pass a licensing exam. For example, says “A CDL training program costs $1,000-$7,000 and typically lasts 4-6 weeks.” With a commercial driver’s license, you can drive tractor-trailer trucks, and wages are rising due to a big shortage of drivers.

Try this: Google what you’re interested in doing and add “certification.” You might find an inexpensive course that will add something to your resume.

For example, searching “exercise” plus “certification” turns up several possibilities, like becoming a certified personal trainer for an investment of $600 and a few weeks of your time.

Certifications rarely provide the income boost of a good college degree, but the risk/reward ratio is good. For example, if you search “home inspector certification” you’ll find places offering to certify you for as little as $500. That’s the most you lose if the education and certification doesn’t help you.

And the possible pay boost? The average annual home inspector salary is $44,791, over $10,000 more than the median wage of for high-school-diploma-only workers.

Your Turn: Have you found classes or certifications that helped you make more money without getting a college degree?

Steve Gillman is the author of “101 Weird Ways to Make Money” and creator of 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).