10 Best Technical Degrees for the Highest-Paying Trade Jobs



Many students find that upon graduating from high school, college may not be the right path to reach their career objectives. Some students conclude that they can reach their career goals by enrolling in a more trade-oriented career preparation program, which may require:

  • Less education,
  • Fewer time commitments, and,
  • Often a significantly less financial investment than a more traditional four-year academic program.

Trade or tech schools offer post-secondary education that is focused on a specific trade or skill, offering the preparation necessary to possess the minimum qualifications to enter high paying jobs in the trade field.

How To Pick the Right Career?

Ultimately each student must make the final decision as to which career to pursue.

Ultimately the decision about what career to pursue is your decision. However, it is essential to consider these factors when making this important decision –

  • One’s interests
    •  What makes you want to get out of bed in the morning?
  • One’ skill-set
    • What areas are you most skilled in?
    • Which life experience will help you in your career choice?
  • One’s passions & dreams
    • What are your life goals?
    • What dreams do you have?

Next, let’s review the ten of the highest-paying jobs from tech schools. These high-paying tech school jobs offer students a comprehensive cross-section of a variety of industries that offer the highest-paying tech school jobs.  

The 10 Highest-Paying Tech School Degrees

The following tech school degrees offer a glimpse of the best technical degrees that offer the highest salaries. Note that the salary data is sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and represents the median pay for 2020 unless specifically noted

1. Radiation Therapy

Students interested in working as a radiation therapist will find that this career offers one of the highest paying jobs from tech schools in the market. Those seeking an associate degree program will likely need two years to complete the degree (the certificate program will take less time), which includes significant hands-on training to allow students to gain first-hand knowledge as they prepare for a seamless entry into the healthcare profession. Fortunately, many radiation therapy or certificate programs offer hybrid learning options that offer flexibility in scheduling. Radiation therapists are typically required to be certified or licensed by a state authority. While state requirements vary, most radiation therapists are required to pass a certification examination at the national level.

Radiation therapists provide essential services in the health care industry, primarily to those who are under treatment for cancer. Radiation therapy professionals generally work under the supervision of medical doctors (i.e., oncologists) and radiologists. Graduates of a radiation therapy program will be prepared to enter the workforce as a radiation therapist technologist, consultant, or radiation therapist, among others. The median salary for radiation therapists for 2020 was $86,850 per year, which translates to $41.76 per hour. Additionally, job growth for radiation therapists is expected to be near twice the average of all occupations – at 7% through 2029, as the demand for these services rises due to an aging population as well as the many and significant technological advances in available radiation therapies. Radiation therapists typically are full-time workers employed by physicians, outpatient medical facilities, or hospitals, among other settings.

Average Salary: $85,560

Degree Level: Certificate or Associate’s

2. Elevator Technician

Students interested in a career as an elevator or escalator technician will be required to typically complete an apprenticeship, on-the-job program (which varies but is generally four to five years). The apprenticeship program is organized where a student completes a certain number of hours of technical education (similar to a certificate program), plus paid job training.  An elevator technician’s salary is among the These high paying tech school jobs often responsible for installing, maintaining, and repairing elevators, lifts, and moving walkways. Applicants for elevator apprenticeship programs will be required to hold a high school diploma or equivalent. It is noted that while state regulations vary, most states will require elevator technicians to be licensed.

Elevator technicians are considered a highly technical job that requires the skill to interpret blueprints, the assembly of components, the knowledge of electrical work, and troubleshoot elevator or escalator malfunctions 24 hours per day. And while not typically required, many elevator technicians choose to become certified to demonstrate their proficiency and competency as professionals. Available certifications include a Certified Accessibility & Private Resident Lift Tech, Certified Elevator Tech, or a Qualified Elevator Inspector. It is noted that elevator technicians should consider the fact that the work is often done at great heights or within small cramped spaces but offers an impressive median salary for 2020 of $88,540 per year, which is $42.57 hourly, among the highest-paying tech degrees. The job growth for elevator technicians for the next decade is anticipated to be 7% and outpace the average of all occupations by a margin of nearly 2 to 1.

Average Salary: $84,990

Degree Level: Certificate 

3. Dental Hygiene

Dental hygienists are mandated to complete an associate’s degree that typically can be completed in approximately two to three years, depending on a student’s time commitment. Dental hygiene programs offer some of the high-paying tech school jobs and are available in tech schools, universities as well community colleges and include traditional classroom instruction, labs, and clinical training. Applicants should ensure they meet the dental hygiene’s pre-requisite classes before applying to the program. While specific requirements will vary by school, some associate degrees offer certain classes through hybrid-delivered degree programs. Additionally, there are more than 290 dental hygiene programs that have received accreditation from the CDA – the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Every state sets forth the requirements for dental hygienists to be licensed; however, the requirements vary by state.

Dental hygienists typically find rewarding careers working in dental offices or facilities. Dental hygienists provide preventive dental care, take & develop x-rays, and examine patients for symptoms of oral diseases, like gingivitis. A dental hygienist work with a variety of technical dental tools to remove stains, tartar, and plaque from teeth. Hygiene also includes educating patients regarding oral care, oral care devices, always under the supervision of a dentist. The median salary for dental hygienists during 2020 was $77,090 annually, which translates to $37.06 per hour. That’s one of the highest-paying associate degrees out there. Job growth for the dental hygienist profession is anticipated to be 6% over the next ten years, which is faster than the expected growth of US occupations over the same time period. There were more than 225,000 dental hygiene professionals working in the United States in 2019.

Average Salary: $76,220

Degree Level: Associate’s

4. Web Developing

Web developing is a technical career that requires at least a certificate program or associate degree program to meet most entry-level job requirements and offers students one of the high-paying tech school jobs. Web development includes the study of computer science programming languages like SQL or JavaScript. Additionally, web developers often excel in computer programs and publishing tools that include Flash. Web development also requires professionals to interact with clients regularly, which requires excellent communication skills, in addition to the required technical skills. Web developing and digital designers take classes in programming and integrate audio, graphics, and video within a website. Web developers are creative types, creating a reality of a client’s vision depending on the type of website, for example, e-commerce or gaming. Those web developers who wish to advance as project managers may choose to apply their associate degree to the requirements of a bachelor’s degree in computer & information systems management.

Web developers work in a variety of industries, creating and maintaining websites for clients. Of the approximately 175,000 web developers working in the United States in 2019, about 17% were working in computer systems design, with 10% in publishing, 10% self-employed, 5% in consulting/management, and another 4% in advertising or public relations. The median annual salary in 2020 for web developers and digital designers was $77,200 per year, which translates to $37.12 hourly. Statisticians anticipate job growth through 2029 of 8%, which is considered much faster than the average of all United States occupations.

Average Salary: $73,760

Degree Level: Certificate or Associate’s

5. Diagnostic Medical Sonography  

Diagnostic medical sonographers are required to complete formal education to work professionally. Programs are available with associate degrees, with employers preferring graduates of CAAHEP accredited degree programs. Students studying to become a diagnostic medical sonographer complete coursework in applied science, anatomy as well as medical terminology, typically over one to two years. Additionally, diagnostic medical sonographers complete clinical components during training, working alongside seasoned sonographers. Diagnostic medical sonographers often choose to earn certification to highlight their skills, which requires an exam and is available from the ARRT – the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists or the ARDMS – the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, to name a few. It is noted that some states require that Diagnostic medical sonographers be licensed, so be certain to confirm the requirements for the state in question.

Diagnostic medical sonography professionals generate ultrasonic recordings of a patient’s internal organs. They find rewarding careers working in hospitals, physician’s offices, diagnostic labs, universities, or outpatient facilities, to name a few. In May 2020, there were more than 72,000 diagnostic medical sonographers working in the country, with a median annual salary of $75,920 or $36.50 per hour. The federal government’s statisticians anticipate the job growth for the field of diagnostic medical sonography to be about 17%, which is significantly faster than average. With about 75,000 working diagnostic medical sonographers in 2019, the expected job growth translates to more than 12,000 new jobs in the field through the next decade.

Average Salary: $68,750

Degree Level: Associate’s

6. Respiratory Therapy

Students interested in a career as a respiratory therapist will be required to complete their associate degrees, although some students choose to earn a baccalaureate degree instead. Every state except Alaska requires respiratory therapists to be licensed; although each state determines the requirements for professionals working within its jurisdiction, most require a comprehensive exam. Students can enroll in a vocational/tech school, college/university, or the armed forces to receive training, with many states requiring respiratory therapists to complete an academic degree program that is CARC accredited. Respiratory therapists can also choose to become certified by the National Board for Respiratory Care, which offers two levels of respiratory therapy – CRT and RRT. Classes for this degree include CPR, pharmacology, chemistry, and anatomy, plus a comprehensive clinical component.

Respiratory therapist professionals are typically employed on a full-time basis in hospitals or other medical facilities, helping patients who have breathing issues that may stem from emphysema, asthma, or other chronic respiratory diseases. In 2020, respiratory therapists earned an annual salary of $62,810, or $30.20 per hour. That makes it one of the highest-paying associate degrees there is. However, those who earn at the top of the scale pull in nearly 90,000 per year. There were about 135,000 respiratory therapists working in the country in 2019; however, it is anticipated that the job growth for respiratory therapy professionals will be 19% – significantly faster than all other occupations combined (4%).  The five industries with the top levels of employment include hospitals, specialty medical facilities, nursing facilities, outpatient centers, or physician offices.

Average Salary: $61,330

Degree Level: Associate’s 

7. Electrical Technology

Professionals who wish to work in electrical technology will be required to complete an associate degree program to become eligible for entry level work in the field. Electrical technologists and technicians assist electrical engineers as they develop electrical equipment, troubleshooting equipment malfunctions. Associate degree programs are typically available from a tech or vocational school or a community college. Students enrolled in electrical technology programs will complete coursework in chemistry, physics, circuitry, and programming, to name a few. Electrical technologists have the option of earning certifications administered by the International Society of Automation, the NICET – the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies, or ETA International. Electrical technicians also possess technical skills like reading schematics and blueprints and testing lab equipment to determine if it meets the required specifications.

Electrical technologists and technicians assist engineers who design equipment with regard to communication equipment, computers, GIS equipment, and medical monitoring equipment, to name a few. During 2020, the median pay for electrical technologists and technicians was $67,550 per year, or $32.48/hour. Additionally, there were approximately 125,000 electrical technology professionals working in the nation in 2019. At the top of the scale, electrical technicians can earn about $100,000 per year. The top paying industries for electrical technology professionals include natural gas, the government, publishing, and specialized design services, among others. Depending on the exact job description, electrical technicians may be required to work at night or day, contingent upon production scheduling. Work environments include labs, offices, or factories, to name a few.

Average Salary: $56,180

Degree Level: Associate’s

8. Plumbing 

Students with a serious interest in a plumbing career can enter the profession as an apprentice or earn a diploma from a vocational tech school. Most states and even local authorities require professional plumbers to be licensed and meet district requirements, which generally mandates applicants to have 3 to 5 years of professional plumbing experience. The coursework offered to plumbing students includes classes in the proper use of tools, safety issues, knowledge of local plumbing codes, and pipe system design, to name a few. A more advanced plumber, a journey-level plumber, is allowed to work independently, with most states requiring plumbing contractors to reach master’s level. Professional plumbers must have physical strength, dexterity,  and mechanical skills, to name a few.

Plumbers possess a plethora of skills that allow them to install pipes/fittings that safely carry gas, water, or other substances. Depending on the nature of the project, plumbers may use a variety of construction techniques and materials, like plastic or copper. Plumbers work across industries installing and repairing pipes in businesses, factories, and residential properties. Additionally, plumbers maintain septic systems that connect to large sewer systems. In 2020, the median annual pay for plumbers was $56,330 or $27.08 per hour. Job growth for plumbers over the next decade is anticipated to be 4%, which is about average. With nearly 500,000 plumbing and pipe fitting professionals, there should be more than 20,000 new jobs created by 2029.

Average Salary: $55,160

Degree Level: Diploma

9. Wind Turbine Technology

Students who want to reach for a career in the field of wind turbine technology will need to complete a non-degree certificate program or associate degree in wind turbine energy technology after they complete high school. Additionally, wind turbine technologists receive extensive on-the-job training, usually for a year or more, related to the specific equipment. Technicians working in the wind turbine field maintain, install and repair wind turbines, working outdoors and at great heights. Coursework for a wind turbine certificate or associate degree program will include electrical/hydraulic maintenance, mechanical systems, computers, braking and rescue/safety, and first aid. In addition, there are professional organizations that offer wind turbine technology certifications which demonstrates the professional’s competence and proficiency.

Wind Turbine Technology technicians perform routine tasks of installation and maintenance of wind turbines, mechanical devices that create electricity from wind energy. They also collect data that is used to improve services through extensive analysis. A wind turbine technician may work in an office but will also travel to work sites when needed. In 2019, the number of wind turbine technologists working in the country was approximately 7,000; however, statisticians anticipate the job market for wind turbine technology to explode with a 61% growth over the next ten years. The median pay for wind turbine energy technicians during 2020 was $56,2340 per year, or $27.03 hourly. It’s one of the highest-paying associate degree jobs. Most wind turbine technicians are employed by electrical power transmission companies or industrial machinery maintenance, among others.

Average Salary: $52,910

Degree Level: Certificate or Associate’s 

10. Legal Assistant

Legal assistants, like paralegals, work alongside attorneys performing a variety of tasks in support of legal professionals. Students with a strong interest in a legal assistant career will be required to earn a certificate or, more preferably, an associate degree in legal studies. Employers tend to prefer paralegal studies programs that are approved by the ABA – the American Bar Association. Additionally, legal assistants may choose to earn a voluntary certification offered by a number of professional organizations in the field. Academic programs require legal assistant students to complete classes in legal writing, research, international law, corporate law, and computer applications that support the legal profession. Legal assistants possess great interpersonal, organizational, and communication skills as they are often tasked with meeting strict deadlines on a variety of projects going on simultaneously — many need to work overtime to meet tight deadlines.

Legal assistants assist attorneys as they prepare for trials, meetings, and hearings. A legal assistant’s professional duties will be contingent on the size of the firm or if the legal assistant has a legal specialty, like intellectual property, family law, real estate, or employee benefits, among others. There were nearly 340,000 legal assistants and paralegals working in 2019, with a job growth rate expected over the next decade of 10%, which is 2.5 times the national job growth average of 4%. In 2020, the annual median pay for legal assistants was $52,920 or $25.44 per hour. Most legal assistants work in legal services, the government, or management, among others.

Average Salary: $51,740

Degree Level: Certificate or Associate’s 

What Kinds of Degrees Do Tech Schools Offer?

You don’t need a bachelor’s degree to get a high-paying job – an associate degree in the right field is all you need. Tech schools offer several types of technical degrees that pay well. These are detailed below.

A Tech School Diploma or Certificate Program

Tech and vocational schools offer students the option to earn a diploma or certificate in a specific area of study, which often is completed in a year or less. A registered nurse program is a great example of a diploma program that offers students entry into one of the highest paying jobs with tech school degree available.

A Tech School Associate Degree Program

Some of the best tech school degrees, like that of a respiratory therapist, require a more comprehensive program. The next level of a post-secondary program available from a technical or vocational school is an associate degree, which is offered, most often, in these degrees –

  • An AS degree – An Associate of Science Degree Program.
  • An AA degree – An Associate of Arts Degree Program.
  • An AAS degree – An Associate of Applied Science Degree Program.

Associate degree programs typically require approximately 60 credit units to graduate, which is completed traditionally in two years. Plus, earning an associate degree is a smart starting place for those students who may think they would like to earn their bachelor’s degree at some point in the future. Community college is another place for these high-paying careers.

Non-Credit Programs

Some of the best tech school jobs need no formal degree. In these instances, students can prepare for that career by completing a non-credit program. Some tech school jobs that pay well without a degree include laboratory techs and commercial divers.

These are by no means all the options. Others include:

  • occupational therapy assistants
  • nuclear technicians
  • mechanical engineering technicians
  • air traffic controllers
  • radiologic and MRI technologists
  • medical equipment repairers
  • computer support specialists

Why Do Trade Jobs Pay So High?

If you’ve had to hire a plumber or electrician lately, you’ll know there’s good money to be made in the trades. But job sites show that tech school degrees that pay well are wide open. So why do some trade jobs pay so high?

Long story short: there’s not enough people to do them. There’s a serious shortage of skilled workers in America. Just for example, according to the National Electrical Contractors Association, more than 10,000 electricians are retiring every year, but only 7,000 new ones are replacing them. High demand and a shortage of experts mean skilled laborers in the trades can charge more.

Generations of young people being told to get a bachelor’s degree and go into professional work also creates a shortage. You can get into almost any trade with just an associate degree, a much higher return on investment. So why don’t more people do it? Could there be a bias against even tech degrees that pay well?

It’s time to break down the bias toward a bachelor’s degree and get more people into associate degree jobs in the trades! Check out some of the highest-paying associate degrees you can get.

What About a Trade School Degree in Healthcare?

Medical professionals are in high demand. There are many healthcare associate degree jobs you can get from a trade school, including occupational therapy assistants, radiologic and MRI technologists, medical equipment repairers, and more. These are just a few ways medical professionals can start their careers.

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