Certification Programs for Careers That Pay Well | Careers

If college isn’t practical or an option for you, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a well-paying career or that you shouldn’t try to further your education. You may want to consider a certificate program.

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These programs, often offered by colleges, provide training in specific fields. You can take certificate programs as a college graduate, but there are many designed for people with a high school diploma or GED and want additional training to land an entry-level position.

“For many high school students, technical certifications are the most direct route to a good career,” says Tracy Levine, CEO of Advantage Talent, a professional training and coaching company in Atlanta.

“Employers have more input into the creation of certifications, so they have direct business value. Unlike college degrees, certifications provide transparency into what is taught and what skills a student will bring to their employer,” Levine says.

Certificate programs are far cheaper than college, but the cost can add up. You might spend $100 per credit, give or take, so a 12-credit course to earn a certificate could cost $1,200. Still, compared with a college education that can run tens of thousands of dollars over four years, a certificate program is much less expensive.

Here are 15 certificate programs for the following careers, which all have an annual median pay above $30,000:

  • Surgical Technologist.
  • Nursing Aide.
  • Phlebotomist.
  • Paramedic.
  • Medical Records Technician.
  • Pharmacy Technician.
  • Medical Secretary.
  • Ophthalmic Medical Technician.
  • Solar Photovoltaic Installer.
  • Insurance Sales Agent.
  • Medical Assistant.
  • Landscaper and Groundskeeper.
  • Massage Therapist.
  • Wind Turbine Technician.
  • Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurse.

Surgical Technologist
Typical time it takes to earn a certificate: 12 to 24 months
Median salary: $49,710

Surgical technologists sterilize the operating room and set out tools on the tables for procedures. They may also be involved in other ways, such as helping patients onto the table and preparing medications.

You can often get a certification for these jobs at a vocational or technical school, and at the end of your coursework you’ll take an exam offered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting. Obviously, it helps if you have an interest in medicine – and tend to not faint at the sight of blood.

Nursing Aide
Typical time it takes to earn a certificate: four to 12 weeks
Median salary: $30,850

Nursing aides work in nursing homes or hospitals, taking residents’ or patients’ blood pressure or temperature as well as completing other tasks.

Certifications for this job depends on the state. For instance, Ohio requires 75 hours of classwork in the Nurse Aide Training and Competency Evaluation Program, followed by a state-administered competency evaluation test. Arizona requires 120 hours of training, classroom and clinical experience through the Nurse Aide Registration Program, provided by the Arizona State Board of Nursing, followed by an exam. Nursing aides also likely have to renew their certification every couple years.

Typical time to earn certificate: four to eight months
Median salary: $36,320

Phlebotomists draw blood, learning, among other things, how to take the right amount and how to do it safely. Some states don’t require certification, but most employers want applicants to complete a phlebotomy certificate program and earn professional certification. You can find these certificate programs throughout the country, often at community colleges, vocational schools or technical schools.

For instance, Pima Medical Institute, which has numerous locations in states like Colorado, Arizona and Texas, has a three-month program that teaches tasks such as how to label the drawn blood for testing or processing and how to enter patient information into a database.

Typical time to earn certificate: 18 months
Median salary: $36,650

Generally, to be a paramedic, you have to first train to become an EMT, or emergency medical technician. You can often get your EMT training done in about six months, but then you can expect to take another year to complete paramedic training.

You can get this training, however, without a college degree, though you will need a high school diploma or GED.

As you can imagine, as a paramedic, you’ll pretty much go anywhere that someone is in need of medical attention and a ride to a hospital.

Medical Records Technician
Typical time to earn certificate: one year
Median salary: $44,090

Many community colleges offer medical records technician certificates. This job involves organizing medical records, including taking the doctor’s notes and putting them into the patient’s medical record.

One of the many places you can get the training for this career is Johnston Community College in Smithfield, North Carolina, which offers classes in medical office administration with courses such as “Medical Legal Issues,” “Medical Terminology I” and “Records Management.” It’s an 18-credit course taken over two semesters. You’ll receive a certificate as a medical coding specialist, which is another term for medical records technician.

Pharmacy Technician
Typical time to earn certificate: a few months to two years, often depending on the state
Median salary: $35,100

This is an important job that involves measuring, mixing, counting and labeling medication dosages. You might also communicate with insurance companies and help patients navigate insurance.

You can get a certification through the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board or the National Healthcareer Association. To find classes, look to your community college, vocational school or adult education center.

Medical Secretary
Typical time to earn certificate: varies; can be anywhere from six weeks to two years
Median salary: $37,350

Medical secretaries manage a doctor’s office. Their duties include meeting patients, collecting copays and scheduling appointments. Essentially, medical secretaries set the tone for the doctor’s office and ensure that operations run smoothly.

This isn’t a career in which you must have a certification, but it could make you more competitive in the job market. A certification course will also teach you the ins and outs of running a medical office. The National Healthcareer Association offers a CMAA (Certified Medical Administrative Assistant) certification. It involves a 100 multiple-choice question exam, which covers medical laws, office procedures and insurance procedures.

Ophthalmic Medical Technician
Typical time to earn certificate: dependent on student
Median salary: $37,940

An ophthalmic medical technician takes a patient’s history and performs some visual testing, along with other duties, before the eye doctor comes in. Many people learn how to do this on the job, but if you want to advance your career or get training, you may consider a certificate program.

Solar Photovoltaic Installer
Typical time to earn certificate: a few days to a few months, depending on the course
Median salary: $46,470

This job involves installing solar panels on homes and businesses to help conserve energy.

So how do you become a solar photovoltaic installer? Check to see if your local community college or a technical school offers classes that lead to certification. You may be certified and employed within the week, though the more complex the class – like one that lasts a few months – the more likely you’ll find a better-paying job.

Some organizations, like the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, require you to take continuing education classes every few years and get recertified. After all, the industry and technology behind solar panels will continue to evolve.

Insurance Sales Agent
Typical time to earn certificate: 20 hours of coursework
Median salary: $52,180

There are many different types of insurance that agents sell, including life, health, disability, long-term care and casualty insurance. All states regulate insurance differently so there is no national standard when it comes to insurance. But when you get certified to sell insurance, in addition to a certification, you also receive a license to sell insurance.

The more types of insurance you want to sell, the more coursework you’ll have to do to get your license.

Your state’s department of insurance can help you locate courses.

Medical Assistant
Typical time to earn certificate: one year
Median salary: $35,850

If you’re interested in being a medical assistant, which involves administrative, clinical and management tasks within health care organizations, there are a lot of certification programs to explore.

Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, for instance, offers the Medical Assistant Certificate program, in which students complete supervised clinical work, including 160 hours of unpaid practicum experience. After that, students take an exam to become a certified medical assistant.

Landscaper and Groundskeeper
Typical time to earn certificate: dependent on student
Median salary of the job: $31,730

You don’t need a certificate to become a landscaper or groundskeeper, but securing one may help you land the job you want.

The National Association of Landscape Professionals offers numerous certifications, including business manager, exterior technician, horticultural technician, lawn care technician and more. You can earn a certificate through a self-study program and take the exam for certification online.

Massage Therapist
Typical time to earn certificate: two years
Median salary: $43,620

A massage therapist manipulates patients’ muscles to alleviate pain, relieve stress and help heal injuries. If you complete a certification program, you can become a professional and learn more than 80 different types of treatment. While you can get a certification in less than two years – and possibly within weeks – you’ll probably want to take something fairly rigorous to do it right. Most programs require at least 500 hours of study, and some require 1,000 or more hours, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For instance, Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland offers an 810-hour massage therapy post-degree professional certificate. If you already have an associate degree (or a higher degree) from an accredited college or university, you can take a three-semester (one year) post-degree certificate program in massage therapy. Then you’ll be eligible to apply for the State Medical Board of Ohio license (most states require you to have a license to practice).

Wind Turbine Technician
Typical time it takes to earn a certificate: two years
Median salary: $56,230

In this job, you can climb way up the ladder of success. Wind turbine technicians, also known as wind techs, are often at the top of wind turbines, replacing parts, fixing something that has gone awry or simply doing maintenance and troubleshooting. You need to be sharp to take on this job: Wind turbines run on electrical, mechanical and hydraulic parts. If you’re looking to get a certificate to be a wind turbine technician, a lot of places throughout the country offer training programs.

Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurse
Typical time to earn certificate: one year
Median salary: $48,820

Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses do it all, from installing catheters to delivering medicine and starting IVs. It’s an important job, which is why if you’re going to complete a certificate program for either a licensed practical nurse or a licensed vocational nurse (both jobs are the same thing; LVN is simply what the job is called in California and Texas), it needs to be a state-approved certificate program.

Generally, you’ll find these programs at universities, colleges and nursing schools throughout the country. (Practicalnursing.org is a good jumping-off point for research.) You’ll want to make sure the school you attend is accredited by national agencies such as the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.