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Do You Need a Four-Year Degree for a Good-Paying Job?

does a four-year degree guarantee a good job

Living the Dream?

Let me first say that there is nothing wrong with pursuing or having a four-year degree. The familiar message that most of us heard growing up was to graduate high school, go to college, and get a good-paying job.  We believed that good-paying jobs ALWAYS followed a four-year college degree. Once you completed your education, you’d be able to own a home, take family vacations, pay off your school loans and live the dream you were promised. The student loan crisis of the past decade has disabused many of that romanticized notion. Do you really need a four-year degree for a good-paying job?

The Real Cost

For decades, the rule of thumb was don’t borrow more money for college than you anticipated making in one year. If you thought the salary for your accounting job would pay $65,000 annually, then that was your cap for student loans. The cost to attend a four-year college eventually skyrocketed. Institutions of higher learning began to adopt the same principles as large businesses and corporations to attract more students. High salaried coaching staffs, celebrity student-athletes, state-of-the-art equipment, high-value extra-curricular activities along with well-groomed campuses. These were all a part of the recruitment campaigns. Small affordable colleges had a difficult time keeping up with larger universities and the high annual tuition rates have become the norm.

Average tuition fees for 2020-2021 are:

  • Private College or University-$35,087 per year
  • Public College, out of state-$21,184 per year
  • Public College, in state-$9,687

The four-year total for a private college (without interest, and additional costs) is $140,348. With paying $800/month it would take almost 15 years to repay. That kind of investment deserves careful thought if you’re not sure you’ll be able to afford college loan payments for the long term.

Is a Four-Year Degree Necessary?

Some prominent business leaders are rethinking what they want in employees and are saying that a four-year degree is not necessary to work for their companies.

“Apple CEO Tim Cook said in 2019 that about half of Apple’s US employment last year included people without four-year degrees. Cook reasoned that many colleges do not teach the skills that business leaders need most in their workforce, such as coding.” Innovators like Bill Gates, of Microsoft and Larry Ellison of Oracle, don’t possess college degrees.

In an eye-opening statement, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla said, “colleges are not for learning, and that a person can learn anything online for free.”  While Mr. Musk may represent an extreme view about the value of higher education, he does introduce a different perspective.

New Dreams

With so many people seeking college degrees, there are vacancies in jobs that only need a two-year degree or an apprenticeship. If your heart is set on a four-year degree, perhaps getting a good-paying job and taking a few classes at a time to forego costly student loans is a better alternative. Here are some average yearly salaries in the trade professions.

  • Plumber-$50,000-$85,000
  • Roadside Locksmith-$38,000-$69,000
  • Solar Photovoltaic (Panel) Installers-$48,000-$100,000
  • Elevator Installers and Repairers-$76,000-$99,000
  • Computer Programmers (Coders)-$86,550-$140,250

These are but a few in a wide variety of jobs that may be worth considering.

For more information and ideas about these types of jobs and apprenticeships, visit or


The team at CESI is committed to helping you make wise financial decisions and to helping you understand how to get out and stay out of debt.  For a free debt analysis, contact us and find out how we can help.


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