Starting Your Career

Five Great Careers That Don't Saddle You With Student Loans

Richard Stockton
Sr. Writer

Posted 12/03/2019

Something like 44 million Americans are currently walking around with a collective $1.5 trillion in college debt. Kids born while Forrest Gump was in theaters graduated from college in 2016 with an average of $37,172 in loans. College debt now outpaces every other kind of debt in America, except for mortgages.

It's a mess, in other words. But it doesn't have to be your mess. Here are five awesome careers that pay better than middle management and don't saddle you with a mountain of debt when you're 22 years old:


Carpentry is one of the most versatile of the trades, and you can work on everything from framing houses to remodeling kitchens. The average carpenter earns $46,590 a year on a high school diploma and some on-the-job learning, and you can be your own boss as soon as you have the skills and a reliable truck.


Stone and brick masons have steady work building garden walls, putting new facades on homes and even putting the prestigious masonry finishes on skyscraper exteriors and lobbies. You can start this career at 18 by hooking up with an apprenticeship and working hard while learning on the job. By the time you make journeyman rank, you could be earning $44,810 a year. College debt: $0.


There's something very Zen about tile work. Laying out tiles for a bathroom, entry hall or kitchen, setting tiles in place and then rubbing grout into the gaps is calming and requires an artisanal touch. It doesn't hurt that the average tile and floor installer makes $40,830 a year or that demand for these student debt-free contractors is expanding faster than most of the economy. With a little job experience, you can even branch out into laying wood floors or carpet, which are both services that are so in demand it's ridiculous.


Look at the wall in the room you're in. The tradesperson who installed that probably never took out a student loan, but they may have earned $45,180 a year by installing drywall. The entry-level gig in drywall is prep work, which involves putting tape on things, followed by installing the drywall panels themselves. Put in the work and you could be running the business a few years after that.


Landscaping is actually two jobs, but one flows into the other pretty naturally and both have tons of potential. As a ground-level landscaper, you can basically mow lawns and trim greenery for an average of $29,400 a year. That's not much but think of it as an entry-level gig while you learn on the job. Landscape architects, earn an average of $68,230 a year, often after just a few years of interning with established pros.

Contrary to what you may have heard, you aren't obliged to borrow your way through four years of college just to make a living. Generation T is committed to helping you find your way without saddling yourself with student debt, so check out some of the other awesome trades you can learn without loans.