Certifications That Pay Well and Offer Potential
There are a number of certifications that pay well in almost every industry. Whether you are considering going to school for your first time or are a working professional with years of experience, there are likely certifications that can help you boost your current standing. There are quick certificates for jobs in areas like healthcare and beauty. And there are also certificates for professionals like network administrators, accountants, and project managers.
People who are looking for certification programs that pay well often choose to work in healthcare. That is because the medical industry is known for its short training programs that often lead to careers that offer good earnings, opportunities, and even potential for future growth. And if you are currently working in information technology (or are considering entering the field), then there are a lot of quick certificate programs that can showcase your abilities and help you pursue better-paying jobs. However, these are just two examples of many possibilities.
So to help you discover some of the best certifications for jobs, we have compiled a list of popular options throughout a variety of industries and for all levels of education and experience. Find the certification that can help you reach your full potential by discovering the:
- Certificate programs that pay well
- Industry certification programs that pay well
- Best certifications to get for IT professionals
- Good certifications to have for business professionals
- Skilled trades jobs that require certification
(The annual pay levels being referenced are based on 2015 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unless otherwise noted.1 And the total job-opening projections are for the decade from 2014 to 2024.2)
Certificate Programs That Pay Well
You may not realize how many options you have for jobs that only require a certificate. The reality is that, once you have completed one of the many quick certificate programs that are available, you will often receive additional on-the-job training in order to supplement what you have already learned in school. Opportunities can be found in almost anything from business and healthcare to criminal justice and media arts.
So take a moment to explore a few of the best certificate programs below that can open you up to high-paying jobs that don't require a college degree.
Bookkeeper—Take care of a business' or organization's basic accounting needs. Many bookkeeping certificate programs, or other relevant business programs, can be completed in a year or less. In that time, you can learn how to complete tasks related to payroll processing and computerized accounting. After obtaining some practical work experience, you may even choose to earn your Certified Bookkeeper designation through the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB).
- Median pay—$37,250
- Top pay—$57,920 or more
- Total job openings—172,600
Court Reporter—Record spoken words and gestures during court trials and other legal proceedings so that law professionals have accurate transcripts to refer to. Court reporting can be one of the best certificate programs that pay well. In fact, almost half of court reporters have no more than a post-secondary certificate.3 So if you want to enter this interesting field, then opt for a court reporting or related legal program to get you started.
- Median pay—$49,500
- Top pay—$90,510 or more
- Total job openings—4,900
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer—Prepare for one of the highest-paying certificate jobs available in the healthcare field. You may be wondering how a short program could lead you to such a good job, but the fact remains that almost 20 percent of diagnostic medical sonographers are working in the field with only a certificate.3 In order to offer ultrasound procedures to help medical professionals diagnose and treat conditions and diseases, you may need to achieve industry certification in addition to your post-secondary training. The most common credential is the Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS) designation.
- Median pay—$68,970
- Top pay—$97,390 or more
- Total job openings—27,500
Event Planner—Learn how to take care of every detail for special events from start to finish. There are many schools that offer one-year certificate programs, and you may even be able to find diploma programs that can be completed in the same amount of time. Those programs can quickly prepare you to handle any number of events with ease, including weddings, conventions, festivals, and conferences.
- Median pay—$46,840
- Top pay—$82,050 or more
- Total job openings—21,800
Occupational Therapy Aide—Offer important support to occupational therapists and their assistants who work with clients on improving mobility and movement. You will likely be involved in activities like setting up and cleaning treatment areas, helping patients complete forms, and handling administrative tasks. Almost 30 percent of occupational therapy aides working in the field hold only a high school diploma.3 However, by pursuing a certificate, jobs that pay well may become more readily available, so it is likely in your best interests to complete a short training program.
- Median pay—$27,800
- Top pay—$48,950 or more
- Total job openings—5,300
Pharmacy Technician —Take on the important role of assisting pharmacists by filling prescriptions and carrying out customer service and administrative responsibilities. Many pharmacy technician programs can be completed in less than a year's time. And in doing so, you can achieve one of the certificates that pay well. Depending on the state where you intend to work, you may need to obtain additional registration, certification, or licensing through an organization like the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB). As long as you meet the organization's prerequisites, obtaining your license is a fairly simple process.
- Median pay—$30,410
- Top pay—$45,030 or more
- Total job openings—71,600
Physical Therapy Aide—Perform important support activities while working under the direction of a physical therapist or a physical therapist assistant. You will likely take care of tasks that are not directly related to patient care. Those could include getting areas ready for treatments, helping clients move to and from treatment areas, and handling administrative procedures. Nearly 60 percent of physical therapy aides are working in the field without a degree, so it is fairly easy to find jobs that only require a certificate.3
- Median pay—$25,120
- Top pay—$38,040 or more
- Total job openings—34,000
Restaurant Manager—Manage every aspect of a restaurant's operations to ensure that quality food is coming out of the kitchen, good service is being delivered at the tables, and customers are leaving happy. When it comes to high-paying certificate jobs, restaurant manager could be the way to go. In fact, almost 75 percent of restaurant managers do not hold a degree.3 However, it is important to note that the majority of restaurant managers worked their way up from the entry level, so it is a career field in which prior experience can be important.
- Median pay—$48,690
- Top pay—$83,010 or more
- Total job openings—77,100
Travel Agent—Help people have incredible vacations that they will always remember. There are many quick certification programs for travel agents that can lead you to good-paying jobs that offer a number of other great perks. Those can include personal travel discounts and opportunities to work from home. Once you complete your training, you may want to obtain further credentials to become a Certified Travel Associate (CTA) or Certified Travel Counselor (CTC).
- Median pay—$35,660
- Top pay—$60,200 or more
- Total job openings—11,500
Web Designer—Put your creative and technical skills to work in a web design position. It may surprise you to learn that you can work as a web designer with as little as a certificate. In fact, in one U.S. survey, close to 15 percent of web designers and developers said that they needed nothing more than a post-secondary certificate to land their jobs.3 Many of them have probably even gone on to qualify for positions in this field that they consider to be "at the top." Certificate programs are also frequently beneficial because some employers report that they would rather hire web designers who complete short training programs and develop the rest of their abilities while working on the job. After all, the skills and requirements that are needed in this field evolve quickly.
- Median pay—$64,970
- Top pay—$116,620 or more
- Total job openings—58,600
Industry Certification Programs That Pay Well
A lot of short training programs—whether they award certificates, diplomas, or even associate degrees—can prepare you for important industry-recognized certifications. In some cases, those certifications are legally required to work in your chosen industry. And in others, certain certifications are viewed highly by potential employers, especially when you are compared to other job candidates who are not certified. Listed below, you can find some of the best certifications for jobs that are in demand and pay well.
Auto Mechanic—You can technically work as an automotive mechanic with no more than a high school education. But by completing a training program, you can benefit from quick certifications that lead you to good-paying, high-demand jobs. Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification is considered the standard in the industry, even though it is not legally required. You can take the test to achieve the first level of repair technician certification once you have completed one year of relevant hands-on experience.
- Median pay—$37,850
- Top pay—$63,330 or more
- Total job openings—237,200
Commercial Diver—If you have a sense of adventure and can picture yourself working under water at sites all around the world, then becoming a commercial diver may be a great choice. Commercial diving schools offer certificate programs for jobs that pay well and can take you to locations that you never imagined. You could be working in oceans, rivers, and lakes where you conduct inspections, repairs, and maintenance of underwater structures. You could also work on completing underwater construction or taking underwater photos and videos. Note that you will likely need to work through several levels of quick certifications for scuba diving in order to attend commercial diving school.
- Median pay—$50,470
- Top pay—$88,470 or more
- Total job openings—2,300
Commercial Truck Driver—Your love of cruising down the open road could be transformed into a viable career as a commercial truck driver. And certification programs in this field can be completed in as little as a few weeks. Many schools offer inclusive tuition, which means that all of your supplies and fees are included. So, upon successful completion of your training, you can have your commercial driver's license and any applicable endorsements in hand.
- Median pay—$40,260
- Top pay—$62,010 or more
- Total job openings—404,500
Cosmetologist—A cosmetology license is one of the best certifications for jobs that are in demand and offer good earning possibilities. That's one of the reasons why nearly 75 percent of cosmetologists hold nothing more than a post-secondary certificate and a license to practice in their state.3 In approximately one year's time, you could complete your training, take your state's licensing exam, and be ready to start offering cosmetology services in salons, spas, and other beauty establishments.
- Median pay—$23,660
- Top pay—$47,410 or more
- Total job openings—212,100
Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)—You can choose from three different levels of certification when you become an EMT or a paramedic. Through the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT), you can become certified as an EMT-Basic, EMT-Intermediate, or Paramedic. An EMT-Basic program often requires only about 150 hours of training. Once that is completed, you can qualify for your certification exam. If you pass it, you'll be ready to pursue opportunities that involve helping the sick and injured. You may even get to start saving lives.
(Note that the information below includes paramedics.)
- Median pay—$31,980
- Top pay—$55,110 or more
- Total job openings—98,000
Massage Therapist—You can learn the skills needed to become a spa massage therapist in less than a year. Schools that prepare you to become a spa masseuse tend to offer quick certification programs, but it is worth nothing that many of them will not meet the prerequisites to become registered. By investing a little more time in your schooling, you could become a registered massage therapist (RMT), which can open you up to even more career opportunities and earning potential.
- Median pay—$38,040
- Top pay—$74,860 or more
- Total job openings—49,000
Medical Transcriptionist—By completing a quick medical transcription program, you could become certified through the Association of Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI) as a Registered or Certified Healthcare Documentation Specialist (RHDS/CHDS). Although medical transcription certification is voluntary, it is a great way to show employers that you have developed industry-standard skills and are capable of accurately transcribing healthcare professionals' recordings into medical documents.
- Median pay—$34,890
- Top pay—$50,230 or more
- Total job openings—14,600
Nurse—You could earn a licensed practical nurse (LPN) certificate in as little as a year, pass your state's licensing exam, and be ready to offer important healthcare services in a variety of medical settings. Earning a certificate or diploma is a common path of entry to the field. In fact, almost 80 percent of licensed practical nurses do not have a degree.3 Along with having great opportunities for jobs and earnings, you can also easily advance in the field. There are many programs that can help you obtain the skills that are needed to become a registered nurse (RN) at any time throughout your nursing career.
- Median pay for LPNs—$43,170
- Top pay for LPNs—$59,510 or more
- Total job openings for LPNs—322,200
- Median pay for RNs—$67,490
- Top pay for RNs—$101,630 or more
- Total job openings for RNs—1,088,400
Real Estate Agent—Your search for certificates that pay well could end right here. Real estate agent definitely falls into the category of quick certifications that offer great opportunities. Depending on the state where you intend to work, you could complete your pre-licensing coursework in 200 hours or less. From there, you just have to achieve licensing from your state real estate board. Once you have done that, you will be ready to start helping your clients buy and sell houses.
- Median pay—$43,370
- Top pay—$110,560 or more
- Total job openings—33,000
Best Certifications to Get for IT Professionals
If you are an information technology professional who already has a post-secondary credential, then you could find a number of options for quick certifications that pay well. In fact, techies are known to have access to some of the highest-paying jobs out there, especially when they have recognized and valued certifications. There are employers who will not even consider you for certain positions without industry credentials. So depending on your prior training and experience, you can find fast certification programs that can help expand your opportunities even further. Here are a few IT vocational areas and the most common certifications available within them.
Cloud Computing—The field of cloud computing is growing quickly and offers skilled professionals a lot of exciting opportunities in a variety of IT settings. You can showcase your skills to potential employers through a number of certificates. For jobs in cloud computing, two of the most popular options are the MCSE: Private Cloud and CompTIA Cloud+ certifications. But those are just two of many options offered by vendors like VMware, Amazon, Oracle, and Cisco. Cloud computing professionals can take on many different types of positions, depending on their education and experience. Those include jobs as systems analysts or programmers, server administrators, and network managers.
(Note that the information below is for computer systems analysts.)
- Median pay—$85,800
- Top pay—$135,450 or more
- Total job openings—191,600
Computer Forensics—It could be argued that there are not many IT fields more interesting and exciting than that of computer forensics. There are a number of technology schools that can prepare you to embark on a career in which you gather, analyze, and report on data from computer systems in a way that is admissible in a court of law. Two common certifications that computer forensic professionals pursue are the GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst (GCFA) and EnCase Certified Examiner (EnCE). There are no prerequisites to meet in order to take the GCFA exam; however, you will have to meet specific education or experience requirements in order to take the EnCE exam.
- Median pay—$68,3574
- Top pay—$114,677 or more4
- Total job openings for all forensic science technicians—9,900
Computer Networking—Those who are trained computer networking professionals often enjoy excellent career opportunities. And it is a field that offers a number of high-paying certificate jobs. Like many IT specialties, you have a lot of options to choose from. Two of the most common networking designations are the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) and Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE). Both of those are multi-level certifications that cover areas like collaboration, data centers, and security. Companies like Microsoft, Juniper, and Wireshark also offer popular computer networking credentials.
- Median pay for network systems administrators—$77,810
- Top pay for network systems administrators—$124,090 or more
- Total job openings for network systems administrators—79,400
- Median pay for network architects—$100,240
- Top pay for network architects—$155,250 or more
- Total job openings for network architects—31,500
Database Development and Administration—The role of a database professional is an important one in today's technology-driven world. And while there are many database-related designations to choose from, Oracle is the top choice for many developers and administrators. When reviewing ads for database-related jobs in late 2015, almost 42 percent of employers required Oracle 11g certification, and nearly 21 percent required Oracle 12c certification.5 So you can see that Oracle is certainly a top choice for many IT employers.
- Median pay—$81,710
- Top pay—$127,080 or more
- Total job openings—39,200
Help Desk—A lot of newly trained IT professionals begin their careers in help desk positions. It is a great starting point for a technology career, and you can help make yourself stand out from the crowd by earning industry-standard certifications that showcase your skills. There are two specific certifications that many employers prefer. Over 58 percent of help desk job ads from late 2015 required CompTIA A+ certification. And over 37 percent of ads required Microsoft Specialist certification. So you could safely say that those are the two most-preferred credentials for help desk professionals.
- Median pay for user support specialists—$48,620
- Top pay for user support specialists—$81,260 or more
- Total job openings for user support specialists—150,500
- Median pay for network support specialists—$62,250
- Top pay for network support specialists—$106,310 or more
- Total job openings for network support specialists—36,900
Information Security—As technology becomes more widely used for everything from social media to online banking, data security becomes that much more important. And that is why information security professionals enjoy some of the highest-paid certifications. One of the most popular options is the Certified Information Security Manager designation offered through ISACA. Two other prevalent choices are the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) and Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) designations.
- Median pay—$90,120
- Top pay—$143,770 or more
- Total job openings—25,500
- Median pay—$79,530
- Top pay—$130,800 or more
- Total job openings—81,000
Good Certifications to Have for Business Professionals
Are you an experienced business professional who has already achieved a four-year degree or some other level of college education? It might make you happy to learn that, when you pursue important industry certifications, jobs that pay well often follow. In fact, in the world of business, those who are certified often earn more—in some cases, substantially more—than those who are not certified. So it is definitely worth looking into what kinds of credentials could be available to you. Continue reading to discover some of the highest-paying certificate jobs for business professionals right now.
Accounting—Join the ranks of some of the most admired accounting professionals by adding a certification to your title. Two of the most common designations that accountants pursue are Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and Certified Management Accountant (CMA). Although achieving those titles takes a lot of commitment and hard work, it can really pay off. A 2016 report found that professionals with certifications like a CPA license can earn up to 15 percent more than their non-licensed counterparts.6 And a 2015 salary survey found that CMAs have 61 percent higher total earnings than their non-CMA peers.7 So if you are currently working as an accountant, then earning a professional certification could be in your best interest.
- Median pay—$67,190
- Top pay—$118,930 or more
- Total job openings—498,000
Actuary—Learn how to collect and analyze data and statistics in order to determine people's and business' risk levels as part of deciding whether they qualify for insurance and setting their premium rates. Actuaries are the ultimate risk managers. And by becoming an actuary, you can enjoy one of the highest-paid certifications found in the workforce. If you have a background in math, statistics, economics, or finance and work in a risk-management-related field, then you may want to consider boosting your career by earning an actuary credential through the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) or Society of Actuaries (SOA).
- Median pay—$97,070
- Top pay—$180,500 or more
- Total job openings—11,700
Financial Planning—Boost your earnings in the finance world by becoming a Certified Financial Planner (CFP). A 2012 study found that professionals with a CFP certification earned up to 26 percent more than financial advisors who did not have the credential.8 This is one of the best certifications for jobs in financial planning. It's a great way to enhance your career status and earning power.
(Note that the information below is for personal financial advisors.)
- Median pay—$89,160
- Top pay—$187,200 or more
- Total job openings—136,400
Human Resources—Take your career in human resources to the next level by earning your certification as a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) through the HR Certification Institute. You could also become a Certified Professional through the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM-CP). Both of these organizations offer various certification programs that depend on your level of education and experience. And, although achieving HR certifications is often optional, it is an excellent way to show employers that you possess high-level skills in human resources.
- Median pay for specialists—$58,350
- Top pay for specialists—$99,920 or more
- Total job openings for specialists—139,300
- Median pay for managers—$104,440
- Top pay for managers—$187,200 or more
- Total job openings for managers—46,600
Project Management—Add a reputable and coveted certification to your professional portfolio and help make yourself stand out from other project managers in the field. When project managers are Project Management Professional (PMP) certified, they are more likely to complete their projects on time and on budget. And they earn up to 20 percent more than non-certified project managers.9 If you meet the education and experience prerequisites, then this could be considered one of the quick certifications that pay well.
- Median pay—$61,2844
- Top pay—$94,485 or more4
Skilled Trades Jobs That Require Certification
If you are looking for certifications that pay, then the skilled trades may be your answer. To reach your fullest potential within the skilled trades sector, you may need to become certified or licensed as a journeyperson within your chosen profession. Though helper and assistant jobs are available throughout the skilled trades field, having a journeyperson certification will enable you to complete more tasks and work unsupervised.
There are a couple of routes that you can take to become a journeyperson. As one option, you can take a short training program in order to gain the fundamental skills needed to start out in an entry-level position. Then, once you gain some industry experience, you can apply to complete an apprenticeship program. Or, as another option, you can choose to go right into an apprenticeship program directly. As you work through your apprenticeship, you actually do not spend a lot of time in school. Most apprentices only train in the classroom for up to six weeks a year, and the rest of their time is spent receiving paid on-the-job training.
So, although it can take four or five years to become a certified journeyperson, it is a career path that can pay off. And some of the most in-demand positions are in the skilled trades. Take a moment to check out some of the best certifications to have in this sector:
Carpenter—Let a carpentry school help you develop the skills that are needed for designing, planning, building, constructing, renovating, remodeling, and restoring homes and residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. As you build your professional skills, you may even decide to specialize in an area like cabinet- or furniture-making. Before you know it, you could be creating structures that are both beautiful and structurally sound.
- Median pay—$42,090
- Top pay—$76,750 or more
- Total job openings—169,100
Electrician—Take part in electrical training that can start providing you with the skills needed to install, repair, and maintain residential, commercial, and industrial electrical systems. It is also possible for you to take a short electrical technician program so that you can get into the workforce quickly. And then you can start working toward becoming a fully licensed electrician later on.
- Median pay—$51,880
- Top pay—$88,130 or more
- Total job openings—181,800
HVAC Mechanic—Learn what it takes to professionally install, maintain, and repair heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and even refrigeration systems in residential, commercial, and industrial settings. Along with completing apprenticeship training that can lead you to attaining journeyperson status, there are other certifications that you may want to consider. All HVAC mechanics are required to have at least one certification from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And you can achieve additional professional credentials from HVAC Excellence or North American Technician Excellence (NATE).
- Median pay—$45,110
- Top pay—$71,690 or more
- Total job openings—84,200
Plumber—Develop the practical and professional plumbing skills needed to excel in this interesting and varied career field. You could also prepare to enter a related field like pipefitting, gas fitting, or steam fitting, all of which are specialties within the plumbing trade. Getting into this line of work can mean enjoying a number of excellent job opportunities and earning a good, steady paycheck.
- Median pay—$50,620
- Top pay—$89,720 or more
- Total job openings—105,200
Welder—Develop the knowledge and abilities needed to forge metal in commercial and industrial settings. Welders often work for manufacturing or construction companies. In fact, when it comes to the concentration of employment, the top five industries for welders are: (1) boiler, tank, and shipping container manufacturers; (2) railroad rolling stock manufacturers; (3) automobile and trailer manufacturers; (4) architectural and structural metals manufacturers; and (5) ship and boat building companies.1 By pursuing certification as a licensed welder, you are opening yourself up to a great amount of potential in terms of earnings and vocational possibilities.
- Median pay—$38,150
- Top pay—$60,000 or more
- Total job openings—128,500
Position Yourself to Achieve Success
You have a lot of options for attaining certifications that pay well. Some of them can be earned quickly, whereas others require a certain level of education and experience in order to achieve them. Now that you have come up with ideas for the best choices for you, begin searching for schools that can help you put your ideas into action. Find some of the best certificate programs near you by entering your zip code below. It's a simple first step toward a brighter future!
1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on July 21, 2016.
2 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Employment Projections, website last visited on January 27, 2017.
3 O*NET Online, website last visited on July 21, 2016.
4 PayScale, website last visited on July 21, 2016.
5 Tom's IT Pro, "Best IT Certifications for 2016," website last visited on July 20, 2016.
6 American Institute of CPAs, CPA Salaries, website last visited on July 20, 2016.
7 Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), IMA Global Salary Survey, website last visited on March 13, 2017.
8 Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Board of Standards, Become a CFP Professional, website last visited on July 20, 2016.
9 Project Management Institute (PMI), Project Management Professional (PMP), website last visited on July 20, 2016.