At some point in high school, you probably had to listen to your guidance counselor lecture you about the enormous income differences between individuals who only completed high school and those who had gone on to get a four-year degree or more. And those statistics are certainly true. According a 2011 U.S. News and World Report article, “those holding bachelor’s degrees earn about $2.27 million over their lifetime…[which is] vastly more than counterparts with some college ($1.55 million in lifetime earnings) or a high school diploma ($1.30 million lifetime).”
However true these statistics may be, they don’t tell the whole story. Not all students are cut out for college. Some would rather get a head start on their career. Also, student debt is rising, meaning that recent graduates are struggling to pay off loans for years, while their counterparts who got a two-year degree or started working right out of high school are often in a better financial situation. The bottom line is that having a lucrative career that you enjoy should be the goal—and that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get a four year degree.
Highest Paying Jobs Without a Degree
Here are some of the best paying jobs that either only require a two year degree or no additional education:
1. Air Traffic Controllers. The majority of the air traffic controllers directing our nation’s airplanes in and out of crowded airspace only have an Associate’s Degree. But don’t let that fool you, they are highly skilled individuals. And they are well compensated for it. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for an Air Traffic Controller was over $100,000 in 2010, or over $50 an hour.
2. Dental Hygienist. As long as you are comfortable working with people’s mouths, this is an excellent career for any people person. Hygienists have a median salary of nearly $67,000 per year, which is $10,000 more than the median salary for a four-year grad. In addition to the great salary, hygienists also enjoy a relatively flexible schedule, and can even potentially work part-time. In order to become a dental hygienist, you will need to complete a two-year associate’s degree—which means you could be working for a great salary just two years out of high school, while your former classmates are still working toward their more expensive bachelor’s degrees.
3. Construction Manager. With a median income of nearly $84,000, becoming a construction manager is one of the highest paying jobs you can land without needing any additional education after high school. However, it will take some time and experience before you can step into this job. Construction managers are responsible for overseeing a project’s construction team and must coordinate and schedule the necessary contractors to make certain that the project stays on time and budget. Most construction managers work their way up to this position after many years of working in construction.
4. Funeral Director, Mortician, or Undertaker. This is certainly not a career path that everyone will want to take, but it offers individuals the satisfaction of helping families in times of mourning. Those going into the funeral business must have an associate’s degree in mortuary science, as well as state certification, with a year long paid apprenticeship after you complete your education. If you would like to be an embalmer as well, that will require additional licensure. The median salary for funeral directors is around $54,000 per year, and it is most definitely a recession-proof career.
5. Casino Gaming Manager. This is another great option for high school graduates who want to start a career without having to go to school. Casino gaming managers are responsible for overseeing all of the gaming operations in a casino, which would include everything from setting policies to resolving complaints to determining the servings of food and drink (which is quite important in a casino).
The bad news about this job is that it is one you must work your way up the ladder to get. Many casino managers start their careers as a dealer, which is not a particularly well paying job. However, casino managers have a median salary of about $67,000, and can sometimes make as much as $110,000 per year. Not bad for a career that requires no extra education.
6. Registered Nurse. Becoming a registered nurse offers one of the best bangs for the educational buck. After completing a two-year degree, a registered nurse can start working in one of the most flexible and recession-proof careers available. With a median salary of around $62,000 per year plus typically generous benefits packages, this is a smart career choice for anyone interested in going into the helping professions.
Conclusion: This is only a sampling of the highest paying jobs available without a degree. These salaries were taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks occupations and salaries in the US. However, some all occupations, such as entrepreneurs and small business owners, are difficult to track. Other opportunities exist in the arts, with computer programming and design, database development, athletics, and more. You don’t need a degree to be successful. But you do need an education and the drive to excel.