The cost of a college education is soaring – in 2013, the average price of tuition, room and board at a public university topped $16,000. For private universities, that number was over double, weighing in at a whopping $40,000. With students graduating with heavy debt loads and lackluster job prospects, the younger generations are debating the merits of attending a post-secondary institution at all.
College is often seen as the be-all, end-all of post-high school plans; guidance counselors would have us believe it’s impossible to secure a financial future without a four year degree.
In reality, some of the most lucrative sectors of the job market don’t require a bachelor degree.
Take a look at these top jobs you can land without an undergraduate education. Most of the jobs listed are jobs one could find working for the federal government. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, these top jobs all earn at least a median salary of $55,000, plenty to support a bright financial future:
*Annual earnings and job prospects data are all compiled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and are based on 2012 figures. Salary may be higher or lower depending on the market where you work.
If you’re a fan of Purdue University, you’ve probably already heard of this job, which involves the assembly, installation, and repair of boiler units or other devices that hold hot liquids. With just a high-school diploma and some on-the-job training, you can earn around $56,000 a year.
2. Correctional Officer Supervisor
If you’ve been interested in working in the justice system but don’t have the resources for a criminal justice degree, this may be the job for you. With some moderate on-the-job training, you can take home a median salary of $58,000 a year. The job outlook is good, with some 18,000 openings projected through 2022. The job isn’t for the faint of heart, though; it requires daily supervision of the correctional officers and inmates as they go about their daily activities. If you enjoy a challenge, you might consider this endeavor. And since most prisons are federally sanctioned, you can expect the same kind of benefits you would from other government jobs.
3. Electrical Technician
Love to tinker with electronics, but don’t have the money for an engineering degree? Try an electrical technician’s job out for size, which allows you to work directly with engineers. Build and calibrate the tools that electrical engineers use and design. This job requires an associate degree, which you can earn at a local community college. Expect to earn around $58,000 a year, with sunny job prospects and room for promotion.
Example position: https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/437676200/ $66,137.00 to $103,053.00 / Per Year
4. Real Estate Brokers
Real estate is no longer the lemon industry it once was. Since the economy is rebounding, so is the housing market. With only a high school diploma, you can join the real estate world, which involves arranging loans and showing properties. Be prepared to put on your best sales face, though, since these jobs often work on commission. Depending on your sales rate, you can expect to bring home somewhere in the neighborhood of $58,000 annually. If you’re particularly motivated or working in an in-demand market, making six figures isn’t out of the question. Example position: https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/426392900/ $58,562.00 to $91,255.00 / Per Year
5. Computer Support Specialists
Have a knack for technology? Put it to good use by becoming a computer support guru. This job does require an associate’s degree, but it also offers a good return on investment, with a median salary of $59,000. And since we live in a technology-driven world, job prospects are good. Computers may evolve, but we don’t anticipate them going anywhere anytime soon. Example position: https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/435944900/ $75,830.00 to $117,557.00 / Per Year
6. CAD Technician
If you like making technical drawings you’ll love this position. Computer aided design (CAD) technicians work with engineers and designers to create detailed visual representations of buildings and machinery. They use CAD software to sketch the object from multiple perspectives. You’ll need an associate’s degree and attention to detail. The median salary is around $55,000 annually.
Example position: https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/435655300/ $50,000.00 to $75,000.00 / Per Year
7. Claims Adjuster
If you’ve ever been in a car accident or been involved in a worker’s compensation claim, you’re likely already familiar with this position. Claims adjusters are the people who investigate accidents and determine the settlement amount based on the language of your insurance policy. The position requires a high-school diploma and ongoing on-the-job training. To do this job effectively, you’ll need a lot of patience and the ability to talk to people who might not be happy with what you’re going to say. The median pay in 2012 was nearly $60,000.
8. Web Developers
With a median pay of $62,500, getting an associate’s degree may be worth the money. Web developers design and create websites for a variety of clients. Using principles of psychology and design, they strive to increase traffic and drive conversions on the sites they design. If you enjoy working with technology and figuring out what makes people tick, this may be the perfect position for you.
Example position: https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/434879300/ $122,649.00 to $193,594.00 / Per Year
9. Subway and Streetcar Operators
Enjoy seeing a slew of new faces every day? Try your luck as a streetcar or subway operator. Though your routes may be routine, the people you encounter each day certainly won’t be. And as some public transportation systems are controlled by the government, it’s possible to find positions that offer the same benefits you’d expect as a federal government employee. The pay is respectable, as well – the median pay weighs in around $63,000 annually.
Neither snow, hail, nor rain can stop the U.S. Postal Service, but as a postmaster, you won’t have to brave the elements to actually deliver the mail. With a high-school diploma or equivalent, you can coordinate the movements and routes of postal workers at your office. Being a postmaster comes with a nice salary; they earn $63,000, on average. As federal employees, they also receive excellent benefits.
11. Registered Nurses
Love helping people? Consider a position as a registered nurse. Though many nurses have bachelor’s degrees, you can also find a job with an associate’s. Nurses work to provide care and educate the public about a variety of health issues. Not only can you leave work every day feeling like you made a difference, your wallet will also benefit. Registered nurses bring home an average of $65,000 a year.
Example position: https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/431160100/ $79,719.00 to $135,844.00 / Per Year
12. Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
Also known as Ultrasound technicians, these workers use special equipment to take pictures of patient’s bodies so physicians can diagnose and treat medical conditions. With an associate’s degree, expect to bring home nearly $66,000 a year.
Example position: https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/436410200/ $84,499.00 to $89,066.00 / Per Year
13. Dental Hygienist
If you’re interested in the health field, but you don’t want to endure the crippling debt of dental school, consider getting an associate’s certificate to become a dental hygienist. These health care technicians provide preventive dental care to patients, like routine cleanings and checking for signs of gingivitis. Dental hygienists earn a median salary of $70,000 annually.
14. Commercial Pilots
With a high-school diploma and a commercial pilot’s license, you can command flights of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. Expect to participate in ongoing on-the-job training. Commercial pilots can stow away an average of $73,000 each year.
Example position: https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/436400300/ $96,000.00 to $124,805.00 / Per Year
15. Elevator Install and Repair Technicians
There really is a niche for everything! Complete an apprenticeship with an elevator technician and you, too, can reap the benefits. Maintaining and installing this specialized equipment can net you $76,000 a year. With only 8,000 projected job openings through 2022, this position may not be the easiest to snag.
16. Radiation Therapists
If you have a big heart and enjoy helping others, you may consider becoming a radiation therapist. These professionals observe reactions to patients’ cancer treatments and document them as necessary. Success requires an associate’s degree and an ability to comfort people in pain. The median salary is around $77,000 annually.
17. Air Traffic Controller
Do you have the ability to stay calm under pressure? If so, a job as an air traffic controller may be for you. These professionals direct and monitor traffic from nearby aircrafts. To succeed in this position, you must have the ability to process and digest a lot of information at once. Though it requires an associate’s degree, air traffic controllers earn more than any other profession that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree. As a controller, you can expect to earn $122,000 a year. Since the nature of the job is so demanding, you’re also expected to engage in long term on-the-job training.
Example position: https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/418999400/ $58,562.00 to $76,131.00 / Per Year
As you can see, earning a financially secure living doesn’t always require a four year education. With a high school diploma, GED, or Associate’s degree, you can earn over $55,000 annually. Though most of these positions do require a certificate or on-the-job training, education at community colleges is significantly cheaper than public or private universities. Tuition at a two year institution costs around $3,300 per academic year. If you’re a federal employee, check with your current employer for potential discounts for yourself or immediate family members.
For most of these positions, the number of openings projected through 2022 promise a bright future. The healthcare and technology sectors, in particular, will continue to be in-demand fields in the next decade. The aging population (baby boomers) will drive the need for quality healthcare workers, while the evolving face of technology will make computer workers and engineering technicians relevant.
Don’t see a position that appeals to your interests listed? For more information about jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, read the entire Bureau of Labor Statistics Report.