10 High-Paying Careers With Low Educational Barriers


According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2014–2015 school year was $31,231 at private colleges, $9,139 for state residents at public colleges, and $22,958 for out-of-state residents attending public universities.


Let's take a realistic look at some careers that not only pay well given a relatively low educational investment, but also have a positive income growth potential. For the purposes of this article, I've used the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook, narrowing my search to jobs that usually pay $50,000 or more a year, and that also have a projected growth rate of 20% or more within the next decade.

Jobs Requiring a Two-Year Associate of Arts Degree

Most Americans can earn an affordable two-year degree at a local community college.

1. Sonographers

In 2012, the median pay for sonographers (or "ultrasound techs") was $60,350; job outlook for growth was at 39%. While most work in hospitals, others find employment in physicians' offices as well as in private radiology facilities. My friend Clarissa worked in a hospital until she decided to start a family, at which time she decided shift work was not for her, and she went to work at a radiology office. Because it is in the health care industry, job satisfaction is high, and the work environment usually non-competitive and friendly.

2. Dental Hygienists

When my friend Lisa became a dental hygienist, I said, "Yuck — aren't you grossed out all the time?" She laughed and said no, it was usually just fine. She had the last laugh — at a salary of $70,210 per year (2012 data) with a 33% growth outlook. Because it is a family-friendly profession, she was also able to eventually choose her hours.

3. Cardiovascular Technicians

Here is another positive-growth position, predicted at 39% growth and paying an average of $52,000 per year. Most positions are located in hospitals; some are in physicians' offices or diagnostic laboratories. If you are good at communicating, are drawn to helping people, and can multi-task and think quickly on your feet, this may be a good position to investigate.

4. Web Developers

With a faster-than-average predicted growth (20%) and median pay of $62,500, the position of web developer is very intriguing. If you enjoy working with computers, learning and writing code, and have a creative side, this may be for you. Read these developers' accounts of favorite things about their jobs.

5. Radiologic and MRI Technologists

At a median of $55,910, these positions also predict good growth (21%), plus the option of working in a hospital or private radiology setting. Interesting was this quote from an MRI technologist: "The biggest surprise of my career is the job security. In this difficult economy, I am at no risk of losing my job."

6. Nuclear Medicine Technologist

While the rate of growth is just slightly slower than other imaging positions listed above, the salary is still impressive ($55,000 to $74,000). Most work in hospitals, or, in metropolitan-area, private radiological facilities. It is exacting work, with much of it spent on your feet.

7. Nursing

Although I found varying statistics about the growth rate for nursing jobs, I felt I shouldn't rule it out, given a 2012 median pay of $65,000 — with just a two-year degree. There is a lot of versatility in this area — from hospitals to doctors' offices, clinics, the military, hospices, public health, etc. Another plus for nursing is that it can be a very family-friendly schedule, especially if you work in a clinic or doctors' office, for example, which are closed on weekends.

Jobs Requiring a High School Diploma

Yes, there are still high paying careers that require nothing more than a high school diploma.

8. Elevator Installers and Repairers

Having seen a young woman working on the elevator at the local hospital, I wondered if it was a good job, so I checked. The 2012 median pay? Try $76,650, with projected growth of 25% — faster than average. One article even calls it a "recession-proof job." To get the gig, you'll need to serve an apprenticeship, be physically fit, and often be on call.

9. Law Enforcement

As of the 2007 census, only about one in eight local police officers were women. This career deserves a hard look. The pay ranges from $55,000 to $74,000 with a high school education and some on-the-job training. Government police jobs also have excellent health benefits, including dental and retirement funds. If you earn the rank of detective, pay takes a big jump. I only know one female police officer, and it ain't easy. It's dangerous work, but these women love their jobs.

10. Purchasing Manager

At a 2012 median of $60,550, the pay is good, but 4% growth is slow. Most of the job openings I found seemed to have "specialties," i.e., automotive, construction, government, etc. Obtaining certification is recommended. If you are someone who enjoys the hunt of the best bang for your buck, you'd probably enjoy this job.

Do you have a high-paying job without a four-year degree? Tell us about it below!

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Guest's picture

Project Manager at very well known consulting firm. 27 years old. Got lucky with an entry level job at the company, worked my butt off for the last 5 years. Now I manage folks with masters degrees. Going back to school for personal reasons - luckily, I received a full scholarship. Very lucky and grateful.

Interesting that despite my career success, many other firms are hesitant to give me a shot. I think it has to do with the automated HR systems they have now that filter out people without a degree.

Guest's picture

Hmmm, I was going to say that You completely forgot financial advisor.

It's actually an unrelated term so you can become one, even without a bachelor's degree (as stated by the Department of Labor Handbook). The handbook is describing what is a Certified Financial Planner (which DOES have a bachelor degree requirement.

In the end, when looking for a financial advisor - it's best to ignore the title and look at the letters behind the name and know what they mean.

Oh - and they make about $75K/year plus substantial bonuses (because they're really just financial salesmen. Most of them anyways).

Guest's picture

A lot of the health professions are 4 years of schooling for an associates degree.

Guest's picture

Politician, local, state or national, (Sarah Palin might have had less than a year of college work completed) seems to have no educational barrier.

Guest's picture

I see all these articles that say nurses earn such great salaries. But this is very dependent on demand and where you live. Benefits are often lousy. I am at $40,000 with a BSN and many years experience. Student loans will haunt me forever. Statistics are just that- statistics. There is much more to the story.