7 Lucrative Careers, No Degree Required


Mom might have told you that you need to go to college to get a good job, but moms are biased.  College is not for everyone.

There are plenty of good jobs that don’t require you to go into $200,000 of debt for a four-year college degree. When looking at these jobs, just remember that salaries can vary, depending on the region of the country or seniority, and often both.  Also, benefits beyond salary—particularly in the area of retirement—can be a huge incentive.

If you are looking for a solid career path that bypasses the university route, here are some professions you should consider:

Air Traffic Controller
Air traffic controllers monitor and direct private and commercial air traffic. They are highly trained and skilled, but the job does not require a college degree. The Federal Aviation Administration, which employs practically all air traffic controllers, requires them to enroll in a FAA-approved education program and pass entrance tests. The road to becoming a fully qualified air traffic controller can take several years, but this is a profession with opportunities. The median salary is more than $100,000 a year.

Elevator Mechanic
Many construction jobs are high-paying. Elevator mechanic jobs are lucrative and stable. There is a lot of training involved, however, and new mechanics have to start in an apprenticeship program. Still, with a mean income of more than $60,000 a year, this is one gig that can take you higher.

Flight Attendant
If you’re willing to fly all over creation, deal with rowdy passengers and keep a smile on your face throughout, you can earn a good living as a flight attendant. Salaries are determined less by region of the county or even particular airline than by how many years you’ve put in.  For those with less than six months experience, the median salary is $16,200, according to the Association of Flight Attendants.  By year 15, flight attendants at Southwest are pulling in more than $55,000 a year.

Salaries for firefighters can run the gamut, with small cities half that of the large.  But take a place like Yonkers, N.Y., where a firefighter's starting salary is in the neighborhood of $50,000. A chief can make three times that.  Salaries for non-officer firefighters with seniority run to about $90,000, while lieutenants and captains make in the low six figures. The job of a firefighter, like many others that do not require college degrees, keeps on giving. In Yonkers, for example, retirement compensation is determined by your last year's salary—not the average of your last three, as can be the case in other cities.  This means that a firefighter who puts in a good deal of overtime over a relatively short portion of their career has a chance to be quite comfortable in retirement.

Police Officer
There is money to be had in crime, at least the right side of it.  Best of all: you don’t need a college degree.  Police salaries vary widely according to municipality and some promotions do require a college degree.  Yonkers, for its part, offers salaries for police similar to those of firemen, with detective officers earning healthy six figure salaries.  For those who might harbor visions of themselves as an Erik Estrada type, the California Highway Patrol pays cadets between $50,000 and $60,000 while training, also offering free room and board and a mandatory seven hours overtime a month.   From there, it’s a salary of $65,185, with 5% increases yearly until the top step base salary of $79, 248 is reached.

Real Estate Broker
The business has its risks in terms of cyclicality and compensation that is based on commission, which means that unless you hustle, you might not make one thin dime.   But if you have the gift of the gab—and even the blarney—you don’t need to spend four years toiling away at college. In 2007 the median income of licensed real estate brokers was $65,200 a year, according to the National Association of Realtors.  And many real estate brokers are able to work in sideline professions, often in related fields like relocation. For example, 16% of real estate brokers work in commercial property management, according to the association.

Nuclear Power Operator
If Homer Simpson is your idol, become a control room operator at a nuclear plant.  For control room operators at Indian Point in Buchanan, N.Y., a college degree is preferred, but by no means required, says Jerry Nappi, a spokesman, who added that they do look for a high school degree and some demonstration of technical ability.  At the first level, the base pay is $66,000. With overtime, it bumps up to a likely $75,000, says Nappi.  After five years, you are making a cool $109,000.  If you are promoted from there to reactor operator, you can make $174,000.  A senior reactor operator averages $184,000. Hey, maybe Homer's not as dumb as we've been lead to believe.

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