Looking for a six-figure job without a four-year degree? These six lines of work boast potentially hefty paychecks without a traditional diploma. The data below is provided by payscale.com and represents the benchmark cash earnings for high-earners (75th percentile), as well as the 90th percentile within the field for the year 2008.
1. Air Traffic Controller
75th percentile: $156,000
90th percentile: $186,000
Air traffic controllers monitor and direct air traffic to ensure the safety of all parties involved in private and commercial flights. Their direction keeps planes from colliding and can also lead to more efficient flights and fewer delays. In some countries, air traffic controllers are also used for defense purposes. The high salary of an air traffic controller comes with a huge amount of responsibility.
Prospective air traffic controllers must have four years of college or at least three years of full-time employment. Education and work experience can be combined to meet the requirement. Completion of the Federal Aviation Authority's Air Traffic-Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) program can also be used in place of college. AT-CTI schools offer two or four year programs.
2. Real Estate Broker
75th percentile: $151,000
90th percentile: $187,000
Real estate brokers bring together buyers and sellers in order to complete property transactions. They differ from real estate agents in that brokers are allowed to manage or own their own firms.
In order to become a broker, a college degree is not required. However, each state requires a specific number of hours of course work in order to obtain a real estate agent's license. Agents can typically obtain a brokerage license after three years of industry experience. (There's no guarantee that realtors will act in your best interest, but it may be worth hiring one anyway. Find out more in Do You Need A Real Estate Agent?)
3. Plumber or Pipefitter
75th percentile: $94,500
90th percentile: $130,000
Plumbers and pipefitters assemble, install and make changes in pipe systems used to carry water, steam, air, and other liquids and gases. They may also install bathtubs, toilets, heating and refrigerating units.
Although these lines of work have many similarities and workers skilled in one area are often skilled in the other, the trades are often identified as separate. Either way, high earnings potential exists without a college degree. Even though a four-year degree is not required, an apprenticeship may take just as much time to complete. The typical apprenticeship lasts four to five years.
4. Construction Superintendent
75th percentile: $97,400
90th percentile: $116,000
Construction superintendents are involved in multiple phases of construction projects. They participate in the planning process, as well as scheduling, budgeting and implementation. Construction superintendents rely on supervisors to keep them informed of a project's progress. (Want to learn more? Check out 10 Careers With Great Job Prospects.)
No degree is required, but years of construction work are necessary in order to rise to the level of manager or superintendent. More than half of the construction superintendents in the United States are self-employed. Although formal education may not be required for a supervisory role, coursework in construction science, civil engineering or building science can be a plus.
5. Radiation Therapist
75th percentile: $95,100
90th percentile: $116,000
Radiation therapy is a method of treating cancer. Radiation therapists record, interpret and administer the prescribed course of treatment. Their job responsibilities include using x-ray technology to locate tumors, using radiation technology to administer treatment and monitoring a patient's response to treatment. The work of a radiation therapist involves heavy interaction with oncologists and patients.
In lieu of a four-year degree, employers typically require applicants to complete an associate's degree program and/or certification in radiation therapy. Requirements vary depending on your location, but most radiation therapists are required to become certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) and licensed at the state level in order to practice.
6. Ultrasound Technologist
75th percentile: $82,500
90th percentile: $110,000
Ultrasound technologists operate machinery which uses sound waves to produce images of a patient's internal organs and tissues. The images are ultimately viewed and analyzed by physicians for diagnosis of possible medical problems. Ultrasound technologists work primarily in hospitals or diagnostic imaging centers and their job involves interaction with patients and doctors.
A typical ultrasound technologist program is a two-year course of study. In addition to completing the program, registering with the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Ultrasound Technologists (ARDMS) can improve chances of employment, as well as advancement in level and pay.
The Bottom Line
The path to a six-figure salary does not necessarily have to include a traditional degree, but it will more than likely include some form of education, whether it means obtaining industry specific certifications or adhering to continuing education requirements. Regardless, it will involve hard work and hands-on experience, and in some instances, a substantial amount of overtime. (Keep an eye on jobs on the way out. Don't miss The 9 Worst Career Choices Right Now.)