The cost of higher education is on the rise. According to the report "College of 2020" by Chronicle Research Services, the largest increases in college tuition compared with inflation in the last decade have been at public four-year institutions. Further college graduates who finance their education with student loans exit their university with more than $20,000 in student loan debt.
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If you've opted to forego higher education, there are still promising career paths. According to data provided by PayScale.com, these five jobs offer a potential salary of more than $50,000, based on median pay range for people with five to eight years of experience in the field. From an educational standpoint, they all require an Associate's Degree or less. (For more, see Student Debt: Is Bankruptcy The Answer?)
1. Registered Dental Hygienist: $67,000
If you're interested in working directly with patients (and their mouths), a career as a dental hygienist might be for you. Registered dental hygienists must be licensed and pass a series of national and regional exams, after receiving their education in college-level programs accredited by the American Dental Association Commission of Dental Accreditation. Each accredited program is at least two years in length.
2. Fashion Designer: $57,000
Creativity, design talent, and a knowledge of fabric and textiles are integral in this business. While employers often seek at least a two-year degree in this field, location is also a key contributor to success as a fashion designer. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the highest numbers of fashion designers are employed in New York and California.
3. Registered Nurse (RN) $56,000
Nurses commonly enter the occupation by completing an associate degree program at an accredited nursing school or junior college, which can be done in two to three years. They must also complete a national licensing examination in order to obtain a nursing license. While a two-year program does qualify one for an entry-level staff nursing position, advancement opportunities may be limited without formal, higher-education degrees. (Learn more in 7 High-Paying Medical Careers You Can Do With A Bachelor's Degree.)
4. Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA): $51,000
Under the supervision of an occupational therapist, COTAs help to provide rehabilitative services to people who have mental, physical, emotional or developmental impairments, by helping them to find alternative ways to perform daily activities despite limitations. Typical entry-level education for occupational therapist assistants is an associate degree obtained from a school accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). After completing the program, they must pass the national certifying exam and obtain any additional state-mandated licensing, registration and certification.
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The BLS forecasts that employment demand for COTAs is projected to grow much faster than average, as demand for occupational therapist services rises. (For more, see Social Finance Careers: Creating A Better World.)
5. Automotive Retail Salesperson: $51,000
If you enjoy working with cars and people, this career path can be lucrative. Most employers prefer at least a high-school diploma, but will provide on the job training to enhance technical and communication skills. Because of the retail nature of the position, be prepared to work outside of the typical "nine-to-five" workday. According to the BLS, more retail salesperson jobs will be generated over the next decade than in almost any other occupation.
If you live in a particular region, there may be other exceptional high salary low education career options. For example, lifeguards in Newport Beach are raking in the dough while basking in the sun. According to The Orange County Register "more than half the city's full-time lifeguards are paid a salary of over $100,000 and all but one of them collect more than $100,000 in total compensation." Truck drivers in Fort McMurray, Alberta are also in high-demand, and employers are willing to pay for their skills. Class 1 drivers in the region Fort McMurray can make up to $35 per hour. (For related reading, see Get A Job In Compliance.)
The Bottom Line
While the typical perception is that one must hold a four-year college degree in order to secure a well-paying job, the statistics tell a different tale. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that only 39% of the jobs in the 10 fastest-growing occupations from 2006 to 2016 will require a college degree. These five jobs prove that there are still options to make a high salary, with a low education investment. (For more, see A Look At Entry-Level Careers In Finance.)
Source: All salary data is provided by online salary database PayScale.com. Annual salaries listed are for full-time employees with 5-8 years of experience and include any bonuses, commissions or profit sharing.