You don't have to go to college earn a decent living. Some professions pay good salaries without requiring post-secondary schooling.
A college degree can be a great path towards a well-paying, satisfying profession, but a bachelor's degree isn't for everyone. In fact, some see advanced education as overrated. A surge in the number of college graduates have dampened the value of a college education. College comes intact with high tuition, room and board, and supplies fees - and that's not even factoring in debt payments that usually last for years, if not decades. (Are old debts coming back to haunt you? We'll show you how to keep these zombies from eating you alive, in Dawn Of The Zombie Debt.)

Trusting the 'Net
Beware of online lists of top-paying professions with little schooling. Some lists cite obscure professions or ones requiring long-term on-the-job training. Just because a profession doesn't officially require a degree is no indicator that and education wouldn't be advantageous, especially for inexperienced applicants in today's competitive job market.

Your New Career
Here's a list of top-paying jobs requiring little schooling, and their median annual earnings as of 2006, using the latest data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Keep in mind that these jobs have their own challenges and often require some type of specialized schooling - sometimes on-the-job training.

  1. Air Traffic Controllers: $117,200
    • These workers make sure airplanes land and take off safely, and they typically top lists of this nature. The median 50% earned between $86,860-142,210, with good benefits. Air traffic controllers are eligible to retire at age 50 with 20 years of service, or after 25 years at any age.

      Watching blinking dots on a radar screen that control the lives of hundreds can be stressful, and the job require specialized FAA schooling and on-the-job training. Typically, two to four years of training are needed in order to become fully certified, although previous military experience can cut that time down significantly.

  2. Industrial Production Managers: $77,670
    • They oversee manufacturing activities. A college degree is preferred, but not necessarily mandatory. They often work in industries such as aviation and automobiles.

  3. First-Line Police and Detective Supervisors: $69,300
    • Police officers can advance through the ranks to become supervisors by passing exams and achieving good performance reviews, and advanced training can help win promotions.

  4. Funeral Director: $49,620
    • College programs in mortuary science usually last from two to four years. You typically must also serve a one-year apprenticeship, pass an exam and obtain a state license. Hours can be long and irregular. Dealing with dead bodies and crying relatives isn't for everyone.

  5. Police and Sheriff Patrol Officers: $47,460
    • Police corporals had an average minimum annual base salary of $44,160, according to the International City-County Management Association. But total income can significantly exceed base salary because of overtime pay. And police officers can often retire at half-pay after 25-30 years of service.

      Applicants usually must have at least a high school education, and some departments require a year or two of college or even a degree. Rookies are trained at police academies.

  6. Advertising Sales Agents: $42,750
    • 20% have a high school degree or less, and 10% have an Associate's degree.

  7. Real Estate Brokers and Sales Agents: $39,760
    • Don't let that figure fool you; the highest 10% earned more than $111,500. While advanced coursework is not necessarily required, new entrants must pass an exam and get a state license. Connections in the community and a willingness to work hard are what really count, but experience and a good housing market also help.

  8. Occupational Therapist Assistants: $42,060
    • These workers usually need an associate degree or a certificate. They work with occupational therapists, helping injured patients recover from, or compensate for, lost motor skills. Job prospects are good in the growing health care field, especially for those with some post-secondary education.

  9. Occupational Therapist Aides: $25,000
    • These employees receive most training on the job. Under supervision of occupational therapists, they also work with injured people. Competition for jobs is tougher for those with only a high school diploma.

  10. Physical Therapist Assistants: $41,360
    • These workers deal with physical therapists, helping patents improve mobility, relieve pain or overcome injuries or disabilities. Those working in home health care services tend to make more on average. Aides, earning an average of $22,000, are trained on the job. Assistants, who have greater responsibilities, typically need an associate's degree.

The Bottom Line
Despite a recession, plenty of career paths can lead to well-paying professions without spending four years or more hitting the books, including opportunities in law enforcement, health care and sales. The goal is to find a job that matches your own particular talents and preferences in addition to supporting your lifestyle. (Make your dream a reality. Find out what you can do to reach this financial goal, in How To Make A Million In Your Small Business.)

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