The fact that a bachelor’s degree has substantial differences in salary potential across different industries is not evidence that it is essential. You can earn six figures in some careers without a degree.
Professionals always look for the best return on investment for their career and professional development. College degrees are a good indication of someone’s knowledge and abilities in a particular field. Nonetheless, this raises an important question: Is the return worth the time and money spent?
Even with the growing costs of attending college, a college degree remains an important indicator and deciding factor in the hiring process. Many degreed individuals who are having difficulty finding jobs, or getting jobs in their field as initially expected, are underqualified or overqualified for the jobs they find. What is the best way to determine if a college degree is likely to be beneficial and worth the investment?
Unfortunately, we are unable to provide a definitive answer. By exploring other career paths that do not require a degree but do not have the same growth trajectory or employment potential as your chosen career, you can gain a very broad understanding of whether a college degree is necessary in order to pursue your chosen profession.
As you plan to earn an advanced degree, such as an advanced degree in a teaching area, or a PhD in a related field, then you are greatly increasing your chances of earning a high salary. In addition, you should know that not everyone needs to go to college. There are several other options, including vocational training. If you would like to know how to figure out if you should go to college, you might start taking some online classes, check out this article: “5 Best Places To Take Online Classes.”
If you are interested in any of the jobs on the following list, you may be able to earn a six-figure income, or at least close to it, without having to spend money or time on a college education.
A Note on the Use of Median Salaries
The career paths selected for this list all offer median annual salary of more than $60,000. In cases where the median is less than $60,000, bear in mind that these career paths offer opportunities for you to reach a six-figure salary without spending 4-6 years in college. You also may gain certain intangibles such as sales commissions, on-the-job experience, and the ability to rise to a position of leadership in your field that can all make a six-figure salary attainable.
Maybe college isn’t something you’ve been particularly interested in, or you feel that you need to get a job quickly in order to climb that ladder of opportunity. But considering you have pretty good grades, why not take some time to explore the possible careers and degree paths that can get you on a six-figure salary?
Otherwise, keep reading to find out how to break into a high-paying career, even if it doesn’t require a college degree (or if you’re already mid-career and are looking to boost your salary)!
1. Air Traffic Controller
The life of an air-traffic controller is no picnic. You are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, wherever you are. And there’s no easy shift rotation. Air-traffic controllers have to work nights, weekends, rotating shifts, and must absolutely maintain an absolute maximum of concentration. It’s a tough life, and it’s no wonder that hiring and advancement are pretty competitive.
At a 4% growth rate, it will add fewer than 1000 new jobs between now and 2030. In other words, this occupation is rarified air. But that’s a minor consideration. If you want to set your career in the right trajectory, working as an air traffic controller could give you a salary boost.
2. Police Officer
Being a police detective is a dream of many. Your training program and subsequent on-the-job training with other experienced detectives will provide you with most of the knowledge, credentials, and expertise you need to be successful in your job.
Although police officers and detectives made a median salary of $67,290 in 2020 according to the BLS, numerous career advancement pathways and a strong labor union made it possible for detectives and investigators in the 75 earnings percentile to earn a $111,900 salary in 2020. Longevity, leadership and specialization can all lead to six-figure earnings for veteran law enforcement officers.
3. Online Entrepreneur
Billionaires rarely started out by getting a bachelor’s degree. As a matter of fact, the American university system often stresses the importance of formal education—pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s degree—over knowledge gained from experience and practical learning.
4. Radiation Therapist
Using radiation to treat cancer is a very common practice, and Radiation Therapists play an important role in this process. Radiation Therapists earned a median salary of $81,100 in 2020 according to the BLS, but top earners may make a six-figure salary of $115,200. 800 or more.
5. Executive Chef
Chefs are in demand. Those who are willing to commit the hard work, long hours, and sometimes stressful work in a fast-paced environment have the chance to gain this experience and become a top-notch chef. While working at the entry level means that this will be your job for at least a couple of years, and that this could be your only path to success, starting in an entry level kitchen position could be your stepping stone to the top.
But not everyone in the restaurant industry achieves this status. Many learn valuable lessons along the way, whether it be the “hard knocks” lesson of kitchen life or simply that cooking isn’t for you—and that it’s okay to say that.
6. Independent Trade Contractor
The ability to earn a living from a specific trade skill whilst enjoying a work life-balance is within reach for many budding entrepreneurs. Whilst professional standards and the cost of education varies by vocation, many skilled trade position can be worked into a successful and profitable small business. The ability to earn a living from a specific trade skill and enjoy work life balance is within reach for many budding entrepreneurs.
Whilst professional standards and the cost of education varies by vocation, many skilled trade position can be worked into a successful and profitable small business.
The ability to earn a six-figure salary has more to do with a company’s ability to grow than just your own individual hustle. Possessing a specific portfolio of trade skills opens up a range of business and career opportunities, which is often much broader than may be immediately apparent. Your earning potential as a trade professional is influenced by the size of the local market where you provide service, your ability to either differentiate yourself or carve out a profitable niche in your field, and your own ambition and level of professionalism.
7. Freelance Writer
The aim of this post is to provide you with a list of tips on how to excel in the world of freelance content development. Take it from somebody who’s been there. However, you should understand that it takes a lot of work and the fostering of positive long-term relationships to earn six figures as a freelance writer. Only a fraction of freelance writers will make that kind of money. But, you can get there. Here’s how. Learn how to write a pitch. Email your pitch to the editor of the publication you’re targeting. Always ask to be paid for your writing. Know your strengths and play to them. Set concrete goals. Get involved in a community of freelance writers online.
8. Nuclear Technician
The field of nuclear technicians is expected to contract by 12% between now and 2030 due, in part, to retiring and otherwise outgoing professionals. However, despite the impending shrinkage of the market, there will still be 700 new job openings created every year between now and then. That is good news for those who seek employment with nuclear technicians while the field is shrinking, as the available positions will only become more desirable and necessary as time advances.
9. Sales Executive
While it’s hard to predict exactly how much you’ll earn in sales until you start selling, here’s a quick look at what your earning potential could be:
- Low-Level Sales Representatives bring in around $50,000 a year.
- Insurance Sales Agents typically earn between $70,000 and $80,000 a year.
- Luxury Car Sales Agents claim median salaries of around $51,280.
- Sales Engineers bring in nearly $78,550 a year.
- Business Development Managers (average salaries reported by Pay Scale) earn over $99,400 a year on average.
- Sales Managers earn a median salary of $112,860, but you can exceed that with commissions if you’re really on top of your game.
- Senior Managers who sell can command a salary of around $158,070.
- Sales Directors can earn salaries of around $130,000, and Boards of Directors can pull in as much as $177,500 a year.
- Executives can command salaries upwards of $250,000.
Now, of course, these are just median salary examples… but you get the idea. The best sales professionals can earn well into the six figures thanks to sales commissions.
10. Real Estate Investor
Much like sales, real estate is a field in which a combination of personal drive, determination, and charisma can separate you from the field. As with sales, you can begin working in the real estate brokerage field with just a high school diploma or GED. The primary qualification for beginning work in this field is a real estate license, which you can earn by completing a brief certification course and passing the licensing exam administered by your state. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for Real Estate Brokers was $60,370 in 2020. But once again, as with sales in general, this median salary tells only part of the story when it comes to potential earnings.
Your ability to hustle, to truly understand and pursue the needs of your clients, and the economic opportunity within the region you serve can all lead to earnings that far exceed this median range. The real estate market is particularly sensitive to ebbs and flows in the overall health of the American economy. This can lead to fluctuations in earnings, and one should be prepared for this possibility. However, real estate is also an excellent option for those with an interest in taking on a side hustle. Many real estate brokers are self-employed or freelance, which means you could have the freedom to set your own appointments around a day job. As a supplementary income on top of your 9-to-5, real estate could easily push you into six-figure territory.
11. Health Educator
For those who love to teach and are skilled in the area of health, a career as a health educator can be very financially rewarding. Health educators teach others about health and may be employed by hospitals, health care facilities, pharmaceutical companies, the Centers for Disease Control, or insurance companies. This career, which is closely related to the field of medicine, typically includes teaching others about the symptoms, treatment, and prevention of disease. A health educator is paid an annual salary that is typically in the range of $45,000 to $75,000.
12. Dental Assistant
A dental assistant is a person who works in the dental office, assisting the dentist and hygienist. Dental assistants perform a variety of tasks, from answering the phone and greeting patients, to sterilizing equipment and preparing materials for procedures. A dental assistant’s salary depends on the region of the country in which he or she works and the type of employer. Generally speaking, however, dental assistants are paid an hourly rate that ranges from $9 to $17 per hour.
13. Computer Programmer
A computer programmer is a person who designs, writes, and maintains the computer programs used to run many systems. Computer programmers create software applications, such as database management systems, word processors, and games. A computer programmer’s salary depends on education level and experience. The average computer programmer earns an annual salary in the range of $40,000 to $80,000.