These days especially, working has become less about having the job of our dreams and more about paying the bills. You might not want to or be able to put in the time and effort to take classes or commit to years of schooling to earn a high salary. Can you make the big bucks without that education?
The short answer is yes — but not in very many fields. We looked for six-figure salaries that don’t require a four-year degree. While we found some that pay an annual mean salary of more than $100,000, most of these positions require you to be in the top 10 percent of earners. It’s not impossible, but it will definitely take a lot of hard work.
And it goes without saying that all of these positions require some degree of skill and experience. You can’t become fashion designer if you have no fashion sense, for example, and it’s not likely that you’ll walk away from high school graduation and into a firehouse as the fire chief.
If you’re looking to earn those big bucks, but don’t have a college degree, here are a few fields to consider:
1. Air traffic controller
90th percentile income: $161,650
75th percentile income: $142,430
Median annual salary: $109,850
You can become an air traffic controller a couple of different ways without a degree. The first is to have experience through the Federal Aviation Administration or the Defense Department, as a civilian or veteran. The second is to complete an FAA-approved education program.
2. Chief executives
Median annual salary: $160,720
If you’ve worked your way up to become the CEO, you may be earning $160,000 a year. It’s difficult to get to this stage of your career without a college education, but it can be done. Just look at Bill Gates and Michael Dell, both of whom were college dropouts.
3. Fashion designer
90th percentile income: $130,900
75th percentile income: $90,020
Median annual salary: $64,260
This is one career where you’ve either got it or you don’t. About 25 percent of fashion designers are self-employed. If you’re a real creative genius, you might be able to get by with only a high school education. But if you’re smart, you’ll at least get an associate degree. It also behooves you to get training in color, textiles, pattern making and computer-aided design.
4. Fire chief
90th percentile income: $109,750
75th percentile income: $87,190
Median annual salary: $68,250
Most firefighters have a high school diploma. In some cases, community college courses or an associate degree might be a better option for you. Once you’re accepted into a fire department, you’ll train at the department’s academy, where you’ll obtain classroom and practical training. To get to fire chief status, you’ll definitely have to work your way through the ranks.
5. Network systems and data communications analysts
90th percentile income: $116,120
75th percentile income: $55,900
Median annual salary: $73,250
Training requirements for network systems and data communications analysts vary. Some organizations require a bachelor’s degree, but often an associate degree, professional certification and work experience can do the trick.
6. Police and detective supervisor
90th percentile income: $116,340
75th percentile income: $94,560
Median annual salary: $76,500
It’s not likely you’ll join your local police squad as the supervisor unless you have a few years of experience under your belt. A few squads may require a year or two of college-level course work, but in most places you just need a high school education plus experience. Much of this career is learned on the job or in a training academy
7. Radiation therapists
90th percentile income: $107,230
75th percentile income: $90,650
Median annual salary: $74,170
At the very least, an associate degree or certificate in radiation therapy is required for this position. Many states also require radiation therapists to be licensed. There is also the option of completing an associate degree in radiological imaging and then finishing a 12-month certificate program in radiation therapy.