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20 great jobs that don't require a degree

(Article from, February 2006)

Four-year college not only path to well-paid work

What do Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and entertainment mogul David Geffen have in common? Besides being exceedingly rich, none of them has a college degree.

Though it was once conventional wisdom that you needed to have a four-year college degree to be successful, many employment experts believe that maxim has become myth.

While a college education increases a worker's chances of earning more money, it's certainly not the only reliable path to well-paid and rewarding work.

Even though good jobs increasingly require some post-high school training, many still don't require a four-year degree. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, eight of the top 10 fastest-growing occupations through 2014 do not require a bachelor's degree.

And these jobs, which include health technology, plumbing, firefighter and automotive repair, are less vulnerable to outsourcing. After all, if your car breaks down in Indiana, you're not going to fly someone in from another country to help you.

Based on data from the U.S. Department of Labor and the Census Bureau, career planning expert Michael Farr and statistician Laurence Shatkin recently published the second edition of their book "The 300 Best Jobs That Don't Require a Four-Year Degree."

Among the 25 top-paying occupations are jobs in sales, education, law enforcement, construction, administration and transportation, as well as management and supervisory jobs:

Here are 20 of the top-paying jobs that don't require a degree according to Shatkin's book:

Annual Income
Air Traffic Controller
Storage and distribution manager
Transportation manager
Police and detectives supervisor
Non-retail sales manager
Forest fire fighting and prevention supervisor
Municipal fire fighting and prevention supervisor
Real estate broker
Elevator installers and repairer
Sales representative
Dental hygienist
Radiation therapist
Nuclear medicine technologist
Child support, missing persons, and unemployment insurance fraud investigator
Criminal investigators and special agent
Immigration and Customs inspector
Police detective
Police identification and records officer
Commercial pilot
Talent director

Though a college degree is not a requirement for these positions, all require moderate to extensive on-the-job training or apprenticeship. In addition, dental hygienists, radiation therapists, nuclear medicine technologists and commercial pilots require an associate degree at a vocational or technical school.

Highest-demand, competitive-paying jobs

Competitive paying jobs for which there is high demand for workers include:

  • Vocational education teachers at the post secondary level, with annual earnings of $40,740 and 216,000 openings each year;
  • Registered nurses, with annual earnings of $52,330 and 215,000 openings each year;
  • Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives, with annual earnings of $45,400 and 160,000 openings annually; and
  • Tractor trailer/truck drivers, with annual earnings of $33,520 and 300,000 annual openings.

"The thing to keep in mind is that there are something like 50 million jobs out there that don't require a bachelor's degree and pay upwards of $40,000 a year," says Harlow Unger, author of "But What If I Don't Want to Go to College? A Guide to Success Through Alternative Education."

He goes on to say that according to the U.S. Department of Labor, by 2010, almost two-thirds of all projected job openings will require only on-the-job training.

So while a college degree was de rigueur for the baby boom generation, that's not necessarily the case now. In today's highly technical and service-related market, workers are judged more on their skills than their sheepskins.