With U.S. workers' wages stagnating, the idea of earning $100,000 a year without a bachelor's degree might seem impossible.
But there are jobs that command high salaries, have plenty of openings, and require only certification from a vocational school or an associate degree, typically earned at one of the nation's more than 1,000 community colleges.
To compile the list, PayScale identified professions that don't require a four-year degree in which the top 10 percent in those careers earned more than $100,000. The website used salary information it compiles through its own online surveys.
Median pay for these jobs ranged from $45,100 to $77,100, while those in the top 10 percent earned $101,000 to $122,000. Most of these jobs are in the health-care service industry, where it is possible to advance one's career with expertise learned on the job, PayScale notes.
Degrees and certifications for these jobs, if needed, are usually obtained at trade or technical schools, or community colleges, where tuition is typically far less than at a four-year college. Although tuition at for-profit technical colleges can be much higher, annual cost for full-time tuition at community colleges averaged about $3,000 last year -- compared to more than $8,000 at public universities, a recent report from the College Board shows. Moreover, recent increases in federal grants and tax benefits mean the cost of tuition and most textbooks is fully covered for today's typical community college student.
Ready to pursue a new career? Check out these nine jobs, which could pay $100,000-plus without a bachelor's degree.
$100,000 Jobs That Don't Require A 4-Year Degree
$100,000-A-Year Jobs That Don't Require A College Degree
If you like bending steel, aluminum and copper into useful shapes, then a career as as a sheet metal worker could be for you. The profession involves projects such as heating and cooling systems in commercial buildings and private homes, as well as architectural components such as siding, gutters and roofs. Some math aptitude is required, as are mechanical drawing skills. Generally, a high school diploma is all that's needed to begin an apprenticeship, though more specialized tasks may require additional education at a community college or vocational school. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes employment in the field is expected to increase by 6 percent between 2008 and 2018, slower than the average.
Intensive care nurses are responsible for providing care to seriously injured patients in settings such as emergency rooms and other critical-care venues. Other responsibilities include monitoring of patients, providing assistance to doctors or other medical staff, and acting as a liaison between patients and family members. Nurses commonly enter the profession through one of three educational paths: a bachelor's degree; an associate degree; or a diploma from a nursing program, according to BLS. The agency forecasts the need for registered nurses overall to grow by 22 percent, or nearly 600,000 jobs, through 2018.
Unlike other well-defined careers, the duties of a handyman can be as wide and complex as a worker's aptitudes and interests. Experts in this field generally work on home-improvement and maintenance projects. Those can include simple or intermediate level projects involving electrical work, plumbing, painting or carpentry. Some states and localities require those who perform such work to be licensed and insured, though those who limit their work to general projects may not require a license. BLS, which refers to this large group of workers as "building cleaning workers," forecasts "good" job-growth prospects, with projected employment of about 4.3 million by 2018.
The recent revival of manufacturing in the Midwest has created shortages of welders within that sector, which employs about 65 percent of welders nationwide. That's a boon for those looking a job in the field, which employs nearly 500,000 people in the U.S., according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition to automobile and other types of manufacturers -- including shipbuilders and aerospace -- welders are also employed in bridge construction and other infrastructure projects. Despite the current difficulty that some companies are having in finding qualified welders, the BLS forecasts little change in employment in the field. It also notes that some employers are willing to hire inexperienced entry-level workers and train them on the job, but some positions, including inspectors, require certification, typically achieved through courses taken at trade or technical schools or union-sponsored apprenticeships.
Aging baby boomers have created a surge in demand for all kinds of health-care services. Not the least of those is cancer detection and treatment, leading to an increase in the need for radiation therapists to treat the disease, using X-ray and CT scan machines. Radiation therapists also keep track of the amount of radiation given to each patient during each visit and throughout the course of treatment. One bonus of the profession is that most radiation therapists work a typical 40-hour workweek, unlike many other medical careers. Training for the job requires either a bachelor's degree, an associate degree or certification in radiation therapy, and 33 states also require radiation therapists to be licensed. The BLS forecasts the need for radiation therapists to grow by 27 by 2018. The field currently employs about 15,200 people, according to 2008 data, the most recent available. The bulk of radiation therapists work in hospitals.
As with the other health-related positions on this list, the need for nuclear medicine technologists is being driven by Americans' increased demand for health-care services. Rather than treating injuries or disease, however, the role of nuclear medicine technologists is to detect ailments using cameras that map radioactive drugs -- known as radiopharmaceuticals -- in patients' bodies, to create diagnostic images. One-to-four years of training are required, which can be achieved through certificate programs, an associate degree or a bachelor's degree. "Lead" technologists are considered supervisory positions, overseeing others' work and require additional education or experience. Two-thirds of all nuclear medicine technologist jobs are in hospitals. Though BLS forecasts faster-than-average job growth, keen competition is expected for most positions.
Anyone who has ever had a sink unclogged, a running toilet quieted or a leaky pipe fixed knows how essential plumbers are to keeping households, apartments and commercial businesses running smoothly. Plumber is a general category that includes pipelayers, pipe fitters and steamfitters, as well as sprinkler fitters, who specialize in installing automatic fire sprinkler systems in buildings. As with many other skilled trades, plumbers get their training through apprenticeships or in technical schools and community colleges, according to the BLS, though pipelayers typically receive their training on the job. Apprenticeships, whether in a union or nonunion post, consist of up to five years of paid on-the-job training and at least 144 hours of annual classroom instruction. BLS forecasts that demand for plumbers will grow faster than normal through 2018, with the expectation of "very good" job opportunities. More than 555,000 Americans made their living as plumbers in 2008. About 12 percent of them were self employed.
If dessert is your favorite part of a meal, a career as a pastry chef might just be a sweet fit. These professionals focus on creating those wonderfully tasty and artful confections that delight the senses and tantalize the palate. Many learn their craft through post-secondary education, either at a community college, university or dedicated culinary school, lasting two to four years. Some large hotels and restaurants operate their own training and job-placement programs for chefs and head cooks, BLS says. In addition to having a strong desire to cook and a creative bent, chefs need strong leadership and communication skills and the ability to motivate others. BLS forecasts demand for chefs to be "good" through 2018 despite slower than average employment growth, due largely to heavy turnover within the field. Master pastry chefs are typically part of management, which include additional duties related to staffing, supervision and more.
If cooking and baking aren't quite your thing, but you enjoy restaurant work, becoming a food and beverage director might just be right up your alley. Also known as food-service managers, the position usually involves overseeing the operations of a restaurant, banquet facility or the meal-and-beverage operations at a hotel, among other venues. Food-service managers ensure proper staffing and inventory levels as well as a positive dining experience for customers and the overall upkeep of facilities. Some managers may help with cooking, clearing tables or other tasks during peak periods. Many in this field begin as cooks, waitstaff or bartenders before moving into supervisory positions. Some receive their training through post-secondary education programs in restaurant management. BLS forecasts growth in the field to be slower than average through 2018, but job opportunities should be plentiful in large part because of high turnover. Food-service managers typically work 50 or more hours a week, and sometimes seven days a week.