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The World’s Most In-Demand Jobs That Don’t Require a Degree

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You don’t need four years in college and a mountain of student loan debt to qualify for high-paying careers. In fact, plenty of sought-after jobs that deliver big paychecks only require a high school diploma or associate degree, which might be a good enough reason to change jobs.

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To help workers chase the most lucrative career opportunities, GOBankingRates identified 10 different jobs that pay their top earners over $100,000 annually — and don’t require a college degree, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Although not everyone can earn as much money as the top 10% in these professions, the payoff can be massive. You just need to gain the right six-figure skills.

Learn: What Does Earning a Six-Figure Salary Mean and Do You Need One To Build Wealth?

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Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technician

  • Annual salary for top earners: $99,970
  • 2019-29 job outlook: 7% growth

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians work with equipment that’s critical to preventing failure in key components of aircraft, missiles and spacecraft. Some technicians are learning advanced forms of automation and robotics, whereas most workers are increasingly being asked to program and run computer simulations to test new aircraft designs.

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Education Needed

  • Recommended minimum education: Associate degree

Job seekers might be surprised by the idea that technicians who work with aircraft and spacecraft aren’t required to have at least a bachelor’s degree under their belt. However, aspiring aerospace engineering and operations technicians are viable job candidates as long as they’ve received an associate degree in engineering technology or completed their education at relevant vocational or technical schools.

Although it is not a job requirement, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) offers a certification that improves a technician’s chances of being hired because it demonstrates their ability to apply theoretical designs.

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Air Traffic Controller

  • Annual salary for top earners: $176,320
  • 2019-29 job outlook: 1% growth

Safety is paramount for air traffic controllers. They coordinate multiple aircraft at the same time — whether it’s on the ground or in the air — to maintain a good distance between planes and minimize flight delays. Air traffic controllers use tools like computers, radar or visual references to keep tabs on aircraft movement.

The relatively new, satellite-based Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) is going to make it easier for individual controllers to handle more air traffic at once. This will limit the demand for additional air traffic controllers over the next 10 years.

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Education Needed

  • Recommended minimum education: Associate degree

Although there are various paths to landing a job as an air traffic controller, candidates typically should have at least an associate degree from an Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative program approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. These programs focus on course topics such as airspace, aviation weather, clearances, federal regulations, reading charts and more.

Without an associate or bachelor’s degree, applicants will need to have three years of continuous work experience in a position of responsibility.

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Craft and Fine Artist

  • Annual salary for top earners: $106,000
  • 2019-29 job outlook: Little to no change

The difference between craft and fine artists lies in the functionality of their work. Craft artists create objects such as glassware, pottery and textiles that are designed to be used, whereas fine artists — including illustrators, painters and sculptors — create art for aesthetic purposes, and their work is often featured in museums or bought by collectors. Both types of artists either exhibit or sell their works.

Read: 10 Job Skills Worth Six-Figure Salaries

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Education Needed

  • Recommended minimum education: N/A

Education credentials aren’t required for people to become craft artists; however, it might be difficult to acquire certain artistic skills without formal training. Many fine artists do pursue postsecondary education to help polish their abilities and improve their job prospects. Overall, educational programs allow artists to develop a portfolio with feedback from their teachers and peers.

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Dental Hygienist

  • Annual salary for top earners: $103,340
  • 2019-29 job outlook: 6%

Dental hygienists clean and polish teeth, examine the oral health of patients and advise on preventative dental care. Job duties might include taking X-rays, documenting patient care and showing patients how to brush and floss. These professionals are often supervised by dentists, but those requirements can vary from state to state. Working as a dental hygienist is also one of the highest-paying part-time jobs you can get.

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Education Needed

  • Recommended minimum education: Associate degree

An associate degree is most common, but many dental hygienists pursue bachelor’s degrees, as well.  High school students with an interest in this career path should prepare by taking biology, chemistry and math classes. Although requirements can vary, dental hygienists need to be licensed in every state. Associate degree programs usually last three years and include areas of study such as anatomy, medical ethics, nutrition, patient management, pathology, radiography and more. Expect a variety of instruction between the classroom, clinic and laboratory.

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Elevator Installer and Repairer

  • Annual salary for top earners: $124,150
  • 2019-29 job outlook: 7% growth

You might be surprised that the workers who install and service the elevators in buildings you frequent could be getting paid a six-figure salary. Elevator installers and repairers perform a variety of tasks, from assembling the doors, platform and walls of elevator cars to connecting electrical wiring to troubleshooting switches, motors, brakes and more. The job has a surprising level of job security, too. There are about 3,000 openings for this position each year, and few workers with the specialized skills to fill them.

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Education Needed

  • Recommended minimum education: High school diploma or equivalent

For high school students looking to get into this field, math, mechanical drawing and physics classes will probably help. The majority of elevator installers and repairers begin their careers with a four-year apprenticeship sponsored by an individual contractor, industry association or union. Each year of the apprenticeship typically includes a predetermined number of hours of on-the-job training. At the end of the apprenticeship program, elevator installers and repairers typically become mechanics or assistant mechanics. In most cases, a driver’s license is required, as well.

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Funeral Service Manager

  • Annual salary for top earners: $161,870
  • 2019-29 job outlook: 4% growth

Funeral service managers are in charge of supervising the general operations of a funeral home business, which handles details relating to a person’s death. Although managers might not always work directly with grieving family and friends like funeral service workers do, they keep busy by overseeing the funeral home’s resources, staff, public relations and more. Funeral directors and morticians are the ones who actually plan all the funeral details.

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Education Needed

  • Recommended minimum education: Associate degree

Unfortunately, you can’t just launch yourself into the top-earning bracket of funeral service managers immediately after earning your associate degree in mortuary science or funeral service. Most managers start out as funeral service workers and they also have to pass a state licensing exam. Workers typically gain years of experience as a mortician or funeral director before ascending to the position of funeral service manager.

Related: 21 Tips to Successfully Climb the Career Ladder

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Nuclear Technician

  • Annual salary for top earners: $117,480
  • 2019-29 job outlook: 19% decline

Nuclear technicians work in a nuclear power plant or act as a research assistant to industry professionals. They monitor radiation levels produced in experiments, power generation and other nuclear activities, and they test air, soil and water samples for radioactive contamination. Some nuclear technicians work in facilities where they oversee nuclear waste disposal, recycling and storage. There will still be a need for nuclear technicians, but automation is replacing the number of jobs needed, which accounts for the projected 10-year decline.

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Education Needed

  • Recommended minimum education: Associate degree

Aspiring nuclear technicians can qualify for the job by completing an associate degree in nuclear science, nuclear technology or a related field. They can also gain equivalent experience from military service with the U.S. Navy. Due to the potentially dangerous nature of the job, technicians must undergo rigorous on-the-job training. Additionally, nuclear technicians should be prepared for a thorough background check to receive security clearance.

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Police and Detective

  • Annual salary for top earners: $109,620
  • 2019-29 job outlook: 5% growth

Job responsibilities will vary across employers, but most police and detectives monitor suspect activity, collect evidence from crime scenes, carry law enforcement tools and prepare cases to testify in court. All detectives and police officers create reports and maintain detailed records for court purposes.

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Education Needed

  • Recommended minimum education: High school diploma or equivalent

Applicants for police and detective positions should have at least a high school diploma or equivalent, though education requirements can differ depending on the police department or federal agency. It is not uncommon to have at least some college classes under your belt before taking an entry-level police job. Candidates must also meet rigorous personal and physical standards to qualify. Keep in mind that drug use or felony convictions can eliminate your chances of landing the job.

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Radiation Therapist

  • Annual salary for top earners: $128,630
  • 2019-29 job outlook: 7% growth

Radiation therapists can be found on oncology teams that treat patients with cancer and other diseases. As part of their job duties, these workers answer questions about treatment plans, protect people from improper radiation exposure, operate machines for treatment and monitor patients for any unusual reactions, among other responsibilities.

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Education Needed

  • Recommended minimum education: Associate degree

Individuals with an associate or bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy will be the most employable candidates. However, some candidates who have completed a certificate program can also find jobs in this field. Most states require radiation therapists to be licensed or certified. Radiation therapy programs typically include courses such as algebra, computer science, human anatomy and physiology, physics and research methodology, as well as clinical experience. Note that many radiation therapist positions also require CPR or basic life support certification.

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Web Developer

  • Annual salary for top earners: $142,080
  • 2019-29 job outlook: 8% growth

Web developers design and build different types of websites — such as gaming, e-commerce or news sites — that cater to each client’s needs. They handle the site’s aesthetics as well as its technical aspects, including capacity and performance. A portion of developers oversee every aspect of website construction, but specialized web developers do exist, such as back-end developers, front-end developers and webmasters.

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Education Needed

  • Recommended minimum education: Associate degree

Knowledge of graphic design and programming are essential to success in this industry. Although educational requirements for web developers differ depending on the work setting, the most common requirement is an associate degree in web design or a related field. However, if you’re aiming for a specialized position as a back-end web developer, a bachelor’s degree in computer science or programming might go a long way with employers. Most employers will expect candidates to have working knowledge of HTML programming and other programming languages, including JavaScript or SQL.

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    Annual salary information, job outlook and recommended minimum education were sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and accurate as of Oct. 9, 2020.