Six Figure Jobs with No 4-year Degree

Logging years in school, not to mention shelling out thousands of dollars, can be a long and expensive way to increase your potential salary. However, there are several jobs where you can make a six figure salary without obtaining a college education.

We recently worked with Klaus Kneale at Forbes Magazine on an article looking at the high paying job possibilities for people with no 4-year college degree. The set of jobs is a mix: some require shining in an average paying field, others deep technical knowledge, and other longer work weeks or high stress.

In this post, I will look at these jobs, and see what it takes to make $100,000 per year without a 4-year university degree.

Is it possible to make six figures in your current job? Find out using PayScale's salary calculator.

14 Jobs That Can Pay $100,000

Below is a table listing 14 common jobs frequently held by people without a 4-year degree, where top experienced workers can earn a six figure salary.

The emphasis here is on top experienced workers. In order to potentially earn high salaries in the careers below, you usually can't just do an "average" job, or you will not make it to $100,000.

Salaries, such as those reported below, are not "typical" for these careers (Although typical wages are hard to define–see an earlier blog post on typical wages). With the exception of air traffic controllers and real estate brokers, the typical (median) pay is below six figures.

Making six figures in the jobs below is an achievement that requires years of hard work and accrued field experience. In addition, starting salaries are rarely six figures regardless of education. For these reasons we specifically look at workers with at least eight years of experience in their respective field.

Job 75th Percentile Pay 90th Percentile Pay
Air Traffic Controller $156,000 $186,000
Real Estate Broker $151,000 $187,000
Owner / Operator, Small Business $119,000 $167,000
Fashion Designer $104,000 $141,000
Network/Data Communications Manager $102,000 $116,000
Construction Superintendent/Manager $97,400 $116,000
Radiation Therapist $95,100 $116,000
Police and Detective Supervisor $95,100 $111,000
Plumber, Pipefitter, or Steamfitter $94,500 $130,000
Sales Manager (non-retail) $93,100 $119,000
Executive Chef, Hotel $86,500 $107,000
Court Reporter $84,100 $104,000
Ultrasound Technologist $82,500 $110,000
Cost Estimator, Construction $81,800 $103,000

The pay reported in the table is defined as annual cash earnings, from hourly wages or salary, combined with bonuses, commissions, or other cash earnings. Earnings from equity (stock grants and stock options) are not included, and often not typical in the above jobs.

The second column of the table is the 75th percentile and is benchmark for high earners in the field–75% of the workers in these jobs will earn less, while only 25% will earn more. The third column of the table is the 90th percentile; only the top 10% of workers in the job earn more than this.

What Makes These Jobs Worth $100,000?

The reasons why each of these jobs can pay over $100,000 per year (US national average), are varied.

Pay for air traffic controllers is high due to large amounts of overtime. In the coming years, new replacements will be necessary as a large number of current air traffic controllers will retire according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However the stress levels in this job are enormous and the required tasks can be quite tedious.

Unlike, air traffic controllers, small business owners are responsible for several different tasks. Depending on what they do, their business can be wildly successful, or go bankrupt.

One example is Jim Goodnight, the creator/owner of SAS, one of the largest software companies in the world. Partnering with some North Carolina State colleagues, Jim started SAS in 1976 as a small software development firm. It has since evolved into a company earning over $2 billion in revenues.

In the article Six-Figure Jobs You Don't Need A College Degree For in Forbes, Kurt goes on to explain more characteristics that make these jobs pay well.

There is an important caveat, and that is the effect of the recent economic downturn. These data were collected in 2008. It is very possible that salaries such as those above might be even more difficult to obtain in the near future.

For example, several companies have been reducing raises. Also, several of the jobs are in construction, real estate, hospitality and leisure, all of which are hit hard during downturns.

by Katie Bardaro
Research Analyst, PayScale, Inc.