Five High-Pay Careers, No Grad School Required


A master's degree isn't necessarily a must-have when it comes to these careers with high pay potential.

By Leslie Barrie

Looking to get ahead in your career, but worried you're nothing without a graduate degree? Think again.

It may seem like you need to spend years and years on postgraduate education to get those high-paying jobs, but there are plenty of lucrative gigs that require only a bachelor's - and still others where an associate's degree will suffice.

The bottom line: Graduate school isn't the only path toward your dream position. "If you can't afford to get a master's or don't have the time, there are great jobs that don't require it yet still compensate," says Cynthia Shapiro, author of "What Does Somebody Have to Do to Get a Job Around Here?"

Still, like any profession, you'll need several years of experience before you really start earning the big bucks in your chosen field.

Intrigued? Keep reading to learn more about jobs with high pay potential, no master's degree required.

Career #1 - Accountant and Auditor

If you have a mind for math and distaste for graduate school, accountant or auditor could be a good career fit.

While you won't need an advanced degree, most accountants and auditors do need a bachelor's degree in accounting or a business-related field, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The other good news? Not only are employers always hiring accountants and auditors, says Shapiro, but "pay is pretty high right off the bat."

Click Here to Find the Right Accounting Program.

U.S. Department of Labor Salary Estimates*:

  • Median salary: $62,850
  • Top ten percent: $109,870
  • Bottom ten percent: $39,640

Life on the Job: As for what the job looks like on the ground level, an accountant might put together financial records and check to make sure they're accurate, according to the Department of Labor. They also may calculate taxes - so their mathematically impaired clients don't have to - and help people file their returns each April.

Career #2 - Computer Programmer

If you've answered to the unofficial nickname "computer whiz" since you were in grade school, a job as a programmer might be your calling. The best part? You won't be in school forever, so you can focus on pursuing a real career with a title that sounds a little more official.

The U.S. Department of Labor specifies that most computer programmers have a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related subject, and says that some employers even hire workers with an associate's degree. However, Shapiro notes that although a master's isn't needed for the profession, "many computer programmers do have rigorous bachelor's degrees that may take more than four years to complete, because of the course load and complexity of the learning."

While you may work hard studying the field, there is one big silver lining: "The pay is relatively strong just starting out if you're a skilled programmer," says Shapiro.

Click Here to Find the Right Computer Science Program.

U.S. Department of Labor Salary Estimates*:

  • Median salary: $72,630
  • Top ten percent: $115,610
  • Bottom ten percent: $41,710

Life on the Job: Computer programmers write code (in, for example, C++ or Java) to create software programs, according to the Department of Labor. They also might update and debug programs (like games and your favorite apps) that have already been created.

Career #3 - Art Director

If you've always had a mind for design (and know your way around a computer), a job as an art director might be the right fit. That's especially true if you don't want to go back to get a master's or graduate degree and still want a potentially high paying job.

Art directors typically need only a bachelor's degree in an art or design subject, says the U.S Department of Labor. But it is also important that they have managerial skills (considering they're running the "art show," so to speak). To gain them, many candidates cut their teeth in feeder jobs like graphic designer, illustrator, copy editor, or photographer, says the Department of Labor.

So while it may take a few years to develop the skill set, Shapiro notes that "art directors may be well-paid without more than a bachelor's degree."

Click Here to Find the Right Art Program.

U.S. Department of Labor Salary Estimates*:

  • Median salary: $81,260
  • Top ten percent: $166,620
  • Bottom ten percent: $44,120

Life on the Job: Now that those dollar signs have your attention, here's a little about the career. Art directors might be responsible for the visual style and images in magazines, newspapers, product packaging, or movie and television productions, according to the Department. An art director typically acts as the "visual mastermind," creating the overall design while directing staffers who develop artwork or layouts.

As far as day-to-day responsibilities, they might determine which photos, art, and other elements work best in the layout or production, the Department notes.

Career #4 - Registered Nurse

Want to help people in the medical field, but not really jumping for joy at the prospect of grad school? If so, a job as a registered nurse might be a win-win.

There are typically two paths to get into nursing - but neither of them require an advanced degree. An associate's degree in nursing or a diploma from an approved nursing program could help you pursue a career as a registered nurse.

But you're not out of the woods yet. In all states (and the District of Columbia), registered nurses must have a nursing license, says the U.S. Department of Labor, which can be obtained by attending an approved nursing program and passing the National Council Licensure Examination.

Although pay may vary across regions, notes Shapiro, nurses do make a great starting salary.

Click Here to Find the Right Nursing Program.

U.S. Department of Labor Salary Estimates*:

  • Median salary: $65,950
  • Top ten percent: $96,630
  • Bottom ten percent: $44,970

Life on the Job: And now for the nuts and bolts of the job. Typically, registered nurses may provide and coordinate patient care, help patients learn about their conditions, and offer advice, according to the Department.

Daily duties include recording patients' medical histories (we've all seen those clipboards at the doctor's office!), administering medicine, and performing diagnostic tests, according to the Department. And what exactly are the tests? They could be anything from taking blood pressure to testing for strep throat.

Career #5 - Personal Financial Advisor

Always giving your friends unsolicited financial advice like this: "Do you really want to open up another credit card - you're trying to save up for a house!" If you have a knack for finance, but a healthy fear of graduate school, you'll be relieved to learn that preparing to pursue a potentially high-paying career as personal financial advisor may be less involved than you think.

Got a bachelor's degree? Good. Because that's what a personal financial advisor typically needs, says the U.S Department of Labor. If you don't have a degree yet, keep in mind that although employers usually do not require a specific field of study to be qualified for this career, a degree in finance, economics, accounting, business, mathematics, or law wouldn't hurt.

While personal financial advisors typically have the potential to make good money, like anything, it doesn't come without hard work. "The starting salary doesn't always compensate for the job's late hours," Shapiro cautions, "but the curve does move up sharply to a good compensation level if you prove to be good at it."

Click Here to Find the Right Finance Program.

U.S. Department of Labor Salary Estimates*:

  • Median salary: $66,580
  • Top ten percent: $111,880
  • Bottom ten percent: $32,810

Life on the Job: So just what kind of advice do personal financial advisors give during those long hours at the office? They counsel people on how they can reach their financial goals and plan for retirement, according to the Department of Labor. On any given day, they might help with investments, taxes, and insurance decisions.

Sound like a lot of work? Shapiro understands your concern. "The job can be demanding because you're advising someone on their financial future, but the salary may reward for this," she says.

*All salary figures for careers per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011.

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