Five Careers That Are Short on School, Big On Pay

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These five careers could earn you a lot of money without demanding a lot of time in school.

By Terence Loose

Do you think that landing a career with an above-average salary requires four or more years of college? Well, good news: There are plenty of careers that pay well, but don't require a bachelor's degree.

And here's better news: we tracked down a variety pack of them for you.

Our criteria were simple: First, using the latest U.S. Department of Labor statistics (May 2011), each career chosen had to have a median annual salary above $40,144, which is the median annual salary for full-time workers in all occupations in the U.S.*

Second, no career selected could have a minimum requirement of a bachelor's degree or higher for applicants, according to the Department of Labor.

So if you're looking to raise your standard of living but not your years spent in college, you might want to keep reading.

Career #2: Registered Nurse

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If you want a career in which you help people every day and have a good chance at getting paid pretty well to do it, registered nurse could be the right prescription for you. And it doesn't necessarily mean spending many years in school to prepare.

Consider the fact that the U.S. Department of Labor says two out of the three most common routes to pursuing this career are an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) and an approved nursing program diploma. These, says the Department of Labor, "usually take two to three years to complete."

Next step: Click to Find the Right Nursing Program.

Show Me the Money!** Overall, nurses are a pretty well-cared-for bunch. According to the Department of Labor, their median annual salary is $65,950. Other vital signs that it's a healthy vocation are the numbers for the lowest 10 percent and highest ten percent of earners in the profession: $44,970 and $96,630, respectively.

A Day in the Life: Registered nurses, says the Department, could specialize in different facets of health care - from neonatology nurses (who take care of newborns), to rehabilitation nurses, addiction nurses, geriatric nurses, and everything in between. They also work in all environments, from private physician offices to bustling hospitals, says the Department.

Career #3: Police Officer

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What wide-eyed American kid didn't want to be a police officer at some point during their formative years? Well, it turns out that this career is somewhat dreamy - at least if you dream about decent pay in a career that doesn't demand a lot of schooling.

That's because, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, police officer applicants must usually have a high school diploma (or GED) and graduate from their agency's training academy, but not all need a college degree. It does say this: "Many applicants for entry-level police jobs have taken some college classes, and a significant number are college graduates. Many junior colleges, colleges, and universities offer programs in law enforcement or criminal justice."

Next step: Click to Find the Right Criminal Justice Program.

Show Me the Money!** For potentially having to put their lives on the line for the common good, police officers are rewarded with good pay. According to Department of Labor statistics, their median annual salary is $54,230. Pay varies by location, however, with the lowest 10 percent making $32,080 (officers in places such as the Natchitoches nonmetropolitan area in Louisiana and Mississippi are in this pay range) and the highest 10 percent commanding $84,980 (think states like California and New York), according to the Department.

A Day in the Life: Far from the stereotype, police officers generally don't earn their money for parking in rest areas and inhaling donuts. But, according to the Department, nor do they spend all their time in high-speed chases or gun battles. There's quite a bit of paperwork involved as well, says the Department.

Career #4: Dental Hygienist

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Here's a career whose average salary could make you smile, and it won't require spending years and years frowning in school books to get there.

In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, dental hygienists need only an associate's degree in dental hygiene to be qualified for the job. Certificates, bachelor's degrees, and master's degrees are also offered, but the Department of Labor says they are less common among dental hygienists.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Dental Hygienist Program.

Show Me the Money!** Study the data and you'd have to conclude that making people's smiles brighter can also lead to a brighter future for your bank account. According to the Department, the median annual salary for dental hygienists is $69,280. Even the bottom 10 percent of dental hygienists make a respectable $46,020, while the top 10 percent pull in a more than respectable $94,850.

A Day in the Life: Dental hygienists earn their money by polishing up smiles with special powered tools and ultrasonic devices, says the Department. But they do more than just take x-rays, remove plaque, and make you feel guilty for not flossing. According to the Department, they also educate patients about how to keep their smiles bright.

Career #5: Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

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"A what?" you might say. These are the people who perform such things as ultrasounds, sonograms, or echocardiograms to assess or diagnose medical conditions. And on average they make pretty good money, without a big education requirement.

Specifically, the U.S. Department of Labor says that diagnostic medical sonographers do need formal education, which may include an associate's degree or postsecondary certificate. The Department of Labor adds that most employers also require professional certification, which involves passing an exam after graduating from an accredited program.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Diagnostic Medical Sonography Program.

Show Me the Money!** According to the Department, diagnostic medical sonographers make a median annual salary of $65,210. The lowest 10 percent make $44,950 and the highest 10 percent rake in $90,640. Who knew you could make so much for firing sound waves into people's abdomens and chests all day?

A Day in the Life: Does showing an expectant mother and father the first glimpses of their future son or daughter sound rewarding? How about catching a potentially life-threatening heart condition for a patient? These are two things a diagnostic medical sonographer might do in their job of operating high-tech imaging machines, which produce images of vital organs and other internal body parts, according to the Department. In this way, they help analyze their images and offer preliminary findings to physicians.

* Median annual salary was calculated from the median weekly earnings reported by the U.S. Department of Labor for the fourth quarter of 2012.

** All salary figures from the U.S. Department of Labor May 2011 statistics on occupational employment and wages.

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