You Don't Need a Fancy Degree to Make a Lot of Money

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It is possible to prepare for a great-paying career without a fancy degree. Don't believe it? Read on to learn more.

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We've all been told that going to college can significantly boost our earning power, but there are plenty of people out there who make lots of money without a lot of education.

In fact, some people even land great-paying careers without ever having finished college.

"There are some decent-paying jobs you can get with no degree whatsoever," says David Bakke, career expert at Money Crashers, an online guide to financial fitness. However, "I am of the belief that an associate's degree is better than no higher education at all," he adds.

Of course, there's no guarantee you can make a big salary with - or without - higher education, but if you don't have the time or inclination to pursue a bachelor's degree, here are a few careers you can consider where the potential for big salaries exist.

Career #1 - Web Developer

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Median
Annual Salary*
$63,160
Top 10 Percent of Earners*
$110,350
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners*
$33,320

Are you artistic and technically inclined? As a web developer, you can manage all the aspects of creating and designing fancy (or not so fancy) websites without needing a fancy degree.

Web developers are the folks who are responsible for the look of websites, their technical aspects, and sometimes their content as well, says the U.S. Department of Labor.

What You Need: You don't need an elaborate master's degree to enjoy a career using all of your artistic talents to design and create websites. In fact, the Department of Labor notes that education requirements for web developers range all the way from a high school diploma to a bachelor's degree. If you're interested in preparing to pursue a career as a web developer, what's most often required is an associate's degree in web design or a related field, says the Department.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Web Design and Development Program.

High-Pay Factor: The new model for business is a boon to web designers, according to Francina R. Harrison, founder of "The Career Engineer" website and author of "A Mind to Work: The Life and Career Planning Guide for People Who Need to Work!"

"Digital artistry on the Internet - also known as web design - pays well because businesses need that service," says Harrison. "But there's no need for a bachelor's degree," she adds, noting that a web designer's work is really based on his or her creativity and experience, two things that can't be taught.

"Demand for computer-based skills - such as web design - is so great that companies are less and less concerned with a candidate's academic background, and more focused on the skills the candidate possesses," adds Amy Moynihan, higher education researcher and content manager at Hanover Research, a leading higher education research firm.

Career #2 - Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

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Median
Annual Salary*
$66,410
Top 10 Percent of Earners*
$92,070
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners*
$45,840

You don't have to be a doctor with a fancy M.D. degree to help figure out what's ailing a patient. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, diagnostic medical sonographers help doctors by creating images of the body's organs using diagnostic imaging equipment and analyzing the results.

What You Need: Doctors need years of medical school and training to conduct and analyze diagnostic tests on patients. Don't have time for all that? The Department of Labor says that diagnostic medical sonographers just need an associate's degree or a postsecondary certificate, with many employers also requiring professional certification.

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

High-Pay Factor: "Demand for this position is high and supply is low," says Harrison, noting that right now certification boards are okay with technicians just having the associate's degree.

According to Bakke, there's more to this job than what you learn in class. "Most of the skills needed to succeed are ones you don't typically learn in school," says Bakke. "These skills - such as compassionately interacting with patients and having a great bedside manner - are usually developed with practice over time."

Career #3 - Network and Computer Systems Administrator

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Median
Annual Salary*
$74,000
Top 10 Percent of Earners*
$117,150
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners*
$45,270

If you've got a natural knack for keeping computers running smoothly, you might not need a fancy degree to prepare to pursue a great career. As the U.S. Department of Labor emphasizes, network and computer systems administrators are responsible for the computer networks that are critical to just about every organization; supporting, organizing, and installing their computer systems.

What You Need: While you might think a position of such responsibility would require a massive educational pedigree, this is not always the case. According to the Department of Labor, some employers are hiring network and computer systems administrators with just a postsecondary certificate. Just keep in mind that most do require a bachelor's degree in a subject related to computer or information science.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Computer Science Program.

High-Pay Factor: It's hard to imagine a field that doesn't require a bachelor's degree offering a median salary of over $70K a year, but Bakke explains: "This career doesn't necessarily require a bachelor's degree because there are a variety of certifications available that will make you attractive to an employer," says Bakke. "Plus, if you have a decent amount of experience as a technician, you've likely encountered a lot of the issues that an administrator will have to deal with."

Harrison points out that the high-pay factor may relate to how vital the systems these workers protect are to companies.

"[These] companies have to protect their networks and their costly computer equipment - and they will pay handsomely to do that." But, she adds, "The six-figure money is made with an advanced degree, difficult [to earn] certifications and significant experience."

Career #4 - Dental Hygienist

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Median
Annual Salary*
$71,110
Top 10 Percent of Earners*
$96,690
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners*
$47,880

Do you want to help make the world better one smile at a time? Like dentists, dental hygienists care for your teeth; cleaning them, examining your teeth and gums for oral diseases, taking dental x-rays, and more, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Unlike dentists, dental hygienists don't need years of dental school to help people with their teeth. They don't even need a bachelor's degree.

What You Need: Dental hygienists usually need an associate's degree in dental hygiene to pursue a career in this field, says the Department of Labor. All states require dental hygienists to be licensed, although requirements vary by state, the Department adds.

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

High-Pay Factor: The simple truth is that we need dental hygienists. "This is an amazing industry with growth potential - as everyone has teeth," says Harrison. "No doubt the associate's degree will get you in the door and working right away." If that seems too good to be true - given the pretty sizeable salary - keep in mind that this is a skill-based job, which is why you'll need the skills to succeed, rather than a lot of education.

Career #5 - Registered Nurse

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Median
Annual Salary*
$66,220
Top 10 Percent of Earners*
$96,320
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners*
$45,630

Nurses do many things that you might normally expect a doctor to do. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, registered nurses can administer medicine and treatment to patients, operate and monitor medical equipment, and help perform diagnostic tests and analyze the results, among other duties. What nurses don't do is spend years toiling away in medical school.

What You Need: Nurses typically get started with either an associate's degree in nursing (ADN), a diploma from an approved nursing program, or a bachelor's of science in nursing (BSN), according to the Department of Labor. They must also be licensed.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Registered Nursing Program.

High-Pay Factor: Again - we need nurses. And the need is so great that it makes the associate's degree a very valuable commodity, according to Harrison. "This is one of the best associate's degree programs out there, as there is a shortage of nurses," says Harrison. "Current state licensure only requires an associate's degree [from an accredited school] to take your RN exams."

Just keep in mind that while an associate's degree can get you started, it might not be enough for advancement down the road. "You will always have a job with this degree," Harrison adds. "But your growth [with an associate's degree] is limited, and you will only be a floor nurse in most cases. For higher pay in nursing, a bachelor's in nursing is golden."

* All salary information comes from the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2013.

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