5 High-Paying Jobs You Can Pursue With a High School Diploma

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Think you need a college degree to get your foot in the door of a job with high-pay potential? Think again.

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Even though the economy has started to make an upturn, there are still plenty of people left without jobs. Are you one of the people who has tried searching for a well-paying job only to come up empty handed because you don't have a college degree?

If so, we're here to offer up some good news. It is possible to score a high-paying job, even if you've never set foot in a college classroom. It may not be easy. And it may require some prior work experience. After all, you've still got to do something to distinguish yourself from the pack. But the opportunities are out there.

Keep reading to learn more about jobs with average salaries nearing $60,000 per year (that's well over the national average) that could be pursued with just a diploma.

Career #1: Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers

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Median
Annual Salary*
$56,130
Top 10% of
Earners*
>$90,700
Bottom 10% of Earners*
<$32,670

You know that police officers keep the peace and hand out the occasional ticket. But according to the U.S. Department of Labor, police officers and sheriff's patrol officers also do things like obtain warrants, arrest suspects, prepare cases and testify in court.

High-Pay Factors: "The lengthy rigorous training programs at the academy and in the field prepare officers for a high-risk, high-reward career that is deserving of salaries that compete with college graduates in the private sector," says retired Illinois State Police Colonel Mike Snyders.

How to Get Your Foot in the Door: You'll need that high school diploma, of course, and the department you're applying to will likely want you to complete their agency police academy program, says the Department of Labor. Police officers must be U.S. citizens, usually be at least 21 years old and meet certain physical qualifications. Candidates can be asked to take drug tests or lie detector tests, and may be disqualified if they have a felony conviction.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Police and Law Enforcement Program.

The Department reports that some police departments require some college coursework or a degree. It's also important to note that if you want to pursue any work with federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI or the Secret Service, you'll need a bachelor's degree and/or related work experience. The Department notes that many colleges, universities, and junior colleges offer law enforcement and criminal justice programs.

Career #2: Real Estate Brokers

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Median
Annual Salary*
$59,580
Top 10% of
Earners*
>$187,050
Bottom 10% of Earners*
<$24,260

Real estate brokers assist clients in buying, selling, and renting properties. They're also responsible for comparing properties to determine a competitive market price, advising their clients on prices and mortgages, and preparing documents like purchase agreements and deeds, says the U.S. Department of Labor.

High-Pay Factors: The real estate field is ripe with opportunity, according to Jake Cain, licensed real estate agent and the creator of employedteenagers.com, a site focused on helping young people find work.

Of course, it's all about how hard you work and the value that you create for others. "You have to be a good relationship builder and willing to put in hard work to make personal connections with various types of people. If you do those things well, then you can make a significant income because you are paid on commission, not based on time," he says.

How to Get Your Foot in the Door: On top of that high school diploma, you must be licensed in all states (and the District of Columbia) to work as a real estate broker, says the Department of Labor. And while the requirements for licensing vary by state, you typically must be at least 18 years old, complete a number of real estate courses, and pass an exam. To obtain your broker's license, you'll usually need one to three years of licensed sales agent experience. You may also be required to pass a background check in some states, according to the Department.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Marketing Program.

With the increasing competitiveness and complexity of the real estate market, some employers prefer to hire candidates with a college degree or college courses, says the Department. Courses in business administration, finance, economics, and law can be useful, and brokers who plan to open their own companies often take business courses like accounting and marketing.

Career #3: Claims Adjusters, Appraisers, Examiners, Investigators

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Median
Annual Salary*
$61,190
Top 10% of
Earners*
>$90,570
Bottom 10% of Earners*
<$37,220

Claims adjusters, appraisers, examiners and investigators are the men and women responsible for evaluating insurance claims, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

High-Pay Factors: "Claims adjusters often work erratic schedules, including early mornings, late nights, and weekends, to meet the demands of their clients," says Michael Provitera, associate professor of organizational behavior at Barry University in Miami, Fla. Because they're expected to be available pretty much 24-7, employers see value in paying claims adjusters a decent wage, with or without a college degree, he says.

How to Get Your Foot in the Door: Your high school diploma is a start, but what can be really useful to have is specific knowledge in the areas where the insurer you wish to work for operates. For example, according to the Department of Labor, auto damage appraisers will typically have a postsecondary non-degree award, or have experience identifying and estimating the cost of automotive repair from working in an auto repair shop.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Business Program.

The Department reports that employers sometimes prefer to hire those with a bachelor's degree or some insurance-related work experience. Appropriate coursework depends on the kind of work the individual is pursuing. For example, for someone who specializes in financial loss claims due to merchandise damage, strikes, or equipment breakdowns, a background in accounting or business might be best.

Career #4: Detectives and Criminal Investigators

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Median
Annual Salary*
$76,730
Top 10% of
Earners*
>$125,320
Bottom 10% of Earners*
<$40,110

A detective, or an agent, or special agent, as they're sometimes called, is responsible for gathering facts and collecting evidence of possible crimes, notes the U.S. Department of Labor. Just like police officers, they are often called upon to testify in court.

High-Pay Factors: According to one expert, paying detectives well can actually save money. "To best utilize a forensic scientist's expertise, hiring detectives or investigators to do the searching can ease a budget-strapped department. And careers where you're developing yourself on-the-job provides ample fuel for raises, which makes them the best kind of jobs for earning a good salary," says Lyn O'Brien, a career expert and founder of YourHiddenAdvantage.com, a website dedicated to helping busy career professionals get more done.

How to Get Your Foot in the Door: Along with a high school diploma, the Department of Labor says detectives typically start their careers as police officers before being promoted to detective. Detectives and police usually must graduate from the relevant training academy and complete a period of on-the-job training. They must be at least 21, citizens of the United States, and qualify under rigorous personal and physical standards.

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

Applicants are encouraged by state and local agencies to continue their education after graduating high school, says the Department, adding that programs in criminal justice and law enforcement are offered by many colleges, universities, and junior colleges.

Career #5: Gaming Manager

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Median
Annual Salary*
$66,200
Top 10% of
Earners*
>$117,450
Bottom 10% of Earners*
<$38,770

Gaming managers oversee the gaming operations and personnel in their part of the casino, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. They're the ones keeping an eye on customers and employees, explaining house operating rules if customers don't understand, and interviewing, hiring and training new employees.

High-Pay Factors: Provitera says gaming managers tend to be paid well because they present an ambience of fun and complimentary perks that keep people coming back to the casino time and time again.

"While a college degree can help, these professionals can often attain a high salary without a degree because a gaming manager's skill level comes from their willingness to work late hours and constantly delight the customers," he notes.

How to Get Your Foot In the Door: Besides having a high school diploma, gaming services workers must obtain licensing from a state regulatory agency, for example a gaming commission or state casino control board, says the Department of Labor. Licensing requirements for gaming dealers and other service workers will be different from those for supervisory or managerial positions. These workers must typically also pass a drug test and background check.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Accounting Program.

Of course, it's important to note that some casinos may require gaming managers to have a college degree, according to the Department, which adds that those pursuing a degree might study hospitality, accounting, or hotel management along with formal management classes.

* All salary information from the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Employment and Wages data, May 2013.

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