High-Paying Careers Within Reach

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Check out these careers that don't require years of education but could yield high earning potential.

By Lisa Manterfield    
Last updated on 8/11/2014

If you think a high-paying career is out of reach, think again.

While it's true that many potentially high-paying careers - such as physician, lawyer, and psychiatrist - require several years of education, you may be surprised to learn that many careers requiring only an associate's or bachelor's degree could also have high average earning potential.

What's more, these degree programs could be completed in as little as two or four years - making them within reach for determined students.

Keep in mind, though, that several factors like location and experience may also influence potential salary.

Read on to learn more about these six careers with high median salaries- and the education requirements needed to pursue them.

Career #1 - Accountant

Annual pay for top 10 percent of accountants: >$113,740*
Median annual pay: $65,080*
Annual pay for bottom 10 percent of accountants: <$40,370

Are you good at keeping track of your finances? If so, you could pursue a career in accounting. As an accountant you could help companies and individuals prepare and analyze financial documents in the fields of public accounting, management accounting, government accounting, and internal auditing, says the U.S. Department of Labor.

From a geographical perspective, the District of Columbia, New York, and New Jersey take the top spots for the highest average accounting salaries, according to the Department of Labor.

Click to Find the Right Accounting Program.

What it Takes: To prepare to pursue an entry-level accounting career, the Department says that you'll need at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field.


Career #2 - Paralegal

Annual pay for top 10 percent of paralegals: >$76,960*
Median annual salary: $47,570*
Annual pay for bottom 10 percent of paralegals: <$29,740*

Want to learn more about the law and the legal system? As a paralegal, you could assist lawyers by gathering data, calling clients, filing legal documents, and conducting research, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Paralegals might also help lawyers draft contracts and mortgages.

If you are looking for the highest paralegal salary by region, the Department of Labor indicates that the District of Columbia comes in first with an average annual salary of $73,050.

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What it Takes: To prepare for a paralegal position, the most common education route is an associate's degree in paralegal studies, according to the Department. If you already have a bachelor's degree in another field, you could choose to earn a certificate in paralegal studies, says the Department.


Career #3 - Graphic Designer

Annual pay for top 10 percent of graphic designers: >$79,260*
Average annual salary: $44,830*
Annual pay for bottom 10 percent of graphic designers: <$26,690*

Ready to use your creative and artistic abilities in print and electronic media? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, graphic designers usually combine technology and art to create layouts for publications, websites, marketing materials, and product packaging.

If you are wondering where graphic designers have the highest average salaries, the Department of Labor points to the District of Columbia, New York, and California.

Click to Find the Right Graphic Design Program.

What it Takes: A bachelor's degree in graphic design or a related field, is generally required, according to the Department. Those with a bachelor's degree in another subject "may pursue technical training in graphic design to meet most hiring qualifications."


Career #4 - Registered Nurse

Annual pay for top 10 percent of registered nurses: >$96,320*
Median annual salary: $66,220*
Annual pay for bottom 10 percent of registered nurses: <$45,630*

Interested in having a hands-on role in health care? In a career as a registered nurse, you could work closely with patients and provide them with treatment, including administering medication, monitoring vitals, or performing diagnostic tests, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Registered nurses could have the opportunity to work in various health care settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, or schools.

Where do registered nurses have the highest average salaries? In California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts according to the Department of Labor.

Click to Find the Right Nursing Program.

What it Takes: If you're ready to pursue a nursing career, an associate's degree in nursing is one path, according to the Department. You could also pursue a diploma from an approved nursing program or a bachelor's of science degree in nursing. Registered nurses must also obtain licensing, adds the Department.


Career #5 - Police Officer

Annual pay for top 10 percent of police officers: >$90,700*
Median annual salary: $56,130*
Annual pay for bottom 10 percent of police officers: <$32,670*

Want to serve your communities by patrolling neighborhoods and responding to calls for service? As a police officer, you might detain a suspect, testify in court, or respond to emergency calls, says the U.S. Department of Labor.

According to the Department of Labor, New Jersey, California, and Alaska are the top-paying states for police officers, with average salaries ranging of $88,220, $86,040, and $73,990, respectively.

Click to Find the Right Criminal Justice Program.

What it Takes: These professionals must have a high school diploma, says the Department. However, many agencies and some police departments may require a college degree or some college coursework. Keep in mind that you may also be required to be a U.S. citizen and meet physical and personal qualifications.


Career #6 - High School Teacher

Annual pay for top 10 percent of high school teachers: >$86,720*
Median annual salary: $55,360*
Annual pay for bottom 10 percent of high school teachers: <$37,230*

What if you could help shape our future leaders? As a high school teacher, you could play a role in children's education by teaching them the skills they need to go to college and to enter the job market, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Although teachers' salaries vary by grade level and geographic location, high school teachers in New York, Alaska, and New Jersey report the highest average salaries, according to the Department of Labor.

Click to Find the Right Education Program.

What it Takes: Public high school teachers in all states must at least have a bachelor's degree, according to the Department. In most states, they are required to have majored in a subject area. While studying a subject area, high school teachers typically enroll in a higher education teacher preparation program and take classes in child psychology and education, the Department adds. Public school teachers must be state-certified.

Keep in mind, that these are not the only high-paying careers within reach. There are other career paths you can pursue without a graduate degree. For example, with an online associate's degree you could prepare to pursue careers that have a median annual salary of $56,000 or more . You just need to take the time to do your research, so you find a career that's right for you.


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


Chloe West also contributed to this article by updating the information on 8/4/2014

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