You might think that a college degree is a must-have if you want to land a high-paying job these days. For many career fields, this is true. But there are some surprising six-figure (and nearly six-figure) jobs that require no degree at all.
Whether you’re ready to launch a new career or you just want to get into the work force with no student debt, these fields, listed from smallest to largest median pay*, are worth checking out:
1. Court Reporter
Court reporting may not be the most exciting job in the world, but it can earn you some money. It takes time to be able to record conversation verbatim in real time, but this is a hugely valuable skill in the courtroom.
Court reporters often need some sort of certification, but they don’t need a degree.
- 2012 Median Pay: $48,160
- 2012 Top 10 Percent Pay: $90,530
2. Executive Chef
If you love to cook, becoming an executive chef, especially at a swanky hotel chain, can be a great way to earn money. Chefs typically work their way up the food chain, and it can be a long haul to the top. Plus, this can be a stressful job at times.
But if you love what you do and can get your name out there, you can make a great living as an executive chef.
- 2012 Median Pay: $42,480
- 2012 Top 10 Percent Pay: $74,120
3. Fire Chief
This is one of those management positions that you have to work your way into. You become a firefighter, do your job well, and take increasingly more responsibility at your station.
Firefighters often start with a certification in fire science or a similar field, but much of their training takes place on the job.
- 2012 Median Pay: $45,250 (includes all firefighters)
- 2012 Top 10 Percent Pay: $79,150
Plumbers, pipers and steamfitters are all trained on the job through an apprenticeship. This is a good way to earn a decent living while you work your way up to a license that gives you the ability to earn more money.
Many plumbers become entrepreneurs with small businesses of their own, which means the sky is the limit when it comes to their earnings.
- 2012 Median Pay: $49,140
- 2012 Top 10 Percent Pay: $84,440
5. Real Estate Broker
Licensing requirements for real estate brokers vary from state to state, but they’re generally much less than a college degree. Brokers are basically real estate agents who are licensed to run their own real estate business, and in 2010, 57 percent were self-employed.
As with other entrepreneurial fields, this one offers a wide range of earnings. Though you’ll probably start off making less, it’s not unusual to make six figures in this field.
- 2012 Median Pay: $58,350
- 2012 Top 10 Percent Pay: $176,950
6. Web/Mobile Developer
Web and mobile developers are in high demand in today’s market. While more colleges are offering degrees in this specific area, you don’t have to have one to break in.
Show a potential employer that you know how to do the work, and you’re good to go. Employers can’t keep up with hiring in this field.
- 2012 Median Pay: $62,500
- 2012 Top 10 Percent Pay: $105,200
7. Fashion Designer
While some art schools offer a degree in fashion design, many designers start out with experience, artistry and some experience in computer-aided design. Landing a job in the fashion industry can be tough, but once you get there, you can make a decent living.
If you’re interested in both designing and producing your own clothes, see No. 14. This combination can make for some amazing entrepreneurial opportunities.
- 2012 Median Pay: $64,530
- 2012 Top 10 Percent Pay: $126,290
8. Network/IT Manager
As with other computer-related jobs, experience and certification can be enough to land you a position as a network or IT manager. However, more businesses are looking for candidates with a bachelor’s degree in this field.
If you’ve worked with a company for a while, you may be able to work into a management position while working on your bachelor’s degree. (Bonus: Sometimes companies will help pay for your schooling while you work for them.)
- 2012 Median Pay: $72,560
- 2012 Top 10 Percent Pay: $115,180
9. Commercial Pilot
Airline and commercial pilots can make a great living at an exciting job that allows for plenty of travel. Of course, the stress of an unpredictable schedule and a lot of responsibility is something to consider.
Becoming a commercial pilot can take years of experience in the air, during which you may have to eke out a living by flying for smaller airlines or giving flying lessons. But if this is your dream, go for it.
- 2012 Median Pay: $73,280
- 2012 Top 10 Percent Pay: $134,990
10. Police Supervisor
Police supervisors may need a degree in some precincts, but this isn’t always the case. Oftentimes, certification and on-the-job experience is all they need.
As with many of these degree-free jobs, becoming a police supervisor requires years on the job. But the high pay and job satisfaction could be well worth your while in the long run.
- 2012 Median Pay: $78,270
- 2012 90 Percent Pay: $125,620
11. Construction Manager
Here’s yet another field where you can work your way up from the bottom without a degree. While more and more employers prefer candidates have a bachelor’s degree, you may land a construction manager job without one if you’ve been a valuable asset to a company for several years.
Another option is to earn your management-related degree while working your way up to a construction manager position.
- 2012 Median Pay: $82,790
- 2012 Top 10 Percent Pay: $144,520
12. Sales Manager
If you’re great with sales and have wonderful people skills, you might set your sights on a position in sales management. Non-retail (business-to-business) sales managers make the most money, but some retail sales managers can make a good living, too.
While many sales managers have a bachelor’s degree, you can start working your way into the position without one. Or if you prove your sales, organizational and management abilities on the job, you can land a sales management position that way, too.
- 2012 Median Pay: $105,260
- 2012 Top 25 Percent Pay: $150,610
13. Air Traffic Controller
Air traffic controllers go through their own schooling through the Federal Aviation Administration, but the process is faster than getting a bachelor’s degree.
Air traffic controllers have a high-stress job, and it’s likely that there will be fewer openings in the coming years as airlines trim their offerings. Still, this has one of the highest median pay rates out there for a job that doesn’t require a degree.
- 2012 Median Pay: $122,530
- 2012 Top 10 Percent Pay: $171,340
Pinning down the average earnings for a small-business owner or entrepreneur is difficult, if not impossible. But the sky is truly the limit when it comes to small-business ownership.
Starting your own business is risky. At least half of all small businesses fail within their first few years. But if you have the drive and passion to make your business work, you could easily earn well into six figures once your business is established.
* Median pay: The point at which roughly 50 percent of workers in this field make more and 50 percent make less.