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Slide Show | September 2014

10 Best Jobs You Can Get Without a College Degree

A bachelor's degree is often thought to be the key to financial success. After all, while the median salary of high school graduates 25 years and older is $29,766 a year, the typical college grad with a BA makes $50,281. Unfortunately, many young people have to dig themselves deep into debt for a shot at those future returns. Among the 70% of 2012 college grads who took out student loans, the average amount borrowed was $29,400.

Here are 10 thriving careers you can pursue without a college education. The occupations we identified promise generous salaries and long-term job security, based on 10-year employment projections. None of the jobs require a college degree, though some call for a post-secondary nondegree award, typically earned from a trade school or vocational training program. As a bonus, many of the jobs boast below-average stress levels.

Take a look at the 10 best jobs you can get without a college degree.

Data on number of workers, employment projections, education requirements and income comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment-growth projections cover the 10-year period between 2012 and 2022. Salary ranges reflect annual pay for workers from the 25th to the 75th percentiles, which weeds out the lowest and highest earners. Job stress is also based on BLS data, analyzed by career information expert Laurence Shatkin. Overall stress scores range from 0 (no stress) to 100 (most stress).


10 Best Jobs You Can Get Without a College Degree

10. Dental Assistant

Total number of U.S. workers: 309,540

Projected 10-year growth rate: 24.5% (All occupations: 10.8%)

Annual salary range: $28,820 to $41,980 (All occupations: $22,670 to $56,860)

Stress score: 49.0 (All occupations: 53.1)

Typical education requirement: Post-secondary nondegree award

Smiles all around for jobs in dentistry. With studies showing the close relationship between oral health and general health, people are taking better care of their pearly whites and providing more business for those working in the industry. Aging boomers are also adding to the high demand for professional dental care. To meet those growing needs, the number of dentists, dental hygienists (among our best jobs for the future) and dental assistants is expected to increase rapidly—making the field a good bet in terms of job security.

The quickest way into the specialty is to become an assistant, which doesn't require a professional degree (required to be a dentist) or an associate's degree (required for hygienists). Some states require dental assistants, who perform routine tasks such as updating patient records and sterilizing equipment, to pass an exam and get certified, which can take a year through programs offered by community colleges; otherwise, you can get to work straight out of high school. (Check your state's requirements at www.danb.org.) Even if it's not necessary, you might consider going for that certification. According to the Dental Assisting National Board, dental assistants who are certified earn about $2 more per hour than those who are not.

10. Dental Assistant

9. Health Information Technician

Total number of U.S. workers: 180,760

Projected 10-year growth rate: 22.1%

Annual salary range: $27,520 to $45,260

Stress score: 42.9

Typical education requirement: Post-secondary nondegree award

Thanks in large part to the aging population, health care is America's fastest-growing industry—and all those medical charts aren't going to track themselves. Health information technicians manage medical records, including patients' symptoms, diagnoses and insurance claims, ensuring their accuracy, completeness and security. As the shift from print to electronic recordkeeping increases, the demand for people with these specialized organizational skills grows, too.

Most employers would prefer to hire a technician with a professional certification, which you can obtain through several programs. For example, you can be certified as a Registered Health Information Administrator through the American Health Information Management Association and a Certified Medical Coding Specialist with the Professional Association of Healthcare Coding Specialists. Throughout your career, you'll need to regularly renew your certifications. If you later want to advance in this field and go for a bachelor's degree, you can become a health services manager—a job with an annual salary range of $70,960 to $117,740.

9. Health Information Technician

8. Elevator Installer

Total number of U.S. workers: 21,270

Projected 10-year growth rate: 24.6%

Annual salary range: $62,060 to $91,240

Stress score: 59.0

Typical education requirement: High school diploma or equivalent

Going up? Job prospects for elevator installers and repairers certainly are. Construction of new office buildings, stores and other nonresidential projects has gradually risen as the economy has improved and lifted demand for elevators and the people who work on them. The aging population may also add to the need for stair lifts and elevators in both homes and nonresidential buildings.

Despite the rapid growth, the total number of workers remains small—the lowest on this list. People may be deterred by the job's level of danger and physical demands, as well as its high-stress nature. But the happy few who brave this work enjoy the highest median pay on this list: $78,640 a year. If you want to join their ranks, you can start learning the trade right after high school through a five-year paid apprenticeship, offered by unions and individual contractors. You may also need to be licensed, depending on your state.

8. Elevator Installer

7. Massage Therapist

Total number of U.S. workers: 79,040

Projected 10-year growth rate: 22.6%

Annual salary range: $24,380 to $51,820

Stress score: 37.8

Typical education requirement: Post-secondary nondegree award

Massage therapists can relax knowing that they are in high demand. Baby boomers coping with more aches and pains as they age will increasingly need their services. Plus, with massage-clinic chains proliferating and making the practice more affordable, even younger folks will be able to indulge themselves for greater relaxation.

An added perk: Massage therapists, of course, know how to keep calm. They boast the lowest stress score of all the jobs on this list, well below the 53.1 average for all workers. Part of their chill existence—besides the constant exposure to incense and soothing sounds—may be due to being boss-free, with a whopping 46% reporting as self-employed. To become a massage therapist, you'll likely need to complete a postsecondary education program requiring at least 500 hours of classroom study and hands-on practice. You may also need a license or certification, depending on your state's regulations.

7. Massage Therapist

6. Carpenter

Total number of U.S. workers: 580,570

Projected 10-year growth rate: 24.2%

Annual salary range: $31,550 to $55,340

Stress score: 52.1

Typical education requirement: High school diploma or equivalent

A whole lot of people have already figured out that they can build a solid career, without a college degree, in carpentry. This field sports the highest number of workers on this list and—due in large part to the country's population growth and the need for new-home construction—expects another 218,000 people to be needed over the next several years. In particular, entrepreneurial types tend to flock to this occupation; 36.1% of carpenters are self-employed, compared with just 6.5% of all U.S. workers.

Most carpenters get their starts in three- or four-year paid apprenticeships, which you can find through unions and contractor associations, such as the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and the Home Builders Institute. The same groups may offer special programs for veterans, as well as additional training opportunities that may help you advance in the field.

6. Carpenter

5. Electrician

Total number of U.S. workers: 542,680

Projected 10-year growth rate: 19.7%

Annual salary range: $38,020 to $66,360

Stress score: 55.0

Typical education requirement: High school diploma or equivalent

No shock here; electricians are looking at a bright future. Again, an increasing number of construction projects is driving demand for these professionals. The already large job pool, with the second-highest number of workers on this list, is expected to expand by about 115,000 people in the next few years.

You might attend technical school to study circuitry, safety practices and other basic electrical information. But most electricians get started with a four- to five-year paid apprenticeship program, sponsored by a union or contractor association. To qualify, you must be 18 years old, have had one year of algebra and be able to pass an aptitude test, as well as a drug screening. Also, most states require electricians to get a license and pass a test on electrical codes.

5. Electrician

4. Computer User Support Specialist

Total number of U.S. workers: 541,250

Projected 10-year growth rate: 20.2%

Annual salary range: $35,990 to $60,860

Stress score: 52.6

Typical education requirement: Some college, no degree

Millennials with not-so-tech-savvy parents have been training for this job their whole lives. Computer user support specialists help coworkers and clients troubleshoot their PC and Mac problems from setup to shutdown. And with increasingly complex computer equipment and software, their assistance will be sought after more and more. In health care, for example, their services will be necessary to assist many hospitals, doctors' offices and medical labs in implementing new software to digitize health records.

Knowledge of computers is an obvious prerequisite for this role. Taking some computer-related courses might help you prove your skills, but completing a degree is not usually necessary. If you'd like to become a network support specialist, however, and boost your potential pay to between $45,230 and $78,360 a year, you may need to get at least an associate's degree. With a bachelor's in the tech field, you can earn even more, between $72,290 and $116,630, as an app developer.

4. Computer User Support Specialist

3. Plumber

Total number of U.S. workers: 351,380

Projected 10-year growth rate: 21.3%

Annual salary range: $37,530 to $67,150

Stress score: 52.5

Typical education requirement: High school diploma or equivalent

New buildings come with plenty of new pipes, and all those drains lead to an ocean of opportunities for plumbers. Pipefitters and steamfitters, who are lumped in with plumbers, specialize in systems that carry acids, chemicals and gases. The already-large pool of workers is expected to add more than 82,000 new positions over the next several years. Regular maintenance needs and remodeling projects, including those necessary to meet stricter water-efficiency standards, also give plumbers a steady flow of business.

You can dive into the work straight out of high school with a four- or five-year paid apprenticeship, in which you'll typically earn 30% to 50% of what fully trained plumbers make. As your vocational training advances, your wages will grow, too. Once your apprenticeship is complete, you'll be considered a journey worker and be able to do some tasks on your own. After you gain more experience, you can become a master plumber and work independently, which requires a license in most states.

3. Plumber

2. Construction Supervisor

Total number of U.S. workers: 467,130

Projected 10-year growth rate: 23.5%

Annual salary range: $46,970 to $76,700

Stress score: 59.4

Typical education requirement: High school diploma or equivalent

Those new construction projects—and all the plumbers, electricians and carpenters working on them—need somebody to take charge. In fact, by 2022 they're expected to need more than 128,000 new sets of eyes to supervise all the building. The high demand lends itself to competitive pay; construction foremen earn the second-highest median incomes of all the jobs on this list at $60,380 a year. Be warned though: The salary comes with high stress (the highest score on this list) and high risk, with workers prone to injury.

You'll need to put in five years or more of fieldwork before you can hop into a foreman's shoes. But you can start working in construction, and toward the supervisor position, straight out of high school as a helper or laborer. Advancement will mainly depend on your work experience and on-the-job training. You can also earn certifications to perform specialized tasks, such as scaffold building, welding and concrete finishing.

2. Construction Supervisor

1. Brickmason

Total number of U.S. workers: 58,730

Projected 10-year growth rate: 35.5%

Annual salary range: $35,860 to $62,810

Stress score: 46.2

Typical education requirement: High school diploma or equivalent

Dear Big Bad Wolf, don't waste your time. All that huffing and puffing is no match for the sturdy brick, block and stone constructions being assembled as quickly as the population grows. Along with all the new schools, hospitals and other buildings being built, Kiplinger expects construction to begin on 1.01 million new homes in 2014, up 8.6% from 2013. That means plenty of job opportunities for brickmasons—also known as blockmasons or stonemasons, depending on the material they specialize in—which helped make it one of our Best Jobs for the Future.

No degree or work experience is required to get started, but masons often begin with a paid apprenticeship lasting three to four years. That might include a one- or two-year masonry program, offered by many technical schools, which may also be taken independently. Once you've laid your career foundation, you may be able to build a business of your own: 19.7% of masons are self-employed, compared with just 6.5% of all workers.

1. Brickmason

Best No-Degree Jobs - 2012 Rankings

1. Pile-Driver Operator
2. Brickmason
3. Commercial Pilot
4. Electrician
5. Dry Wall Taper
6. Plumber
7. Construction and Building Inspector
8. Insurance Sales Agent
9. Telecommunications Equipment Installer
10. Manufacturing Sales Rep

Kiplinger updates many of its "best" rankings annually. Above is our 2012 list of ten best jobs you can get without a college degree. Keep in mind that ranking methodologies can change from year to year based on the data available at the time of publishing, differences in how the data was gathered, changes in data providers and tweaks to the formulas used to narrow down the pool of candidates.

Best No-Degree Jobs - 2012 Rankings

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