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No Degree? No Problem: Four Careers Without a Four-Year Degree.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, workers with four-years of college traditionally make about $1 million more during their working life than their counterparts with high school diplomas–but don’t let that figure fool you. True, many top-paying professional jobs require four years of college (or more)–but you needn’t endure four years of study halls and pub-crawls to land a good job. Here are four excellent careers that can combine paid on-the-job training with classroom work, without requiring a four-year degree.

Radiological Technician
Sure, without a four-year degree, med school isn’t an option–but what if you still want to work in healthcare? Healthcare is one of America’s fastest-growing career sectors, expected to add millions of new jobs in the years ahead. If you want a healthcare career without a four-year degree, radiological technician might be an ideal career for you.

Radiologists and radiologic technicians work with sophisticated imaging machines to help diagnose patient illness. The job requires you to understand the in and outs of computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography (PET). While the technology is complex, you needn’t spend four years at university to land a job. In fact, two-year associate's degree programs are typically the most common credential. If you already have healthcare experience, enrolling in a one-year certificate program may be all the education you need to land an entry-level position. You can find training through hospitals or colleges. You may learn human anatomy and physiology, radiation physics, medical terminology, and patient care and positioning.

The job offers the opportunity to work with patients, and, like many other healthcare careers, is highly portable. You can also earn a competitive salary. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), median annual earnings for radiologists and radiologic technicians stood at $50,260 in May 2007. The highest-paid workers made as much as $71,600.

Looking for a truly high-powered career? Consider working as an electrician. Electricians keep the juice flowing in private homes as well as commercial buildings and large industrial complexes. Although learning the requisite skills–everything from electrical theory, blueprint reading, and mathematics to electrical code requirements, safety, and first aid–takes time and effort, a four-year degree is usually not necessary. Most electricians learn their trade through apprenticeship programs which combine paid on-the-job training with classroom instruction.

As a skilled trade, electrician jobs offer the opportunity to make a comfortable living. According to the BLS, in May 2007, median annual earnings for electricians stood at $44,780, while those in the top 90th percentile earned up to $76,000. Excellent job prospects for workers trained in a wide range of skills (including voice, video, and data wiring), make electrician an attractive choice. The BLS predicts the number of electrician jobs should jump by seven percent, or 52,000 between 2006 and 2016.

Although you might think of unclogging drains as unglamorous work, there’s far more to a plumber’s job than you might think. Plumbers install, maintain, and repair entire pipe systems–including the piping that allows nuclear power stations to churn out megawatts of electricity, and the valves that oil refineries use to process crude oil into gasoline.

If you’re attracted to skilled trades, plumbers are expected to see job growth over the next several years. Because the number of open positions should exceed the number of qualified applicants, your job prospects should be excellent. Finally, let’s not forget your wages. Median annual earnings for pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters stood at $44,090 in May 2007. The highest-paid percentile of workers made as $75,070.

Although typically you may not need a bachelor’s degree for a career as a plumber, the training can take up to five years. However, the extended apprenticeship program offered by unions or non-union contractor agencies allows you to earn money while training on the job. At the same time, you may take as much as 144 hours of classroom study per year, learning drafting, blueprint reading, physics, chemistry, safety, and building codes.

Auto Mechanic
It’s every motorhead’s dream job. If you’ve ever dreamed of restoring classic muscle or working on economy imports, a career as a mechanic can help you marry your passion to a livable wage. Median annual earnings for automotive mechanics stood at $34,170, according to the BLS, while the highest-paid mechanics earn as much as $57,650.

Although advancing automotive technology has complicated training required for a job as a skilled automotive mechanic, a four-year degree is usually not necessary. You can earn an associate’s degree in two years through a combination of hands-on practice and classroom study. If you decide to take an accelerated course, you can earn a certificate in six months to a year. If you decide to go for an associate’s degree, most likely you’ll spend between six and eight weeks alternating between full-time work for the automotive service department of a participating business (generally under the supervision of experienced mechanics), and attending classes.
Of course, these are just four of a thousand other rewarding careers that dispense with the four-year degree. Whether it’s checking out your local community college, browsing certificate programs online, or speaking with your local union representative, there’s no limit to the places you can go. No degree? No problem.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Electricians”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2007: Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2007: Electricians”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Pipelayers, Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2007: Pipelayers, Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2007: Radiologists and Radiological Technicians”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Radiologists and Radiological Technicians”
U.S. Census Bureau, “The Big Payoff: Educational Attainment and Synthetic Estimates of Work-Life Earnings”


Publish date: December 29, 2008