A four-year college degree is often held up as a good way to ensure employability and decent pay; one in four in the US has one. Nevertheless, it isn’t the right choice for everyone. Not every college degree offers a path to steady pay. If you’re interested in a degree in sociology, fine arts or education, you will usually make less than $50,000 a year — which is less than what you would get if you simply invested the money the degree cost you, and took up another job that didn’t require a degree.
A large number of those without a degree out-earn those who do by $1 million in the course of a career. Often, in addition to the opportunity for higher pay, these jobs offer far more flexibility and protection against being laid off.
A Long-Distance Truck Driver’s Job
National and regional truck driving jobs require a high school diploma, a clean license and a willingness to work your way through a short stint at truck driving school. While getting a commercial driver’s license can be demanding work, the pay, benefits and job security can be very good. The job is open to both men and women, and the pay, on average, is set at 40 cents a mile (straight-line as-the-crow-flies distances, rather than miles actually driven). Rookies get paid between $30,000 and $40,000 a year, and experienced drivers, after more than five years on the job, count on making $70,000 a year. According to leading freight and logistics firm JRayL in Columbus, OH, the best part is that trucking is a recession-resistant job.
Nuclear Power Reactor Operator
Homer in The Simpsons certainly doesn’t look like he knows much or makes much at his nuclear power reactor operator’s job. In real life, though, armed with nothing more than a high school diploma, Homer Simpsons across the country make close to $70,000 a year. While the job does require a great deal of technical expertise, the training required is provided on the job. All it takes is some talent for math and science.
Oil Rig Workers
Working on an oil rig out on land or out at sea can be hard, lonely and dangerous work. You stand to make $70,000 as a newbie, though, and between $100,000 and $250,000 as you go on and learn the trade. All it takes is a high school diploma and a willingness to learn on the job.
Air Traffic Controller
Working the control tower at an airport is hard work. You are responsible for the safety of thousands of people, and you cannot allow yourself to slack off, no matter how long the shift. With increasingly crowded skies and inadequate equipment to handle it with, the job can be a stress-filled one. Nevertheless, you don’t need to come in with a great deal of education — a high school diploma and the ability to pass traffic controller tests is all it takes.