The five highest paying vocational jobs

A record-number of Americans hold a bachelor’s degree, but that doesn’t mean they hold all the high-paying jobs. More than ever, great careers can be scored without attending a four-year college. In fact, almost 30% of Americans with associate’s degrees now out-earn those with bachelor’s degrees, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. In some cases, it’s even possible to land a well-paid position with just a vocational certification, although more on-the-job training might be required for this kind of job. Whether you’re on the verge of graduating high school or an adult looking for a career change, here are the five best paying vocational jobs, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Air Traffic Controller
Median Salary: $108,040*

An air traffic controller earns a median salary of $108,000, placing it at the top of our list of highest paying jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree. But with the great pay comes major responsibility. Millions of air travelers are counting on you to make sure the planes carrying them take off and land at their destination safely. If you think you have the right stuff to handle such a demanding job, you will likely need to complete an aviation program certified through the Federal Aviation Administration. One of the few exceptions is if you are a military veteran with prior experience. Before getting hired as an air traffic controller, you must also earn a high score on the pre-employment test, pass a physical and drug test, get federal security clearance, and generally must be age 30 or younger.

Construction Manager
Median Salary: $83,860*

If you’re looking to find a high-paying career without racking up serious college debt, construction manager might be up your alley. The median salary for this position is $83,860 and yet it requires no formal education. However, it’s common for people interested in entering this career to complete a two-year junior college program or accredited training certification program, both to gain practical skills and impress potential employers. While this job doesn’t require endless hours in the library, it will most likely call for years of on-the-job training through which a broad array of skills, including plumbing, electrical installation and blueprint reading, can be mastered. In the end, overseeing all facets of a construction project, from supervising workers to monitoring compliance with building and safety codes, is hard work but the financial rewards speak for themselves.

Radiation Therapist
Median Salary: $74,980*

Radiation therapists are in charge of administering prescribed radiation treatments to patients, often those battling cancer. While you are responsible for operating the medical equipment and monitoring radiation dose levels, providing daily patient care, both physical and emotional, is also a main component of the job. Radiation therapists make an average salary of $74,980 and an associate’s degree or certificate in radiation therapy is all the formal education you will need. With that said, most states will require that you pass a license exam before you are able to practice. Mirroring the strength of the health-care industry, radiation therapist is an occupation on the rise, growing at a faster-than-average rate of 20% between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS.

Nuclear Medicine Technologist
Median Salary: $68,560*

Did you know that radioactive drugs can be used to diagnose and treat disease? They can. Nuclear medicine technologists are the individuals who give patients these drugs, known as radiopharmaceuticals, and then use high-tech imaging machines to observe the behavior of the radioactivity inside the patient’s body. This process can identify an abnormality such as a tumor. For this position, it’s expected you earn an associate’s degree in nuclear medicine technology, which is offered at community colleges and vocational schools around the country. The majority of states also require special certification, licensing, or both. While healthcare will remain a high demand industry for years to come, there are only about 20,000 nuclear medicine technologists in the United States, so expect the competition for new jobs each year to be intense.

Fire Fighter’s Supervisor
Median Salary: $68,240*

Many individuals who’ve achieved a high rank within the fire department – fire chiefs, fire lieutenants and fire marshals – started their careers without the benefit of a four-year diploma. But, in all likelihood, they spent at least one to five years working as a firefighter before landing a supervisory position. Anybody interested in this career will also need to complete a fire certification program. They are offered by local fire academies, as well as community colleges and trade schools. It’s worth stating the obvious: a fire fighting supervisor faces stressful situations, works long hours and contends with unpredictable shifts. What’s more, firefighters have a higher rate of injury on the job than those in most other professions, according to a 2009 BLS study. That being said, there can be no better feeling than to know you’re helping protect the public from harm.

* Median annual salary as of May 2010 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Further Reading

Teens Enter Vocational Schools, Come Out With Jobs, No Debt —

Community College Grads Out-Earn Bachelor’s Degree Holders — CNN Money

Top Vocational Jobs — Top Ten Reviews

The Ups & Downs To Becoming a Fireman — The Knot

Trade-School Grads in Hot Demand — CNN Money