High-Paying Careers Within Reach

Well-Paying Careers Within Reach

Check out these careers that don't require years of education but could yield high earning potential.

By Lisa Manterfield    

If you think a high-paying career is out of reach, think again.

While it's true that many potentially high-paying careers - such as a physician, lawyer, and psychiatrist - require several years of education, you may be surprised to learn that many careers requiring only an associate's or bachelor's degree can also have high average earning potential, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor.

What's more, these degree programs could be completed in as little as two to four years - making them within reach for determined students.

Keep in mind, though, that several factors like location and experience can also influence potential salary.

Read on to learn more about these six careers with high average earning potential - and the education requirements needed to pursue them.

Career #1 - Accountant

Average annual pay for top 10 percent of accountants: $106,880*
Average annual pay: $68,960*

Are you good at keeping track of your finances? You could pursue a career in accounting and help companies and individuals prepare and analyze financial documents in the fields of public accounting, management accounting, government accounting, and internal auditing, says the U.S. Department of Labor.

From a geographical perspective, New York, the District of Columbia, and New Jersey take the top spots for the highest accounting salaries, according to the Department of Labor.

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What it Takes: To prepare to pursue an entry-level accounting career, the Department says that you'll need at least a bachelor's degree in accounting, which could take as little as four years to pursue.


Career #2 - Paralegal

Average annual pay for top 10 percent of paralegals: $74,870*
Average annual salary: $49,640*

Want to learn more about the law and the legal system? As a paralegal, you could assist lawyers by gathering data, interviewing clients, filing legal documents, and arranging court dates, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Paralegals might also help lawyers draft contracts and mortgages, as well as set up trust funds.

If you are looking for the highest paralegal salary by region, the Department of Labor indicates that the District of Columbia comes in first with an average annual salary of $65,740.

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What it Takes: To prepare for a paralegal position, the most common education route is an associate's degree in paralegal studies, which can take as little as two years to complete, according to the Department. If you already have a bachelor's degree in another field, you could choose to earn a certificate in paralegal studies, which could take as little as a few months to complete.


Career #3 - Graphic Designer

Average annual pay for top 10 percent of graphic designers: $76,910*
Average annual salary: $48,140*

Ready to use your creative and artistic abilities in print and electronic media? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, graphic designers usually combine creative talent, communication skills, and technical computer skills to create layouts for publications, websites, marketing materials, and product packaging. As you are more involved in the design decision-making process as a designer director or senior designer, your earning potential could increase.

If you are wondering where to find the highest paid graphic designers, the Department of Labor points to the District of Columbia, New York, and California.

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What it Takes: A bachelor's degree in graphic design or fine arts, which could take as little as four years to earn, is generally needed to pursue many entry-level and advanced graphic design positions, according to the Department. And an associate's degree in graphic design could prepare you to pursue an assistant graphic designing position.


Career #4 - Registered Nurse

Average annual pay for top 10 percent of nurses: $95,130*
Average annual salary: $67,720*

Interested in having a hands-on role in health care? In a career as a registered nurse, you could work closely with patients and provide them with treatment methods, including administering medication, monitoring vitals, or performing diagnostic tests, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Nurses could have the opportunity to work in various health care settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, or trauma centers.

Where do nurses have the highest earning potential? In California, Massachusetts, and Hawaii, according to the Department of Labor.

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What it Takes: If you're ready to pursue a nursing career, an associate's degree in nursing, which could take as little as two years to complete, could prepare you for the national licensing exam, according to the Department.


Career #5 - Police Officer

Average annual pay for top 10 percent of police officers: $83,510*
Average annual salary: $55,620*

Want to serve your communities by patrolling neighborhoods and responding to calls for service? As a police officer, a typical day could include detaining a criminal, testifying in court, or providing first aid to an accident victim, says the U.S. Department of Labor. And since police officers might be asked to work overtime, these additional or premium shifts could lead to many police officers earning more than their stated average salaries.

According to the Department of Labor, New Jersey, California, and District of Columbia are the top-paying states for police officers with salaries ranging from $79,300 to $67,560.

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What it Takes: A high school diploma could be adequate to enter the police academy program, but some agencies might prefer candidates with a college degree in law enforcement or criminal justice, says the Department.


Career #6 - Teacher

Average annual pay for top 10 percent of teachers: $83,230*
Average annual salary: $55,990*

What if you could help shape our future leaders? As a teacher, you can play a role in a child's education by helping them comprehend abstract subjects, solve problems, and expand their critical thinking skills, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. And if you are looking for more job opportunities, consider teaching math, science, or a foreign language.

Although teachers' salaries vary by grade level and geographic location, secondary school teachers in New York, Alaska, and Illinois report the highest average salaries, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. In addition, some teachers might be able to boost their earning potential by coaching a sports team, supervising extracurricular activities, or teaching summer school classes.

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What it Takes: A bachelor's degree in education, which could be completed in as little as four years, is required to pursue a career as a teacher, says the Department. You'll also need to complete your state's licensing requirements.


*All salary information comes from the U.S. Department of Labor using May 2010 data.


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