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How to Choose a Career Path Without a Bachelor's Degree

Updated on September 4, 2014

What do you want to do for a living?

It’s easy to say that because you like music, you want to become a professional musician, but it’s clearly not very practical. A great way of determining how to apply what you love to what you want to do is to look at actual job advertisements. If you like art, read the ads for marketing, advertising, and web design jobs. If you enjoy music, maybe you’d like teaching or a technical job learning how to set up sound or recording equipment. There are many practical ways to apply what you love to a job that can actually help you pay your rent. Looking at the job titles and the required qualifications will help you determine what kind of experience and education you’ll need, and the approximate cost compared to what you can expect to make. Websites like and will help you look at average salaries by job title or by company.

Consider non-traditional educational options.

When I graduated high school in the year 2000, I was told to get an English degree. “You can do anything with an English degree,” my teachers told me. That is not the case anymore. Instead of automatically choosing a four year college and a generic degree, really spend some time thinking about your options. A trade school or apprenticeship might give you the direction you need. The world can’t employ every person who got an English degree because they liked to read, but the world will always need plumbers.

Community college can be a great resource too, if you’re not sure of what you’d like to do. Take the basic classes first and get an Associate of Arts degree, then if you’d like to continue to a four year education, you can transfer to another school. Community colleges also offer skill specific two year degrees in the medical, science, business, and legal fields. You can also obtain professional certificates in many community colleges. The benefit of getting a certification at a community college is that they’re accredited and will transfer if you decide to continue your education.

Consider a Joint Vocational School. Your local JVS isn’t just for high school kids. You can take adult education programs to help you further your career or to help you decide if you’d like to pursue a career in an area, rather than starting college and changing majors, wasting time and money.

Jobs that don’t require a four year degree

According to, here are the top ten paying jobs that don’t require a Bachelor’s degree.

10. Dental hygienist, median salary $70,210 as of 2012

9. Power distributors and dispatchers, median salary $71,690 as of 2012

8. Commercial pilots, median salary $73,280 as of 2012

7. Detective/criminal investigator median salary $74,300 as of 2012

6. Nuclear power reactor operators, median salary $74,990 in 2012

5. Elevator installers and repairers, median salary $76,650 in 2012

4. Radiation therapist, median salary $77,560 in 2012

3. First-line supervisors of police and detectives, median salary $78,270 in 2012

2. Transportation, storage, and distribution managers, median salary $81,830 in 2012

1. Air traffic controller, median salary $122,530 in 2012


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