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Jobs With the Most Money and the Shortest Education

by Thomas Metcalf

With stories circulating about college grads moving back in with mom and dad because they cannot find employment, many people are questioning the value of a four-year degree. Compounding the problem is the cost of that degree, which leaves many young graduates deep in debt. Fortunately, there are good-paying jobs that do not require a lot of education for those who are willing to look.

Policeman

You can start a career in law enforcement as a policemen with a high school diploma. If you have a clean background and pass the psychological screening, you can enter the police academy, which typically lasts 12 to 14 weeks. More education helps and many departments offer tuition reimbursement. Promotions come with experience, additional certifications and recommendations. Salaries vary by location, but in 2010 the average salary for police officers was $55,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS expects demand for law enforcement positions to grow by 7 percent through 2020.

Real Estate Sales Agent

While some sales positions require special knowledge and education, real estate sales does not. Laws vary by state, but generally you need to be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma, complete certification course work in real estate and pass a qualifying test. While the average pay was $40,000 in 2010, the industry has many part-time sales reps. The top 10 percent earned an average of $111,000. The field is expected to grow by 11 percent through 2020.

Funeral Director

The job is not for everyone, but the pay is good -- $54,000 on average in 2010 -- and career prospects are excellent. With an aging population the field is expected to grow by 18 percent through 2020. To qualify you need a two-year degree in mortuary science, taking courses in embalming, restoration methods and grief counseling. After you pass a qualifying exam you apprentice for one to three years depending on your state’s requirements.

Air Traffic Controller

If you can handle the stress level, you might consider a career as an air traffic controller. U.S. citizenship and a two-year degree from an FAA-approved program called the Air Traffic-Collegiate Training Initiative are the basic requirements -- and the schooling may be waived if you have prior military experience. After completing the AT-CTI program, candidates must pass a qualifying exam. Those who pass continue to a two-month FAA training program and then an apprenticeship before becoming certified air traffic controllers. Pay is excellent -- an average of $108,000 in 2010 -- and retirement can start at age 50 with 20 years of service.

Stenographer/Court Reporter

While becoming an attorney requires a law degree, there are other careers in the legal field that pay well and require much less education. A stenographer/court reporter has the responsibility of creating a transcript of everything that is said in a courtroom. Most states require you to complete a certification program, which you can do through a community college, and obtain a state license. The average salary in 2010 was $47,000 and the BLS projects 14 percent growth through 2020.

About the Author

Thomas Metcalf has worked as an economist, stockbroker and technology salesman. A writer since 1997, he has written a monthly column for "Life Association News," authored several books and contributed to national publications such as the History Channel's "HISTORY Magazine." Metcalf holds a master's degree in economics from Tufts University.

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