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The 6-Figure Careers That Don't Require A 4-Year Degree

These options are perfect for exploring nontraditional routes to success.

Workin' Girl

There's almost nothing better than being a top earner in your field, and getting to that six-figure mark is a big career milestone within itself. But what about those of us who don't work in the typical fields where the journey to making $100,000 or more is a bit more feasible, a lot more cookie-cutter, and much more straight-and-narrow than others. (Hey, creatives, hey! I see and feel you!)


The frustration is real, especially when we're thinking along the lines of the usual get-a-college-degree chatter about how best to get to that tax bracket (and how nontraditional routes are the exception, not the rule. Don't we all have an auntie, uncle, mom, dad, or other elder constantly pushing that narrative?)

Well, take this list to the naysayers. We know of more than several high-paying jobs for women with no degree:

FG Trade

Commercial Pilot

A license, flight hours, and a love of, well, flying, are the minimum requirements for the role of commercial pilot, and you can earn up to $139,000 to boot. You can work for a major airline, only do private chartered flights, or start your own company offering services or teaching. The sky's the limit. (Hey, sis. I couldn't resist.)

Truck Driver

Sis, don't sleep on this multi-billion-dollar industry. As a truck driver, you can make up to $145,000 per year with a high school diploma, a commercial drivers license, and exemplary experience. It's also a plus if you are the owner-operator of a truck and you know the ins and outs of the industry.

Media Communications Equipment Professional

For this one, we're looking at up to $131,000 in yearly salary potential, and you can find success (or at least get your foot in the door) with a two-year associate's degree for this amount of pay. If you are great at setting up microphones, comms tech, or working sound, lighting, and mixing boards for large-scale events, this is the opp for you.

SDI Productions

Agricultural Manager

If you work in larger markets like San Francisco, there's the potential to make up to $129,000 per year as an agricultural manager. In this job, you'll supervise and manage farm or agricultural workers, determine budgets and create strategies for the maintenance and growth of farms or a company's farming activities. You'll need at least a high school diploma and some companies require special certifications as well as experience in the industry.

Transit or Railroad Officer

At the top ranks and in larger city markets, transit or railroad officers are making upwards of $99,000 on average, and more with benefits and incentives. A high school education is the starting point in terms of qualifications, and of course, experience in law enforcement, management, and training is a must.

Supervisor, Non-Retail Sales

There's up to $151,000 a year up for grabs with a gig like this, and you'll need a high school diploma and a knack for sales and communications. This job requires managing sales professionals, as well as budgeting and accounting and is perfect for someone who has a bit of skin in the game.

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Senior Web Developer

You can earn up to $101,000 as a senior web developer, and you'll need skills in designing and/or building websites. Though there are four-year college programs that strengthen those skills, associate's degree programs or even online certification courses can provide ample training needed for this job, especially if you've already got the gift and passion for this sort of work. Of course, experience is a plus, but talent and tenacity definitely trump all.

Casino Manager

Even on the lower end of the average, you can earn up to $153,000 per year in this field, and you'd be in charge of all aspects of running a casino, including operational budgeting and forecasting. Sometimes, this role is one within a corporate entity, and an MBA might be great, managerial and casino industry experience are king for landing this gig.

Nuclear Plant Manager

OK, sis. You see the word "nuclear" and think Homer Simpson? Well, at the higher end of management in this field, you're looking at a yearly salary of at least $100,000. (I guess Marge and the fam was living large. No wonder Homer could afford all those donuts!) This job entails overseeing teams that handle electricity services and ensuring governmental compliance. While some companies require specific licenses at this level, the minimum requirement for the industry is a high school diploma and, to become a manager, good ol' hard work and experience.

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Senior Consultant

Whether you work for a major firm or you're off on your own, you can make a salary of at least $105,000 as a senior consultant. Some companies indeed require a bachelor's or even a master's degree, but many of today's innovators do not, especially when it comes to industries like public relations, automotive and transport, personal finance, or technology. You can bank on experience, great communication skills, and actual results to lead the way on landing this gig. Independent certifications or training completions are a plus.

Project Manager

If you're super-organized, great at planning a project or transition from start to finish, and even more great at rallying teams to actually execute a plan, you can earn up to $152,000 in the role of project manager with only an associate's degree. Also, there are several options for certifications in this field that boost your salary potential.

Senior Engagement Manager

You're looking at a little over $100,000 in annual salary for the job of senior entertainment manager, and the name of the game for this one is relationships. Businesses want savvy professionals who can not only build new relationships with clients or customers, but create strategies to keep them coming back for more. People with amazing interpersonal, networking, sales and communications skills thrive in this sort of work, and having training in marketing or digital media is a plus.

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Senior Visual Designer

Senior visual designer is another great option for creatives, especially if you're great at creating bold and vivid experiences and concepts for brands and their customers. You'll be heading the creative direction for campaigns and contributing to strategy for customers to buy into new products. The annual salary potential for this role is up to $138,000, with a minimal requirement being a high school diploma, vocational training, and of course, experience with providing a decent body of work.

Creative Lead, Retail

This job requires managing the art elements and designs of a project, and having skills in project management is a plus. You might also have to manage artists and designers part of a team to execute your vision and deliver what the company wants as the end result. Vocational training and experience are important to this role, which has the annual salary potential of up to $145,000.

Film Director

You might be thinking that becoming a film director is far-fetched, but not so fast, sis. There is indeed the potential to earn more than $100,000 per year even if you haven't completed a film school program. True, many greats earned that four-year degree, but just take a nod from the career journeys of icons like Quentin Tarantino, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Regina King, or Tyler Perry, who have seen major mainstream success without traditional film school experiences.

(And just a side note: Even our good sis Ava DuVernay—who brought us Queen Sugar, Cherish the Day, Selma, and A Wrinkle In Time—actually studied journalism and African-American studies before venturing into film directing, so technically she falls in this category as well.) From music video productions, to major streaming network deals, to documentaries, to TV ad projects, if you really have the vision, go-getter attitude, internship experience, and work ethic, it's possible.

Featured image by Shutterstock

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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