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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.

Shutterstock

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.

Shutterstock

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.

Shutterstock

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

Originally published July 5, 2021

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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