Great Jobs, No Bachelor's Needed

A four-year degree isn't the only way to make a decent income. Here are six occupations that pay surprisingly well.

By Lia Sestric, Yahoo contributor

Don't settle on a low-paying career just because you don't have a bachelor's degree. Metaphorically speaking, when life throws you a curve ball, don't put down your bat - keep playing the game!

Whether you can't afford or can't give the time to earning a bachelor's degree, take comfort in knowing it's not the only way to earn a decent paycheck. There are less time-consuming alternatives that could prep you to pursue a lucrative career.

"There are many different ways to end up in the position of being happy with your career and the pay that comes with it," says Bill Peppler, managing partner for Kavaliro, an Orlando-based staffing agency.

"Some of these routes may go through a four-year bachelor's degree, others may not. There is not just one specific plan for everyone to become successful, there are multiple tracks."

Are you ready to find out how you can track down the right one for you? We got you covered. Here are six careers that are short on school, but big on pay.

Career #1: Paralegal

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Who says you have to make partner at a law firm to make a decent living? As a paralegal, you could bypass law school and get right to making a decent paycheck just by assisting a lawyer at the office.

Job Duties: The U.S. Department of Labor says a paralegal supports a lawyer in a number of ways, from maintaining and organizing files to investigating facts of a case and helping lawyers prepare for trials.

Why It Pays: A lawyer needs a highly skilled individual to handle the workload that has no room for error, says career coach Lavie Margolin, author of "Lion Cub Job Search: Practical Job Search Assistance for Practical Job Seekers." Paralegals are compensated for their "attention to detail, ability to work in a deadline driven environment, and [ability to] multi-task."

Plus, demand for this skill set will likely stay strong, says Margolin. "As long as there is a need for lawyers and the legal system, there will be a need for paralegals to help support them."

Next step: Click to Find the Right Paralegal Program.

Education Requirements: How long does it take to prepare for a career as a paralegal? Not as long as you may think. The Department of Labor says many paralegals have an associate's degree or a certificate in paralegal studies. Keep in mind, however, that those with the certificate also have a bachelor's degree in another subject.

Career #2: Computer Support Specialist

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Can you solve problems and keep your cool? A computer support specialist should be programmed to handle any technical break down. The good news is these professionals don't necessarily need a four-year degree to master the field.

Job Duties: "Computer support specialists provide help and advice to people and organizations using computer software or equipment," says the U.S. Department of Labor. There are two types of computer support specialists: technical support specialists and help-desk technicians.

Technical support technicians support IT employees within their organization by testing and evaluating existing network systems and performing regular maintenance. On the other hand, help-desk technicians assist non-IT users who are having computer problems by walking them through the steps to fix them, says the Department of Labor.

Why It Pays: We all know that technology fails us at times. So it's no surprise that Margolin says competent computer specialists are often needed at a moment's notice. "People are willing to pay to get their technology back up and running smoothly," he says. "It's worth paying a person a good price who is capable of doing that."

Next step: Click to Find the Right Computer Science Program.

Education Requirements: Although many employers prefer a bachelor's degree, the Department of Labor says an associate's or post-secondary classes may be enough to pursue this career. For more technical positions, degrees in computer science, engineering, or information science may be required. After they're hired, new computer support specialists typically enter a training program.

Career #3: Dental Hygienist

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Going to dental school isn't the only way to get into the lucrative field of dentistry. In fact, you could pursue a lucrative career as a dental hygienist and skip many of those years of schooling.

Job Duties: As a dental hygienist, you might "clean teeth, examine patients for oral diseases such as gingivitis, and provide other preventative dental care," says the U.S. Department of Labor. A dental hygienist also educates patients about oral health.

Why It Pays: Dental hygienists have the bulk of the interaction with patients, and people don't want just anyone poking around in there. This is why the pay is high says Michael Echols, author of "Your Future is Calling," because the career demands a lot. "In addition to technical training required to do the work on a day to day basis, personality attributes that align with the requirements of the job are important. These include displaying a good-natured and cooperative attitude."

Next step: Click to Find the Right Dental Hygiene Program.

Education Requirements: Ready to start scraping teeth? The Department of Labor says an associate's degree in dental hygiene is typically needed to enter the profession. Every state requires these professionals to be licensed, but exact requirements vary, notes the Department.

Career #4: Police Officer

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Police officers uphold the law, catch bad guys, and have high earning possibilities for the service they provide to the community. And get this: You don't have to go through several years of school if you want to pursue the career.

Job Duties: A police officer does more than arrest suspects. They respond to calls for service, patrol assigned areas, conduct traffic stops, and issue citations, says the U.S. Department of Labor.

Why It Pays: Upholding the law is serious business. "Being a police officer is extremely demanding and a dangerous field," says Margolin. "It involves a lot of sacrifice and a good salary is required for recruiting the right people."

Next step: Click to Find the Right Criminal Justice Program.

Education Requirements: What does it take to flash a shiny badge? The Department of Labor says a police officer must at least have a diploma or GED and graduate from an agency's training academy. However, many agencies do require a college degree or some coursework. Candidates usually are at least 21-years-old, "and meet rigorous physical and personal qualifications," the Department adds.

Career #5: Physical Therapy Assistant

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Want to help a person recover from injury through strength-training activities? A physical therapy assistant rehabilitates patients under the supervision of a physical therapist, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. If you like the idea of being a helpful sidekick, you may like it even more knowing you can earn a decent paycheck that doesn't cost you years of schooling.

Job Duties: In a nutshell, a physical therapy assistant shows a patient the ropes while keeping tabs on their status. They may help patients overcome injuries by assisting them with various exercises, says the Department of Labor.

Why It Pays: A physical therapist needs supportive personnel to handle the demands of the job, says Margolin. And that's where physical therapist assistants come in.

"It is worthwhile for PT offices to pay PTAs a reasonable salary, as a PTA saves the practice money by taking over the basic duties and allowing the PT to focus on the work that requires more technical/scientific know-how. The job of PTA is also physically demanding and the salary must correspond with that."

Next step: Click to Find the Right Physical Therapy Assistant Program.

Education Requirements: What does it take to jump into this profitable career? You may want to start by earning an associate's from an accredited physical therapist program. Most states require that in addition to licensure, says the Department.

Career #6: Construction Manager

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We all know buildings are not constructed out of thin air. There has to be a person who spearheads the project and keeps it in motion. If being at a construction site to watch every piece form together excites you, pursuing a career as a construction manager might be a good move. Plus it has high earning potential and could require less time in school.

Job Duties: This job requires more than wearing a hard hat. A construction manager coordinates and supervises a wide variety of projects, says the U.S. Department of Labor. These could be residential, commercial, or public, like the construction of a bridge. Specifically, they prepare budgets, select the appropriate construction method for the project, and supervise construction personnel onsite.

Why It Pays: In the lucrative world of real estate, construction managers bring a lot of value to property owners, says Margolin.
"Construction management is a uniquely demanding field, as one must have knowledge of a variety of areas," he says. Construction managers need "enough vocational knowledge to observe the work of various contractors and assess if they are performing the job correctly," and they must have "the ability to manage others in a physically demanding environment with tight budgets and deadline constraints." They also need to be aware of safety and construction regulations to be effective, he says.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Construction Management Program.

Education Requirements: The Department of Labor says an associate's degree combined with work experience may be enough for some positions. The Department also notes that "those with a high school diploma and years of relevant work experience will be able to work as construction managers, though they will do so primarily as self-employed general contractors." The Department points out that as construction processes are becoming more complex, a bachelor's degree is growing in importance.

* All salary information from the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Employment and Wages data, May 2012.