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Best-paying jobs you can get with a high school diploma


First-line supervisors of police and detectives are charged with monitoring and directing the activities of uniformed police. Though salaries for local police departments are generally low, supervisors can be very highly paid.

 Having a college education dramatically improves one’s chances of finding employment, a recent report released by Georgetown University shows. Also, those with just a high school diploma, according to the report, have had the hardest time maintaining employment during the recession. However, having a college degree, which once basically guaranteed a position, is now no longer a sure thing.

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For those who can’t go to college for any reason, there are hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs that only require a high school diploma. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed 2011 occupational profiles from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to identify positions that pay the most money, and generally do not require anything more than a high school diploma. We listed the 10 highest paying ones.

College education, in the vast majority of high-paying jobs, is a prerequisite. Of the 185 job categories that earned a median of at least $60,000 in 2011, just 16 did not require at least some college education. The 24 highest-paying jobs all require a bachelor’s degree, and in many cases, a master’s or doctoral degree.

Very few of the 10 highest-paying positions that only require a high school diploma are immediately accessible. Most require years of work at a lower position and a move up the ranks over time. Five of the 10 jobs are supervisor or manager positions.

Many of these jobs are compensated well because of the danger or extremely unfavorable conditions associated with them. Subway operators, paid a median of $63,000 a year, work long and shifting hours underground. Elevator repairers and nuclear power plant operators work in potentially life-threatening positions, and are paid more accordingly.

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In order to identify the kinds of positions high school graduates without college degrees may want to consider, 24/7 Wall St. examined the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics database. In some cases, data about the number of workers were not available, and we provided the 2010 employment number. The results were then sorted by wage, in order to identify the 10 jobs that have the highest median annual salary. Along with salary, we also reviewed how much these jobs are expected to grow over the next 10 years.

These are the 10 highest-paying jobs that you can get with a high school diploma.

1. Transportation, Storage, and Distribution Managers

  • Median annual income: $80,860
  • Total number of people employed: 98,600
  • Total new jobs (2010-2020): 9,900

Transportation, storage, and distribution managers “plan, direct, or coordinate transportation, storage, or distribution activities in accordance with organizational policies and applicable government laws or regulations.” Though a formal education beyond high school may not be necessary, workers usually have at least five years of previous, related work experience. In 2011, the median annual income for such managers was higher than for biophysicists and biochemists, physical therapists and audiologists -- professions that require a doctoral or professional degree. Wages for such managers were especially high for the top 10 percent of earners who made over $135,860 in 2011.

2. Administrative Services Managers

  • Median annual income: $79,540
  • Total number of people employed: 254,300
  • Total new jobs (2010-2020): 36,900

Administrative services managers manage the supporting functions of organizations. Some handle the purchasing and distribution of equipment and supplies, while others oversee the operations of buildings and grounds. Some managers are very well compensated. In 2011, the top 25 percent earned over $106,030, while the top 10 percent earned over $139,170. To become an administrative services manager, education beyond a high school diploma is often not necessary. However, past work experience is needed, with background in purchasing and sales or in warehousing and shipping being especially valuable. The number of administrative services managers is expected to rise by 14.5 percent between 2010 and 2020, slightly above the projected national figure for all occupations.

3. First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives

  • Median annual income: $77,890
  • Total number of people employed: 106,100
  • Total new jobs (2010-2020): 2,300

First-line supervisors of police and detectives are charged with monitoring and directing the activities of police officers. They supervise the work of uniformed police officers, who enforce laws and respond to calls, as well as of detectives, who investigate and collect evidence of crimes. Though salaries for local police departments are generally low, supervisors can be very highly paid -- the top 10 percent of supervisors made over $126,130 in 2011. The total number of supervisory jobs is expected to rise just 2.1 percent by 2020, less than the 8.2 percent increase projected for police officers and the 2.9 percent increase expected for detectives and criminal investigators.

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4. Nuclear Power Reactor Operators 

  • Median annual income: $76,590
  • Total number of people employed: 5,200
  • Total new jobs (2010-2020): 200

Nuclear power reactor operators monitor and adjust the various turbines, generators and other systems used to generate electricity from nuclear reactors. Though a high school diploma is often enough to work as an operator, becoming one usually requires completing “rigorous, long-term on-the-job training,” as well as passing a licensing exam. Those completing these prerequisites are frequently well-paid, as the top 25 percent of workers earned over $88,730 and the top 10 percent earned over $101,730 in 2011. The number of such jobs is expected to grow just 3.6 percent from 2010 to 2020, with these few jobs coming from the opening of new nuclear plants -- the first since the 1990s.

5. Elevator Installers and Repairers

  • Median annual income: $75,060
  • Total number of people employed: 19,900
  • Total new jobs (2010-2020): 2,300

Elevator installers and repairers are responsible for the installation, maintenance and repair of the cables, motors, and the control systems used in elevators and escalators. There is some risk of injury involved, usually from falls, burns, and shocks. Another downside is that some workers must be on call at all hours. Many have completed a four-year apprenticeship. For each year of the program, “apprentices must have at least 144 hours of related technical instruction and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training.” Elevator installers and repairers are often well-paid, as 75 percent earned more than $58,430 in 2011. However, apprentices start out making between 30 percent to 50 percent of what regular installers and repairers earn.

Read the rest of the list at the 24/7 Wall St. web site