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Surprising Jobs with $100K Salaries -- After Only a Two-Year Degree

Surprising Jobs with $100K Salaries -- After Only a Two-Year Degree

Think of some typical jobs that pay six-figure salaries, and you likely imagine careers that require four-year college degrees (if not four years plus advanced degrees). The common perception is that a traditional university degree is the only path to financial security and wealth for the average person.   

But that's not necessarily true. While some fields require that you have a four-year degree just to get a job interview, there are many other high-earning careers in which typical professionals have two-year degrees -- often known as associate's degrees. According to the compensation experts at, here are five of those fields in which the top 10 percent earn more than $100,000 a year.*

1. Executive Pastry Chef (90th Percentile Pay: $102,000; Median Pay: $45,100)

Talk about the sweet life. Executive pastry chefs work at exotic resorts, on cruise ships and for luxury hotels. They're also found in fine restaurants, specialty patisseries, and the homes of the famous and powerful (including the White House) -- anyplace where there's a need to create delicious, beautiful baked goods on a large scale.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), formal training for chefs can take place at a community college, technical school or culinary school, and two-year degrees are common. Pastry chefs with little formal education can still advance through the ranks to lead a staff. A growing number of chefs participate in training and/or certification programs sponsored by independent cooking schools and organizations; many large hotel and restaurant chains operate their own training programs as well.

Find pastry chef jobs.

2. Master Plumber (90th Percentile Pay: $102,000; Median Pay: $60,000)

As long as we want running water in our homes and business, plumbers will be in demand -- job-outlook forecasts for plumbers are usually very favorable. Whether they work as sole entrepreneurs or for larger companies, plumbers typically spend their time installing and repairing water, waste-disposal, drainage and gas systems and related appliances.

There are many paths to becoming a master plumber, but a common one is through a term of apprenticeship to another master plumber. According to the BLS, most plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters get their training in jointly administered apprenticeships or in technical schools and community colleges. Most states require that plumbers be licensed; licensing requirements vary, but most localities require workers to have a minimum of two years of experience and pass an examination on the trade and local plumbing codes.

Find plumber jobs.

3. Radiation Therapist (90th Percentile Pay: $104,000; Median Pay: $77,100)

Healthcare is commonly cited as an industry with high long-term growth potential, and healthcare jobs can be very rewarding for people who want to help others. Radiation therapists operate machines that help oncology teams diagnose and treat cancer. They work in hospitals or cancer-treatment centers, and unlike many people who work in healthcare, they normally work only during the day.

The BLS reports that professionals in this field generally complete an educational program in radiation therapy or radiography -- many of these are two-year programs that include courses on human anatomy and physiology, physics, algebra, precalculus, writing, public speaking, computer science and research methodology. In 2009, there were 102 accredited radiation-therapy programs in the US, according to the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.

Find radiation therapist jobs.

4. Intensive-Care Unit Nurse (90th Percentile Pay: $107,000; Median Pay: $71,100)

Some nursing specialties require more training and education than others. However, reports that the typical intensive-care unit (ICU) nurse holds an associate's degree in nursing. ICU nurses are critical-care nurses, according to the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). In working with critically ill or injured patients, all critical-care nurses serve as patient advocates “responsible for respecting and supporting the basic values, rights and beliefs of a critically ill patient," the AACN says.

The BLS predicts that future job prospects for registered nurses will be excellent; currently, many employers report difficulty attracting and retaining an adequate number of RNs.

Find ICU nurse jobs.

5. Sheet-Metal Worker (90th Percentile Pay: $122,000; Median Pay: $63,100)

These workers make, install and maintain a wide variety of products made from metal sheets -- heating and air-conditioning duct systems, roofs, siding, downspouts, restaurant equipment, railroad cars, precision equipment and much more. They do both construction-related work and mass production of sheet-metal products in manufacturing.

Besides having mathematical aptitude, sheet-metal workers need to be in good physical condition and have good hand-eye coordination. (Compared with other skilled-labor jobs, there is a relatively high risk of injury in this profession). According to the BLS, sheet-metal workers learn their trade through both apprenticeships and informal on-the-job training programs. Apprenticeships are more likely to be found in construction.

Find sheet-metal worker jobs.

* Methodology: Salary data provided by Salaries listed are for workers with at least five years of experience and include any bonuses, commission or profit sharing. Median pay represents the national median; 90th percentile pay is a benchmark for the top earners: 10 percent of people will earn more, while 90 percent will earn less.

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