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No College Degree Required: $100,000 Jobs

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Peter Dazeley | Photographer's Choice | Getty Images
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It may not be a piece of cake, but despite stagnant wages for the majority of U.S. workers, making a six-figure salary without earning a college degree can be achieved.

From overseeing the creation of beautiful breads, pastries and desserts for hotels and restaurants as an executive pastry chef to (surprisingly!) becoming a nuclear power reactor operator conducting procedures that start up or shut down the plant, having a college degree in these occupations is not mandatory.

Personal trainers, massage therapists, and handymen are also among the jobs where top earners with no college degree can receive annual pay that exceeds $100,000, according to PayScale.com. To compile this list, PayScale.com surveyed its salary and career database, covering about 12,000 jobs in over 1,000 industries.

"A six-figure salary is not typical in these jobs, but it is possible," says PayScale.com's Katie Bardaro. "You need to be a top performer in your field to earn these salaries."

Yet even average salaries in these jobs are higher than salaries for most workers who only have a high school diploma. The median earnings for a high school graduate, age 25 or older, were $28,070 in 2011, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data.

PayScale.com found executive pastry chefs, handymen, licensed massage therapists, personal trainers, and nuclear power operators could earn median annual salaries of $45,100 to $103,000 a year. The annual pay could potentially rise much higher.

Among nuclear power reactor operators, personal trainers, and licensed massage therapists, top earners commanded salaries of over $140,000 a year!

No College Degree Required!

Job
Median Pay
Top Earners
Education
Nuclear PowerReactor Operator $103,000 $142,000 High School Diploma
Personal Trainer $51,400 $141,000 High School Diploma
Executive Pastry Chef $45,100 $102,000 High School Diploma
Handyman $53,300 $104,000 High School Diploma
Massage Therapist $67,600 $141,000 High School Diploma
Source:Ê PayScale.com, Bureau of Labor Statistics

Only the top 10 percent of workers on the PayScale.com list holding only a high school diploma or GED will earn over $100,000, Bardaro says. And workers with a high school diploma tend to earn more than those with only a GED, when other factors are held constant.

Continuing education courses, as well as years of experience, also may be required for licenses or certifications to garner the highest salaries in many these fields. But those requirements can often be attained at a vocational school or community college at far less of a cost than attending a four-year college or university.

Recent high school graduates certainly won't go from turning their tassels in June to making $141,000 a year switching on and off equipment at a nuclear power plant in September. For nuclear power reactor operators, "from a strict perspective, you can do this job with a high school diploma, but it does require a lot of specialized training," says Scott Burrell, a spokesperson for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which administers the examinations required for operators' licensing.

ScienceBuddies.org, a non-profit website that encourages students and parents to learn more about careers in the sciences, makes sure young people know how long it can take to reach that goal. Before even beginning training, a nuclear power plant worker must have 3 years of power plant experience. At least 6 months of this must be on-site at the nuclear power plant where the operator is to be licensed and traininggenerally takes at least one year before the worker takes the NRC-administered exam.

Training standards and requirements for massage therapists vary greatly by state and locality. Education programs for this job, at a private or public postsecondary institution, can require 500 hours or more of study to complete, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a high school diploma or equivalent degree is usually required for admission.

A certified executive pastry chefmust complete 150 hours of continuing education courses, as well as courses in nutrition, food safety and sanitation and pass a written and practical exam, according to the American Culinary Federation. Plus, to be certified, they must have worked for 3 years as a pastry chef in charge of food production in a food service operation and have supervised at least three full-time works in food preparation.

So getting a $100,000 job with no degree may not be as easy as pie, but for budding bakers, young scientists, and many other high school graduates the potential to earn six-figure salaries after some training may be much more satisfying than icing on the cake.

- By Sharon Epperson, CNBC Personal Finance Correspondent. You can follow her on Twitter @sharon_epperson

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