7 High Paying STEM Jobs that Don’t Require a 4 Year Degree

As a result of high college tuition costs, many students are joining the workforce after completing high school.  Foregoing a college education does not mean sacrificing higher pay; there are positions suited for high school graduates that pay just as well or even better than those requiring a college degree. Here are 7 of the highest paying Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics (STEM) jobs that don’t require a 4 year degree.

Air Traffic Controller

This position pays an average annual salary of $122,530 with considerable room for upward mobility. Requirements to become an air traffic controller include fluency in English, U.S. citizenship, training at an FAA Academy, passing background and medical checks and passing an FAA qualifying test. A qualified air traffic controller is responsible for the overall coordination of aircraft, which includes organizing flight arrival and departures, monitoring aircraft movement with radar, providing weather reports to pilots, changing flight routes and more. There are approach and departure, en route and tower controller positions. Air traffic controllers usually work at or near a large airport.

Nuclear Technician

A nuclear technician is responsible for managing and operating nuclear test and experiment equipment used in laboratories. More specifically, nuclear technicians are in charge of monitoring the performance of equipment, measuring radiation levels, and notifying others of safety procedures and potential risks.  This requires an employee to work closely with physicists and engineers. Those pursuing a career as a nuclear technician typically hold a 2-year degree in nuclear science or a related field. However, a nuclear technician can also enter into this career via onsite training. Nuclear technicians make around $69,000 annually and work standard full-time hours. Continued focus on alternative energy sources will ensure growth in this field and provide jobs availability and security.

Dental Hygienist

Contrary to popular belief, a person does not need a 4-year degree to become a dental hygienist. In fact, only an associate’s degree in dental hygiene is required in most states. Dental hygienists aid dentists in the examination and treatment of patients. Typical duties include taking x-rays, inspecting teeth for cavities and plaque, and applying fluoride and other sealants. Because dental hygienists often fill part-time positions, many end up working for more than one dentist. However, dental hygienists can expect to make a comfortable salary of around $70,000.

Graphic Designers

People with an artistic edge may be interested in becoming graphic designers. This position requires individuals to design and organize the layout of advertisements, brochures, magazines and more. Graphic designers work with companies, products, and brands to convey messages and ideas visually. A graphic designer makes an average salary of $44,150 and is only required to complete a certificate program or 2-year degree. Graphic designers are employed in a wide range of industries such as manufacturing, advertising, publishing, and trade.

Registered Nurse

Similar to a dental hygienist, many people think a four-year degree is required to become a registered nurse. However, only an associate’s degree from an accredited institution and passing the National Council Licensure is required. Registered nurses work directly with patients to help diagnose and treat illnesses and diseases. Nurses also organize patient data, manage medical equipment, educate patients, and provide medications.  While a majority of registered nurses work in hospitals, some are employed at schools, clinics or nursing homes. Nurse often work unconventional schedules due to the demanding nature of healthcare. There are numerous opportunities for upward mobility within this position. A nurse can expect to make around $65,470 annually.

Website Developer

A website developer is in charge of the overall design and creation of websites. Typical work includes designing the site layout, managing traffic, coding, installing applications or other software, creating content, and tasks related to the maintenance and coordination of a web page. Website developers can either obtain an associate’s degree in a related field or gain enough experience via internships. Website developers typically work a standard full-time work schedule and are paid, on average, $62,500 annually. This industry is expected to grow fast at a rate of almost 20%.


Electricians work in homes and businesses installing and maintaining phone lines, electrical power, lighting, and other related systems. Only a high school diploma is required to become an electrician. However, electricians also have the option to attend a technical school or apprenticeship to further their education. Some states require electricians to be licensed. Electricians can work in large businesses, factories, or people’s homes. Due to the nature of the work, electricians can also find independent work. However, most electricians work with electrical contractors to make it easier to find clients. The average pay for an electrician is around $49,840 annually.

College is not the only path towards a strong financial future. The STEM fields offer several viable job options that require little to no training and still offer good salaries and secure employment.

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