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Dental hygenists typically start at $45,000 a year.
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updated 6/4/2012 10:16:27 AM ET 2012-06-04T14:16:27

It’s graduation season and plenty of college students will leave campus with a diploma in hand and no job in sight. As they scramble to find employment, they’ll rely on their hard-earned degrees to land them a well-paying position — and in many cases, they will. But you don’t need a four-year degree to get a great job.

In a new report, the job search portal CareerCast.com identified the 20 best jobs that don’t require a four-year degree. Many of these positions involve training — and all offer a good salary and potential for significant income and employment growth.

At the top of the list: dental hygienists. This profession also ranks fourth on CareerCast.com’s overall ranking of the nation’s best jobs (See: The Best And Worst Jobs For 2012).

Forbes.com slideshow: See which great jobs don't require a college degree

“There are many high school grads who simply can’t afford four years of college, and rather than have them focus on what they’re missing, our goal is to show them there are jobs for which you don’t need a degree that will provide a great career,” says Tony Lee, publisher of CareerCast.com. “We want to show them that there are still great career options, and that they can make a comfortable living.”

However, if you do have the means or the opportunity to get a college education, Lee says it’s worth it. The average American worker with a four-year degree will make approximately $1 million more during his or her career, according to CareerCast.com. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that the average starting salary for someone with a college degree is $51,000, while a job for which no degree is required starts out at about $28,350.

While those with degrees usually earn more throughout their careers, this report proves you can still make a good living without one.“You’d be surprised by how many people don’t have a college degree that are perfectly happy in their careers,” Lee says. “Parental pressure and societal expectations tell many high school students that the natural next step is college. That’s what has been preached for a while. But if earning a college degree isn’t right for you, or you can’t afford it, you still have plenty of great opportunities. The bottom line is that you need to take a job that will make you happy and help you advance your career, with or without a degree.”

Dental hygienist is “a very good job whether you have a [four-year] degree or not,” Lee says. “It ranks highly for work environment, hiring outlook, income, low stress and minimal physical activities. Training is required, but it will cost far less than a four-year degree.”

It may not require a four-year degree, but becoming a dental hygienist is no walk in the park. Paige McEvoy, a registered dental hygienist in Denver says she took two years of prerequisite courses at the college level and was required to complete an essay examination and interviews before being admitted to her competitive two-year dental hygiene program, where she engaged in clinical and didactic course work. Upon completing the program and passing her national and regional board exams, McEvoy received her license to practice dental hygiene.

The average starting salary for a dental hygienist is $45,000. The job’s income growth potential is 109 percent, and employment growth is 37.7 percent. Income growth means the percentage increase from beginning earnings to top level, so over time your earnings may double; employment growth refers to the projected increase in number of jobs through 2020, according to the BLS.

The BLS website says dental hygienists are responsible for cleaning teeth, examining patients for oral diseases and providing other preventative dental care. An associate’s degree and extensive training is required, and the median annual wage for dental hygienists was $68,250 in May 2010.

The second best job without a four-year college degree: online sales manager. The average starting salary for these professionals is $40,000 — but it has significant growth potential (255 percent). According to the BLS, the number of online sales manager jobs is expected to grow by 25 percent through 2020.

Rounding out the top three is web developer. They earn an average starting salary of $43,000 and may see their paychecks grow by 179 percent throughout their careers. The profession is expected to increase by 21.7 percent from 2010 to 2020.

Other high-paying jobs that don’t require a four-year degree: surveyor, electrical technician and paralegal assistant.

Here are 10 great jobs that don’t require a four-year degree:

1. Dental hygienist

Average starting salary: $45,000
Income growth: 109 percent
Employment growth: 37.70 percent

2. Online advertising manager

Average starting salary: $40,000
Income growth: 255 percent
Employment growth: 25.00 percent

3. Web developer

Average starting salary: $43,000
Income growth: 179 percent
Employment growth: 21.70 percent

4. Medical secretary

Average starting salary: $21,000
Income growth: 114 percent
Employment growth: 41.30 percent

5. Paralegal assistant

Average starting salary: $29,000
Income growth: 159 percent
Employment growth: 18.30 percent

6. Stenographer/court reporter

Average starting salary: $26,000
Income growth: 250 percent
Employment growth: 14.10 percent

7. Heating/refrigeration mechanic

Average starting salary: $26,000
Income growth: 158 percent
Employment growth: 33.70 percent

8. Surveyor

Average starting salary: $31,000
Income growth: 190 percent
Employment growth: 25.40 percent

9. Executive assistant

Average starting salary: $29,000
Income growth: 131 percent
Employment growth: 12.60 percent

10. Insurance agent

Average starting salary: $26,000
Income growth: 342 percent
Employment growth: 21.90 percent

More from Forbes.com

© 2012 Forbes.com

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