The Best Job for the Next Decade That Doesn't Require a Four-Year College Degree

Looking for a career change? There's only one place to start.

There is one job better than all the rest for people who want stable employment, high pay, solid benefits, and job security, and it doesn't even require a traditional, four-year college degree. And it pays nearly twice as much as other jobs with a similar education. And there are supposed to be more than a million new job openings in the coming decade.

Sound too good to be true? Well, it isn't. The best job for the next decade is a registered nurse.


Source: COD Newsroom .

Great pay
In 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that registered nurses had an average salary of $65,470, or $31.50 per hour, and the only entry-level education required is an associate's degree in nursing.

Source: 401(K) 2013 on Flickr.

By comparison, the BLS notes that post-secondary teachers -- college professors and the like -- need a minimum of a master's degree (and often a doctorate) and get paid an average of $68,970 per year. That could mean seven or more years of college tuition payments for only a 5% bump in pay! 

The average salary for all jobs that required an associate's degree stood at $39,000 in 2012 , meaning a degree in nursing is worth nearly 70% more than the average associate's degree. In fact, the top 10% of registered nurses also earned nearly $95,000. 

Over a million new jobs
It isn't even just that registered nurses make great money, but there will also be a huge demand for them in coming years. It's expected that there will be 1,053,000 job openings for registered nurses by 2022, which is more than the job openings for accountants and construction workers combined.

527,000 of those jobs are expected to be the result new job openings, and not simply filling roles for people already in the workforce. You can see how dramatically better the pay is for a registered nurse than the other jobs that will be in high demand:


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

And it isn't as though these job demands will be greatest in specific areas of the country or only in hospitals, because registered nurses can work in almost any physician's office, nursing home, school, or even in home health care services anywhere in the U.S.

Source: COD Newsroom.

The reason for the heightened demand for registered nurses is the result of a number of factors. There is the aging population of the American public, an increased number of chronic conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, and obesity, and an expansion of health care coverage in America as a result of the Affordable Care Act, meaning more people will seek health care services. In addition, as a result of more pressure on hospitals to lower costs, more individuals will be sent to outpatient facilities that have higher needs for nurses. 

Although other jobs often get more headline attention, few can provide the security, pay, opportunity, and societal benefit -- and require fewer hurdles to jump to become one -- quite like a registered nurse.

Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that a job as a registered nurse requires no college degree. The Fool regrets the error.

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  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2014, at 6:23 PM, wbryan wrote:

    You really need to get the facts straight before you publish an article. An RN definitely needs a 4-year degree. An LVN (Licensed Vocational Nurse) takes about two years. There's a reason they earn less and have the nastiest tasks (overnight shifts, cleaning up vomit etc.) -- they have less education. A nurse practitioner has even more education / training than an RN, and can write prescriptions, among other higher-level responsibility, all under the supervision of an overpriced physician whose education cost way too much.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2014, at 6:49 PM, Njgtr321 wrote:

    Ummm. Wow who writes this nonsense ? Or who is the editor? A RN def needs at least a 2 yr degree and than a licensing test. I pretty sure this writer has no degree

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2014, at 7:27 PM, MissDisplaced wrote:

    What a dumb article and presents completely wrong facts. OF COURSE a Registered Nurse needs a 4 year college degree!!!

    Not to mention also that many programs are impacted, and you have to have completed many of your classes such as anatomy and physiology, math, biology within the last 5 years or you cannot transfer it into a program.

    They also neglect to mention that many graduated nurses are only able to get jobs on a Per Diem basis (that means part time) due to budget cuts.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2014, at 7:30 PM, rcs48 wrote:

    "The Best Job for the Next Decade That Doesn't Require a College Degree"

    "and the only entry-level education required is an associate's degree in nursing."

    An associate's degree is a two-year degree conferred by a college is it not? Thus, the job does require a college degree.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2014, at 7:31 PM, Lanative wrote:

    Talk about mis-informing :( a registered nurse definitely needs at least a two year degree. Who wants a nurse that can administer medicine to not be educated?

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2014, at 7:33 PM, amandjoh4251 wrote:

    What about the wait list of at least a year to even get in a program it is almost two years here in my part of michigan.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2014, at 7:40 PM, rcs48 wrote:

    I forgot to add:

    Yes, the future of nursing does seem to be looking pretty good. My sister will be retiring from nursing this year, opening yet another position. While pay varies by geography and specialty, one can make a living wage and put away a few dollars (Foolishly invested, of course). My only advice is to stay away from the for-profit schools for your education. They charge way too much and, in my opinion, do not offer the same level of education. A community college nursing program is a good start, then transfer to a four-year institution. If a hospital in an area you want to live and work offers a program, you may even be able to get some tuition assistance for an agreement to work there for some period of time after your are certified.

    Good luck to all who may join to ranks of nursing.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2014, at 8:25 PM, turiboo wrote:

    hmmm, that is a lie , registered nurse must have least a 2 year degree, but all has to pass NCLEX national boards examination. iam in accelerated program which can earn bachelor's degree in little over 2 years but its incredibly hard! this is very difficult curriculum and this article is nonsense!

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2014, at 8:26 PM, atduignan wrote:

    Nursing is certainly a much sought after profession, but to secure a position as an RN one must have a BS in Nursing , very few institutions are hiring Rn,s with an associate degree. Its a wonderful but tough career not for everyone!!

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2014, at 9:01 PM, 72freddyf wrote:

    A person can become an RN with an associates degree and the passing of state or national exams.

    A BSN (Bachelor of Nursing) is an RN program with the extra liberal arts, etc. courses to fill up the BSN credits. They have to pass the same tests as the associate degreed RNs.

    But, to move up in management or become a Nurse Practioner, they need the BSN.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2014, at 9:13 PM, mbee1 wrote:

    If this article is true, it signals loud and clear the decline of the US. The nurse position while necessary is a paid by transferring money from those who have it to those who don't. It does not actually create more wealth than it consumes so it is a zero sum job for society. Currently that wealth is generated by printing money that our kids will be paying back for the rest of their lives. That does not seem to me to be a good use of borrowing power.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2014, at 10:31 PM, surtec34 wrote:

    WOW. This patrick morris (oops, should I have capitalized his name? Sorry, I didn't know English proper nouns at college) He needs to do a HUGE apology to ALL of us, "monkey can do it" nurses. Someone Google him. We'll see how much knowledge is needed next time he goes to the doctor. We will send in a orderly to take care of him and give him a shot. NOT to disrespect orderly's responsibilities. At least they are trained to do their jobs competently and with respect. Lets hold this p. mor.'s editor accountable. I PROUDLY sign my e-mail address! surnur26@yahoo.com (for p. morris that's surgical nurse.)

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2014, at 10:32 PM, susyRN wrote:

    Mr. Patrick Morris apparently to write an article on the internet you don't need a college education in journalism because you obviously didn't do your research before you wrote this article. In order to be a RN you have to do at least 2 years in a community college. Most hopspital now a days require you have your bachelors in order to work for them which require a 4 year university. Afterwards you need to pass a state board called the NCLEX. So yes nurses are very well educated. If you ever end up going to a hospital Mr. Morris I know you will not like a nurse taking care of you who is not college educated. Nurses do a great job and do it well I hope next time you write an article you do a better job in yours. At least you just look ignorant for your mistake us we save lives and we so we can't afford mistakes in our field.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 12:00 AM, youareamoron wrote:

    I made an account on your worthless website to tell you how incredibly stupid you are. RN's are very highly trained professional that are required to take state board certification tests to receive that license. Most hospitals today are requiring RN's to have a 4 year BSN degree. What do you think we do, clean up crap all day? No, we keep people alive, and save lives as a full time job. I can't imagine you having an education any further than 7-8th grade since you actually posted this article. Yes I am an RN.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 12:05 AM, 206bones wrote:

    What a horribly mis-informed article! As others have already commented, of course you need a college degree to become a Registered Nurse--either a two year Associates Degree or a 4 year BS Degree in Nursing.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 1:36 AM, YouareSoWrong wrote:

    Did you complete one second of research prior to writing this article??? I hope this is your part time job! If I put as much effort IN EARNING MY COLLEGE DEGREE, BECOMING AN RN, as you did in writing this piece I guess I would be writing for Motley Fool too! Where on earth did you dream up the "facts" in this article!?!?

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 5:39 AM, IntroVent wrote:

    Only one place to start?

    That's absurd!

    I'm a maintenance mechanic in a manufacturing facility and earned $75k last year without a degree.

    This job starts around $45k and after working through and apprenticeship plus through gaining seniority (To get more lucrative positions) it can really add up.

    If I want to ADD electrician to my responsibilities, I could get another $10k on top of that.

    Sure. Through the apprenticeship, some college courses are required to proceed, but after the first 8 courses, anything more than that is up to you and how badly you'd like more money.

    Nursing is a respectable vocation, though, I believe you have to enter into a nursing program at a junior college to even get a shot at getting started in the field.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 6:44 AM, achytka wrote:

    i work with nurses in my profession and this explains why its hard to find one with a lick of sense

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 8:09 AM, TMFMorris wrote:

    Patrick Morris here. I regret that you all feel I was doing registered nurses disrespect in my article. The headline was not meant to imply that registered nurses did not require formal education or were in any way less valuable to society than other occupations, but in fact just the opposite.

    I cite that becoming an RN requires an associate’s degree in the fourth paragraph, which is exactly what the Bureau of Labor statistics also notes. The headline of “college degree” was not meant to imply simply a high-school education is required, but instead a four-year degree at a university is not a barrier to entry.

    I can understand your frustrations, however I do not feel I misrepresented the profession of nursing, as I conclude by noting:

    Although other jobs often get more headline attention, few can provide the security, pay, opportunity, and societal benefit -- and require fewer hurdles to jump to become one -- quite like a registered nurse.

    Again, I regret the confusions and your frustrations.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 8:17 AM, shamachen wrote:

    This article is extremely deceptive. First of all as others have already pointed out, an associate's degree is a college degree so the title of the article is flat our wrong. And while there are still some diploma nursing programs out there, they are few and far between and dying out.

    Secondly, the author states there are few hurdles to becoming a nurse. Sorry pal, it ain't that easy. Just ask anyone who ever completed a program. Nursing schools are very competitive with many of them having waitlists. Once you complete your degree you must still must take a state exam for licensure.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 8:20 AM, Localhooligan wrote:

    Who's writing this stuff? Not only do you need a degree to get a job as a nurse, there aren't that many nursing schools and they have become increasingly selective in who they accept. To imply that this is a high paying field one can easily transition into is far from the truth. While there may be a few Vietnam era nurses without a higher education still working out there, they are anomalies.

    Motley Fool needs to stick to topics it knows well.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 9:22 AM, tufrn wrote:

    I think that there needs to be a big injection of reality to this article:

    I have been an RN for 16 years and there has been a great transition in what is constitutes an EMPLOYABLE registered nurse:

    1) Most hospitals now require a Bachelors degree as a MINIMUM requirement for employment.

    2) The majority of states require annual continuing education for maintaining licensure.

    3) Nursing is a political nighmare: don't dare bounce a check or get behind on your taxes or do anything that could raise a question of "moral turpitude" or you will lose your license or end up under investigation by the irreprehensible boards of nursing. It is NOT just a job, but an entire LIFESTYLE. Most people I have met would not even come close to qualifying.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 9:32 AM, Suznmy wrote:

    I'm assuming you posted this article just to get people's attention because I can't believe that a writer could be so ignorant. As posted above an RN needs a minimum of a 2 year degree and most hospitals require. 4 year degree. Being an RN is a HIGHLY SKILL PROFESSION and this article is an insult to everyone hard working RN out there.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 10:06 AM, boston wrote:

    I'm so tired of these ridiculous claims of making fistfuls of cash with no degree or very little education. It's just not realistic. Positions that do require little education are becoming far and few between and, without some inside track into such a profession or some good connections, you're pretty much shut out. Sure, nursing overall may not require as much education but don't tell me anyone is going to pay that much money for someone with an associate's degree. If that was the case don't you think many people wouldn't bother getting into such high debt for a piece of paper that says nothing more than "I am not a total idiot"?

    Nursing is like any other field. The more you put into it and train, the more you get paid. It's not something you just jump into because you want to make more money. I could never handle the job myself.

    Bottom line, the economy is still in serious trouble and the gap between the "haves and the have nots" is ever increasing. Even the most simple jobs are requiring degrees and years of experience. My philosophy at this point in my life is that I'd rather try and fail than not try at all. If I die with loads of debt so be it, at least I fought back against a system that has oppressed me since the day I was born. I may be poorer that a homeless rat but at least I beat the odds and didn't become a statistic as predicted.

    What a stupid article. This one can join the hundreds of other fantastic stories I've read about fantasy jobs with high pay for little work. They just don't exist for the average working person. Stop wasting our time.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 10:35 AM, christyness wrote:

    "Although other jobs often get more headline attention, few can provide the security, pay, opportunity, and societal benefit -- and require fewer hurdles to jump to become one -- quite like a registered nurse."

    Honey you ain't seen hurdles until you go through nursing school.

    And once you have your license, the hurdles you must jump in order to excel just keep coming, only with far more responsibility. Certainly more than it takes to publish poorly thought out articles on the internet.

    It is true that nursing is rewarding - financially, emotionally, and societally.

    But it is equally demanding in this same areas. I have an ASN and nearly $50,000 in student loans to pay off.

    I watch people rot from the inside out and die horrible deaths. I mourn nearly every day I work.

    I listen to a never ending stream of comments like, "You're so smart. Why didn't you go to med school?" I must always think about protecting my license. My private life is not entirely my own. One drink, a bounced check, any run-in with the law could put that license in jeopardy. There are even nurses who have taken PRESCRIBED pain meds and been fired for it.

    And there's always this bit of societal fun - I tell patients what is up, then patiently go to get a doctor to tell them the same damn thing, because hey... I'm just the nurse, right? Your article perpetuates that stereotype - that it doesn't take much to be a nurse.

    And you're right. It doesn't take much - it takes damn near everything at times to do what we do. Including a college degree.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 3:15 PM, joni wrote:

    OK. For real. An RN needs a minimum of an Associates Degree, a college degree for sure, which is rarely accomplished in two years as many students firs have prerequs in math, chemistry etc to complete. Then there is so much clinical that many students do the co;;ege prerequs first, bringing it to 3 YEAR PROCESS. After this they need to study for and pass a licensing exam, which requires all the college credits. Furthermore, many hospitals are now only hiring RNs with Bachelor degrees, which are 4 year programs. The hope is to make the Bachelors degree the minimum requirement. It is a hard and challenging job with little to no chance of advancemnt for the AD RN, a Bachelors and Masters is needed for that. Do your research.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 4:09 PM, verchewil wrote:

    I am not an RN. I have an associates of applied science. My pay scale is just under $45/hr. I am an instrumentation and control technician in a power generating station. We can not find enough people to fill the openings in our various plants.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 9:26 PM, Icutchacokov wrote:

    Not only are they motley fools but they are feckin morons to state that RNs do not have a college degree.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 11:29 PM, emares wrote:

    Well, I guess the writers have been updated.

    Gone are those diploma programs.

    The minimum degree needed is an associates degree, but most places who are hiring require a bachelor's degree.

    And, it does generally take 2 years to get the prerequisites for the courses.

    After graduating, there is this little catch 22 deal whereby you need 2 years of med-surg experience before you can actually get a job on a med-surg floor, but HEY, it's still a great value and opportunity, and a great career! You'll always be able to find a job.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 11:55 PM, jumbonav1 wrote:

    Just wondering where the salary statistics come from. Registered Nurses have associate, bachelor, masters and doctoral degrees. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists make on average about $150k annually. A RN with a 2-year degree working home health care or at a nursing home may make $30-40k annually. I'd like to see the statistics on RNs salaries with a 2-year degree.

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