Is college for everyone? Today a growing number of young people are saddled with six-figure debt based on the belief that a good career requires a four-year degree. Unfortunately, the recession and rise in unemployment means now many of those same students are unable to find rewarding careers after graduation. There’s also the growing trend of veterans separating from service and not necessarily wanting to jump straight into a university environment, even with great GI Bill benefits to take advantage of. The reality is for cleared professionals, a college degree is not a requirement.

Breaking into an entry-level clearance job will be a challenge. But if you’re a professional who already has a few years of work under your belt – most likely through military service –  there are many options. And if you think blue collar jobs are your only opportunities, think again. With both government and the private sector desperate to fill cybersecurity skills gaps, those with the right qualifications and ability to get the job done will find a variety of technical positions available, as well. Here’s a rundown of some of the top jobs for cleared professionals who don’t have a college degree.

  1. Java Developer  – The reality is that java programming skills and a security clearance are a great pair to have in today’s job market. Companies across the country are looking to fill positions, and salaries are often over six figures. What do companies want from java developers? Individuals with real-world experience who can collaborate well on a team. TS/SCI clearances are often required, although some positions are available requiring only a secret clearance.
  2. Software Engineer – Think garnering the title ‘engineer’ requires a college degree? Think again. With cyber skills in such hot demand many companies are willing to trade a bachelor’s degree for experience. But if you want some of the most competitive positions, a few industry certifications will help. Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCDP), or almost any of the Microsoft certifications are a good start.
  3. Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) Engineer –  This is a job that has just come into its own in the last five years, but if you’re looking to break into this competitive and high-demand industry you’ll likely need a decade or more of hands-on experience in the IT field and a real grasp of the latest in virtual technology, including VMWare, Citrix and Microsoft. But if you have the experience and can demonstrate your skills, you can also get a salary well into the six figures. Here’s a career where a degree is definitely a plus but certifications can also get you far. Look for vendor specific programs in the technologies being used by the companies you’re interested in – this will most likely be VMWare.
  4. Intelligence Analyst –  This is a career where a full-scope poly certainly helps, but isn’t always required. Intelligence analysis includes a diverse range of focus areas from human intelligence to social network analysis. You’ll need to have demonstrated on-the-ground experience, and a sharp performance at an interview will likely be key.
  5. TSA Agent – While they may not be popular in today’s era of biometric scanners and pat downs, the TSA offers great job security and enticing government benefits for those who want a hands-on job. In 2010 the TSA announced it was upgrading security clearances for 10,000 employees, granting supervisors and managers secret level clearances. Cleared positions at the TSA include behavior analysts and officers, and the TSA can offer a great opportunity for veterans to apply their leadership and teambuilding capabilities. Salaries range from $15 an hour up to six figures (for managers and senior staff), and like most government jobs, salaries increase over time.
  6. Border Patrol Agent – A competitive federal law enforcement position that falls under the Department of Homeland Security, border patrol agents must pass an entrance examination as well as fitness and background investigation criteria. Salaries may be more competitive than other law enforcement agencies but applicants must be willing to travel, work alone, and work long, unpredictable hours. For those looking for some of the excitement and unpredictability of deployment, with the comfort of a CONUS home, the border patrol may be a great fit.
  7. Program Manager –  Consistently one of the most in-demand and highest paying positions for cleared professionals, program management can be a great opportunity for cleared professionals without a degree. Knowledge of federal contracting will generally be a requirement, and military experience a plus. The Project Management Professional (PMP) certification will also be a huge help in finding a position. Program management can be a great option for veterans unsure of which area they’d like to pursue post-military. Vets can apply their leadership and knowledge of the procurement process, without getting locked into a specific or technical career track.
  8. Mechanical Engineering Technician –  There are a host of technician positions which don’t require degrees. Many military training programs can take the place of two-year degrees. Salaries vary widely with position, experience and location, and often only a secret clearance is required.
  9. Air Traffic Controller – With median salaries over six-figures a career as an air traffic controller can be a lucrative one for those looking for a great long-term career that doesn’t require a degree. Despite scandals of texting or sleeping on the job, air traffic controllers do undergo security and health screenings, and must have three years of work experience in a related field or a four-year degree. In lieu of these criteria, individuals may also complete the Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative, a two-to-four year program which provides training, but does not guarantee employment with the FAA.
  10. Trainer/instructor – Training positions run the spectrum from K-9 training to computer vulnerability and technical trainers, and even combat-arms trainers to work with deploying troops. A great career option for veterans who would like to stay tied-in with military options, or anyone who enjoys teaching. Salaries vary by position, and travel is often required.

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Lindy Kyzer is the editor of She loves the NISPPAC, social media, and the U.S. military. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email Interested in writing for Learn more here.