Best Career Paths: Highest Paying Jobs Without a College Degree

Best Career Paths: Highest Paying Jobs Without a College Degree

You can still have a great career in a high paying job without getting a college degree. Find out which jobs have the highest pay.

Key Takeaways

  • You can improve your earnings as a high school graduate by pursuing one of these high paying non-degree jobs.

  • Many non-degree jobs require technical skills which may include special training, certification, or licensing.

  • Even with jobs that don’t require a college degree, earning technical skill licenses and/or certifications can improve your earnings and opportunities.

Earning a high school diploma or GED can create pathways to a wide range of jobs with higher than average pay. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual salary across all occupations regardless of education level was $58,260 in 2021.

Each of the jobs identified here below offered a higher than average median salary in 2021 and is accessible with a high school diploma or equivalent.

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Earning Certification or Licensing

While you may not be required to earn a college degree in order to start working in the jobs listed below, many of these fields will require you to complete specialized training, earn a professional certification, or even pass a state or federal licensing exam.

In other words, while you may not be required to earn a college degree, there are often unique educational requirements for skill-based non-degree careers. Be sure that you know the training, certificate, and licensing requirements for your intended career.

It’s also important to note that, while you may be able to find work in many of these fields without a college degree, earning a bachelor’s degree will improve your chances of competing for many jobs. Moreover, those who earn a college degree will typically earn more in most fields than those who hold only a high school diploma.

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Trade or Vocational School Options

Some professions may require you to complete a trade school education. Vocational school options are often more affordable and accessible than traditional college degree programs. Specialized careers such as electrical power line installers, petroleum pump system operators, gas plant operators, and those who work in nuclear power plants may require a formal education credential from a technical school.

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Fields With On the Job Training

Many jobs that you can do without a college degree do require some level of focused job training. This may include work on construction projects, in the transportation sector, for utility companies, as farm labor contractors, as communication equipment workers, and more. Each of these fields requires specialized knowledge that can be acquired without a formal education.

In most cases, this training will include policies and procedures, safety requirements, technical instruction, and compliance issues.

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Jobs You Can Get with a High School Diploma or Equivalent

A number of fields offer opportunities for high paying jobs without a degree requirement. This may include opportunities for non retail sales workers, commercial pilots, and a wide range of construction trades. Moreover, those with technical abilities such as mechanical skills, knowledge of electrical systems, or carpentry skills may be able to receive basic vocational training before beginning work in any of these trades.

Many of the most successful professionals in these areas earn a six figure salary, and do so without a college degree. In other areas, a high school diploma or equivalent may help you land an entry level position. From there, on the job growth may provide pathways to leadership and top paying jobs in your organization.

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Earn More with a College Degree

While you can certainly get started on your career in any of these fields immediately after graduating high school or earn your GED, you may be able to improve your career prospects along the way. Check out these online bachelor’s degrees to see how you might be able to balance work and education.

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The 15 Highest Paying Jobs Without a College Degree

The following salary figures have been provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and indicate the median pay for the following professions in 2021.

These high paying jobs do not require a high school diploma but still offer above average earning potential. In fact, the highest paying job on our list offers a pay that far exceeds even the median annual wage for college graduates.

1. Airline and Commercial Pilots

  • Median Pay for 2021: $134,630

Airline and commercial pilots are responsible for flying aircraft including airplanes, commercial airliners, and helicopters. Airline and commercial pilots typically work for commercial flight carriers or private charters.

In order to become an airline or commercial pilot, you will typically be required to complete formal flight training and earn licensing under the authority of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

2. Elevator and Escalator Installers and Repairers

  • Median Pay for 2021: $97,860

Elevator and escalator installers and repairers provide installation, maintenance, and repair services for escalators and elevators as well as moving walkways and other automated lift and conveyance machinery.

In most cases, the basic required academic credential is a high school diploma. Formal training is usually completed through apprenticeship. Elevator and escalator installers are typically required to earn a license through their state.

3. Nuclear/Electric Power Reactor Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers

  • Median Pay for 2021: $94,790

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers are responsible for overseeing and administrating the equipment, systems, and facilities used to generate and distribute nuclear or electric power.

You would typically need a high school diploma or equivalent to qualify as a power plant operator, distributor, or dispatcher. However, these are also roles that require extensive on-the-job training, which may include a combination of practical training and form classroom instruction. Those who hold lead operating positions in nuclear power plants will typically be required to earn a license in their state as well.

4. Transportation, Storage, and Distribution Managers

  • Median Pay for 2021: $98,230

Transportation, storage, and distribution managers play a central role in logistics supply chain management for their respective organizations by planning, directing, and coordinating these essential functions. Transportation, storage, and distribution managers must be attuned to current regulations and compliance standards.

Most transportation, storage, and distribution managers can qualify for the role with a high school diploma or equivalent. However, because this is an organizational leadership role, reaching the level of manager will typically demand some period of on-the-job training. The average transportation, storage, and distribution manager will generally have a minimum of five years experience.

5. Subway and Streetcar Operators

  • Median Pay for 2021: $81,180

Subway and streetcar operators will typically work for railway, trolley, and other mass transport services, both operating non-locomotive passenger vehicles as well as collecting fares.

Most entry-level subway and streetcar operators will have a minimum high school diploma. Most operators are qualified to fulfill the role with moderate on-the-job training.

6. Signal and Track Switch Repairers

  • Median Pay for 2021: $80,570

Signal and track switch repairers provide essential inspection, testing, maintenance, and repair services for railway systems. These systems may include gate crossings, signals, track switches, communication systems, and more.

Most entry-level signal and track switch repairers will have a minimum high school diploma. Most operators are qualified to fulfill the role with moderate on-the-job training.

7. Postmasters and Mail Superintendents

  • Median Pay for 2021: $80,250

Postmasters and mail superintendents are responsible for a variety of administrative duties within the U.S. postal service. Postmasters and superintendents will often work in specific post offices or regions, coordinating the operational dimensions of their respective jurisdictions.

Most postmasters and superintendents will have a minimum high school diploma. Most operators are qualified to fulfill the role with moderate on-the-job training.

8. Transportation Inspectors

  • Median Pay for 2021: $79,770

Transportation inspectors work in a variety of transport contexts—both for human passengers and cargo—providing inspection of freight and rail transportation systems, facilities, and vehicles.

Most transportation inspectors will have a minimum high school diploma. Most operators are qualified to fulfill the role with moderate on-the-job training.

9. Police Officer

  • Median Pay for 2021: $66,020

Police officers can fulfill a wide range of roles in law enforcement including patrol officer, detective, and criminal investigator. Police officers may work directly in the field providing enforcement in the event of criminal activity. Detectives and criminal investigators may work to gather evidence connected to alleged crimes.

While many police officers may qualify for entry level opportunities with a high school diploma, most officers and detectives must also complete training. This training is usually provided through an academic affiliation with the hiring law enforcement agency or police department. It’s also worth noting that while it is possible to become a police officer with a high school diploma, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice can improve earning potential and qualification for specialized opportunities and leadership roles.

Other specific requirements to become a police officer include U.S. citizenship, a minimum age of 21, and the ability to pass both background tests and a series of demanding physical thresholds.

10. Boilermakers

  • Median Pay for 2021: $64,290

Boilermakers work with the equipment used to contain liquids and gasses. Work includes assembly, installation, maintenance, and repair of boilers and vats.

In addition to being one of the best paying jobs without a college degree, the boilermaker profession is among the highest paying jobs that doesn’t require a high school diploma. Most boilermakers acquire the required skills and qualifications through apprenticeship.

11. Railroad Workers

  • Median Pay for 2021: $64,150

Railroad worker is a broad category that includes train drivers, signal controllers, and a wide range of others charged with coordination and operation of railway systems, yards, and vehicles.

Most railroad workers are required to have earned a high school diploma or equivalent. Most workers will also require a brief period of on-the-job training.

12. Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives

  • Median Pay for 2021: $62,890

Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives are salespersons who may sell a wide variety of materials and commodities on behalf of industrial, retail, and other production or manufacturing operations. Clients will often include large businesses as well as government agencies.

It may be possible to work as a wholesale sales rep with a high school degree. However, the educational credentials required may be higher depending on the type of products being sold. Specifically, those selling scientific or technical equipment may be required to earn a bachelor’s degree.

13. Water Transportation Workers

  • Median Pay for 2021: $62,760

Water transportation workers provide service related to the operation of waterborne vehicles. This may include the operation and maintenance of water vessels both for passenger and cargo transport.

In most cases, one may qualify as a water transportation worker with a high school diploma or equivalent. However, for certain water transportation roles, the candidate may be required to complete a training program that is either administered or approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.

14. Construction and Building Inspectors

  • Median Pay for 2021: $61,640

Construction and building inspectors are responsible for ensuring that construction projects are in compliance with a wide spectrum of codes, ordinances, zoning conditions, and contract terms.

It may be possible to become an inspector with a high school diploma or equivalent. However, most states will also require the acquisition of a state-specific license. Likewise, on-the-job training will typically play an important part in qualifying to serve in the inspector role.

15. Flight Attendant

  • Median Pay for 2021: $61,640

Flight attendants provide service, response, safety implementation, and, where needed, emergency response, for airline passengers.

No formal education credentials are required to become a flight attendant. However, certification with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is required. Moreover, most flight attendants will undergo significant on-the-job training.

You can make the leap from being a flight attendant to becoming a hospitality executive with a bachelor’s degree in hospitality and tourism.

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