21 High Paying Jobs Without a College Degree
A college degree is a sensible way to invest in one’s future, but for many, the financial burden may come at too high a cost. For example, the average cost of a four-year degree in the U.S. is over $140,000.
For some individuals, deciding to enter the workforce directly after secondary school may be the logical financial decision. Not only are there several high paying jobs $100k+ that don’t require a degree, but choosing this path avoids the potential debt burden that can take years to pay down.
Besides the benefit of avoiding student loan debt, many jobs that do not require a degree are less corporate and allow for more flexibility. Many of these jobs are in high-demand fields, and you can find these jobs throughout the U.S. regardless of where you want to live.
You may wonder if you choose to forgo a bachelor’s degree and start working, what jobs will pay a high wage? Compiled below is our list of 21 high paying jobs without requiring a college degree, as supported by data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor.
1. Commercial Pilots
Median Salary: $134,630
Do you dream of flying commercial aircraft with cargo around the world? Or perhaps you want to travel the world – breakfast in London and dinner in New York. Pilots often spend several nights away from home, as flight routes and shifts often require overnight layovers.
Furthermore, pilots often work a non-traditional shift schedule, working several days at a time, followed by several days off. Commercial pilots enjoy one of the highest-paying jobs for individuals without a college degree.
Commercial pilots need to work up to higher-paying jobs, as most start as first officers after meeting their required flight hours. Medical exams are required, and commercial pilots do need to have 20/20 vision, including correction glasses or contacts, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Typical responsibilities include flying cargo, coordinating with the air traffic controller, preparing flight plans, and navigation.
If you want to work for a large airline, zipping passengers across the sky, becoming a commercial pilot is the first step. Airline transportation pilots must meet the further requirement and certificate programs led by the aviation administration (FAA) to ensure they have additional training beyond the commercial pilot’s license.
2. Bookkeepers and Auditing Clerks
Median Salary: $51,910
If you prefer an office job and enjoy basic math and accounting, beginning a career in bookkeeping may open more doors for your future career. Average bookkeeping and auditing clerk jobs start low but work their way higher. Job experience can substitute for a bachelor’s degree if you want to pursue a future career as a tax examiner or tax collector.
Bookkeepers and auditing clerks help institutions record incoming and outgoing payments and financial transactions, help prepare tax statements and payments, produce financial reports, and maintain data using spreadsheets, software, and databases.
Bookkeepers do need to have a high school degree and usually need to have completed some college courses or equivalent in accounting. There is no requirement for a college degree; however, many individuals who start in this field choose to pursue a degree in the future.
3. Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Median Salary: $64,740
Are you a fan of law and order and want to assist lawyers with preparing documents, trial prep, research, and office coordination? A paralegal is a good option if you are looking for a high paying job in an office.
Paralegals need to complete an associate degree for most jobs; however, legal assistants usually have no requirements besides a high school degree.
4. Real Estate Brokers
Median Salary: $61,890
If you are looking for something more entrepreneurial, becoming a real estate agent can deliver an opportunity to earn an extremely high income. The top 10% of brokers make over $100,000 by managing their real estate businesses, making this one of the highest paying median income jobs without requiring a four-year degree. Brokerage job opportunities are currently in high demand, and the high projected growth of the industry provides lots of opportunities for future job growth with high average annual salaries.
Brokers must be licensed and usually begin their careers working under a broker as a sales agent. Sales agents are training roles where you get work experience assisting homeowners and other brokers. After three years, you can become a broker and build your own business.
5. Power Plant Operator
Median Salary: $94,790 per year
It’s the 21st century, and just about everything runs on power. Power plant operators oversee the plants that feed the electric grid and send out electricity for regional and national use.
Power plant operators need extensive on-the-job training; typically, a prerequisite requires a high school diploma or equivalent.
6. Industrial Machinery Mechanics and Millwrights
Median Salary: $60,330
Suppose you are looking to work with heavy machinery. In that case, these roles include installing, repairing, and moving machinery throughout factories or on construction sites. Most skilled millwrights or mechanics require a two-year associate’s degree and learn through a three- or four-year apprenticeship. Median income tends to be higher for millwrights who require more training to set up and move heavy equipment.
Expect additional on-the-job training to take a minimum of one year and sometimes requires some strength and physical ability.
7. Sales Representatives for Services
Median Salary: $60,550
If you enjoy meeting new people and customer relations, a sales representative’s job may be the perfect fit for you. The role includes meeting with individuals and businesses to sell products, sell services, or resolve client issues.
Financial services, travel, insurance, and advertising industries offer a higher average salary. Additionally, jobs include a variable compensation incentive for hitting specific sales targets.
8. Web Developer
Median Salary: $77,030
Are you looking to set your own hours? A career in web development provides a high level of both flexibility and a high annual salary.
Web developers spend two or more years learning how websites work. Other skills include design, user interfaces, platforms, and occasionally some coding (optional). Jobs can be in-house or as freelance work. Generally, web developer jobs only require high school-level education; however, some high paying jobs for large corporations require four-year degrees.
9. Turbine Service Technicians
Median Salary: $63,640
As renewable energy grows and wind turbines pop up everywhere, there is a need to service and maintain these specialized devices. Service technicians are referred to as windtechs in the industry. They often are called for emergency maintenance which may include weekends or holidays.
Becoming a wind turbine service technician requires about one year of on-site training. There are several types of wind turbines, so as a wind turbine technician, you’ll either specialize in one model or need training for multiple turbines. Certification is not required but proves knowledge and competence, as some employers will only hire certified service technicians.
10. Commercial Diver
Median Salary: $60,360
Do you want to work under the water, breathing through commercial SCUBA equipment while you inspect or repair industrial structures? Commercial divers install, repair, and maintain machinery and structure underwater. Divers work with explosives, underwater welding equipment, power tools, and construction equipment in their daily work. These jobs pay well and do not require college degrees.
Certain specialty divers, such as civil engineering construction, pay average salaries above $90,000. Divers do need to hold professional diving certification to learn how to use their diving equipment and minimize risk properly. Make no mistake; commercial divers must face significant danger in a physically demanding job.
Median Salary: $60,040
If you are interested in a trade career, electricians are among the highest-paying jobs without a degree. Electricians read blueprints and technical diagrams, use various power tools, and install or repair electrical systems.
Becoming an electrician is no easy task. It is a skilled trade. Expect to spend four or five years in an apprenticeship program where you will learn most of the necessary skills on the job. Most states require electricians to pass a licensing test to become certified.
Median Salary: $59,880
Plumbers are another high-paying vocational trade specializing in water fixtures, heaters, and boilers. Plumbers are needed for residential and commercial properties and often maintain drains, septic tank and sewer systems, water well fittings, and pipes.
Plumbers generally get more ’emergency’ calls than other trade workers because of the nature of water leaks and needs. Be prepared to do calls on weekends or even nights, as these can present opportunities to charge even higher rates for jobs.
Like most trade jobs, vocational schools or technical schools can offer courses to familiarize yourself with job basics. The core of the training comes from an apprenticeship—plan on spending four years minimum to learn the necessary skills and expertise fully. Additionally, most states require a licensing exam and proof of experience to work independently.
13. Firefighters or First-Line Supervisors
Median Salary: $78,230
Firefighters begin their careers at slightly lower salaries. Still, they can quickly work up to supervisory roles in under five years. As a supervisor, you are responsible for the safety, strategy, rescue, and medical services required during fire rescue cases.
Firefighters experience a higher degree of risk than many other jobs, so it’s not a fit for anybody. Firefighters learn emergency medical training and procedures and can moonlight on personal time in other part-time jobs. Some second jobs may include medical training, CPR instruction, and emergency service work.
14. Law Enforcement: Police and Detectives
Median Salary: $83,640 per year
Interested in protecting and serving others? If so, consider a job in law enforcement.
Law enforcement wages will vary greatly depending on the specific jurisdiction. Additionally, state and federal-level officers see higher salaries, with the average federal agent making $93,970. However, many federal agent positions require a college degree, while local and state are more flexible on often only require a high school diploma and, in some cases, an associate degree.
Requirements for applicants vary across cities and states. Some agencies require some college coursework (not necessarily a degree), and some programs prefer applicants with college degrees. Nevertheless, there are jobs available for individuals without college degrees.
Expect extensive training, including classroom instruction and training on location at a police academy. Detectives usually begin their careers as police officers and work up to a detective position.
15. Criminal Investigators
Median Salary: $83,640 per year
Do crime-solving television dramas like CSI or NCIS excite you? Perhaps your calling is to become a criminal investigator. Criminal investigators work crime scenes on and off location to solve cases by collecting facts and studying the evidence.
Unfortunately, crime is an ongoing problem. However, this makes careers in criminal justice especially stable and in demand. Investigators generally work in plain clothes and can expect to learn on the job.
16. Nuclear Power Plant Dispatchers
Median Salary: $104,260 per year
Nuclear power plan dispatchers and operators work in plants that have nuclear power reactors and can earn greater wages than operators in non-nuclear facilities. Nuclear plants and transmission stations have higher security than traditional power plants, and employees can expect to work eight or twelve-hour shifts.
Many companies require prospects to take power plant maintenance and operator exams before applying to see if they are a good fit. Nuclear plant operators receive extensive on-the-job training and must pass a licensing exam from the U.S. Nuclear Regulator Commission. To keep a license, operators must pass an annual plant-operators exam and a medical test.
17. Subway and Elevated Train Operators
Median Salary: $81,180 per year
Many young children love playing with toy trains but probably didn’t know conductors get paid quite well. Operators who conduct subways, elevated trains, or streetcars (without separate locomotives) are often responsible for collecting fares and ensuring train service operates normally.
These jobs are often most available around cities or metropolitan areas where public transportation is a way of life.
18. Locomotive Engineers
Median Salary: $79,740 per year
Locomotive engineers are responsible for driving trains across the country. Engineers are responsible for ensuring the train runs safely and properly. If driving a train across the country full of passengers or freight sounds enticing, a locomotive engineer role may be a great fit.
Depending on the railroad company and available routes, jobs can be short local routes or long-distance cross-country hauls.
19. Elevator and Escalator Installers and Repairers
Median Salary: $97,860 per year
High-rises, malls, office buildings, and airports all have tons of elevators and escalators. So it’s no wonder the demand for these powered walkways creates many high paying jobs for individuals without a college degree.
Specialists will spend their days installing as well as repairing elevators and escalators. The best part is you can find these jobs just about anywhere, so if you are looking to move or relocate, finding one of these jobs is within reach. According to The Department of Labor Statistics, there are about 2,100 job openings annually across the U.S.
20. Gambling Service Managers
Median Salary: $76,910
The gambling industry isn’t for everyone, but casinos know how to make lots of money and pay their managers high salaries. Casinos are open every day of the year, 24 hours a day, so expect to have to work shifts on the nights, weekends, and holidays.
Dealers and entry-level casino workers don’t start at particularly high wages. Still, after several years working in a gambling organization, managers can gain a high paying job without a degree.
All gambling workers must be licensed by a regulatory agency, which requires a background and drug test in most states.
Median Salary: $93,010
If you love computers, have a knack for languages, and enjoy logic problems, a career as a programmer can be an excellent fit. Although some programmers earn degrees in computer science or mathematics, there are many opportunities to find work both in-house for freelance work.
Don’t know where to start? You can take several “coding camps” or college-level courses to start learning without earning a degree. Coders are paid generously for building apps, programs, software, and systems.
Find the Right High-Paying Jobs For You
A college degree is not the only way to riches; just ask Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs, who all dropped out but achieved more than just high paying jobs but incredible net worth. Of course, a degree can open some doors more easily. Still, every individual has to weigh the benefits vs. the costs of formal education.
Furthermore, if your goal is to make more money, be sure to learn how to manage your finances wisely and invest your savings to build an additional income. Although a high paying job can help you reach financial independence, learning to budget and grow your hard-earned money will help build your wealth faster.
There is no perfect choice for everyone, but if you choose to forgo a degree, many high paying jobs are available to begin or advance your career.
This article originally appeared on Savoteur.
Josh is a financial expert with over 15 years of experience on Wall Street as a senior market strategist and trader. His career has spanned from working on the New York Stock Exchange floor to investment management and portfolio trading at Citibank, Chicago Trading Company, and Flow Traders.
Josh graduated from Cornell University with a degree from the Dyson School of Applied Economics & Management at the SC Johnson College of Business. He has held multiple professional licenses during his career, including FINRA Series 3, 7, 24, 55, Nasdaq OMX, Xetra & Eurex (German), and SIX (Swiss) trading licenses. Josh served as a senior trader and strategist, business partner, and head of futures in his former roles on Wall Street.
Josh's work and authoritative advice have appeared in major publications like Nasdaq, Forbes, The Sun, Yahoo! Finance, CBS News, Fortune, The Street, MSN Money, and Go Banking Rates. Josh currently holds areas of expertise in investing, wealth management, capital markets, taxes, real estate, cryptocurrencies, and personal finance.
Josh currently runs a wealth management business and investment firm. Additionally, he is the founder and CEO of Top Dollar, where he teaches others how to build 6-figure passive income with smart money strategies that he uses professionally.