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What are the Best Paying Careers for People Without a College Degree?

Diana Bocco
Updated Jan 28, 2024
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If you think there is no much you can do without a college degree, you are in for a surprise. A recent report put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor shows that it is possible to earn over $50,000 US Dollars (USD) a year without ever going to college. Here’s a quick look at some of the best paying careers that do not require higher education.

  • Air Traffic Controller. Before you get excited about the fact that controllers make over $100,000 USD a year, you should know that this profession ranks in the top 15 most stressful jobs. Air traffic controllers can get started without a degree, although one is often required for career advancement.

  • Real Estate Broker. Much of the salary of a broker depends on location and average house price on the area, but even so, the average national salary of real estate broker in the US is $76,000 USD. A series of training workshops and exams are needed to become a certified broker.

  • Personal trainers can earn upwards of $50,000 USD without a college degree. Even those who work part-time can earn a median annual salary in the high $20,000s. Many personal trainers own their own businesses, and earn salaries much higher than the average trainer who works in a gym.

  • Many computer-related occupations can be started without a degree, as many companies consider on-the-job training more important than formal education. Computer programmers can learn the trade by taking private certifications and earn an average of $55,000 USD. Most database and network administrators get their start this way and earn a medium annual salary of $48,000 USD.

Many of the top-paying occupations in the US have to do with manual work, and most of them can be undertaken without a college degree. Some examples include electricians and electric equipment repair ($54,000 USD); rail workers ($46,000 USD); firefighters ($48,000 USD); car mechanics ($37,000 USD); and boilermakers ($43,000 USD). Many military posts also do not need a degree. A sergeant in active service and a decade of service behind him or her earns about 49,000 USD a year.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diana Bocco
By Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco, a versatile writer with a distinct voice, creates compelling long-form and short-form content for various businesses. With a data-focused approach and a talent for sharing engaging stories, Diana’s written work gets noticed and drives results.
Discussion Comments
By Amphibious54 — On Jun 10, 2010

For someone getting ready to decide on what to do after high school, this is an important question to ask. You would think that in this day and age to be successful you have to go to college. This is far from the truth.

I can think of a few professional jobs that don't require a college degree and can net you a good income. Many manufacturing and laboratory supervisory positions do not require a college degree. You may need to attend some seminars, or take some courses during your career, but you can definitely get your start fresh out of high school.

Plumbers and electricians also make very good money, and you can become one with only an apprenticeship. You will be required to take specific courses, but you are also getting paid while you train.

In some states you can also work towards your LNA/CNA certificate while working and getting paid. Nursing homes and care facilities will often pay for the training while you are employed with them as long as you sign a contract for a certain period of time.

By ValleyFiah — On Jun 10, 2010

There are also plenty of blue collar jobs that pay well, and are not just manual labor. For example, heavy equipment operators in the construction industry can earn well over $50,000 per year. Many of these machines require skilled operators that only learn how to run them through on the job training.

Starting your own business can also make you a comfortable living. You can start almost any small business without needing a college degree. If you have a good idea, determination, and access to some source of funding you can get started. Some examples that come to mind are daycares, restaurants, landscaping businesses, home building & roofing companies, and retail stores.

I have a buddy in Vermont that owns his own green construction company and he is quite successful. He mostly specializes in residential homes and barns, using alternative methods like straw bale, reclaimed materials, and alternative systems (Energy, water use, etc). His homes are beautiful, and he is always busy. Since he works in Vermont he gets most of the winters off so he can ski and ride whenever he pleases. What a great life for someone who skipped college!

Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco, a versatile writer with a distinct voice, creates compelling long-form and short-form content for various...
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