“You have to attend college to get a good job.”
That was a phrase that my father continually beat into my head harder than Lars Ulrich could pound on his bass drum (in case there is a generation gap, Lars is the drummer from the rock band Metallica).
Even though on average college graduates do earn more in the long-run and online colleges are bringing down costs, the current job market is saturated with sustainable careers that don’t necessarily require a degree.
Taking a closer look, it seems a major shift in employer priorities is occurring in certain fields, such as manufacturing and information technology (IT), where soft skills and on-the-job training are deemed more beneficial than a formal educational background.
Individuals bringing these resources to the table are now in high demand, especially since many companies now offer assistantship programs or even paid training for high-achieving candidates.
In this day and age, it just might be more about the right skills than the right schooling.
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25 Highest Paying Jobs Without A College Degree
- Margin Department Supervisor
- Air Traffic Controller
- Automobile Service Station Manager
- Real Estate Broker
- Landscape Architect
- Lead Carpenter
- Director of Security
- Elevator Mechanic
- Cable Supervisor
- Flight Services Manager
- Freelance Photographer
- Personal Trainer
- Funeral Director
- Commercial Pilot
- Truck Driver
- Nuclear Power Reactor Operator
- Emergency Medical Technician
- Railroad Jobs
- Medical Coder
- Information Technology Technician
- Criminal Investigator
- Brick Mason
- Postal Service Worker
- Pharmacy Technician
If you have decided to not attend a four-year college right out of high school, or are looking for a fresh start at a new career path, 25 of the highest paying careers with virtually no degree are featured below.
Looking for a fun job that pays well? Scared that the cause of unemployment may be growing? Sign up for free and see who’s hiring in 2021 at www.Job.com.
Disclaimer: While there are definitely some good paying trade jobs on this list, I still think having a college degree is worth it. Yes, tuition is high and will continue to rise, but the experience, connections, and mindset that college offers are invaluable. Now on to the jobs…
1. Margin Department Supervisor
Average Salary: $74,799
Prior Education: A finance or accounting degree is not required, but knowledge of all basic processes is needed.
On-the-Job Training: Moderate to high training and/or shadowing.
Job Description: A Margin Department Supervisor oversees a company’s credit department, which manages customer credit accounts and approves or denies credit to customers.
As would be expected, approving or denying credit sometimes involves unhappy customers, so you’ll need strong communication and negotiation skills for this role.
Since the scope of the job requires mathematical calculations as well as debt analysis and recognition of accounting principles, make sure you are confident with these basic processes. Some companies may increase pay if you have a degree under your belt.
You’ll also primarily be in charge of ensuring all department employees adhere to federal policies and regulations.
2. Air Traffic Controller (ATC)
Average Salary: $124,540
Prior Education: A college degree is not required, but the nature of the field is very competitive where experience is highly valued. A combination of progressive work experience and formal education is generally preferred.
On-the-Job Training: Rigorous training and testing is required.
Job Description: An Air Traffic Controller is required to pass rigorous testing by the FAA, which includes health checks, as well as mental stability tests. You must initiate the testing process before age 31.
Being an Air Traffic Controller has been voted the most stressful job in the United States for many years because of what the job entails on a daily basis. Air traffic controllers also often work night shifts, weekends, and even holidays.
A typical work day may include monitoring and directing in-air traffic, including routine take off/landing. Sometimes in-air emergencies must be handled, hence the high stress associated with the position.
Strong organizational and problem-solving abilities along with excellent communication skills are highly valued in this role. It does help to know someone already in the business to land a job in this field.
3. Automobile Service Station Manager
Average Salary: $45,204
Prior Education: High school diploma or equivalent. Some employers may prefer a Bachelor’s degree in management or similar field and/or several years of experience in automotive service management.
On-the-Job Training: Most can obtain this type of position by working one’s way up the ladder through on-the-job experience. Obtaining certification may also be required.
Job Description: Essentially, the role of the Service Station Manager is to run the day-to-day operations of a gas station.
The scope of the work includes setting the gas prices for the day, scheduling and training the rest of the employees who work at the station, ordering new merchandise to keep the shelves stocked, ensuring service station safety, as well as being the direct manager for the other employees.
Some skills that would be helpful in obtaining this job would be good personal skills as well as some managerial and accounting experience.
4. Real Estate Broker
Average Salary: $56,730
Prior Education: High school diploma or equivalent. However, a college degree in finance or related field may prove beneficial.
On-the-Job Training: Even though you must take a couple of classes to obtain your certification, these courses are much less of an expense compared to financing a college degree. Licensure requirements typically vary from state to state.
Job Description: To become a real estate broker you will still need to take a couple of classes to become certified. But still, these courses are still much less of an expense to you compared to financing a college degree.
You will be trying to sell houses as well as filing the paperwork for the transactions. In addition, you will help customers with their loan agreements.
However, if you are considering this career, you should be very friendly and have flexible hours since you will most likely be working on your customers’ schedules.
You typically are self-employed setting your own hours and working on a commission basis. Good negotiation skills along with market research experience will prove helpful in this role.
5. Landscape Architect
Average Salary: $65,760
Prior Education: Typically a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture is preferred. An internship experience is highly encouraged. This job may require you to take some classes at a community college on horticulture as well as landscape design, but these types of courses are not required.
On-the-Job Training: With this career, you will have the option of whether you would like to be becoming certified or not. However, if you are certified, you will have access to larger contracts and a wider scope of work. Most states do mandate licensure, though, and the requirements vary from state to state.
Job Description: If you do not mind getting a little dirty and working hard for a living, then this might be a good career for you. Typical job duties include designing functional yet attractive outdoor spaces and parks for a variety of clients.
Landscape architects spend a large portion of their time creating blueprints and preparing cost analysis reports. You would also analyze environmental conditions for projects and even participate in restoration initiatives.
Make sure you have a good eye for design and a strong work ethic to consider this career. Understanding GIS technologies and project management is a must.
Here’s a how-to guide for starting your own lawn company and making some serious money (in turn being able to and saving some serious money, too!).
6. Lead Carpenter
Average Salary: $51,150
Prior Education: High school diploma or equivalent. Most Lead Carpenters begin their careers as skilled apprentices.
This job requires a high amount of experience in the field either through attending a trade school to master technical skills or by being an apprentice to a lead carpenter.
On-the-Job Training: By going to trade school you will actually have to obtain some type of certification, possibly making you more marketable in the field.
Often training includes learning how to expertly handle a variety of power tools, such as power drills or saws.
Job Description: Serving as an apprentice would most likely land you in a job replacing your teacher. Either way, you can be very successful in this type of career if you enjoy working with your hands.
Although highly dependent on the type of industry, job duties may include analyzing construction plans, creating project timelines, and managing and overseeing team production activities.
Carpenters often work in both indoor and outdoor settings and may need to eventually join a union.
7. Director of Security
Average Salary: $78,608
Prior Education: Typically a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science or related field is preferred along with years of experience in related positions.
In reality, this job will involve starting off in an entry level security position before working your way through the ranks to become the Director of Security.
On-the-Job Training: You might also be required to pass a security guard training program, but this will most likely be paid in full by the employer so the actual educational cost to you would be zero.
Depending on the company you will work for, you might also be required to pass a background check as well as some minor health inspections.
Job Description: A typical work day would include reviewing and implementing security department policies along with ensuring relevant local, state, and federal laws and regulations are adhered to. This role may also involve actively participating in training programs with the security staff.
Some good skills to have for this type of job would be some above average physical characteristics, as well as integrity to always choose what is right.
This position often involves being on-call for any emergencies after-hours, so make sure you can fulfill this requirement.
You can also try going the Police Officer route. If you decide to pursue this career, make sure you study with the Police Exam Guide.
8. Elevator Mechanic
Average Salary: $77,806
Prior Education: High school diploma or equivalent.
Just like the Lead Carpenter job, this job will most likely be acquired through a trade school degree, assistantship, or lots of years of experience. Being an elevator mechanic does have a couple more stipulations, though.
On-the-Job Training: Moderate to high training; may need to attend trade school to contract with large corporations.
Job Description: Lots of major corporations will require you to have a license and work for an insured company, which in this case would then force you to go the trade school route so that you could work on these large corporate jobs.
A typical work day would include repairing elevators and fulfilling routine preventative maintenance when needed. Installing and repairing control systems or adjusting and inspecting safety controls are other common work tasks.
Elevator mechanics should be able to identify and troubleshoot issues quickly and efficiently, and having a working knowledge of elevator mechanics is needed. Most of this industry is unionized, so make sure you are willing to join a union before entering this line of work.
9. Cable Supervisor
Average Salary: $51,112
Prior Education: High school diploma or equivalent. However, technical school education or an internship/assistantship may prove beneficial.
On-the-Job Training: A good way to acquire this type of a position is to either apply for the job with some type of managing/scheduling background or to apply for an entry-level position and work your way up by knowing the business.
Job Description: This career would be in a managerial-type setting. You would be responsible for overseeing the maintenance as well as installation workers setting up cable boxes and internet connections.
Typical work duties would also include interpreting cable specifications, troubleshooting issues with cable equipment, and also hiring and training any new cable technicians.
You would be responsible for the scheduling aspect as well as holding the workers accountable to be where they need to be.
10. Flight Service Manager
Average Salary: $64,042
Prior Education: Typically a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree in aviation management or related field is preferred. Completing an internship program is highly suggested.
On-the-Job Training: This career would most likely be obtained through lots of on-the-job experience along with obtaining certification if required.
Job Description: You would be responsible for helping schedule flight crews as well as taking care of customer complaints and filing any necessary paperwork.
This job would require great personal skills as well as lots of patience with unhappy customers. Making sure all passengers have the best onboard experience possible is of top priority for Flight Services Managers.
Airlines can be a stressful arena to work in, so if you are considering this line of work make sure you can keep your cool in the toughest of situations.
11. Freelance Photographer
Average Salary: $36,630
Prior Education: No educational experience required.
On-the-Job Training: This career typically involves both self-education and hands-on training through practice. Natural talent and creativity are highly valued in this field.
Job Description: Being a Freelance Photographer takes dedication to one’s tasks, as well as a great eye for artistic detail. This type of career may also require traveling long distances to be able to acquire the right “shot” for the right story.
In a sense, being a Freelance Photographer can take many forms, such as snapping pictures of nature for magazines, or taking pictures of stories for newspapers, or even being a paparazzi-type photographer and searching for the next big celebrity scandal.
To really make a sustainable living in this field, it may prove helpful to complete some basic business management courses, or to attend training sessions on editing or even lighting techniques.
It’s best that Freelance Photographers have good personal skills and can identify and fulfill client needs and/or requests. If you become a really good photographer, you could even sell your photos on Shutterstock to make some extra cash.
12. Personal Trainer
Average Salary: $38,222
Prior Education: High school diploma or equivalent.
This career will most likely require that you are qualified to teach proper physical fitness techniques to clients. Many Personal Trainers have strong backgrounds in nutrition, exercise science, or other related fields.
This certificate is not very difficult to obtain; however, it is relatively cheaper compared to any other type of trade school mentioned above.
On-the-Job Training: Continual through updating or expanding one’s professional certifications.
Job Description: To be successful in this line of work you will most likely want to be a very physically active person yourself, as well as have a passion for this line of work.
A typical work day would include meeting one-on-one with clients to assess their physical fitness needs with the intent of designing an individualized training program.
Personal Trainers also motivate and encourage their clients to reach and even surpass their fitness goals. As a result, good personal and communication skills are a must.
Most Personal Trainers work at gyms, private workout facilities, or provide at-home or virtual coaching services. Some decide to work both inside and outside the home to help facilitate a higher income.
Also, you can try getting your Yoga certification.
13. Funeral Director
Average Salary: $56,850
Prior Education: Educational requirements range from a high school diploma or equivalent to an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in Funeral Service Education or related field. Internships are also encouraged.
On-the-Job Training: Licensure is required in the U.S. before taking on a Funeral Director position, and some states may require a certain level of education or the completion of an apprenticeship.
Job Description: You do need some training to become a Funeral Director and possibly certification, but you can eventually make as much as $80,000 a year.
A typical work day would include helping families organize funeral details and complete any corresponding paperwork, such as a death certificate.
Offering counseling to grieving family members and helping to prepare the deceased body for the funeral service are other common duties.
It is important that you be able to handle the macabre, and you do need to have tact and a warm personality since you are dealing with people in difficult situations. Make sure you can accommodate a flexible schedule since visitations and funerals are often on weekdays and weekends.
14. Commercial Pilot
Average Salary: $78,740
Prior Education: High school diploma or equivalent, but most airlines now require a Bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite for employment.
On-the-Job Training: Moderate to high training is involved. Often the first step is to get your private pilot’s license. You’ll get your flight hours up and be more comfortable in the cockpit.
Job Description: Commercial Pilots fly planes for very specific reasons, such as for rescue operations, aerial photography, aerial tours, or charter flights.
Pilots generally evaluate overall conditions of aircraft, communicate with air traffic control, and monitor engines and fuel consumption, among other routine tasks. Being a team player with strong communication and observational skills is also a plus.
You’ll be spending a considerable amount of time away from home, so make sure you aren’t too much of a homebody. Fatigue and jet lag may also be experienced often.
Excellent observational and communication skills prove quite beneficial in this field of work. You can easily make more than $50,000 if you get on as a commercial pilot at the right airline.
15. Truck Driving
Average Salary: $53,199
Prior Education: Typically a Commercial Drivers License (CDL) and/or high school diploma or equivalent is preferred.
On-the-Job Training: Drivers must complete several weeks of on-the-job training.
Job Description: After completing six to eight weeks of training and obtaining your commercial driver’s license, you can make $45,000. Work your way up to becoming a trainer, and you can clear more than $70,000 a year.
Maintaining a clean driving record is crucial. Truck Drivers must adhere to all traffic laws, ensure cargo is secure for transport, and keep all trucks and equipment in good working condition.
Hand-eye coordination, visual stamina, and mental focus are important qualities to have for this type of position.
16. Nuclear Power Reactor Operator
Average Salary: $72,384
Prior Education: A degree in a field like engineering is required by some nuclear power plants, but you do not need a college degree to land a lower level operator job. In some cases, all you need to do in some cases is to simply pass the certification test.
On-the-Job Training: Moderate to high training is required along with possible certification.
Job Description: Nuclear power reactor operators manage nuclear reactors, monitoring them and making adjustments as necessary to ensure the safety of the nuclear power production process.
They also have to perform routine maintenance on the reactors and shutdown on very specific systems. Because the job is quite risky and requires very careful attention to detail, it pays quite well.
It also helps to become efficient in the required computer technologies involved in nuclear power plants. Make sure you can handle shift work and long hours.
17. Fire Fighting
Average Salary: $49,080.
Prior Education: High school diploma or equivalent. Any prior training in emergency medical services is a plus.
On-the-Job Training: Completing a physically demanding training program is mandatory along with other certifications.
Job Description: The starting salary for a Firefighter is often just a little more than $30,000, but you can make more than $50,000 a year depending on where you work and whether you reach a supervisory position.
Firefighters must know how to use standard field equipment, such as hoses and ladders, become proficient at providing medical attention to injured victims, and properly handle coming in contact with hazardous materials or wildfires.
Depending on which state you work in, you may need to complete specific training programs, such as high-rise building rescues.
Being a firefighter is a very strenuous and dangerous occupation, and you often must work long shifts and over 40 hours per week. To help you get physically ready for firefighting duty, I recommend you check out Pass the Beep Test, a guide to help you prepare your body for firefighting.
18. Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
Average Salary: $33,380
Prior Education: Typically a high school diploma or equivalent and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification is required. Completing a postsecondary educational program is common.
On-the-Job Training: Generally there is little to no on-the-job training, but completing levels of certification are more than likely required for most states.
Job Description: If you are about to take your EMT classes to become an EMT, you will be happy to learn that the job outlooks in this field are very promising. However, chances of having a good job in the EMS are given to those who have more EMT certifications (like paramedics).
EMTs are first responders in a medical emergency, assessing victims’ conditions and possibly transporting them to the hospital by ambulance. Often people’s lives are on the line when EMTs arrive on the scene.
The hourly wages can vary from $9.08 (10% of the workforce earns less than this) to $23.77 (10% earn more than this bracket). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2017 the median hourly wages of EMTs was at $16.05 per hour.
19. Railroad Jobs
Average Salary: $59,780
Prior Education: Typically a high school diploma or equivalent is required.
On-the-Job Training: Several months of moderate-level training is standard. Obtaining certifications may also be required.
Job Description: Do you like trains? Do you enjoy traveling? If so, a railroad job might be just for you.
A variety of positions are available, ranging from engineers and conductors to switch operators and management positions. Railroad jobs give you a chance to see new parts of the country while getting paid very well in the process.
Since trains operate every day of the week, expect to work nights, weekends, and holidays in all kinds of weather conditions.
Hand-eye coordination, visual acuity, and communication skills are valuable assets in this industry. If you’re looking at getting a railroad job, here’s a comprehensive guide that shares how to get a job in the railroad industry.
20. Medical Coder
Average Salary: $45,035
Prior Education: Typically a high school diploma or equivalent is required, while an Associate’s Degree is sometimes preferred.
On-the-Job Training: There is little to no on-the-job-training since specific training programs are generally completed as a prerequisite for employment. Completing certifications may also be required.
Job Description: The healthcare industry is currently booming, and you can expect it to continue to rise with the Baby Boomer generation getting older. There aren’t enough doctors and nurses available.
Behind all of the doctors is a team of medical coders typing up detailed reports on what procedures you had done and billing you or your insurance company the amount owed.
According to The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC)’s 2017 salary survey, on average medical coders without certification bring home approximately $45,035 per year. However, becoming certified as a Certified Professional Coder (CPC) is highly sought after to seek higher pay.
21. Information Technology (IT) Technician
Average Salary: $41,305
Prior Education: Associate’s degree, Bachelor’s degree, or certificate program in computer science or related field is typically preferred. A degree is usually not required to land an entry-level position.
On-the-Job Training: Little to no on-the-job training expected since some employers require that candidates complete some level of formal training as a prerequisite for employment.
Job Description: There are a number of career paths within information technology that do not require a college degree.
Starting out you’ll probably conduct support calls on a helpdesk and only make $11-13 per hour. As your skills and experience progress and you get more experience you can easily make $50,000 to $70,000 per year as you get into systems administration and network engineering.
Typically IT technicians diagnose and repair computer malfunctions and install and maintain network systems. Get started on your IT career path by getting some online computer training and certification.
22. Criminal Investigator
Average Salary: $58,582
Prior Education: High school diploma or equivalent.
Several years of prior experience in law enforcement is encouraged. Some employers do require a minimum of an Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice or related field.
On-the-Job Training: Moderate on-the-job training is expected. Most states do require standard licensure for criminal investigators, along with a license to carry an armed weapon.
Training typically involves learning how to properly gather information and conduct remote surveillance, among other routine tasks. Reconstructing accident scenes is also a field-specific skill learned.
Job Description: Criminal investigators are the individuals tasked with interviewing and collecting evidence for specific cases.
Depending on the case at hand, you may be performing background checks, verifying facts and statements, conducting surveillance, searching online records, or gathering information on persons of interest.
You may even need to testify in court or make a physical arrest. This job is fast-paced and often involves working odd hours, weekends, and holidays.
Important skills to have include resourcefulness, inquisitiveness, and integrity. Being able to stay cool, calm, and collected during criminal investigations is integral to performing well in this role.
23. Brick Mason
Average Salary: $42,900
Prior Education: High school diploma or equivalent. Many masons also complete extensive apprenticeship programs or specific coursework before employment.
Any previous experience as a construction laborer is acceptable.
On-the-Job Training: Learning the trade is often accomplished through completing apprenticeships and/or on-the-job training shadowing experienced masons.
In these apprenticeship programs, promising candidates learn standard masonry practices, such as construction basics, measurement calculations, and safety procedures.
Job Description: Generally a brick mason uses bricks to construct walls, fences, and other structures.
A typical work day would include reading blueprints, gathering required materials, cleaning surfaces with power tools, and lifting heavy materials for proper alignment.
Brick masons often work long hours in a fast-paced and strenuous environment where becoming injured on the job is common. Protective gear, such as safety glasses, should be worn at all times.
Construction deadlines must be met, so brick masons often work indoors and outdoors in all kinds of weather. Important skills to have for this role include hand-eye coordination, physical strength, and attention to detail.
24. Postal Service Worker
Average Salary: $57,260
Prior Education: High school diploma or equivalent. An excellent driving record is a must along with a clean track record.
On-the-Job Training: There is some short-term on-the-job training involved, including passing a written exam, road test, and other standard background checks.
Job Description: Postal service workers generally collect, sort, process, and distribute mail in a timely manner. It’s their responsibility to make sure mail is delivered seamlessly.
They also sell common postal products, such as stamps, and obtain any customer signatures for certified mail.
Important skills to have for this role include a strong focus on customer service and attention to detail.
25. Pharmacy Technician
Average Salary: $31,750
Prior Education: High school diploma or equivalent. Complete a postsecondary program in pharmacy technology before employment is acceptable.
On-the-Job Training: Moderate on-the-job training is required, which typically involves passing an exam or specialized program.
You may also need to learn how to operate automated dispensing equipment, and some states may require certification.
Job Description: Pharmacy technicians are responsible for correctly filling, packaging, and labeling customers’ or health professionals’ prescriptions.
You would also be involved in organizing inventory, processing insurance claims, and accurately entering patient information into a computer database.
Having excellent organizational, listening, and customer-service skills is highly valued for this role.
Pharmacy technicians may be required to work nights and some weekends. Make sure you are physically fit enough to spend most of the day on your feet fulfilling orders.
Is Attending College Overrated?
There’s one thing I know for sure – college is extremely expensive! As the College Board highlights in a recent survey outlining changes in college tuition between 2008-2009 and 2018-2019, tuition is on a steady upward climb that shows no signs of letting up.
Over the last 10 years, the average cost of a 4-year private degree has risen over $7,000 by 2019, perhaps making the idea of getting that beloved college degree diploma a pipe dream.
There are a vast amount of careers that you can obtain without an actual college degree, but most require either a trade school certification or just time on the job and working your way up through the ranks.
“Formal education will make you a living. Self education will make you a fortune.” – Jim Rohn
Looking for a job? Scared that the cause of unemployment may be growing? Sign up for free at www.FlexJobs.com and see who’s hiring today!