Jobs That Pay Well Without a Degree
Getting a degree has never been cheap, but it has recently become nearly unaffordable for most. Collectively, US graduates owe more than $1.56 trillion in student loan debt, with people aged 50 to 61 still owing more than $281 billion due to inflation, despite having worked all their lives to pay it off.
As a result, many people are looking for jobs that pay well without a degree.
Fortunately, there are plenty of those. In this post, we take a look at some of the roles you can get that pay fairly well but don’t require you to go through the rigmarole and expense of getting a college education.
Best of all, you can start many of these careers early. To be fair, you’ll almost always have to complete some sort of training, but it will often be either paid, on-the-job, or organized in the evenings and on weekends.
How Well Do Non-College Degree Jobs Pay?
As you might expect, non-college-degree jobs, on average, don’t pay as well as graduate jobs. The average pay for non-graduate jobs is $792 per week for those aged 25 and over, while the compensation for the same age group with graduate jobs is $1,248 per week.
Unfortunately, the primary incentive to go to college, study hard, and come out the other side with a degree is money, and this difference in salary reflects this.
If extended learning were only a choice based on preference, more people would opt to enter the workforce directly; as things stand now, those who start working right out of high school are doing so to avoid losing income and high tuition fees.
That said, not all non-degree jobs are the same. While many are low pay, particularly those in the hospitality sector, others are much more lucrative; in this post, we will focus on the latter.
Best-Paying Jobs Without a College Degree for 2023
Here are jobs that don't require a degree but that pay well:
Sheet Metal Worker: $56,492/year
As their name suggests, sheet metal workers are construction workers who fabricate and install thin metal sheet products. Their expertise in using metallic materials is essential in the construction industry.
However, metalworking is hard: The physical demands are significant and involve constant bending, climbing, squatting, and standing as you position sheets into place.
On the plus side, you don’t need a degree, nor much in the way of formal education in general. Some people may be able to become sheet metal workers without even a high school diploma, although most of them still have at least a GED.
To start learning this trade, you’ll need to apply for an apprenticeship. For the first couple of years, your earnings will be low, but you’ll be learning all the skills you need for the job.
Moreover, you’ll also avoid going into student loan debt, a type of borrowing that not even bankruptcy can eliminate.
Bookkeepers and accountants are not the same. Bookkeepers do not need degrees and instead learn much of their trade on the job.
While this isn’t among the highest paying jobs without a degree requirement, these professionals can still earn good money, with most people making it over the $40,000 mark, the (somewhat dated) threshold for middle-class living.
Bookkeepers create and, as the name suggests, keep financial records, organize important documents, and maintain the accuracy of statements for companies or individual clients, although the latter is rarer.
Unfortunately, going forward, the number of bookkeeper job openings is likely to decline. The increase in online bookkeeping services over the past years means this career path’s longevity is growing limited.
Firefighting is another great job that pays well without a degree. Due to the state of the climate, this field is expanding relatively rapidly, with expected job growth expected at around 6% per year.
Of course, this high wage comes with high demands. Firefighters must put their lives at risk in service of the public. FEMA collects data on the number of firefighters killed in the line of duty, and the figures range between 60 and 110 deaths per year.
There are other challenges, too. As a firefighter, you’ll need to keep up with regular training and fitness tests. You will also need to go through various drug screening programs to ensure you’re not using substances that could compromise your performance.
Computer Support Specialist: $60,473/year
The IT sector offers the highest-paying careers without a degree, and computer support specialists are part of that. Salaries in this area are well above $50,000 for most workers, and the work is not manual, which will be a bonus for many.
As you might imagine, computer support specialists help people use their computers. In some cases, they work with firms as in-house support, while in others, they work with customers.
In the past, companies would often insist on a four-year college degree for workers looking to get into the sector.
However, with the rise in demand and short supply of people in this field, many employers are now willing to look at candidates without formal qualifications.
If you decide to go into this sector, you’ll need to prove that you’re computer literate. You’ll also need to demonstrate your skills and what you know if you don’t have a formal degree.
Iron Worker: $62,140/year
Relatively few people want to work in this profession. However, if you’re the sort of person who loves manual work and building products, it could be the perfect job for you.
Iron workers have a lot of responsibility: Iron is an essential element in the construction industry, primarily the making of steel for practically all structures, be they office blocks, bridges, or roads.
Your job would involve making and attaching these iron and steel products to critical support points. The work is physically demanding and often dangerous, as iron workers tend to work at great heights or underground.
However, it can be gratifying, and there are apprenticeships to ease yourself into the trade.
Hearing Instrument Specialist: $63,423/year
Hearing instrument specialists are similar to audiologists. However, the latter is actually a type of physician, requiring four or five years of medical training, plus a specialization.
On the other hand, hearing instrument specialists don’t need any college training at all, and theirs is among the highest-paying jobs without a degree.
The role's primary function is to match patients with suitable hearing aids, usually after an examination by an audiologist. You’ll work with a range of vendors to find the optimal solution for your clients.
Hearing instrument specialists have other responsibilities, too. For instance, you might carry out hearing tests or simple repairs on customer devices. You’ll also explain how hearing aids work and how clients can get the most out of them.
Power Plant Operator: $65,177/year
Power plant operators are among the highest-paid professionals who don’t have a degree, with average pay closing in on above $65,000 per year.
In this role, you’re responsible for the distribution of electric power to the grid, with millions of people relying on you to live their lives as usual.
You’ll work on an eight- to 12-hour shift rotation to ensure continuous coverage, alongside other operators.
You don’t need a formal qualification for this role. However, you will need to go through many years of on-the-job training to build your skills. By the end of it, though, you’ll know how to manage the power plant and run it with minimal supervision.
Wind Turbine Technician: $65,632/year
Wind turbines are seeing a boom in popularity because of various green energy initiatives worldwide, particularly in the US.
While the work itself is relatively straightforward, it’s one of the best jobs without a degree, because it is in such high demand right now.
Some estimates suggest that wind turbine tech job growth is currently around 50% per year.
If you choose to go into this area, you’ll need to become familiar with the mechanical, hydraulic, and electronic needs of wind turbines.
You’ll also need to attend school, and perhaps part of an apprenticeship program, to get certificates in the wind energy industry. These make you more likely to progress quickly in this career path.
Transportation and Distribution Manager: $68,598/year
Transportation and distribution managers conduct, organize and direct the transportation and distribution of all sorts of products around the country and the world.
To get to the high-paying positions, you will need to spend a long time in the industry – about five years.
However, if you stick it out, you’ll receive a good salary, and improve your prospects and mobility, as the sector is on an upward streak, particularly now that eCommerce is booming.
Interestingly, you don’t need any specific on-the-job training for this role. Instead, whether you get it depends entirely on your organizational and networking skills, not any formal qualifications.
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer: $70,380/year
Diagnostic medical sonographers use sound waves to generate images of blood vessels, tissues, and other organs in the body for health monitoring and disease identification.
In this role, you’ll be responsible for performing scans for regular checkups and patients with various ailments, including heart disease.
Because the world’s population is aging, the BLS predicts that openings for diagnostic medical sonographers will increase over the coming years, offering a degree of job security. The current annual growth rate is approximately 6%.
Finding low-stress jobs that pay well without a degree can be challenging, but electricians just might succeed in this.
To become an electrician in the US, you’ll need a high school diploma (or equivalent) and to register as an electrician’s apprentice.
During your apprenticeship, you’ll get hands-on experience, and your mentor will provide the necessary training. At the end of it, you’ll become licensed and certified, allowing you to work independently.
You can also finish vocational school; this isn’t mandatory, but it can further your knowledge and help you grow your career faster.
As an electrician, you’ll be involved in installing and maintaining light fixtures, appliances, communication equipment, and backend systems for residential and commercial properties, among many other things.
Many electricians specialize in particular areas, such as structured cabling, to increase their pay further as they become valued experts. The direction of your career will depend on your preferences and the jobs available in your area.
Executive Assistant: $72,026/year
Executive assistants are professionals who facilitate the lives of senior executives (e.g., managers, CEOs, CFOs, COOs, etc.) Their role is to organize those people’s itineraries, conduct research, find relevant reports, and handle incoming information requests.
To excel in this role, you’ll need top-notch communication and organizational skills. Good candidates are people with experience organizing events, operations, and schedules in the past, as well as a decent level of computer proficiency.
Prospects for executive assistants are excellent. People in these roles can often create networks that help them develop their careers even further, sometimes becoming operations managers.
Occupational Therapy Assistant: $72,747/year
While this is one of those careers without a college degree requirement, it does require an associate degree in occupational therapy.
Otherwise, you would only be qualified to become an occupational therapy aide. In the former role, you’ll work alongside an occupational therapist, helping patients rehabilitate. Most of your time will be spent setting up equipment for therapy and providing said therapy.
As mentioned, to become an occupational therapy assistant, you’ll need an associate’s degree from an accredited program. Every state regulates how you can practice. Once an employer confirms your placement, you’ll receive on-the-job training.
Air Traffic Controller: $73,657/year
Air traffic controllers do not need to have bachelor’s degrees, but you will have to acquire an associate’s degree. It’s one of the highest-paying jobs without a degree, but the compensation is that good because of the high level of responsibility.
As an air traffic controller, you can’t afford to make a mistake. If you do, it could result in people losing their lives.
Pay is also high because of the job’s antisocial hours. You would often have to work nights and weekends, since flights never stop.
You also need to be someone who can concentrate at all hours of the day to remain alert and aware of potential dangers 24/7.
Plumber or Steamfitter: $79,329/year
Plumbing has always been one of the jobs that pay well without a degree. While the rates aren’t astronomical, they are significant.
For instance, plumbers regularly earn more than $1,000 per week, which is enough to fund a middle-class lifestyle in most US cities.
As a plumber, you can work in the commercial or domestic sectors. Those looking for the highest pay should consider working more on the commercial side.
You may also be able to increase your rates by offering 24/7 emergency callout services for disasters that cannot wait until the morning.
Again, the best way into this job is to do an apprenticeship. Licensing requirements vary by state: In most jurisdictions, you’ll need to become a journeyman plumber first, build experience, and then become a master plumber.
You may also have to earn a separate gas or utility license, opening up even more earning opportunities.
Insurance Sales Rep: $82,230/year
Insurance might not be the sexiest industry, but if you love numbers and want to earn a high salary with no degree requirement, it might be right for you.
Insurance sales reps sell insurance policies to customers following SEC regulations. Your job will be to meet with clients, find the coverage they need, and answer any questions they might have.
Of course, your primary task would be to convince potential customers to purchase the insurance packages your company is selling.
You’ll need to be a people person for this role as you’ll spend the majority of time schmoozing and navigating people’s doubts about the necessity of your product.
You don’t need formal education, but there is a lot of paperwork involved – something you need to consider.
Many states also require you to have a license to operate as an insurance sales rep. Therefore, before you start applying for jobs, you’ll want to make sure that you meet all your legal obligations.
Companies may help you attain these qualifications, but you would probably have to work in an underpaid role first.
If you’ve always wanted to be like Sherlock Holmes, becoming a police detective could be the ideal role for you. Detectives aren’t on the front line of policing. Instead, their job is to arrive at the crime scene after it has taken place, collect evidence, and then analyze it.
While it is among the high-paying jobs you can get without a degree, it is also highly competitive. Therefore, candidates without a degree may be at a disadvantage.
Nonetheless, becoming a detective is pretty straightforward: You start at the bottom of the police ladder and work your way up. Any experience you gain on the job (for example, in forensics) will help you progress faster.
Commercial Pilot: $97,123/year
Compensation for commercial pilots is high for several reasons. The first is the complexity of the task. Flying a modern jet requires a lot of knowledge and multitasking. T
he second is the level of responsibility. Whenever you fly, the lives of hundreds of passengers are in your hands.
Finally, there are the antisocial hours. You would often have to fly at night or on weekends, and it would be hard to maintain constants in your life due to the never-ending travel.
The good news is that, to get into the sector, you need just two things: A high school diploma and a pilot’s license. However, airline pilots often need a degree, and with higher education comes a higher salary bracket, too.
Licensed Practical Nurse: $105,601/year
Licensed practical nurses (LPN) work alongside medical professionals, such as physicians and registered nurses. They assist in all aspects of patient care and help with the associated paperwork.
LPNs do not need to have a college degree, a rarity in their field. Instead, US applicants must complete an accredited program at a vocational school. Training typically lasts between one and two years. Afterward, you can start earning a regular salary through your position.
Real Estate Agent: $106,249/year
The average real estate agent earns a six-figure annual salary. The ever-climbing real estate prices have made this an extremely lucrative business as of late. There are over 2 million active estate agents in the US, and many of them often receive large commissions for each successful transaction they facilitate.
Of course, there is a price to pay for this: Hard work. In many cases, you have to give up your evenings and weekends to show people around properties, so you won’t have a regular nine-to-five schedule.
However, if that doesn’t matter to you, this position could be a real money maker.
In the majority of US states, real estate agents don’t need a college degree. However, you’ll need to take various courses to become certified and pass licensing exams so that you can legally practice.
The great thing about real estate is that it’s a genuine career. It’s something that you will probably be able to do all your life, regardless of how technology may change over the coming decades.
What’s more, if you join an agency instead of going it alone, there are usually opportunities to climb the ranks, perhaps to senior management level. At the top of the industry, the pay is significantly higher than average.
Dental Hygienist: $116,066/year
Dental hygienists sit at the top of our pyramid of jobs that pay well without a degree. In this role, you’ll screen patients with X-rays, remove plaque from their teeth, and offer advice on good nutrition and oral hygiene.
For this job, you’ll need an associate’s degree. It requires three years to complete, and you must pass the National Board of Dental Hygiene exam at the end of it to practice.
Since these are some of the strictest requirements for a college-free job, it makes sense that the pay is top-notch, too.
As we have seen, many jobs pay well for people without a degree. If you don’t have an academic streak, a major-specific career in mind, or the economic wherewithal for one at the moment, you can try to get a foot in the door with one of these roles.
That’s not to say that these jobs are something you can get without any training - for most positions, there’s an apprenticeship, training, or course program to follow, as well as exams to pass.
Finally, you will be expected to gain enough experience before your pay starts climbing significantly. Still, if any of these careers strikes your fancy, we’d say they’re all worth the effort.
What jobs pay the most money without a degree?
Jobs that pay the most money without a degree include licensed practical nurses, real estate agents, and dental hygienists.
What is the easiest job without a degree?
No job is ever entirely easy, if done right. However, some of the more low-stress jobs on our lists are those of real estate agents, dental hygienists, and hearing instrument specialists.
Can I be successful without college?
Yes, you can be successful without going to college. Many of the world’s wealthiest people dropped out of school before completing their degree, or didn’t bother going at all. Even if you don’t start a business, there are still many high-paid career paths to choose from that don’t require a university degree.
Albert Einstein is said to have identified compound interest as mankind’s greatest invention. That story’s probably apocryphal, but it conveys a deep truth about the power of fiscal policy to change the world along with our daily lives. Civilization became possible only when Sumerians of the Bronze Age invented money. Today, economic issues influence every aspect of daily life. My job at Fortunly is an opportunity to analyze government policies and banking practices, sharing the results of my research in articles that can help you make better, smarter decisions for yourself and your family.
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