Top 50 Highest Paying Jobs Without a Degree

highest paying jobs without a degree

By Jeff Gillis

UPDATED 7/12/2022

When people picture jobs that don’t require degrees, they normally picture positions without a lot of potential. Maybe your mind went to retail or fast food, for example, which are typically close to minimum wage. The thing is, while those jobs are options, some of the highest-paying jobs without a degree have far more earning potential.

So, let’s take a trip, a journey where we explore the best jobs without a degree included in the must-haves. You may be surprised by what you find out along the way.

Not Having a Degree

Before we dig into jobs that pay well without a degree, let’s look at what not going to college means in society. If you’re a Millennial or member of Gen Z, there’s a decent chance you were raised to think that having a college degree is a must. But the trick is, there are plenty of reasons why you may not choose to earn a degree.

First, there’s the debt. Even though student loan interest rates tend to be lower, most people spend decades paying off their loans, and some never make it. So, it isn’t a surprise that some people can’t or don’t want to go down that road.

Second, having a degree isn’t actually a necessity. Larry Ellison, the mind behind software giant Oracle, didn’t graduate from college. Now he’s worth an estimated $67+ billion. Steve Jobs only made it one semester before dropping out, and we all know what he pulled off.

Don’t fancy yourself a tech genius? That doesn’t mean you can’t succeed without a degree. Richard Branson is a prime example. So is John Mackey, the founder of Whole Foods.

Finally, not all jobs require a degree, including some lucrative ones. Why spend the money on education that isn’t necessary. If one of those roles meets your needs, then you can skip the student loans and go that way instead.

Top 50 Highest Paying Jobs Without a Degree

You may be wondering, what are the best jobs without a degree out there? Are the highest paying jobs without a degree easy enough to land? What do you need to do to qualify?

Well, let’s take a look. Here are the top 15 jobs that pay well without a degree.

1. Executive Assistant

Executive assistants are usually a company leader’s right-hand person. They handle a range of administrative tasks, simplifying the life of the executive they support. This can include speaking with visitors, coordinating schedules, making travel arrangements, handling reports, crafting presentations, and a whole lot more.

Technically, you can work your way up to becoming an executive assistant instead of going the college route. Once you do, it’s one of the best jobs without a degree around and can snag you a salary of about $68,485 a year.

2. Sales Rep

If you’re incredibly personable and persuasive, you could make bank as a sales rep. Depending on your niche, you could end up with an annual salary near $53,310 to $63,000.

In the role, you’ll spend time convincing prospective customers to become actual customers. As long as you have the right mindset, a high school diploma, and nail your sales interview questions, you can get started in this career. Once you get the hang of it, this easily qualifies as one of the best-paying jobs without a degree.

3. Electrician

If you are looking for high-paying jobs without a degree or experience, starting on the road toward being an electrician can be a smart move. The journey can be a bit long, as it takes time to learn everything you need to secure a license. But, while you’re an apprentice, you get paid, and that helps.

As you learn on the job, you’ll be taught how to install, maintain, and repair electrical systems and components. Once you’re done, a salary of about $56,180 a year is completely possible.

4. Transportation, Storage, and Distribution Managers

In this role, you’d spend your days making sure that shipping processes run smoothly. You’d coordinate the transportation and storage of a range of goods, ensuring everything is distributed properly.

Getting started with a high school diploma is possible, though you will need some distribution experience to qualify. Once you have that, a yearly wage of $94,560 is within reach.

5. Wind Turbine Technician

Another high-paying trade job, wind turbine technicians can make $52,910 a year in many cases. If you pursue this career, you’ll spend time installing, repairing, and maintaining wind turbines.

Like electricians, much of the instruction is handled on the job. However, for this one, you might want to spend a little time in vocational school to get your footing. That way, you can learn about alternative energy as well as hone your electrical and mechanical skills.

6. Commercial Pilot

Unlike airline pilots, commercial pilots don’t necessarily need a college degree. As long as they have a license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), that’s enough to get started.

Once you have your license, you can earn around $86,080 annually by hitting the skies. You could be transporting goods, giving aerial tours, or handling charters, depending on the route you take.

7. Nuclear Power Reactor Operator

If the idea of controlling nuclear reactors isn’t intimidating, this could be one of the best high-paying jobs without a degree for you. The on-the-job training is extensive, and you’ll need to get licensed along the way, so you won’t start out with a stellar salary immediately. But, as you learn how to monitor the systems, your pay will go up, potentially to the $76,360 to $133,170 per year range.

8. Elevator Mechanic

If the idea of making around $84,990 a year sounds good, a career as an elevator mechanic might be the perfect option. You’ll either need on-the-job training or vocational school to get started. But once you do, you’ll focus on repairing, installing, and maintaining elevators and similar people-focused transportation equipment, like escalators and moving sidewalks.

9. Computer Programmer

Thanks to the advent of coding bootcamps and the prevalence of hiring shortages, you can actually launch a lucrative tech career without a college degree. Since skill gaps are pervasive, companies are increasingly open-minded about where a tech pro gets their skills.

As long as you can demonstrate you know your stuff, you could land a position earning $86,500 a year without having to earn a Bachelor’s degree. Just make sure you have proof of what you bring to the table, such as past personal projects. That way, you can highlight your skills in a meaningful way.

JEFF'S TIP: If you want to be a computer programmer but don’t want to have to head to college to earn a degree, make wise choices when you look for an employer. Smaller companies may be more flexible about requirements, making it easier to get started. Similarly, even some major tech players have altered their policies, publicly welcoming non-traditional candidates. If you focus your efforts in those directions, your odds of success go up. Then, once your career is underway, landing your next role will be easier.

10. Radiologic Technician

If you want to enter the medical landscape, consider a career as a radiologic technician, one of the high-paying jobs without a degree that gets you into the healthcare field. Once you qualify and land a job, making $62,280 a year is completely possible.

In many cases, you can get started after completing a vocational program, which typically takes two years or less. While that does mean some schooling, it isn’t nearly as much time as a Bachelor’s, and it’s far less expensive, too.

11. Computer Support Specialist

Another tech option where a college degree is optional, computer support specialists help users navigate challenges with hardware or software. If you’re generally tech-savvy, can follow instructions, are an exceptional communicator, and have a high school diploma, that may be enough to get started.

In the position, you could earn $54,760 a year. Plus, demand for computer support specialists is rising, so it could become more lucrative down the line.

12. Pharmacy Technician

For our second healthcare entry, pharmacy technician is one of the jobs without a degree that doesn’t even require any vocational school. Once hired, you’ll go through on-the-job training, ensuring you know how to assist with dispensing prescriptions, communicating with patients, and working with health care professionals, including insurance agents.

Demand for pharmacy technicians is growing. However, right now, a starting salary of $33,950 is easily possible. And once you get your footing, you could work your way up to $49,130 or more.

13. Machinist

If you like the idea of operating equipment to make parts and components, consider becoming a machinist. After some vocational school or, potentially, just some on-the-job training, you could earn an annual salary of about $45,750.

If you go purely the on-the-job training route, you may have to start out in other positions within the facility. For example, working as an assembler or production associate might get your foot in the door, making it possible to move forward into machine operation and machining.

14. Police Officer

Police officers spend their time responding to emergencies, patrolling assigned areas, conducting traffic stops, and others supporting safety. In some cases, it’s possible to get started with just a high school diploma.

With that, you may be eligible for the police academy, a kind of specialized vocational school. However, sometimes a college degree is necessary. The requirements can vary from one jurisdiction to the next, so an associate’s or higher could be a must for some cities, counties, or states.

The median annual pay rate for police officers and detectives comes in at $65,170. If you make it into the highest-earning 10 percent, then a six-figure salary is even a possibility.

15. Hearing Aid Specialists

If you want to work with customers directly, a job as a hearing aid specialist is a great option. You’ll help them pick hearing aids and make sure they fit properly. Plus, you’ll troubleshoot issues if they occur, improving audio quality.

With a high school diploma, you could land a position making $52,770 a year, which is really solid, considering you don’t need a college degree.

16. Signal and Track Switch Repairer

The rail system in the United States is vital, ensuring people and goods can move around the country with ease. Signal and track switch repairers help ensure that critical parts of the system are in good working order, keeping the tracks in good condition and ensuring switches don’t malfunction.

In most cases, a high school diploma and some on-the-job training can get you moving in this direction. Once you get your career moving, earning about $79,380 annually is possible.

17. Air Traffic Controller

As an air traffic controller, your job is to ensure that incoming and outgoing aircraft move across runways and through surrounding airspace safely and in an orderly fashion. In most cases, you need specialized training to work in the field, typically resulting in a technical associate’s degree.

While the education requirement is low, the job is often high-stress. Fortunately, it can come with a yearly salary of about $93,208, which can make it worthwhile.

18. Aircraft Mechanic

Another option for anyone who loves planes, aircraft mechanics spend their time maintaining, repairing, and installing engines, landing gear, and similar components. Usually, you’ll need to complete a vocational program to get into this career. Once you have that, you’re well on your way to making around $70,291 per year.

19. Construction and Building Inspector

Construction and building inspectors spend their days ensuring that structures or building renovations meet local codes. They may look at the structure itself or various critical systems, such as electrical, plumbing, and HVAC, and create reports outlining their findings.

While construction and building inspectors do spend ample time in the field, the work itself is more administrative, which could make it far more appealing to some professionals. Plus, you can earn around $58,568 per year, which isn’t too shabby.

20. Gaming Manager

Gaming managers – which are sometimes referred to as pit bosses – oversee casino floors. Along with ensuring players follow the rules, they keep an eye on employees and assist with payouts.

Many gaming managers work their way up into the role after starting in other casino roles on the floor. Once they reach this point, a salary of around $74,274 a year is the norm.

21. Refinery Operators

Operating pumps and systems at a refinery can come with a large salary, typically near $65,597 per year. The work is fairly straightforward, involving some machine operation, system monitoring, and basic maintenance duties. Plus, it often involves either on the job training or some vocational school, depending on the employer’s requirements.

22. Radiation Therapist

Radiation therapist is another one of the highest paying jobs without a degree in the healthcare field. These professionals are part of oncology teams, assisting with cancer treatment administration. In most cases, completing a vocational training program is all that’s required to enter the field, allowing you to start earning around $82,790 per year once you gain some experience.

23. Professional Athlete

While many professional athletes are college graduates, a degree isn’t technically required for any of the roles. Instead, you just need to be highly skilled at a particular sport, making you eligible for a team.

When it comes to earnings potential, it runs the gamut. While the median salary is $77,300 per year, some athletes earn millions annually. Just keep in mind that your odds of ending up in the latter category are technically low. Still, if you have the skills, it’s a path worth considering.

24. Subway Operators

A public transportation position, subway operators make sure that subway trains run safely and remain on schedule. In most cases, some on-the-job training is enough to get into the field. Once you wrap that up, you could find yourself making an annual salary near $71,520.

25. Power Line Installers

Keeping electricity flowing through an area is a necessity, ensuring local businesses and residences can power electronics, appliances, and more. Power line installers play a big role in ensuring they aren’t any hiccups. Along with expanding grids and replacing old lines, they’ll handle repairs as needed.

In most cases, vocational school, an apprenticeship, or on-the-job training can get you into this field. Once you get moving, you can typically work your way to an annual salary of about $62,802.

26. Commercial Fisherman

In most cases, commercial fisherman learn the role while on the job, giving them valuable skills that let them bring in various kinds of seafood. While pay rates can vary and some positions are purely seasonal, commercial fisherman can earn around $62,812 a year, making it a solid way to make a living.

27. Plumber

With annual pay rates near $59,478, plumber is an excellent option for anyone interested in high-paying jobs without a degree. Plumbers typically learn their trade through an apprenticeship program, allowing them to learn while they home their pipe installation, maintenance, and repair skills.

28. Claims Adjuster

For those that preferred office jobs with the occasional trip out to a site, working as a claims adjuster could be a solid fit. These professionals are part of the insurance industry, and they spend their time reviewing claims and determining if a claim should be paid out and how much is appropriate. In exchange for their expertise, yearly salaries near $60,599 are the norm.

29. Train Engineer

For fans or locomotives, becoming a train engineer could be a dream come true. Usually, you’ll work your way up into this role, often after spending time as a conductor. Since that’s the case, you don’t necessarily need a college education, though a certification might be required.

Once you have the right credentials and experience, you’ll spend your time ensuring trains run smoothly down the tracks, all while monitoring equipment, logging inspections, and ensuring you remain on schedule. In exchange for your time and expertise, an annual salary of around $96,894 is the norm.

30. Accounts Receivable Clerk

An entry-level position in the accounting field, accounts receivable clerks handle incoming payments from customers or clients, keep financial records, answer questions, and generate reports.

In many cases, it’s possible to get started in the field either after completing a vocational program or taking some college-level accounting classes, often not going any further than an associate’s degree. In exchange for that time and effort, a salary of around $41,833 a year is typical, and that’s for an entry-level job.

31. Dental Hygienists

If you’re looking for jobs that pay well without a degree, dental hygienist could be a great fit. Like many other positions on this list, you can usually get started with some vocational training. Once that’s done, you’ll spend your time working on dental patients, handling tasks like cleanings and x-rays, all while earning about $78,311 annually.

32. Firefighter Supervisor

Another position you can work your way up into, firefighter supervisors oversee a team of firefighters while also using specialized equipment to battle blazes and ensure the safety of others. After completing the academy and spending time on the job, you could potentially reach this role, allowing you to earn around $83,270 per year.

33. Office Manager

While you can get a college degree to secure a position as an office manager, some administrative professionals also work their way up into the role. Once there, the duties mainly focus on organizing office activities, coordinating meetings, keeping records straight, handling events, and similar responsibilities. As for pay, an annual salary near $78,936 is the norm.

34. Boilermaker

With salaries annual of around $60,665, becoming a boilermaker is a great choice if you’re looking for good-paying jobs without a degree. Like many blue collar positions, you usually start with some vocational training or an apprenticeship. Then, you’ll have the welding, fabrication, and other metal working skills you’ll need to create and install boilers.

35. Gas Plant Operator

As a gas plant operator, you make sure that gas moves its way through pipelines and facilities correctly. Along with operating equipment, you may handle some maintenance and monitoring responsibilities, too.

Most of the roles are with oil or utility companies, and they usually require some technical school to get into them. However, once you have the right training, making about $69,603 per year is a real possibility.

36. Insurance Agent

Insurance agents help customers find policies that meet their personal or business needs. In many cases, those working in the field acquire their skills on the job. However, you’ll usually need to get a license, too, which involves passing an exam. Once that’s handled, earning around $70,017 a year is typical.

37. Real Estate Agent

Like insurance agents, real estate agents don’t need a college degree. Instead, they just have to pass a licensing exam. As a result, some people complete vocational programs while others opt for a self-study approach.

In either case, once you’ve got a license, you can assist with home sales and purchases. As for the pay, you’ll likely find yourself making $95,333 a year or so, depending on your area.

38. Sonographer

Sonographers use specialized imaging equipment to conduct patient exams and diagnose potential issues. Usually, it requires some vocational training to get into the field, and licensing may be required depending on your state. Once you’ve handled that, earning about $77,740 per year is the norm.

39. Telecom Equipment Installer

Installing, testing, and maintaining telecom lines – including cable– requires specific expertise. However, you don’t need a college degree to acquire it. Instead, with some vocational training, you can typically learn what you need, allowing you to make around $60,370 annually in fairly short order.

40. Postal Worker

Many people don’t realize that postal workers make decent salaries, often near $62,741 per year. Along with not needing a college degree, the roles usually come with solid benefits. Plus, the work is straightforward, usually involving mail sorting, pickup, and delivery, along with some customer service.

41. Web Developer

While you can certainly get a degree before starting a career as a web developer, you may be able to go with a bootcamp or even be self-taught instead. That’s particularly true if you have a solid portfolio that you can use during job searches, allowing you to show employers that you have coding, design, and similar skills.

Regardless of whether you have a degree, web developers can earn a pretty penny. Annual salaries usually come in near $106,620, which is incredibly solid considering you don’t need a Bachelor’s.

42. MRI Technologist

Another diagnostic medicine job that’s also one of the highest paying jobs without a college degree, MRI technologist complete formal training to ensure they can correctly operate an MRI machine. Having a good bedside manner is also essential, as keeping patients calm during the process is a must. With the right training and skills, those working in the field often find themselves earning $77,360 a year.

43. Payroll Clerk

Payroll clerks handle a specialized kind of data entry, ensuring that hours-worked records are captured accurately and that employees are paid on time. Many people in the field don’t have formalized training beyond a high school education, though some choose to complete vocational programs to make landing a job easier. Either way, you can often expect a salary close to $41,034 a year.

44. Pile Driver Operator

Pilings are critical for certain building foundations, bulkheads, and retaining walls. As a pile driver operator, you’ll make sure those pilings are installed correctly, using heavy equipment and expertise to get the job handled.

Usually, some formal training or vocational school is all you need to get started. Then, as you gain experience, you can often start making about $75,950 annually.

45. Certified Medical Coder

If you’re open to a vocational program or two-year degree, becoming a certified medical coder could be a great way to secure a strong salary. These professionals review reports from physicians and select the appropriate medical codes to log conditions, treatments, and more.

To become a certified medical coder, you’ll need a few years of experience first. Then, you can qualify for the certification exam, making it easier to snag a pay rate closer to $57,646 per year.

46. Flight Attendant

For anyone who wants to explore the world and is skilled at customer service, working as a flight attendant could be the perfect option. Many airlines don’t require any college education, and most of the training happens after you’re hired.

When it comes to salaries, flight attendants can make around $80,295 annually. Plus, the job often comes with benefits and travel perks, making it even more lucrative.

47. Graphic Designer

Going to college before starting a tech career is increasingly unnecessary. Thanks to bootcamps and self-study options, you can often hone graphic design skills in far less time, allowing you to create digital images for a range of purposes. Plus, you can start earning about $50,710 per year without having to deal with student loan debt, which is a nice bonus.

48. Cabinet Maker

Cabinet makers usually earn about $51,660 annually, spending their days creating custom cabinetry for homes and businesses. Usually, cabinet makers learn most of their skills either on the job or through apprenticeships, as this is technically a subcategory within the finish carpentry niche. However, some are self-taught, though that’s far more common with long-term wood hobbyists.

49. Legal Assistant

Legal assistants are administrative professionals with specialized training that lets them support attorneys and law offices. Usually, you can get started in the field after completing a vocational program, ensuring you know how to draft legal documents, research laws, gather case details, and otherwise serve in the role. Plus, you can earn $52,064 per year or so, making this one of the best-paying jobs without a degree around.

50. Fire Inspector

After a fire, fire inspectors examine a scene to determine the cause of the blaze. The process requires evidence collection, observation, and various types of testing. Additionally, report writing is a common part of the job.

Usually, people launch this career by heading to trade school, though some areas may require a two-year degree. In either case, those who complete the training are usually well on their way toward an annual salary of about $69,206.

Putting It All Together

In the end, going to college isn’t a necessity. There are plenty of high-paying jobs without a degree requirement, including all of those above. So, if furthering your education isn’t in the cards for any reason, don’t fret. You’ve got some amazing options available. See if any of the positions above sound good and, if they do, take your career in that direction. You’ll be happy you did.

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About The Author

Jeff Gillis

Co-founder and CTO of Jeff is a featured contributor delivering advice on job search, job interviews and career advancement, having published more than 50 pieces of unique content on the site, with his work being featured in top publications such as INC, ZDnet, MSN and more. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.