You Don't Need A College Degree To Work These 30 High-Paying Jobs

It should come as no surprise that so much importance is placed on a college education. According to Statista, the top 10% of income earners held 69% of the entire nation's wealth in the first half of 2023. When you consider that the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found higher education for 25- to 35-year-olds — those with bachelor's degrees or above — made anywhere from $21,900 to $34,900 more than high school grads — what becomes a "high paying" versus low paying job is stark, even if somewhat relative.


So just go to college, get a good education, and join the ranks of the middle class, right? That's not so easy according to the Education Data Initiative, which discovered the average cost of higher education in the U.S. is anywhere from $36,436 per year to $55,840 for private colleges and universities. Factoring in the total lost income and the accumulating interest from the average student loan, earning a bachelor's degree can reduce your lifetime earning power by $500,000 or more. But here's the good news — there are dozens of jobs that don't require a college degree that can double your earning potential with just a high school education. All you need is the will to succeed.

Sales director

Sales directors are responsible for managing a company's sales strategy by building relationships with consumers through marketing or direct sales to meet or exceed sales targets. If you're good with people and a natural salesperson, it might behoove you to look into a career that, according to, can average around $196,813 per year. Although the highest-earning sales directors tend to hold degrees, even directors with high school diplomas can average around $96,970, which is nothing to sneeze at. 


Obviously, the odds of entering a management position with any level of education are unlikely. The path to directorship generally involves a good 10 years of hard work and tenacity, and will include starting at lower-level roles in sales before attaining enough experience to join the ranks of management. However, when considering how many career paths offer a road to leadership without a degree, a 10-year investment still sounds like time well spent.

Supply chain manager

Supply chain managers oversee the entire process of product delivery, from the processing of the product to storage and shipping. According to Supply Chain Management Review, the salary for this career is actually on the rise, with a 3% raise from last year and an average salary of $98,570 — $30,000 more than the American average. A report from the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM) revealed that supply chain professionals are generally happy in their roles, with high job satisfaction. 


An APICS certificate will raise your earning potential.The path to supply chain management without a degree will mean taking a hands-on approach to learning. Find a company in your area that offers paid internships that allow you to learn all the basic skills you need in real-time. You can even continue your education while working your way up the ladder through online courses that will bolster skills like leadership and performance and make you a better candidate for management. 

Real estate agent

Real estate is something every potential homeowner has to think about, and the point person on that is an accredited real estate professional. While the average salary for a real estate agent can fluctuate based on experience, property types, and geographic location, the average as of July 2022 was $104,451.


To get a real estate license, you will need to take a pre-licensing course that will set you back around $350 and an exam that may cost you up to another $300. Depending on your state guidelines, the course could take you anywhere from 40 to 168 hours on the high end, which is significantly less time and investment than a college degree. If you make it through the first few years of learning the ropes while building a client base, your potential for earning only gets better from there. You can apply your experience as a real estate agent to build your own brokerage and have other real estate agents working under you with a broker's license. In the United States, the average amount of experience needed as a real estate agent before being eligible to try for a broker license is anywhere from one to three years depending on your state. 


Commercial pilot

While every airline is different, some airlines don't require their commercial pilots to have degrees. According to ATP Flight School, it can take up to 1,500 hours or seven months of flight training to become a licensed commercial pilot. Becoming a pilot isn't cheap, however, coming with a hefty price tag of $101,995 if you have no prior experience flying, although financing is available to help float the cost.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for commercial airline pilots in 2022 was $103,910. Aside from the salary, the other perks of this job include traveling around the world, experiencing new cultures, trying new food, meeting new people, and being witness to some of the best views possible on a regular basis. The best part of all of this is you'll have the benefit of being extremely well-paid for the privilege of experiencing it all. 

Project manager

Project managers are in charge of taking on a project and bringing it from concept to completion, and they are paid well to do so. mentions certification, work experience, and mentorship as a route to project management without a degree.


Although Coursera makes the point that project managers with degrees follow the pattern of making $25,000 more than their counterparts without, even an assistant project manager can average $74,656 per year. So even if your education holds you back from becoming the lead project manager, you can still be a high earner working under the lead in a secondary role. The initial certification course may take you a year, which means you can continue to build your skills on the job through experience and further certificates. For instance, certification in the use of project management software will only serve to raise your profile for headhunters and HR departments on the lookout for experienced project managers. 


Executive assistant

High-powered executives always need a little, or a lot, of help to navigate their busy schedules. This is where you can come in as an executive assistant. As per, executive assistants in the US made anywhere from an average of $68,038 to upwards of $84,749 at the top end. The average high-school-degreed worker makes about $39,400, so even a salary on the lower end of this role will pay you almost $20,000 more per year at $59,158.


Even though a degree isn't necessary to join the ranks, certification while doing the job can only help open more doors for you. A Certified Manager certification (CM) can be obtained without any secondary educational requirements and can be done in six months' time. A Microsoft Office Specialist certification will help bring you up to speed on the latest Microsoft applications and put you ahead of the class in terms of job-related skills. 

UPS driver

Just this year, the union representing the United Parcel Service scored a huge victory for its drivers with a bump in pay for both part-time and full-time drivers. Thanks to the details of a new five-year contract between drivers and the company, full-time UPS drivers can expect to earn about $170,000 per year in benefits and salary. While the details on the spread between benefits and salary are murky, full-time drivers can expect to make $49 an hour by the end of those five years.


One caveat to consider, however, is that a $170,000 salary isn't a starting rate. Depending on what state you live in, starting hourly pay for drivers is set somewhere between $21 to $24 per hour, with $23 per hour being the pre-tax equivalent of $47,840 per year. Raises come annually at a rate of anywhere from $0.25 cents to $1.00 per hour, and taking other benefits like paid sick days, paid vacation, and health insurance into account, working your way up to the top salary won't mean suffering through years of struggle to get there. 


Plumbers, on average, start around $25 per hour and can make up to $31 per hour, depending on which state they operate out of and how many years they've been practicing their trade. An apprenticeship under an experienced plumber allows you to bypass college and learn the ropes before taking your licensing exam. It may take you a few years, but it will cost you nothing in comparison to college and will actually allow you to earn money while learning on the job. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the average pay for plumbers in 2022 was about $60,000 per year.


The next step up from an apprentice is journeyman, which offers experienced plumbers a little more independence, while becoming licensed as a master plumber opens the door to having your own team working for you on larger projects, which by extension means higher pay. While the licensing requirements for each state differ slightly, all of the prerequisites to obtain these two levels of certification are based on hours or years worked in the field and will set you back anywhere from $800 to $3,000 for certification and training. 

Power plant operator

Power plant operators ensure that all the equipment at a plant is running optimally and that all safety guidelines are being adhered to. Certification courses offered by vocational schools or hands-on training offer a way in without obtaining a college or university degree in an industry where 3,500 new roles are being created annually. An average of $89,090 makes it into the pockets of U.S. power plant operators, with the lowest 10% still earning $52,000 and the top percentile earning $119,880.


According to ZipRecruiter, eight out of 10 cities offering the highest salaries for entry-level workers in the power plant industry are located in the state of California, where salaries range from $42,647 to $51,999. Luck is on your side if you live out west. The other highest-paying cities for entry-level labor in this field are Seattle, Washington at $42,695, and Lebanon, New Hampshire at $42,949 per year. 

Makeup artist

Although makeup artists start their careers making about $34,564 per year, makeup artists with several years of experience can push that up to $97,500. Also of note, Nevada boasts the highest earning average for makeup artists in the country at $112,125. The best-paying gigs for makeup artists are weddings at $50 to $100 hourly, airbrushing for $50 to $250 a day, and film and television — specifically, special effects makeup — which can raise a makeup artist's earning potential to upwards of $500 or more per day.


In a GQ Magazine interview with Christian Bale, the actor spoke about his makeup trailer experience in between takes of "American Psycho" and is quoted as saying, "I remember one time sitting in the makeup trailer and the make-up artists were laughing at me because I was getting paid less than any of them." So even Christian Bale knows makeup artists can make serious coin. 

Subway and streetcar operator or conductor

Going underground is a fantastic way to raise your earning potential through the roof. In a CNBC interview, a New York City train conductor talks about starting her career a decade ago by filling out an application and enduring seven to nine weeks of job training before earning her current salary of $86,000. Part of your certification process may include criminal background checks, drug testing, and a medical examination


While a degree isn't required for this role, there are certain skills like the ability to stay on schedule, think and move quickly, and an ability to communicate professionally with the general public, that will help you stand out from your co-workers. As proponents of lifelong learning, becoming knowledgeable of other languages in your spare time, staying aware of safety procedures, and augmenting your work experience with leadership or mechanical training will prepare you for future management opportunities and the top salaries that accompany those roles. 

Transportation, storage, and distribution manager notes the average lowest-paid Transportation, storage, and distribution managers average about $78,279 against a national average of $103,650 per year. Job availability ticked up 8.2% last year in an industry valued at $78.5 billion and expected to grow 6% a year up until 2031. Several colleges offer certification courses without four years of full-time college expenses, providing a great-paying job in an industry forecasted to grow consistently into the next decade.


Storage managers are responsible for what happens to the product before it even makes its way out of the warehouse and onto vehicles by auditing and keeping a record of stored items. Transportation managers are responsible for the routing and tracking of vehicles from one location to the other. Meanwhile, distribution managers ensure that the logistics around everything between storage and transport are on point. These roles often intersect, and can even be rolled together in terms of responsibilities, making this an important but demanding job. 


The workers who maintain and repair boiler systems for homes and businesses become more important during cooler seasons. Getting into the industry without a degree isn't unheard of since this industry typically offers four to five years of on-the-job, paid training and apprenticeship. With several different avenues to explore from oil and gas to construction, your opportunities to earn grow with your experience. The average salary as of May 2022 is $66,920 with the top 10% of boilermakers earning $95,700.


According to the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, a union representing over 50,000 laborers and tradespeople, the four-year apprenticeship program is offered and respected in both the U.S. and Canada. This makes the benefit of cross-border opportunities a reality. The apprenticeships typically cover cutting, knot tying, hand signals, equipment use, fundamentals of reading blueprints, rigging, welding, and tube rolling, as well as fabrication and layout. All skills you will need to make yourself indispensable in your new role. 

Media and communications equipment worker

In a globalized, interconnected world, someone needs to keep all the media and communications equipment running. With 114,300 new jobs being created in the U.S. every year, the opportunities abound. While the average salary for media and communication equipment workers is $52,840, the average changes based on experience and region. The District of Columbia currently offers the highest salary average at $108,590 so if you wanted to launch your career somewhere you stand to earn more money, that would be a great place to start. 


Unsurprisingly, much of the work in media and communications appears to be in the motion picture and video industry, followed closely by work for the executive branch of the federal government. While there are definitely a few jobs in this lane that will require degrees, photography, broadcast, sound and video techs, as well as podcast or radio announcers, hosts, and DJs are avenues within the scope of media and communications work that don't require more than a high school or GED level education. 


While often undersold, policing offers another career path that doesn't require a degree but can still provide workers with a solid salary, benefits, and pension. While the national average sits at $67,600, the salary average fluctuates between states, with cops in Nevada earning $73,660 versus cops in California earning $105,220. However, if you're interested in this job path, you may want to stay away from the southern U.S. where the 10 lowest-paying states for cops are offering as much as $31,000 less than the national average.


Once you make it onto the force, you can begin working your way up the ranks and the pay scale. This doesn't necessarily mean leaving fieldwork for a corner office. According to Glassdoor, detectives in the U.S. average $77,341 per year, with an additional annual bonus of $6,010. The highest-paid detectives by state and police force are the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) at $102,352 and the City of New York at just over $90,000. The top brass in that city are some of the best compensated civil servants in New York, with eyewatering salaries of anywhere between $245,000 to $321,719 over the past decade. 

Building inspector

Home inspection is a great job if you're conscientious and care about ensuring the safety of people's homes. Bypass the cost of a college education with courses provided by The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors or any certification courses offered by your state guidelines — typically costing anywhere from $500 to $800 — followed by a $225 four-hour state exam and an annual licensing fee. According to, an impressive national average of $64,136 doesn't take away from an entry-level wage of $51,125.


The rules around home inspection training vary from state to state, but there are some general rules of thumb you can expect before pursuing this career path. The prerequisite training in the U.S. usually falls somewhere around 60 to 200 hours of training which can take place online, in class, or some hybrid version of the two. You may engage in mock home inspections as part of your training as well. All of this learning is preparation for the National Home Inspection Exam (NHIE), a typically two-hour long, 200-question examination all home inspectors have to pass before attaining their license. This is another job that requires a background check, which makes a lot of sense since you will be spending a lot of time in stranger's homes. 


Escalator and elevator installer and repairer

If you've ever ridden an elevator or escalator, you already know how important this career is to your feeling of security. A $145.6 billion value and a growth rate of 5.60% per year until 2028 offers potential candidates job security. A GED and an apprenticeship leading to a Certified Elevator Technician (CET) credential get you through the door of an industry where, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay is about $99,000 per year.


According to the National Association of Elevator Contractors, the prerequisite amount of on-the-job training necessary to qualify for taking the CAT exam is at least three years or 6,000 logged hours of work. If this sounds painful, just remember that this is paid work leading up to a higher-paying goal of a CET certification. The road to the latter requires five years or 10,000 logged hours of work and passing a final exam, with approval usually taking around three weeks. 

Commercial diver

According to an accredited American diving school, Commercial Divers International, as long as you've completed a high school education, can swim, and are in good enough health to make it through a physical exam, you're a perfect candidate for this job. Commercial divers need certification through the American National Standard Institute (ANSI) and the Association of Commercial Diver Educators (A.C.D.E). With an average salary of $60,360 per year and the ability to make $100,000 more as you progress through the industry, becoming a commercial diver is another way to earn more with a nontraditional education path.


Most of the work available to commercial divers is related to offshore oil and nuclear energy, however, infrastructure projects involving building and maintenance can also be part of the role. Unfortunately, this may not be the job for you if you're not in peak physical condition, or are over the age of 45, since the the rigors of deep-sea diving can be especially hard on the body. 

Aircraft mechanic

This high-paying role doesn't even technically require certification. Working with and apprenticing under a certified mechanic offers a way into the industry. Pay for this role is rising with the top pay for mechanics reaching $145,000 annually or the equivalent of $70 per hour. If you can get even half of that working for a Federal Aviation Association (FAA) certified aircraft mechanic, that's still nothing to sneeze at.


Flying Magazine puts the amount of apprenticeship and on-the-job training needed to become an aircraft mechanic around at least 30 months or two and a half years. This is an idea of the investment of time you would need to be considered proficient enough to be eligible for certification from the FAA. The average cost of aircraft mechanic school varies between $20,000 to $50,000, so while an apprenticeship won't save you any time, it will save you loads of cash. 

Electrical lineman

Repairing and maintaining power lines offers a starting rate of about $52,350 for workers with little to no experience, with salaries rising with skill level and role to the equivalent of as much as $71.30 per hour. An apprenticeship is the best way into this industry as long as you've completed high school, can pass a drug test, and have a driver's license. The average median salary for a lineman in 2023 is $79,843.


While you don't need to go to college to become a lineman, you will need to go to lineman school. These pre-apprenticeship courses typically run about 12 to 37 weeks depending on where you take the course, followed by about four years of apprenticing. The average cost of lineman school is about $8,400, significantly lower than two or more years of traditional college, and financial support is typically available to help cover your tuition. 

Casino/Gambling manager

Casino and gambling managers supervise the day-to-day of running a casino, and while well compensated for the role, on-the-job training and online certification courses will open doors for you in this industry. The national salary average is $82,176 per year with some managers making as much as $421,389. In terms of jobs you can have without a degree, this has to be one of the potentially highest-paying on our list. 


One caveat about this job, without a college degree, you will very likely need to start with an entry-level position and work your way up to the role. The good news is that the gaming industry is believed to expand by 24% over the next eight years with most casinos providing in-house training for new employees. Once you pass your criminal background check and drug test, you can obtain your gaming license and begin the climb to management. 

Funeral home workers

The saying goes, death and taxes are the only two things certain in life. As such, funeral home workers are unsurprisingly insulated from losing their income due to pandemics or even recessions, and therefore have incredible job insecurity. The educational requirement to take certain licensing exams doesn't necessarily require any college degree. In Alabama, for example, you can take the exam and become a licensed cremationist with a GED or high school education.


The American Board of Funeral Service Education notes that there is a huge need for funeral directors on a national basis, but it's a career that demands an on-call availability that can have you working evenings and weekends if necessary. Also, although all the roles at a funeral home don't require a college degree, the licensing standards for each state may dictate that you attain an associate degree in Funeral Service Education before you become eligible for licensing. 

Signal and track switch repairers

Signal and track switch repairers are tasked with ensuring functions of railways, including signals and track alignment, work at optimal levels and meet safety guidelines. They upgrade and maintain train tracks and highway crossings, as well as clear obstructions along a train route. Although the majority of signal and track repair workers do have degrees, at least 12.8% of the industry is working with just a GED or high school education


According to, most signal and switch repairers make between $47,130 to $96,990 per year, making $75,970 the average for this job. While this is a profession that includes extended periods of time outdoors or in tunnels keeping tracks and signal lights on point, the best salaries in this category actually tend to go to public administrators. The average salary for the administrative role garners $79,380, which is even higher than the median wage by $3,410. 

Diagnostic medical sonographers

Diagnostic medical sonographers are trained to use soundwave imaging for non-invasive medical scans and work toward full certification while learning on the job from a certified registered diagnostic medical sonographer (R.D.M.S). Diagnostic medical sonographers typically earn $62,500 on the low end to $95,360 on the higher end. However, based on experience and location, that top percentile salary can be even higher. The highest salary for this job in the U.S. is in the state of California, with earning averages between $125,210 to $138,110.


This job offers a variety of opportunities for placement, including abdominal ultrasound, breast sonography for breast cancer screening, neuro sonography for brain and nerve scans, obstetrical and gynecological sonography for expectant mothers, echocardiography for heart-related matters, musculoskeletal for muscle, bone, and joint examinations, and vascular ultrasound training which focuses on scanning veins and arteries. Each discipline has its own standards for exam eligibility, so you will want to check with the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health/Education Programs (CAAHEP) — the accreditation body governing sonography in the U.S. — about the individual prerequisites for accreditation as it relates to you. 


Dental hygienist

According to DentalPost, the average annual salary for hygienists in different U.S. states starts at $51,130 and goes up from there to as much as $115,510 per year. The process for becoming a hygienist is a little different in each state but for the most part, entails completing a program before completing both a National Board Dental Hygiene Examination or a state clinical board exam. In Florida for instance, an $80 fee and two years of board-approved self-study can start you on the road to becoming a dental hygienist.


There are several accreditation programs that not only offer a backdoor into the industry but will also set you up with real-world training in a dentist's office. This is actually more experience than you get in a college or university program and should go a long way toward preparing you for the two-part exam that can gain you access to a new decent-paying career.  

Chemical plant and system operators

Chemical plant and system operators do much of the same work as power plant operators, just in the realm of chemical plants. System operators make sure all of the moving parts of a chemical plant stay on course and, in a worst-case scenario, can be shut down before any damage to property or people occurs. While a high school diploma or GED is the only educational prerequisite for the job, the average salary of $82,670 is far above the average salary of high school graduates.


If you decide to take this career path, you can expect to take the Power Plant Maintenance and Plant Operator exam. This test assesses your basic math and reading comprehension, as well as your ability to master general mechanics. Assuming you pass, you'll be paired with more experienced operators in a learn-as-you-go scenario that typically involves in-class and on-the-job training. 

Petroleum pump system operators

Petroleum pump system operators work in oil refineries and manage the process and the flow of petroleum products. The industry boasts that 100% of its workforce tends to have at minimum a high school education, with an average annual salary of $82,342 or the equivalent of $40 per hour. The best way into this career path is to get your GED or complete high school before securing a year of on-the-job experience.


CareerExplorer suggests a general laborer position at an oil and gas company, refinery, pipeline, or drill site is your best bet for obtaining an entry-level opportunity. Also, you should consider taking a certification program like the type offered by The International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) and the Well Control Accreditation Program (WellCAP) since it can give you a leg up when it comes to hiring and advancement.  Oil and gas job fairs happen regularly across the country and can provide the open door you're looking for to enter the industry. 


Rain or shine, the U.S. Postal Service is most relied on to get your mail and packages from one end of the country to the other. The postmaster is a regional branch manager responsible for ensuring this happens accordingly. The only barriers to entry are you must be a U.S. citizen at least 16 years old with a high school diploma, pass drug and background checks, and have a pristine driving record. As per Payscale, the average median salary is $74,994.


Most USPS jobs require prospective employees to pass a general knowledge exam called the 473 Postal Exam. You should expect the test to focus on your attention to detail specifically around things like home addresses and zip codes, your ability to memorize and retain information, skills around documentation and your ability to fill out all necessary paperwork, and a personality quiz to determine whether you are the right culture fit for the U.S. Postal Service. 

Private investigator

Private investigators typically have law enforcement, security, or military backgrounds, but don't let that stop you from considering this career if you don't have any of that experience. Licensing is based on experience with investigations, but working under a licensed private investigator is another way to gain the experience you lack to get you through the door.


According to the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, you must be 18 years old, have at least three years of investigative experience — 2,000 hours per year — and pass a pretty intense criminal background check. In this case, aside from apprenticing with a licensed PI, investigative experience could also include law enforcement, military service, insurance adjustment work, work with a public defender, and arson investigative work with a fire department.  As per, the average salary for private investigators is $50,502 in 2023, with the top 90% earning as much as $70,753 per year.  

Full-stack web developer

Full-stack web developers are experts in front and backend software applications and are indispensable to any company with constant web-related and data programming needs. Unsurprisingly, Indeed ranks this job as the best job of 2023 out of a list of 25 other contenders. With a median salary of $129,637 and just over half the jobs available being remotely based, full-stack developers remain in demand even as tech companies have had massive layoffs this year.


Bootcamps are typically three to six-month-long intensive programs that help you get the skills you need to gain entry-level experience. There are also several self-guided courses online, some of which are even freeYou can also learn at your own pace with online coursework provided by companies like Coursera, Udemy, or FreeCodeCamp, which offer certification related to specific skills important to the job. For instance, IBM offers a 12-week Full Stack Software Developer certificate course through Coursera that will start you on your way to a career in one of the best-paying gigs you can get without a degree.