Special Report

Highest Paying Jobs You Can Get Without a College Degree

Detailed Findings

Many of the positions on this list require a body of knowledge not covered in the typical college curriculum. A textbook on how to carry out the duties and responsibilities of a police or fire chief, for example, would be a poor substitute for real-world experience gained on the job. In lieu of a bachelor’s degree, most police chief positions and other high-paying jobs in such non-academic fields require years of experience, training, and advancement through the ranks.

In high-paying professions for which there are no degree-granting programs associated with the discipline — gaming manager and commercial airline pilot, for example — there often is a professional association that offers an alternative form of credentialing. To work as a captain, mate, or pilot of a water vessel, candidates must have a license administered by the U.S. Coast Guard.

In some cases, the duration of the certification process is nearly as long as the four-year college experience. To apply for a nuclear power plant operator’s license, for example, candidates must have at least three years experience working in a power plant, and they must have spent at least six months at the plant in which they seek employment.

While not a formal requirement, employers in some fields may prefer candidates with some college experience. For example, college-level courses in electronics and electrical engineering may provide a beneficial foundation for on-the-job training in electrical repair positions. Approximately 41% of all police detectives and criminal investigators have taken some college courses without graduating.

While these higher-paying jobs do not require a college degree, like a great deal of blue collar work, these jobs appear to be disappearing. Of the 50 jobs on this list, 16 are projected to shrink between 2016 and 2026. All but nine of the 50 will either decrease in total employment or increase less than the national 7.4% growth rate over that period.


To identify the highest paying jobs that do not require a college degree, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed annual median wage estimates for all occupations from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the Department of Labor. Wage data are from the May 2017 survey. The typical education needed to enter the 50 occupations listed — high school diploma or equivalent, no formal education credential, postsecondary nondegree award, and some college but no degree — came from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2014 Employment Projections program. The share of workers 25 and older that completed each major tier of education — no formal education through a doctoral or professional degree — also came from the BLS Employment Projection Program. Full- and part-time occupations are counted across all employment types, including federal, state, and local governments, as well as all private establishments. The Employment Projections program includes self-employed workers. The OES excludes self-employed workers.