Special Report

The Highest Paying Jobs You Can Get Without A College Degree

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College graduates tend to earn much higher wages than workers with no more than a high school diploma. The median wage for workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher was over $74,000 in the first quarter of 2021, compared to a median of $41,184 for workers who are high school graduates with no college.

Yet there are dozens of jobs in the U.S. with average annual wages of over $70,000 that do not typically require a college degree as a prerequisite for employment — including a handful that average over $100,000 in wages.

To identify the highest paying jobs that do not require a college degree, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on annual wage and typical entry-level education requirements from the May 2020 Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics program of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Though the jobs on this list do not require a college degree, prospective workers do generally need some type of certification, related work experience, or on-the-job training from candidates for most of these occupations.

The highest paying jobs that do not require a college degree are so highly paid, in many cases, because they are essential — transporting people, goods, or services; providing power; or helping to keep people safe. Though these jobs are important, they are often stressful and sometimes very dangerous. These are the most dangerous jobs in America.

Click here to see the highest paying jobs you can get without a college degree.

To identify the highest paying jobs that do not require a college degree, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on annual wage and typical entry-level education requirements from the May 2020 Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics program of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupations that do not typically require a college degree for an entry level position were ranked based on annual mean wage in 2020. Occupations classified as “miscellaneous” and “all other” were not considered.

We only considered occupations that the BLS OEWS listed entry level education requirements as a high school diploma or equivalent, no formal education credential, a postsecondary nondegree award, or some college but no degree.

Supplemental data on total employment also came from the OEWS. We considered all government level and private sector employees, part- and full-time. 

Supplemental data on projected employment growth from 2019 to 2029 came from the 2019 Employment Projections program of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data on educational attainment by detailed occupation also came from the BLS EP. 

The Employment Projections program includes self-employed workers. The OEWS excludes self-employed workers. Employment growth projections, therefore, include self-employed workers.

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25. Gas plant operators
> Avg. annual wage: $73,290
> Total employment: 14,990
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): -5.4%

Gas plant operators are in charge of regulating the facilities that pump gas for utility companies and ensuring pipelines are at the proper pressure to keep operations running smoothly and safely.

These workers are typically required to have a high school diploma (as well as long-term on-the-job training) to get the job. Workers have an average annual wage of $73,290, one of the highest-paying jobs you can get without a college degree. Nationwide, the average annual wage for all jobs is $56,310.

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24. Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing
> Avg. annual wage: $73,500
> Total employment: 1,278,670
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): +0.9%

Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives reach out to businesses or people to try to sell the wares of the company they represent. One of the most commonly held jobs in the country, there were nearly 1.3 million such sales reps in the country in 2020.

Wholesale and manufacturing sales reps have an average annual wage of $73,500 with just a high school diploma generally required to get the job. Though, many do need some moderate training to get acquainted with the items they will be selling.

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23. Electrical power-line installers and repairers
> Avg. annual wage: $74,410
> Total employment: 114,930
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): +1.7%

Electrical power-line installers and repairers have an average annual wage of $74,410, which is over $18,000 higher than the average annual wage for all jobs in the U.S. Of all the jobs on this list, this one has the lowest share of workers with a college degree, at 7.9%. Nationwide, 38.9% of all workers hold at least a bachelor’s degree.

Though there is generally no related occupational experience needed, electrical power-line installers and repairers generally need long-term on-the-job training to attain competency. There are nearly 115,000 such workers nationwide.

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22. Signal and track switch repairers
> Avg. annual wage: $75,970
> Total employment: 7,250
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): -1.5%

Signal and track switch repairers are responsible for testing, maintaining, and repairing the communication equipment and switches needed to keep railroad systems running. These workers earn an average of nearly $76,000 per year, one of several transportation-related fields that rank among the highest paying jobs that do not require a college degree.

Though a high school diploma is often a prerequisite for those hoping to be a signal and track switch repairer, a relatively large share of these workers, 13.2%, do not have a high school diploma. Comparatively, 7.9% of all U.S. workers did not finish high school or an equivalent program.

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21. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers
> Avg. annual wage: $76,810
> Total employment: 5,670
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): -6.5%

Agricultural managers oversee operations at farms, ranches, greenhouses, and other similar businesses. These workers have an average annual wage of $76,810. Typically, agricultural managers need five years or more of experience with the type of operation they will oversee before they can become a manager.

There are less than 6,000 agricultural managers in the U.S., and that number is projected to decline significantly over the next decade. This projected 6.5% decrease is due to the increasing efficiency with which crops can be produced as well as more sophisticated technologies, so fewer farms and ranches would be needed to produce a similar amount, and therefore fewer managers would be needed as well.

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20. Petroleum pump system operators, refinery operators, and gaugers
> Avg. annual wage: $77,610
> Total employment: 40,480
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): -0.5%

Petroleum pump system operator ranks as one of the 20 top paying jobs for people without college degrees. Monitoring and directing the operations of petroleum pump systems pays an average annual wage of $77,610, and the job typically requires prospective workers to have no more than a high school diploma and moderate on-the-job training.

Overall employment in the U.S. is projected to increase by 3.7% from 2019 to 2029. The number of petroleum pump system operators, however, is going to dip by 0.5%, according to BLS projections.

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19. Postmasters and mail superintendents
> Avg. annual wage: $79,660
> Total employment: 13,880
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): -21.6%

Postmasters and mail superintendents oversee operations at U.S. post offices. These workers earn an average of nearly $80,000 per year, well above the average annual wage of $56,310 for all workers.

Physical mail has steadily been replaced by online correspondence, while other delivery companies such as UPS and FedEx are now providing many of the same services . In addition, the USPS is facing a major budget crunch due to significant budget cuts and burdensome legislation. These factors largely explain why the number of postmasters and mail superintendents is projected to drop by 21.6% from 2019 to 2029.

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18. Ship engineers
> Avg. annual wage: $81,110
> Total employment: 7,480
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): +0.0%

Ship engineers are responsible for coordinating the activities of the ship’s crew and maintaining the ship’s engines and other machinery. It is one of just 18 jobs that pay an average annual wage of over $80,000 without requiring a college degree.

Though the job does not require a college degree, it stands out from most other jobs on this list because prospective workers typically need to get a mariner’s license from the Coast Guard before they are considered for a job as an engineer.

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17. Transportation inspectors
> Avg. annual wage: $81,320
> Total employment: 27,360
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): +2.3%

Transportation inspectors are responsible for inspecting vehicles and transported cargo, including on trains and in trucks. These inspectors earn an average annual wage of $81,320 — $25,000 higher than the average annual wage across all jobs in America.

Transportation inspectors are most commonly employed by the government, either at the local or federal level. However, private rail transportation and auto repair businesses also employ thousands of these inspectors.

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16. Real estate brokers
> Avg. annual wage: $81,630
> Total employment: 44,610
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): +2.6%

Real estate brokers oversee real estate transactions, sell and rent property, and arrange loans. They earn an average of $81,630 per year. Though the average is high, particularly among jobs that don’t require college degrees, the median is much lower, at $60,370. This indicates that a small percentage of real estate brokers earn very high wages.

Most real estate brokers work on commission, meaning they take a percentage of the sale price — usually around 6% to split between any agents or brokers involved in the deal. Brokers working in areas with expensive real estate can therefore earn very high wages, skewing the average salary higher.

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15. Power plant operators
> Avg. annual wage: $81,890
> Total employment: 32,960
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): -15.0%

Power plant operators earn nearly $82,000 per year on average, one of the highest average wages for jobs that do not typically require a college degree. The job does require long-term on-the-job training.

This is one of several jobs involved in the creation, operation, and maintenance of the country’s power infrastructure systems.

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14. Electrical and electronics repairers, powerhouse, substation, and relay
> Avg. annual wage: $83,150
> Total employment: 23,070
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): -3.5%

Though electrical repairers who work on generating stations and relays do not need a college degree, that does not mean it is an easy job to become qualified for. In order to be considered for this job, a prospective worker typically needs a postsecondary certification, work experience in a related field, and some on-the-job training.

These workers average over $83,000 in wages per year, though most earn over $85,000, with a median of $85,340. This is more than double the median wage for all jobs of just under $42,000.

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13. First-line supervisors of firefighting and prevention workers
> Avg. annual wage: $83,170
> Total employment: 69,000
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): +6.2%

First-line supervisors of firefighting and prevention workers ensure that people battling fires and working to stop them from starting or advancing are doing their jobs as safely and effectively as possible. This difficult and dangerous job has an average annual wage of $83,170 and requires certification, on-the-job training, and similar work experience.

The number of firefighting supervisors working in the U.S. is projected to increase by 6.2% from 2019 to 2029, a much higher growth rate than that of the typical job of 3.7%. As climate change pushes temperatures higher, wildfires are increasing in severity, with the number of acres burned trending upwards in recent years.

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12. Gambling managers
> Avg. annual wage: $85,440
> Total employment: 3,240
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): +9.8%

Gambling manager is one of just a dozen jobs in the U.S. that do not require a college degree but still have an average annual wage of over $85,000. Gambling managers plan, direct, and coordinate gaming operations at casinos.

Though a relatively small number of people, 3,240, work in this job, the occupation’s workforce is projected to grow by nearly 10% from 2019 to 2029. This is largely attributed to the predicted growing popularity of gambling establishments as well as states amending their laws to allow more such businesses to operate.

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11. Elevator and escalator installers and repairers
> Avg. annual wage: $86,200
> Total employment: 24,730
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): +6.6%

Elevator and escalator installers and repairers earn an average annual wage of $86,200. Though the job does not require a college degree, it does typically require an apprenticeship with a more experienced worker.

More than 44% of elevator and escalator installers and repairers have no more than a high school diploma, one of the highest shares of any profession.

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10. Detectives and criminal investigators
> Avg. annual wage: $89,300
> Total employment: 105,980
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): +1.1%

Detectives and criminal investigators are in one of the 10 highest paying jobs you can get without a college degree. The average worker in this field earns over $89,000, much higher than the average wage of all occupations of $56,310.

Though a college degree is not necessarily required to be a detective or criminal investigator, most people working in this field hold at least a bachelor’s degree. Just 0.5% of all workers in the field lack a high school diploma, one of the lowest shares among all jobs.

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9. Captains, mates, and pilots of water vessels
> Avg. annual wage: $89,740
> Total employment: 27,590
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): -0.5%

Captain, mates, and pilots of water vessels oversee operations of ferries, tugboats, and other ships and boats. Though a college degree is not required to captain a ship, these workers do need to earn a licence issued by the Coast Guard as a prerequisite for employment.

Captains, mates, and pilots are less likely to hold a high school diploma than the typical worker, as 8.7% of these workers do not hold a diploma, compared to 7.9% of all American workers.

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8. First-line supervisors of non-retail sales workers
> Avg. annual wage: $90,120
> Total employment: 240,290
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): -8.3%

First-line supervisors of non-retail sales workers oversee those who sell goods and services to businesses and individuals. Such supervisors are often responsible for budgeting and personnel work, as well. These workers earn an average annual wage of $90,120, one of the highest averages among jobs that do not require a college degree.

With over 240,000 workers, these supervisors are in one of the most commonly-held jobs in the country. As with other sales-related jobs, the number of these first-line supervisors is projected to decline sharply in the coming years as online shopping eliminates the need for sales representatives at brick-and-mortar locations.

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7. Power distributors and dispatchers
> Avg. annual wage: $93,260
> Total employment: 9,940
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): -8.0%

Power distributors coordinate and regulate the distribution of electricity or steam power. The occupation has an average annual wage of $93,260, which is much higher than the average annual wage across all jobs of $56,310.

Though a college degree is typically not necessary to work as a power distributor and dispatcher, workers generally do need long-term on-the-job training to be qualified for the job.

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6. Athletes and sports competitors
> Avg. annual wage: $94,740
> Total employment: 8,380
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): +10.3%

Professional athlete ranks as one of the highest-paying jobs one can get without a college degree, with an average annual wage of $94,740. However, the median annual wage for an athlete is just $50,850, indicating that there are some highly paid athletes skewing the average. The majority of pro athletes, like those in developmental and minor leagues as well as less popular sports, earn less than $51,000 per year.

Though there is technically no educational requirement, many of the largest pro sports leagues in America like the NFL and the NBA generally require players to be of a certain age before they are draft eligible. This generally means athletes play in college, though some players have opted for foreign leagues instead. With a recent unanimous Supreme Court ruling striking down the NCAA’s amateurism rules, even college athletes can now profit off their name, image, and likeness via endorsements and other opportunities.

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5. First-line supervisors of police and detectives
> Avg. annual wage: $97,180
> Total employment: 122,310
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): +5.2%

Like the investigators they oversee, first-line supervisors of police and detectives rank among the highest paid workers in jobs that do not need a college degree. These law enforcement officers include those with a rank of sergeant, captain, and lieutenant. These supervisors have an average annual wage of more than $97,000.

Though a college degree is not necessarily required for this job, many police departments prefer candidates with at least a bachelor’s degree in a field like criminal studies or psychology, and 45.0% of these workers have at least a bachelor’s degree.

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4. Makeup artists, theatrical and performance
> Avg. annual wage: $99,990
> Total employment: 2,780
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): +10.6%

Theatrical and performance makeup artists apply makeup to people in movies, television, plays, dance performances, and other productions. Makeup artists typically need some kind of cosmetological certification to be considered for this job. These workers have an average annual wage of nearly $100,000, higher than all but three other occupations that do not require a college degree.

Though there are fewer than 3,000 working theatrical and performance makeup artists in the U.S., the total employment in this field is projected to increase by more than 10% from 2019 to 2029.

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3. Nuclear power reactor operators
> Avg. annual wage: $104,470
> Total employment: 5,310
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): -35.8%

Though nuclear engineers must be college educated, nuclear power reactor operators, who operate the controls and monitor equipment at nuclear power plants, are typically only required to have a high school diploma to be considered for employment. Though they need long-term training, once they get the job of operating a nuclear reactor, they average $104,470 in annual wage.

There are just 5,310 nuclear power reactor operators working in the U.S., though that figure is projected to decline by 35.8% from 2019 to 2029 — the second largest projected decline out of nearly 800 considered jobs. This is because most American nuclear power plants are heading towards the end of their anticipated lifespan, and very few new ones are being built. These plants have 20-year operating licenses, and while some are being renewed, they are still set to go offline in the 2030s and may be phased out in favor of solar and wind energy options.

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2. Transportation, storage, and distribution managers
> Avg. annual wage: $105,100
> Total employment: 132,210
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): +3.5%

Transportation, storage, and distribution managers handle the logistics of moving and storing items. They are often employed by warehousing and storage companies, trucking businesses, and federal and local governments. These managers average over $105,000 in annual wages, nearly $50,000 higher than the average annual wage across all jobs in the U.S.

Though these workers are not required to have a college degree in most cases, they typically need at least five years of related experience, if not more, before they can move up to a managerial level.

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1. Commercial pilots
> Avg. annual wage: $110,830
> Total employment: 37,120
> Projected employment change (2019-2029): +9.1%

Commercial pilots earn an average annual wage of $110,830 to fly airplanes, helicopters, and other aircrafts — the highest wage of any job that does not typically require a college degree.

Though a college degree may not technically be a requirement for the job, the vast majority of commercial pilots — 72.4% — hold at least a bachelor’s degree. For context, just 38.9% of all American workers hold at least a bachelor’s degree. Pilots are also required to train extensively to earn their pilot’s license.

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