Special Report

The Highest Paying Jobs You Can Get Without A College Degree

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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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