Special Report

The Highest Paying Jobs You Can Get Without a College Degree

Source: Photo by David McNew / Getty Images

5. Power Distributors and Dispatchers
> Median income $98,530
> Typical educational level required: High school diploma or equivalent
> Total workforce: 9,660
> Projected employment change, 2020-2030: -14%

Power distributors coordinate and regulate the distribution of electricity or steam power. The occupation has a median annual wage of $98,530, the fifth highest wage among all jobs that do not require a college degree.

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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4. First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives
> Median income $99,330
> Typical educational level required: High school diploma or equivalent
> Total workforce: 128,230
> Projected employment change, 2020-2030: +7%

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 a median annual wage of more than $99,000.

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.

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3. Commercial Pilots
> Median income $99,640
> Typical educational level required: High school diploma or equivalent
> Total workforce: 42,770
> Projected employment change, 2020-2030: +13%

Commercial pilots earn a median annual wage of almost $100,000 to fly airplanes, helicopters, and other aircrafts — the third highest wage of any job that does not typically require a college degree.

Pilots are required to train extensively to earn their pilot’s license. The field is projected to expand by about 13% from 2020 to 2030, well up from the 42,770 workers who currently hold that title.

2. Nuclear Power Reactor Operators
> Median income $104,260
> Typical educational level required: High school diploma or equivalent
> Total workforce: 4,820
> Projected employment change, 2020-2030: -14%

Though nuclear engineers must be college educated, nuclear power reactor operators, who operate the controls and monitor equipment at nuclear power plants, are not typically required to have a college education. They do need long-term training, and once they get the job of operating a nuclear reactor, they typically earn over $104,000 in annual wage.

There are fewer than 5,000 nuclear power reactor operators working in the U.S., though that figure is projected to decline by 14% from 2020 to 2030 as 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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1. Makeup Artists, Theatrical and Performance
> Median income $134,750
> Typical educational level required: Postsecondary nondegree award
> Total workforce: 1,960
> Projected employment change, 2020-2030: +19%

Theatrical and performance makeup artists apply makeup to people in movies, television, plays, dance performances, and other productions. Most workers in this field earn over $130,000, making it by far the highest paying job that does not require a college degree.

Makeup artists typically need some kind of cosmetological certification to be considered for this job. Though there are fewer than 2,000 working theatrical and performance makeup artists in the U.S., the total employment in this field is projected to increase by nearly 20% from 2020 to 2030.

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