Special Report

40 Highest Paying Jobs You Can Get Without A College Degree

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Data consistently shows that people with college degrees tend to earn more than people without them. The Social Security Administration estimates that men with bachelor’s degrees earn $900,000 more in median lifetime earnings than high school graduates. Women earn $630,000 more. The gap grows to more than $1 million for both men and women who earn graduate degrees.

Most Americans, however, do not obtain college diplomas. The U.S. Census Bureau found in 2021 that only 38% of the population over the age of 25 had bachelor’s or advanced degrees. Among the rest, nearly 28% ended their education with a high school diploma, 15% were college dropouts, 11% had associates degrees, and 9% did not finish high school. (Also see, the 25 worst jobs in America.)

For those without a college degree, there are often few opportunities for economic and occupational advancement, but there are some job categories that pay much more than the average for the level of education.

To determine the 40 highest paying jobs you can get without a college degree, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on wage and typical education entry requirements from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupations that typically do not require a college degree were ranked based on average annual wage as of 2022. Data on average annual wage and total employment are from the BLS May 2022 Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics program. Data on typical entry education requirements as of 2021, educational attainment for workers 25 and over for the years 2018 and 2019, and projected employment change from 2021 to 2031 came from the BLS Employment Projections program.

Some of the jobs on the list, such as fashion modeling and athletics, require unique skills and attributes the typical American of any educational background may not possess. Other occupations that do not require a college degree but are among the highest paying would require some technical education, apprenticeship, and/or licensing, such as commercial diving, sound engineering, or safety inspecting.

The most common jobs for people without college degrees are the 2.2 million wholesale manufacturing sales representatives and services sales representatives, positions that pay an average annual income of about $77,000 at full time. 

There are also nearly 1.3 million jobs as first-line supervisors in construction, energy and mining, and manufacturing, which offer similar average pay to sales reps. The average annual pay for these 40 occupations ranges from $73,380 for claims adjusters to $123,250 for commercial pilots — excluding professional athletes who earn an average of $358,000 annually.

More than half of the workers in 23 of these 40 jobs are people who did not complete college, led by construction supervisors, commercial divers, and signal and track switch repairers. More than three out of four ship and locomotive engineers, power-line installers, and gas and chemical plant operators do not have college degrees.  

However, demand for a dozen of these jobs is projected to fall in the coming years, led by power plant operators. Other jobs where demand is shrinking include ranching, private investigating, and mail superintendents. The most future-proofed of these occupations include gambling managers and lighting technicians, whose projected employment change from 2021 to 2031 is 13% and 15%, respectively. (Here are the industries laying off the most workers.)

Here are the highest-paying jobs you can get without a college degree. 

Source: Pinkypills / iStock via Getty Images

40. Claims Adjusters, Examiners, and Investigators
> Average annual wage: $73,380
> Total employment: 285,270
> Adults in field without college diploma: 38.5%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: -5.8%

Source: wellphoto / iStock via Getty Images

39. Locomotive Engineers
> Average annual wage: $73,850
> Total employment: 36,440
> Adults in field without college diploma: 75.7%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +4.7%

Source: Nagaiets / iStock via Getty Images

38. Lighting Technicians
> Average annual wage: $74,020
> Total employment: 8,540
> Adults in field without college diploma: 40.4%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +14.7%

Source: Edwin Tan / E+ via Getty Images

37. Sound Engineering Technicians
> Average annual wage: $75,590
> Total employment: 13,420
> Adults in field without college diploma: 40.4%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +7.5%

Source: volvob12b / Flickr

36. Subway and Streetcar Operators
> Average annual wage: $75,880
> Total employment: 9,120
> Adults in field without college diploma: 73.8%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +3.5%

Source: andresr / Getty Images

35. First-Line Supervisors of Mechanics, Installers, and Repairers
> Average annual wage: $76,020
> Total employment: 559,050
> Adults in field without college diploma: 72.3%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +3.6%

Source: SolisImages / iStock via Getty Images

34. Property, Real Estate, and Community Association Managers
> Average annual wage: $76,110
> Total employment: 261,120
> Adults in field without college diploma: 46.9%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +2.8%

Source: JannHuizenga / Getty Images

33. Transit and Railroad Police
> Average annual wage: $76,380
> Total employment: 3,370
> Adults in field without college diploma: 43.4%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +3.2%

Source: FG Trade / E+ via Getty Images

32. Sales Representatives, Wholesale and Manufacturing, Except Technical and Scientific Products
> Average annual wage: $76,890
> Total employment: 1,273,400
> Adults in field without college diploma: 42.4%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +3.7%

31. Fire Inspectors and Investigators
> Average annual wage: $76,910
> Total employment: 14,510
> Adults in field without college diploma: 54.8%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +3.1%

Source: VioletaStoimenova / E+ via Getty Images

30. Insurance Sales Agents
> Average annual wage: $76,950
> Total employment: 445,540
> Adults in field without college diploma: 41.7%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +6.3%

Source: jeffbergen / E+ via Getty Images

29. Models
> Average annual wage: $77,310
> Total employment: 2,070
> Adults in field without college diploma: 64.9%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +9.2%

28. Signal and Track Switch Repairers
> Average annual wage: $77,370
> Total employment: 6,880
> Adults in field without college diploma: 79.3%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +3.7%

Source: fizkes / iStock via Getty Images

27. Sales Representatives of Services, Except Advertising, Insurance, Financial Services, and Travel
> Average annual wage: $77,390
> Total employment: 1,075,750
> Adults in field without college diploma: 37.2%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +6.7%

Source: sturti / E+ via Getty Images

26. First-Line Supervisors of Construction Trades and Extraction Workers
> Average annual wage: $77,650
> Total employment: 720,900
> Adults in field without college diploma: 81.9%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +4.1%

Source: curraheeshutter / Getty Images

25. Gas Plant Operators
> Average annual wage: $78,430
> Total employment: 14,290
> Adults in field without college diploma: 76.8%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: -9.0%

Source: andresr / Getty Images

24. Chemical Plant and System Operators
> Average annual wage: $79,290
> Total employment: 18,710
> Adults in field without college diploma: 76.8%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: -1.1%

Source: eakgrunge / iStock via Getty Images

23. Transportation Inspectors
> Average annual wage: $79,770
> Total employment: 24,420
> Adults in field without college diploma: 64.3%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +1.8%

Source: Andrey Nikitin / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

22. Electrical Power-Line Installers and Repairers
> Average annual wage: $82,770
> Total employment: 119,510
> Adults in field without college diploma: 76.5%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +3.2%

Source: usdagov / Flickr

21. Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Agricultural Managers
> Average annual wage: $83,790
> Total employment: 6,250
> Adults in field without college diploma: 62.9%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: -2.8%

Source: tonda / Getty Images

20. Petroleum Pump System Operators, Refinery Operators, and Gaugers
> Average annual wage: $84,140
> Total employment: 31,360
> Adults in field without college diploma: 76.8%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +3.0%

Source: salarko / iStock via Getty Images

19. Postmasters and Mail Superintendents
> Average annual wage: $84,190
> Total employment: 13,460
> Adults in field without college diploma: 36.8%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: -4.8%

Source: THEPALMER / E+ via Getty Images

18. First-Line Supervisors of Firefighting and Prevention Workers
> Average annual wage: $84,810
> Total employment: 84,040
> Adults in field without college diploma: 44.3%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +4.1%

17. Commercial Divers
> Average annual wage: $85,630
> Total employment: 3,860
> Adults in field without college diploma: 79.3%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +14.7%

Source: guruXOOX / iStock via Getty Images

16. Electrical and Electronics Repairers, Powerhouse, Substation, and Relay
> Average annual wage: $88,770
> Total employment: 25,440
> Adults in field without college diploma: 69.2%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: -5.0%

15. Power Plant Operators
> Average annual wage: $88,960
> Total employment: 31,590
> Adults in field without college diploma: 62.5%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: -15.5%

Source: ljubaphoto / E+ via Getty Images

14. Real Estate Brokers
> Average annual wage: $90,930
> Total employment: 52,310
> Adults in field without college diploma: 39.2%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +5.7%

Source: Motortion / iStock via Getty Images

13. Detectives and Criminal Investigators
> Average annual wage: $91,610
> Total employment: 107,400
> Adults in field without college diploma: 29.9%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: -0.7%

Source: Nastasic / E+ via Getty Images

12. Makeup Artists, Theatrical and Performance
> Average annual wage: $93,850
> Total employment: 2,970
> Adults in field without college diploma: 67.9%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +7.0%

Source: kadmy / iStock via Getty Images

11. Elevator and Escalator Installers and Repairers
> Average annual wage: $93,960
> Total employment: 24,380
> Adults in field without college diploma: 77.5%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +2.9%

Source: eclipse_images / E+ via Getty Images

10. Gambling Managers
> Average annual wage: $95,830
> Total employment: 4,800
> Adults in field without college diploma: 47.9%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +13.0%

Source: VioletaStoimenova / E+ via Getty Images

9. First-Line Supervisors of Non-Retail Sales Workers
> Average annual wage: $96,890
> Total employment: 237,520
> Adults in field without college diploma: 48.6%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: -0.3%

Source: shakzu / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

8. First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives
> Average annual wage: $99,410
> Total employment: 131,860
> Adults in field without college diploma: 37.4%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +2.8%

Source: DJDPhotographics / iStock via Getty Images

7. Ship Engineers
> Average annual wage: $100,980
> Total employment: 8,650
> Adults in field without college diploma: 75.6%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: -0.7%

Source: Photo by David McNew / Getty Images

6. Power Distributors and Dispatchers
> Average annual wage: $101,360
> Total employment: 9,380
> Adults in field without college diploma: 62.5%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: -6.6%

Source: Aytug Askin / Getty Images

5. Captains, Mates, and Pilots of Water Vessels
> Average annual wage: $104,190
> Total employment: 34,940
> Adults in field without college diploma: 71.9%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +1.2%

Source: kupicoo / Getty Images

4. Transportation, Storage, and Distribution Managers
> Average annual wage: $108,910
> Total employment: 169,910
> Adults in field without college diploma: 60.9%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +8.4%

Source: rootstocks / iStock via Getty Images

3. Nuclear Power Reactor Operators
> Average annual wage: $117,510
> Total employment: 5,450
> Adults in field without college diploma: 62.5%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: -26.8%

Source: Maravic / E+ via Getty Images

2. Commercial Pilots
> Average annual wage: $123,250
> Total employment: 48,750
> Adults in field without college diploma: 18.2%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +5.1%

Source: jacoblund / iStock via Getty Images

1. Athletes and Sports Competitors
> Average annual wage: $358,080
> Total employment: 11,930
> Adults in field without college diploma: 36.6%
> Projected employment change, 2021 to 2031: +35.7%

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