The 10 Highest-Paying Jobs Without a College Degree

FT Contributor
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You can find high-paying jobs without a degree in many different industries. Obtaining a college degree can be expensive and many find it hard to maintain a full-time job while also attending class. Student debt and rising housing costs are causing many to decide not to attend college at all.

While not having a college degree can sometimes be associated with low-paying entry-level positions, the 10 highest-paying jobs without a college degree listed below may prove that assumption wrong. However, keep in mind that most of these jobs do require a high school diploma or GED equivalent, experience, and/or certifications.

The 10 Highest-Paying Jobs Without a College Degree

If you’re looking for good paying jobs without degrees, these are a few options:

1. Transportation, Storage, and Distribution Manager

    • Median Salary: $94,730.
    • Potential Job Growth: With experience in the industry, you can advance  from a coordinator position to a managerial role.
    • Job Details: Managing the logistics and movement of goods, including warehouse storage.

To obtain one of the highest-paying jobs without a degree, you can seek employment with trucking, transportation, or storage companies, making it easier to find an open position. You’ll need to have analytical and organization skills and you may need to work your way up from an entry-level role before you can assist in managing teams and ensuring goods are delivered successfully on time.

2. Nuclear Power Reactor Operator

    • Median Salary: $83,020.
    • Potential Job Growth: With on-the-job training and knowledge of the industry, you can be promoted from an operator to a supervisory or managerial role.
    • Job Details: Operating nuclear systems inside a plant that supplies power to a local grid.

Government-employed nuclear power reactor operators tend to make more money than those who are privately employed. However, the government requires extensive training and experience before hiring for this position. You may be required to complete on-the-job training and to earn your operating reactor license. While it can be lucrative, the industry is experiencing a decline in growth and the job can be dangerous.

3. Power Distributor and Dispatcher

    • Median Salary: $86,410.
    • Potential Job Growth: In this position, there’s room for advancement to a supervisory role or you may be tasked with training your peers.
    • Job Details: Operating nuclear systems that supply power and managing other staff members.

You’ll need the technical skills to understand how the power plant operates and to troubleshoot problems quickly and efficiently. You’ll also need extensive on-the-job training and experience and you must have advanced mechanical and critical thinking skills.

4. Commercial Pilot

    • Median Salary: $115,670.
    • Potential Job Growth: As a commercial pilot, you may be able to advance to an airline pilot after you earn your Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate and have enough experience.
    • Job Details: Fly a commercial plane and transport goods, products, or passengers.

As a commercial pilot, you may be employed by private companies to fly commercial planes to complete surveys or transport goods and/or passengers. Before you can obtain a job, you must earn your pilot’s license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which can be an expensive and time-consuming process. You may also work odd or long hours and you’ll need to display extreme focus and good judgement at all times.

5. Detectives and Criminal Investigator

You may be tasked with studying records and solving misdemeanor cases before you can advance to performing detective duties, such as analyzing evidence. As a criminal investigator, you may need to work off hours, such as on holidays or at night. You must have expert investigative skills, attention to detail, and a strong emotional state, since you will be exposed to death and other traumatic situations.

6. Power Plant Operator

    • Median Salary: $79,610.
    • Potential Job Growth: With experience and training, you may advance from an operator to a trainer or shift supervisor.
    • Job Details: Operate and troubleshoot the power plant system to ensure it distributes electric power properly throughout the service area.

As a power plant operator, you may need to complete extensive on-the-job training before you can reach your earning potential. This industry is declining in growth due to the desire for more sustainable power sources, such as solar and wind. You may be required to work long or late hours and most companies require that you participate in continuing education from the Edison Electric Institute or other schools.

7. Elevator Installer and Repairer

    • Median Salary: $79,780.
    • Potential Job Growth: After additional training and experience in this position, you could advance to a supervisor or mechanic-in-charge.
    • Job Details: Install, repair, and perform maintenance on elevators and elevator components in buildings.

While this is one of the highest paying jobs without a degree, you may be required to earn a certification and complete an apprenticeship before you can become an elevator installer and repairer. You’ll be working in cramped environments, you may have to work at odd hours, and you may be required to be on-call for certain jobs. You should have strong mechanical and electrical skills and be able to work with many types of tools and equipment.

8. Media and Communication Equipment Worker

    • Median Salary: $79,580.
    • Potential Job Growth: With extensive experience, you can become a project manager or transfer to a company that works on large-scale projects.
    • Job Details: Install, maintain, and repair audio and visual equipment for homes and businesses.

As a media and communication equipment worker, you may be employed by a private company to install audio or visual equipment in the radio, motion picture, or entertainment industry. You’ll need to complete an apprentice program to learn more about the equipment you’ll be installing or servicing. Most employers don’t require certification, but you can take continuing education courses in your field to advance your knowledge and potential for growth.

9. Postmaster and Mail Superintendent

    • Median Salary: $74,840.
    • Potential Job Growth: You’ll need to start as a post office worker and gain experience before you can advance to a postmaster and mail superintendent.
    • Job Details: Coordinate, manage, direct, and support the efforts of the U.S. Postal Service and the successful delivery of mail.

As a postmaster and mail superintendent, you’ll be employed directly by the U.S. Postal Service. In this role, you’ll manage staff and assist with customer complaints to ensure the post office is delivering mail successfully. Good communications skills are essential for this position.

While you aren’t required to have a degree for this role, you may need to start as a post office worker and learn more about the systems in place before advancing. The U.S. Postal Service offers many educational opportunities for its workers, including the Managerial Leadership Program and Advanced Leadership Program to prepare you for a managerial role.

10. Transit and Railroad Police

    • Median Salary: $74,030.
    • Potential Job Growth: After extensive experience, you may be promoted to a supervisory role, such as corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, or captain.
    • Job Details: Patrol railroad yards and transit stations to protect passengers, property, and operators from crime.

This job is only available in areas that have railroads and transit systems. You must complete classes at a training academy before you can begin patrolling in your role as a transit and railroad police officer. This job can be dangerous, but there’s room for advancement into a supervisory role, which can be performed in a safer office environment.

Do You Need a College Degree Today?

While there are several good paying jobs without degrees, many people still feel pressured to obtain their bachelor’s degrees after graduating high school. Some economists equate this to “degree inflation.” This theory concludes that current jobs have higher educational requirements than in the past, requiring jobseekers to earn degrees before they can obtain entry-level employment, such as an administrative assistant position.

However, increased college tuition is causing many to skip college altogether. In-state public national universities have increased tuition and fees by 221% over the past 20 years. This increased tuition makes it hard for students to afford higher education, forcing them to take on extensive loan debt.

A study conducted by Ascent Student Loans found that about 60% of 18- to 24-year-old undergraduate students who are enrolled in a four-year bachelor’s degree program will be responsible for more than half the total cost of their education. This could place these gradu[ates in student loan debt for years, making it hard to catch up financially.

Since there are many high-paying jobs that don’t require a degree, you may decide to skip the student loan debt altogether and join the workforce after high school. While there are many lucrative positions that don’t call for a degree, these jobs can be physical, dangerous, or require extensive experience or certifications. It’s important to explore your options first and make the right decision for yourself and your future.

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