For many of us, a future that included getting a college degree was a forgone conclusion. It was pounded into high school students: “Do well on the ACT’s. Be active in organizations. Volunteer! Participate in sports. Raise your GPA” —all in the quest to get into the desired four-year school and graduate with a bachelor’s degree. But there are high paying jobs without a degree requirement out there.
Today, due to the increasing cost of tuition, the desire to be debt-free and the learning format changes dictated by Covid, many are re-thinking the need for a four-year college degree. Instead, today’s emerging adults are looking at career opportunities that do not require a degree but instead may require vocational training, apprenticeships or other types of education.
Our world’s successful individuals include a host of entrepreneurs and business people who did not earn a four-year degree. These include John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods; Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group; Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle; Henry Ford, Walt Disney, chef and TV star Rachel Ray; Microsoft’s Bill Gates and of course, Steve Jobs.
The Formula for Success
Before getting into specifics, though, there are five paths individually or collectively that can lead you to increased earnings in whichever career you choose. In other words, it’s not just the career path that dictates earnings but your opportunities for advancement that will put more money in your pocket.
Find What you Love!
If you are interested in something, the time you devote to it will make you exceptionally good at it. For any career, with or without a degree, being a top-notch performer is going to lead to salary growth.
Seek Opportunities to Manage People
In addition to the technical skills required for your career, an individual who can achieve results through others by being an effective manager will be highly valued and have the opportunity for increased compensation.
Seek Opportunities to Manage Profit & Loss
In your chosen field, learning the ins and outs of profitability will increase your value to your organization and provide you with a path to promotion.
Develop Technical Skills in a Growing Field
On-the-job experiences, apprenticeships and technical training are all ways to increase your earning power. Specialized knowledge is well-compensated, and emerging fields (think renewable energy, for example) are a great place for continued salary growth.
Consider opportunities to go where no one else wants to work. Take the transfer when your company offers it. Move to where the cost of living is lower. These are all strategies that will make your paycheck go further!
If your employment strategy gives you the opportunity to combine two or more of those paths, the financial rewards will be even greater. For example, taking a job that includes supervising a sales team (managing people) that sells a highly technical product (profit and loss and technical skills) in a small town in the Midwest (relocation) might be a winning combination!
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Here is our list of career opportunities by sector that do not require a degree. Depending on local demand and wage rates, these positions are estimated to earn around $50,000 and above. Median annual wages and job growth rate projections were provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
If you are someone who enjoys working with people and helping others in a clinical setting, there are opportunities in healthcare beyond direct caregiving.
All the technical healthcare positions require specialized training beyond high school.
Many require licenses and/or certifications, some may require an associate degree depending on the employer or state-specific licensing requirements and most include an element of clinical internship.
Many of these programs require 12-24 months of training or coursework to complete.
The outlook for the healthcare sector continues to be strong, with most of the positions mentioned here showing a ten-year growth rate that is categorized as stronger than average.
Radiologic and MRI Technicians
Radiologic and MRI Technicians (2020 median salary $63,710) work in hospitals and other healthcare settings to perform diagnostic tests. Training is required, and many healthcare facilities offer programs that result in certification. Some settings require an associate degree, however.
Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technicians
Additional healthcare testing technician positions that need an associate degree include Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technicians (2020 medial salary $70,380).
Hearing Aid Specialist
Another technical position to consider is that of Hearing Aid Specialist (2020 median salary $52,630), which is available post-high school with on-the-job training.
Another non-degree required healthcare opportunity is Surgical Technologist (2020 median salary $49,710). This position works in operating rooms doing general preparation for surgical procedures, including sterilizing equipment and preparing patients for the operating room.
Licensed Practical Nurse
Although the salary opportunities for a Licensed Practical Nurse (2020 median salary $48,820) may not be as strong as the diagnostic testing specialists mentioned above, there continue to be opportunities for obtaining this type of nursing license without a degree. Employment settings vary greatly, and many choose this line of work for the shift flexibility and overtime opportunities provided.
Dental Hygienist and Occupational Therapy Assistant
Two careers in the healthcare sector that require an associate degree with specialized training are Dental Hygienist (2020 median salary $77,090) and Occupational Therapy Assistant (2020 median salary $60,950).
Both positions offer growth opportunities over the next ten years; however, occupational therapy assistant field growth is projected to be a whopping 32%!
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Growth of both wind and solar energy usage is creating faster than average growth for many positions in the sector.
Solar Photovoltaic Installer
Solar photovoltaic installers (2020 median salary $46,470) assemble, set up and maintain solar energy equipment and panels. Work is outdoors, although some crawl space and attic work might be required. Installers may attend a trade school; however, many individuals begin receiving on-the-job training after high school.
Wind Turbine Technicians
Wind turbine technicians (2020 median salary $56,230 install, maintain and repair wind energy equipment, which requires working outdoors, in confined spaces and at great heights. This position also includes extensive on-the-job training, with excellent job prospects over the next 10 years.
Another high-paying non-degree opportunity in the energy sector is the position of Nuclear Technician (2020 median salary $84,190). These individuals work at nuclear power plants to assist engineers in monitoring and operating nuclear power equipment.
However, with the push to alternative forms of energy, and despite the need to continue to operate and safely maintain nuclear power plants, the future job outlook for this position is expected to decline by almost 20% over the next 10 years.
Public Safety Sector
The job opportunities in this sector are growing faster than average.
Firefighters and Police Officers
Firefighters (2020 median salary $52,500) and Police Officers (2020 median salary $67,290) require rigorous physical qualifications, graduation from a training academy followed by on-the-job training.
Salary advancement is possible through experience and promotion, including moving into supervisory ranks or investigative positions such as detective. Firefighters can also advance by becoming fire inspectors and Fire Investigators (2020 median salary $62,120).
Air Traffic Controller
Another safety-oriented position to consider is that of Air Traffic Controller (2020 median salary $130,420). Controllers work at airport towers to safely direct the air traffic.
Requirements include an associate’s degree in some instances and exams and courses directed by the Federal Aviation Administration.
This field is projected to grow slower than others over the next ten years, with strong competition for fewer available openings.
Aircraft and Airline Sector
Despite what the airports have looked like in the last year, there are some great job opportunities
Aircraft Equipment Mechanics and Technicians
Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanics and Technicians (2020 median salary $66,680) require specialized training from an FAA-approved maintenance technical facility or equivalent training from the military.
These mechanics and technicians work in hangars, repair stations and airports, performing repairs and scheduled maintenance on various aircraft.
Training is rigorous, and successful completion leads to certifications. The job outlook is faster than average, with new technicians needed to replace those leaving the field.
Surprisingly, the job opportunities for Flight Attendants (2020 median salary $59,050) are projected to grow approximately 17% over the next ten years.
This position requires a moderate level of on-the-job training that is generally provided by the employer.
Part of the projected growth is due to the expected replacement of small planes with larger, faster aircraft that will need additional attendants on board.
In contrast with the position of an airline pilot, becoming a Commercial Pilot (2020 median salary $93,300) does not require a four-year degree.
However, commercial pilots must have an FAA license, and their jobs involve flying charter, private or delivery planes.
This sector is also expected to show growth, mostly due to replacing current employees leaving the field.
Aerospace Engineer and Operations Technician
The aerospace industry includes a position that doesn’t require a four-year degree entitled Aerospace Engineer and Operations Technician (2020 Median salary $68,570).
Individuals in this job perform operations and maintenance on equipment used to develop, test, and produce new aircraft and spacecraft.
Jobs are primarily in manufacturing plants, labs and offices.
This field is projected to be growing faster than others over the next ten years.
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With the rise of technology comes some great tech-related jobs.
As you might expect, opportunities for Web Developer (2020 median salary $77,200) are growing at a projected rate faster than other jobs.
Developers design and maintain websites for a company or private clients. While some employers might require an associate degree or even a bachelor’s degree, experience can open the door in this field.
Many have developed on-the-job skills post-secondary education.
In addition, this field is filled by many self-employed individuals who enjoy the creative freedom the job allows.
Sound Engineering Technician
A Sound Engineering Technician (2020 median salary $47,420) sets up, operates and maintains audio equipment for media presentations.
This field is expected to grow much faster than others, and new jobs will be created in agencies, including schools, hotels and arenas, as well as in broadcast environments such as movie sets, recording studios and television.
Education requirements vary from high school completion to bachelor’s degree, and many future engineers obtain relevant experience by working in high school or college audio/visual departments.
Telecommunications Equipment Installers
The outlook for Telecommunications Equipment Installers (2020 median salary $61,470) is projected to decline over the next ten years, particularly as wireless communication devices require less equipment and technical installation processes.
However, the position generally does not require a degree, and training is provided through specialized courses and on-the-job training.
If you’ve attempted to get a tradesperson into your home lately to perform maintenance or repairs, then you can appreciate how in-demand skilled laborers are right now. For many of these positions, the growth outlook is strong over the next ten years.
Electricians, Plumbers and Metal Workers
Job opportunities for Electricians (2020 median salary $56,900) have the most substantial growth projection in the sector, followed by Plumbers (2020 median salary $56,330) and Sheet Metal Workers (2020 median salary $51,370).
Conversely, jobs for Carpenters (2020 median salary $49,520) and Masonry Workers (2020 median salary $47,710) are projected to decline over the next ten years.
Trade sector jobs generally do not require a college degree but may require trade school or technical school followed by an apprenticeship.
Elevator Installers and Repairers
Elevator Installers and Repairpersons (2020 median salary $88,540) not only command a high salary but have a growth outlook due to projected new installation of elevators, escalators, moving walkways and other such systems.
These jobs require a high school diploma followed by an apprenticeship.
Another trade position to consider is Heating, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Repairperson and Installer (2020 median salary $50,590).
Due to the increasing complexity of new systems, some employers require post-secondary school training instead of just on-the-job training.
Jobs in this field are growing at about the same rate as the overall economy.
For all skilled trade positions, state-specific regulations may require specific coursework, testing and licensure.
There is a wide variety of entry and mid-level sales positions available in various industries. As you might expect with growing internet purchases, the retail sales force is expected to decline over the next ten years.
However, this does not mean that other opportunities in sales are not strong. There are opportunities as Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives (2020 median salary $65,420), Insurance Sales Agents (2020 median salary $52,180) and supervisory positions in Sales Management (2020 median salary $132,290).
Sales positions generally do not require a degree or specific technical training, and most of the training is done in an industry-specific manner on the job.
Court Reporters (2020 median salary $61,660) are responsible for recording real-time transcriptions of legal proceedings in the courtroom or depositions. The field requires education beyond high school through specialized training offered at a technical school or community college. The field is expected to grow over the next ten years.
Paralegals & Legal Assistants
Paralegals and Legal Assistants (2020 median salary $52,920) assist lawyers in preparing documents, reviewing filings, conducting research and preparing for meetings.
Many paralegals have an associate degree, and some have a certificate in paralegal studies.
The job growth projecting for paralegals is strong over the next ten years.
Education vs. “a Degree”
Many people leaving college with a degree find themselves with student loans and without the guarantee of success in the workforce. While there is a tremendous benefit to being a college-educated individual, there really is no substitute for experience, both in life and work.
If college isn’t where you want to be, consider other opportunities to become better educated: learn to do something few people can do, tackle something that’s hard to understand or physically demanding and be willing to work shifts that others decline.
These steps can create career opportunities, make you an employee in demand, and result in paycheck increases!
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High Paying Jobs Without A Degree:
- Radiologic and MRI Technicians
- Medical Sonographers
- Cardiovascular Technicians
- Hearing Aid Specialist
- Surgical Technician
- Licensed Practical Nurse
- Dental Hygienist
- Occupational Therapy Assistant
- Solar Photovoltaic Installer
- Wind Turbine Technicians
- Nuclear Technician
- Public Safety Sector
- Police Officers
- Air Traffic Controller
- Aircraft Equipment Mechanics & Technicians
- Flight Attendant
- Commercial Pilot
- Aerospace Engineer & Operations Technician
- Web Developer
- Sound Engineering Technician
- Telecommunications Equipment Installers
- Sheet Metal Workers
- Masonry Worker
- Elevator Installers and Repairers
- Heating, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Repairperson and Installer
- Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives
- Insurance Sales Agents
- Sales Management
- Court Reporters
- Paralegals and Legal Assistants