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Top 20 Highest Paying Jobs Without a Degree

Jobs without a degree

“If you want to be a success, get a bachelor’s degree.”

That’s the message trumpeted by many people in our culture. It’s said, written, and implied so much that we often take it for gospel. We assume, without even really thinking about it, that if you want to be financially, emotionally, and socially successful, a four-year degree is required. At the very least, you need a two-year associate’s degree.

But there are many things wrong with this concept. First of all, it hints that “success” is tied to income, implying that the more money you make, the happier you will be. Of course, anyone can tell you that money does not lead to happiness; once your basic financial needs are met, there is very little advantage, from a happiness standpoint, to earning a lot of money.

Also, the statement suggests that the only way to make a sizable income is to first invest into a degree. Once again, this is false. There are plenty of top-quality careers that are available to people who have no college degree whatsoever. Most require a high school diploma. Some require certificates, licenses, or on-the-job training, so education in general may be required. But a degree? Not entirely.

To highlight this point, let’s look at the 20 highest paying jobs without a degree requirement; not even an associate’s or bachelor’s. These careers are just as diverse, fulfilling, and financially rewarding as many degree-requiring positions, and they can all be acquired without the time, energy, and costs of a full degree!

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Top 20 Highest Paying Careers Without A Degree

1. Transportation & Distribution Manager
Entry-level Education: High school diploma
Median Income: $94,730
Job Growth: 6%
In this career, you will plan, direct, and coordinate a variety of activities related to the transportation, distribution, and storage of various materials and products. Basically, you’ll be in charge of making sure things get to where they need to go. This career offers a strong median salary, and the job growth is right around the national average. To work in this management position, you only need a high-school-level education. However, you also need at least five years of experience in the industry, but no on-the-job training.

2. Power Plant Operators
Entry-level Education: High school diploma
Median Income: $85,950
Job Growth: -16%
These experienced professionals plan and direct the operations of a power plant, ensuring the plant not only produces power, but gets power to the appropriate locations and users. The career has a high median salary, but the obvious negative is the job reduction. Between 2019 and 2029, the demand for this career is expected to drop by 16%, and there will be fewer jobs. However, with long-term, on-the-job training, a high school graduate can enter one of these highest paying jobs without a degree.

3. Commercial Pilot
Entry-level Education: High school diploma & Commercial Pilot's License
Median Income: $86,080
Job Growth: 9%
To pilot a plane for an airline, you will need a college degree. However, if you want to work as a commercial pilot, you can earn a high salary with only a high school degree and a commercial pilot’s license, which usually takes about six to eight weeks to complete. The job outlook for commercial pilots is strong, as the career is expected to grow by 9%, resulting in over 45,000 jobs by 2029. The growth in demand for commercial pilots will come from many corners, including a need for ambulance flights.

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4. Elevator Technician
Entry-level Education: High school diploma & Apprenticeship
Median Income: $84,990
Job Growth: 7%
Considering the significant, under-appreciated risks involved in elevators (they do, after all, lift people hundreds of feet into the air!), the demand for top-quality elevator installers and repairers is high. Even without a college education, these professionals are well paid, and there will be strong growth thanks to an increase in multi-use facilities. To become one, you need an understanding of math and mechanics. Most people will work as an apprentice for at least four years. Even after you are hired as a full-fledged technician, constant training and development will be required.

5. Fire-Fighting Supervisors
Education: Postsecondary non-degree award
Median Income: $77,800
Job Growth: 5%
Firefighters are heroes, but even they need someone to manage and direct their concerted efforts. As a first-line supervisor, you direct fire fighting and fire prevention, increasing the overall safety of your community. With an above-average income and consistent job growth, this is an appealing opportunity for anyone with the right experience and training. You will need some experience, although less than five years is generally required. You will also need moderate on-the-job training to be hired in this profession.

6. Claims Adjusters
Education: High school diploma
Median Income: $66,540
Job Growth: -6%
These professionals are responsible for investigating insurance claims. Insurance fraud, if left unchecked, could ruin many insurance companies, so they hire people to investigate claims and interview people involved in the insurance situation. Companies prefer to hire people with investigative experience, which means former police officers and detectives are commonly employed in this field. If you work in the automotive-claims sector, you may need a post-secondary degree. If you have a degree, you may have an advantage, but people with experience in investigation are in high demand for claims adjustors.

7. Theatrical and Performance Makeup Artist
Education: Postsecondary non-degree award
Median Income: $75,730
Job Growth: 7%
If you have dreamed about working in theater and entertainment, but don’t think acting or directing is right for you, perhaps a career as a makeup artist would fit your goals. This career offers a strong income (actually has a better median income than actors), but you will need experience and training that helps you apply makeup to performers that is specific to the situation, setting, or the role. The growth for this career is strong, and you will only need a non-degree award. You also won’t need previous training or experience, making this the perfect entry-level option in our list of the highest paying jobs without a degree.

8. Aircraft Mechanic
Education: Technical education
Median Income: $64,310
Job Growth: 5%
Just like our cars, aircrafts need routine maintenance and regular repairs, and these tasks fall on the shoulders of aircraft mechanics, one of the jobs that don’t require a degree. The income is excellent, but the job growth is 5%, right around the national average of 5%. This career requires a certificate, so some post-secondary education is required. You will likely need to complete a certificate that is recognized by the FAA to work in many of the available jobs.

9. Fire Inspectors
Education: High school diploma; Postsecondary non-degree award
Median Income: $60,230
Job Growth: 8%
These experienced professionals are like crime-scene detectives for fires; they try to determine what happened and, if required, who was responsible. Despite a higher income, these professionals do not need a degree, although experience in the field is required. You will need experience first as a fire fighter. Then you will need to complete some moderate on-the-job training. Some specific positions will require a degree, but there are many positions that can be had without a four-year college education.

10. Electronics Installation & Repairers
Education: Technical education; Postsecondary non-degree award
Median Income: $59,080
Job Growth: -1%
If you are interested in electrical equipment, but don’t want to spend the time and money on a major degree, then you could find work as an installer or repairer of electronics. The pay is strong, but unfortunately the career is expected to shrink by 1%, driven largely by advancement in electronics that require less maintenance. To work in this career, you only need a non-degree award. However, employers often prefer job candidates who have formal education in electronics. Hands-on training and some work experience is critical so that your salary level qualifies this career as one of the highest paying jobs without a degree.

11. Court Reporter
Education: Postsecondary non-degree award
Median Income: $60,130
Job Growth: 9%
To ensure the accuracy of reviews of court procedures, court reporters type word-for-word transcripts of a trial or legal proceeding. They may also be asked to read back information by judges, and could even need to transcribe television or audio evidence. The job requires some training and education, but not a four-year degree. This allows people to earn a sizable income without having the cost of a large college education. Some schools offer training in different types of transcriptions, such as stenography. Depending on the program, however, it can take up to five years to complete this training.

12. Telecom Industry Technician
Education: Postsecondary non-degree award
Median Income: $57,910
Job Growth: -3%
The telecommunications industry needs intelligent, knowledgable professionals to install, maintain, and repair equipment, and while this is a high-tech position, you don’t necessarily need a high-cost degree. With only a non-degree award or certificate, you’ll have many of the required skills to excel in one of these high paying jobs no degree. One of the benefits of this job is the pay, but there is a downside, as the position is expected to decline by 3% between 2019 and 2028. Also, some employers may prefer candidates with an associate’s degree, although there is work available for people with less education.

13. Merchant Marine
Education: Certificate
Median Income: $57,330
Job Growth: 0%
Waterborne transportation is still an important way to move people and cargo all over the country. This calls for highly-trained (and often well-paid) individuals who can ensure the safe passage of everyone and everything on board. These professionals need to complete specific training, usually from a U.S. Coast Guard-approved program. However, formal education is rarely required. Some may also choose to enhance their careers by completing a bachelor’s degree at a merchant marine academy.

14. Wind Turbine Technician
Education: Postsecondary non-degree award
Median Income: $52,910
Job Growth: 61%
As America and the world look to diversify their energy options, one of the sources that could become more frequent is wind energy. This is highlighted by the fact that wind energy technicians are expected to see a job growth of roughly 61%! These professionals will need to understand how to inspect, repair, and maintain wind turbines, and will need to be familiar with a variety of systems, including hydraulics, electronics, and mechanics. Most wind turbine technicians, also known as “windtechs” will attend a technical school and complete certificates that focus on the wind energy industry.

15. Computer Support Specialist
Education: Certification
Median Income: $54,760
Job Growth: 8%
Even as computers and mobile devices are becoming more common and more intuitive, there is still a high demand for people who can provide assistance to users. Although many in this position will have a four-year degree, people with some postsecondary classes are eligible for numerous positions. The growth for this career field, which is expected to be 8%, will be driven by a variety of factors, including more companies using complex systems and networks to assist in their operations.

16. Tool & Die Maker
Education: High school diploma
Median Income: $45,750
Job Growth: 3%
These are the professionals who set up and operate machine tools that create precise metal parts. Extreme accuracy and precision is essential in this career, which brings a solid median salary. To work in this career, most people will only need a high school diploma. Typically, these people are trained on the job, although learning in a community college or vocational school may be required. Some positions may require as much as two years worth of education, although complete degrees (associate’s or bachelor’s) are rarely required.

17. Firefighter
Education: Postsecondary non-degree award; Certificate
Median Income: $50,850
Job Growth: 6%
Working in dangerous conditions, firefighters need to be ready at a moments notice to protect lives and property. Because they are so important to our society as a whole, firefighters are well paid, with the top 6% earning over $88,000 annually. To be a firefighter, you don’t need a four-year bachelor’s degree. You will, however, need to complete some form of training and education so you are well prepared for the challenges of this career. A medical exam and drug screening are usually mandatory, and you will need to complete regular fitness tests to continue in this field. A few months of training at fire academies is usually enough to qualify someone for this position making it an excellent option for one of the highest paying jobs without a degree requirement.

18. HVAC & Refrigeration Technicians
Education: Postsecondary non-degree award; Apprenticeship
Median Income: $48,730
Job Growth: 4%
Heating and air conditioning systems require highly specialized experts, but despite the complexities, this is one of the highest paying jobs without a degree. One of the top advantages to this career is the potential growth, which is expected to be around 4%. This growth will be fueled by a new emphasis on energy efficiency that will drive retrofitting, upgrading, and replacement of old systems. To become an HVAC professional, which is one of the many jobs that don’t require a degree, you will need to complete on-the-job training, perhaps in the form of an apprenticeship. No previous experience on the job is required, but you will need long-term on the job training as well as some certificates and licenses.

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19. Broadcast & Sound Technicians
Education: Postsecondary non-degree award
Median Income: $45,510
Job Growth: 9%
When you listen to a radio broadcast or watch a television news program, many people have contributed to the final product; far more than just the voices we hear. Sound engineers set up and operate the sound equipment, ensuring the program is heard by an audience. The growth in this career will come from a variety of areas, including the use of audio equipment by companies and schools. Some careers in this field may require an associate’s degree, but most can be landed with a non-degree award. Hands-on experience with the equipment is also required, so internships and other experiences may be necessary.

20. Bookkeeper
Education: Postsecondary education
Median Income: $41,230
Job Growth: -6%
With only a minimal amount of classes and no previous experience, you can land this well-paying job. As a bookkeeper, you will produce financial records, organize documents, and check for financial accuracy. The education and experience requirement is minimal, but the career will see a decline in available positions, due to software that helps reduce the amount of people required to keep accurate books. Basic math and computer skills are required, which can be learned in a few postsecondary classes. Some job candidates, assuming they have the right skills, can actually be hired with only a high school degree.

Enhance Your Earnings, Job Security & Enjoyment with Top-Quality, Alternative Education

The top earning jobs without degrees are often the most essential or upcoming careers in today’s rapidly expanding, competitive marketplace.  Choosing not to earn a degree doesn’t decrease the amount of research it takes to find a profession that fits, and often still requires some amount of postsecondary or technical education to enter, excel, and succeed.  Those willing to take on certification courses, get licensed, and train could end up saving lives, owning their own businesses, supporting the U.S. economy and living comfortably with the satisfaction of a hard-day’s work.

GetEducated hosts information on the diplomas, certificates, and vocational education available to working adult students who want to move forward.  Earning these credentials online is a valuable option for those balancing work, family, and education.  Often these accreditations can lead to higher academics in the long run, considering the salaries reached without a degree could better supplement this goal.  Truly, the opportunities are endless for those seeking jobs without a degree.

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Alternative Routes of Education


Certification can both accompany a degree and stand on its own as a valuable career asset.  The world of certification is more diverse than that of academic degrees.  Most are designed for specific career goals, some are organization-endorsed certifications, many certificates carry academic credits, some could lead to licensure, and most can take less than one or two years to complete.

Postsecondary Non-Degree Awards

Postsecondary non-degree awards are another diverse category of certification without a degree.  These awards are presented once postsecondary education/training has been completed, which can take anywhere from two weeks to two years.  Many non-degree awards can be utilized in the field of healthcare and other highly lucrative industries.

Technical Education

Career and technical education is designed to impart vocational training applicable in a variety of industries.  This could lead to a diploma or certification in a specific area of interest.  These programs can be earned through technical and vocational schools or two- to four-year colleges and universities.   


Apprenticeship programs provide industry-recognized credentialing through combined components of paid employment and education.  Today, an industry-recognized apprenticeship program (IRAP) or registered apprenticeship programs (RAPs) are high-quality opportunities for individuals interested in nationally-recognized credentials in a wide range of fields. 


Licensure varies from state to state, as a state-granted, mandatory certification.  Several careers require licensure  for clinical practice or areas of counseling, professional electrical work, and more.  Licensed practitioners will have completed required examinations and are professionally bound to ethical codes in their fields.  An educational certificate can lead to licensure, providing academic hours or credits required for state exams, though earning a certificate is not a mandatory part of the licensure process.

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Whether you want to jump-start your education in an affordable manner or study for two years to launch a profitable career, an associate degree is a great choice. With a high paying associate degree job in your future and little to no student debt, the future is looking bright!

To summarize our findings, an associate’s degree can:

  • Advance your current career
  • Open up new careers
  • Increase your earnings
  • Offer a low-cost alternative to a 4-year program
  • Provide you with a foundation for future educational pursuits

Use our extensive database of online programs to find your perfect associate’s degree today!

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