College is necessary for a number of career paths. For others, it’s not.
In the midst of a global pandemic (and what’s to come after), folks are learning what they want from a career and don’t want to go into thousands of dollars’ worth of student loan debt to get there.
Earning a master’s degree, a college degree or an associate’s degree hasn’t always been a ubiquitous goal, either, despite society’s grip on the notion. Not everyone has the means nor the desire to go to college. High school diplomas, however, are still a must-have in most roles. Additionally, some career paths do require additional education and training like a technical school or a bootcamp (hey, that’s us!) but they cost significantly less in some cases and take less time.
For those without a college degree, there are still a number of high-paying jobs available and the list continues to grow. Here are just 38 of the many you can start working your way into, plus their national median salary (which, keep in mind that compensation varies widely depending on location and work experience).
The best jobs without a college degree if you like tech, computers, gaming, and problem solving:
Average salary: $111,340
This is our bread and butter, but when over one million software engineering roles go unfilled every year, demand is high, and companies are looking for sheer talent, traditional education falls to the wayside in favor of applicable training. Plus, openings will continue to grow (many of them remote) as more industries need engineers to build custom experiences on desktop and mobile devices.
Average salary: $70,863
Like a software engineer, but different. Software engineers tend to have a more thorough computer science background, while web developers focus on building websites, mobile apps, and other web-based experiences that we use every single day.
Average salary: $115,743
Where software engineers and web developers build the web- and mobile-based applications, a UX designer is on the front end of things creating the design and the flows through which a user goes through the app. If you’re design-forward and a good problem solver, UX is a great option.
Average salary: $65,786
If you like numbers and working with a ton of data, consider data analysis. There are endless use cases in which a data analyst can be useful, and nearly every industry needs someone to sift through and interpret large amounts of data. Your options are plentiful.
Tech support specialist.
Average salary: $61,966
There are countless different titles for tech support specialists, including IT support and computer technical support, though each has a slightly nuanced job description. At any rate, support specialists are the ultimate problem solvers and work directly with clients to resolve issues. Not only are these pros tech-savvy, they’re good with people, too.
The best jobs without a college degree if you like working outdoors or with animals:
Farmer or agriculture manager.
Average salary: $69,300
Without agriculture and farming managers, our farm system would collapse. They manage the day-to-day operations of farms, ranches, greenhouses, and any other farming establishments that create a large majority of our food sources.
Average salary: $35,424
Salary for pet groomers varies widely by area, but those with established clientele and good reviews can make a sizable living. Understanding the unique grooming needs of different breeds is a crucial part of this role.
Fishing or forestry supervisor.
Average salary: $65,052
In addition to a love of the outdoors, forestry supervisors often have managerial budgeting experience to monitor activities within national and state forests. They provide additional guidance about the land plans and budget allocation.
The best jobs without a college degree if you like planes, trains, and automobiles:
Average salary: $41,595
According to a free career test site, “Aerospace engineer technicians record data from assemblies, test parts, and monitor quality control with systems that are installed into the aircraft, spacecraft, or missile.” If you’re into all things aircraft and planes, some additional training could put you in the running to land a job.
Electrical transportation installer.
Average salary: $61,688
In short, these are the folks that install the electrical systems in vehicles; things like radios, stereos, and CarPlay are installed by these professionals. As cars grow increasingly more tech-forward, the demand for folks who are skilled in installation and maintenance will grow.
Average salary: $100,365
For every team of mechanics or maintenance professionals, there’s a supervisor that oversees their work. This doesn‘t just refer to automotive mechanics, either – retail, tech, and manufacturing all have mechanic supervisors that keep tasks on course.
Average salary: $98,129
Trains are still an integral part of our transportation systems in the US, whether you use one regularly or not. Locomotive engineers keep those systems in check, and they’re nicely compensated to do so. As with any mechanical engineering or technician role, additional training is needed, but it can come in other forms besides a college degree.
Average salary: $78,373
See above, but replace it with ships.
Average salary: $97,179
If you’d rather steer the ship than fix it, captains for all types of watercraft are needed. Whether for commercial fishing, yachting and vacations, or captaining shipping liners, significant training is required, but for those who love the open sea, it’s a viable career path.
Average salary: $93,300
You’ll definitely need training for this one, but as air travel regains its footing after devastating loss during the coronavirus pandemic, skilled pilots are always in high demand for air travel.
The best jobs without a college degree if you like working with your hands and enjoy fixing things:
Average salary: $55,160
Any of us who have had a leaky faucet or a backed-up toilet know that plumbers are incredibly useful. After a bit of training, plumbers can have long, plentiful careers. They’re always needed, and they can work effectively anywhere in the US.
Average salary: $63,800
Those of us with air conditioning and heating units need regular maintenance and the occasional emergency fix. Like plumbers, these professionals can live anywhere because they’re needed nationwide.
Average salary: $53,326
Plant operators are exactly as it sounds – they manage the day to day operations of an industrial plant. Anything from oil to gas to manufacturing to power plants need operators to keep things in check.
Electrical power line repairer.
Average salary: $75,030
“I am a lineman for the county”, sang Glen Campbell — and you can be, too. The job is physically demanding, but if you’re a skilled fixer, it could be the right fit.
Average salary: $57,545
Building inspector earnings range widely as certifications and years of experience can play a big role in compensation. But as the housing market grows and commercial real estate expands post-pandemic, inspectors are always needed to ensure the safety and the build of homes and other types of real estate.
The best jobs without a college degree if you like music, the arts, and communications:
Media or communication engineer.
Average salary: $93,078
Media engineers, or broadcast engineers, set up and operate the audio/visual equipment that controls radio or television transmission. A lot of folks interested in journalism or in sound engineering go into this field because you get to be hands-on and on set.
Average salary: $50,277
The need for skilled graphic designers is more than ever, as companies everywhere are creating digital content and experiences to connect with users and customers. Not only do graphic designers work to create online material, they can create tangible products like posters, billboards, and brochures. Many of them go on to work in art direction or other facets of the business.
Average salary: $31,431
While many trained beauty professionals started at a cosmetology trade school, most of them go on to specialize in different types of cosmetology, like makeup artistry, nail artistry, or hair styling. From there, the average salary varies widely and can be quite lucrative with the right client base.
Average salary: $67,299
Lots of people pick up photography as a hobby, but turning it into a lifelong career is possible, too. By creating a portfolio and choosing a niche — be it wedding photography, landscapes, real estate photography, or opening a studio for headshots —can have you working for years to come.
Food service manager.
Average salary: $56,590
Food lovers could find the perfect career in food service. Particularly in areas where there is significant tourism or a bustling food scene, the need for food service managers and restaurant managers to keep everything in working order are in high demand, especially now as spots reopen after closing temporarily for the pandemic quarantine.
The best jobs without a college degree if you like the science behind medicine and personal healthcare:
Average salary: $78,000
Dental hygienists are super hands-on with patients, examining them for oral hygiene and diseases. Because hygienists are not doctors of dentistry, they don’t require certain degrees. They can be trained at other institutions.
Average salary: $78,884
These medical staff members work alongside doctors and other health professionals to diagnose and detect issues using an ultrasound machine. Techs not only run the machine, they’re also responsible for maintenance of it.
Average salary: $61,900
Much like an ultrasound technician, imaging technicians use specialized equipment to diagnose injuries and illness. This includes MRI and X-ray machines.
Nuclear medicine technician.
Average salary: $85,519
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, “Nuclear medicine technologists prepare radioactive drugs and administer them to patients for imaging or treatment. They provide technical support to physicians or others who diagnose, care for, and treat patients and to researchers who investigate uses of radioactive drugs.” Folks who want to be more hands-on with patients and work directly with doctors might enjoy this line of work.
Average salary: $47,180
Massages feel great, but there’s a significant amount of training and understanding of human anatomy that goes into becoming a massage therapist. Good therapists build up loyal clientele and can work virtually anywhere.
The best jobs without a college degree if you like working with people or making your own schedule:
Real estate agent.
Average salary: $93,600
Now, salary for real estate varies widely — years in the business and the type of real estate you sell can net you compensation within a huge range. However, as an average, real estate agents do pretty well for themselves and can typically work on their own schedule (or at the very least, on their clients’ schedules).
Average salary: $55,922
We need all kinds of insurance: auto, life, home, renters, health — so insurance agents are plentiful and are always needed to help folks navigate their insurance coverage and find the right fit for them. This includes claims adjusters, who handle the thousands of insurance claims that are filed every single day.
Funeral home manager.
Average salary: $66,666 (you can’t make this stuff up)
Call it gruesome or depressing, but hey — people die every day, and funeral homes always have steady business for mourning families. If you can handle talking about death and all that goes with it, you could be looking at a lifelong career.
Average salary: $72,204
Casino lovers can rejoice knowing that a career that keeps you on the game floor and managing casino operations is a thing that exists! Though, this is only applicable in states that allow gambling, so it’s not feasible for everyone.
Average salary: $73,879
Not only do postmasters make a healthy living, they get bank and federal holidays off. Did someone say three-day weekends?
Detective or private investigator.
Average salary: $86,030
True crime podcasts and TV shows have turned all of us into a bit of a detective, but there are plenty of folks who do it in real life, too. It takes a certain personality and a very, very acute attention to detail, but if that’s your skillset, you might be interested.
Inside sales rep.
Average salary: $46,710
When it comes to sales, compensation is all over the board; you have your base salary, stock options, commission, and other parts of the overall compensation package that represent how much you make on an annual basis. What’s great about sales, though, is that once you hit your stride (and if your company has uncapped commission), there’s no limit to the amount of money you can make. Some people are incredible at sales, and many inside reps get their start without a college degree.
Average salary: $56,670
If you watched Lorelai Gilmore play a lodging manager on TV, it’s a career worth pursuing in real life if you are a people person and keep things tidy and organized. Lodging managers and hotel staff can make or break someone’s vacation experience.
Four-year degrees are no longer a must-have for many roles in the workforce. Besides, so many college graduates every year go into careers that are entirely unrelated to their degree. With a bit of specialized training or alternative education, you can find a career that has plenty of job growth, job openings, and earning potential.
If anything in computer science or software engineering strikes your fancy, try App Academy Open entirely for free. If it’s something you enjoy, there’s an entire industry’s worth of careers that await folks who have coding experience, and our bootcamps can be just the thing to get you there.