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Research on this topic is fairly conclusive: the higher your level of education, the higher your level of expected income. Often, this is because higher paying jobs typically require a higher degree of expertise in a particular topic. However, the important word here is “typically” because as it turns out there are wide variety of high paying and readily available jobs that don’t require a degree at all.
For some people, this may come as a surprise given the emphasis on college attendance in order to secure a higher paying line of employment. While that remains the case in general terms, there are exceptions to this rule that you can take advantage of if you’ve chosen not to attend college for personal or financial reasons. All you’ll need for many of these jobs is a high school diploma and a commitment to learning quickly while on the job.
Truth be told, some of these high-paying, degree-less jobs may surprise you. But as it stands, many workers in the following fields don’t hold formal degrees, making it easier for you to break into the field. If you’re looking for a new career path that pays exceptionally well, check out these 6-figure jobs below that don't require a college degree.
Median Annual Pay: $82,240
You’re likely well familiar with airline pilots, that is, the folks who operate the large jets and airplanes out of major airport in sizable cities. While many of these pilots go to specialized schooling to attain their positions (often through the US Air Force), you actually have an opportunity to earn your wings without earning a degree by becoming a commercial pilot.
Commercial pilots differ from airline pilots primarily in scale. Rather than operating large airplanes between major airports, commercial pilots typically undertake so-called “unscheduled” flight activates between smaller regional airports. Charter flights make up a major portion of their work, which can include anyone from aerial photographers to business executives. You may even have the opportunity to teach other prospective pilots after many years on the job.
Also, commercial pilots are distinguished by their need to undertake all of the “odd jobs” surrounding travel in their small-scale aircraft. At its core, this includes maintenance (if not outright ownership) of their airplane. However, this can also extend to scheduling clients and registering flight plans with the FAA, as well as loading baggage for passengers.
As one might expect, you will need to acquire a commercial pilot’s license to hold down this job. Often, such a license is attained through a FAA-certified pilot’s school. This process is not unlike going through driver’s education before earning a driver’s license, such you can surely break into this career path if you are willing to complete all of the specialized flight training.
Median Annual Pay: $30,325
Even if you’re not in the pilot’s seat, you may have a great opportunity to take to the skies and earn a worthwhile income while you are at it. They’re the face of an airline in many ways and play a crucial role in passenger comfort and safety throughout a flight. Indeed, becoming a flight attendant is a viable option for folks looking for reliable line of employment.
In terms of duties, flight attendants are primarily responsible as acting as the go-between for passengers as they partake in air travel. As the flight begins, this means demonstrating all proper safety procedures for that particular aircraft’s architecture. During the flight, attendants provide food and beverages for passengers in need of refreshment.
As is clear, this line of work does not require more than a high school diploma when it comes to formal education. Most airlines also require their flight attendants to undergo in-house training in order to fully acquaint them with the expectations of the profession. Also, those seeking out this line of work should expect to complete some job shadowing with a trained team before becoming a full team member.
All things said, flight attendant work is not the highest paying among the degree-less jobs on this list. However, it earns a spot here because they are widely available in cities with major airports. Many folks undertake this line of work to form a financially stable base with which they can seek even higher levels of employment outside the airport walls.
Learn how to become a flight attendant.
Detectives / Criminal Investigators
Median Annual Pay: $81,920
If you’ve ever watched a court procedural or read a detective novel, then you’re at least lightly familiar with criminal investigators and their line of work. Based upon their association with the police, one might expect that they require a similar degree of training, if not also a college degree in forensics. But just like the private eyes of the noir era, you, too, can become a detective without a college degree.
Detectives and criminal investigators are tasked with a variety of jobs when it comes to analyzing a crime scene. Generally speaking, they are geared towards collecting evidence that may be used by law enforcement officials later on. This can be done through witness interviews, evidence collection, and direct observation. Most detectives specialize in one type of crime, making them a direct asset to a law enforcement agency.
To get your foot in the door of detective work, you’ll only need a high school degree (as well as the physical and mental aptitude to engage this line of work as a professional). Before you are fully work in this profession, however, many federal agencies and local law enforcement bodies require you to complete college coursework with the intent of acquiring a relevant college degree.
Power Plant Operators
Median Annual Pay: $79,610
Our electric grid is essential to our modern way of life. Without a stable supply of electricity to homes and businesses, most modern citizens would be unable to go about their daily routine or accomplish any kind of work at their job. As such, keeping the lights on is an essential task. This task is left to a variety of systematic workers, most notable of which includes power plant operators.
These workers complete a wide range of tasks relating to the maintenance of the power generation system. Power plant operators are often required to predict and implement power distribution plans that keep up with consumer demand without wasting energy. Depending on the power plant type, they may also supply the system that generates power in the first place (typically through burning a fuel source to heat water and turn an electricity-generating turbine with steam).
Because of their important role in power generation process, you might expect power plant operators to require a degree of formalize higher education. But indeed, you’ll only need a high school diploma to get in the door in this line of work. From there, you can expect to receive extensive on-the-job training before being allowed to work alone. You may also be asked to receive formal certification through a group such as the North American Electric Reliability Corporation.
In terms of pay, power plant operators make a hefty wage due to the important role they play in the power grid at large. This line of work also comes with some degree of risk for injury, so it makes proper sense that these workers would be paid more as compensation for that risk.
Nuclear Power Reactor Operators
Median Annual Pay: $94,350
Though there are fewer plants now than even a few decades ago, nuclear power generation still plays a key role in the larger electric grid. For example, the Braidwood Generation Station in Illinois provides serves the electrical needs of major urban centers in the northern half of the state, including Chicago. Operators at these locations are very valuable and surprisingly, you can become one without a college degree.
Depending on the particular power station, your work as a nuclear power reactor operator may include everything from monitoring the core production system readings to performing durability checks on reactors, turbines, generators, and cooling systems. Because of the particular risk posed by nuclear power generation, you will also be tasked with maintaining all proper safety procedures.
With risk comes reward and, in this case, the risky business of working alongside a nuclear reactor brings a pay median just short of $100k. That’s pretty impressive for a job that usually only requires a high school diploma to start off. From there, you’ll receive several years’ worth of on-the-job training as you expand your portfolio of what procedures you are certified to carry out on your own.
Also, this line of work often requires you to eventually become certified with a regulating authority for nuclear power. As such, you’ll be expected to take a license exam from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission before becoming fully-fledged nuclear power plant operator.
Transportation, Storage, and Distribution Managers
Median Annual Pay: $94,730
Have you ever wondered how your Amazon package makes it to your door in just around 2 days? This is a remarkable feat of modern logistics, much of which is enabled through computerized systems that automate the shipping process. But regardless of the company initiating the shipping, packages and goods of all kinds often spend some time under the purview of transportation, storage, and distribution managers.
These specialized managers primarily work for shipping companies in order to oversee the allocation of resources surrounding the goods distribution process. This includes creating transportation and storage plans that optimize available resources while minimizing cost to your company. Time-efficiency is another major concern for these managers, especially those working for companies with time-sensitive service guarantees.
Pay in this line of work has skyrocketed recently, likely due to the uptick in computerized product distribution in the past several decades. Though these computers complete some aspects of the distribution process, these human managers play a leadership role in ensuring that all of those systems are optimized and working as intended.
Those seeking out a position in this field will likely need little more than a high school diploma and an appropriate disposition in order to get a shot in the management role. That being said, knowledge of modern supply chain management (SCM) technology may give you an upper hand in this field, as will familiarity with appropriate OSHA safety regulations.
Media and Communication Equipment Workers
Median Annual Pay: $79,580
What would our modern society be today without its diversified communications systems? Poorly informed and inefficient, that’s what! That’s what can happen when media and communication equipment breaks down, putting a significant burden on business owners in those fields. Fortunately, there are well-paid media and communication equipment workers for this very purpose.
Depending on their particular industry emphasis, these workers can complete installation and repair tasks in fields ranging from the film industry to at-home sound systems. In addition to practical work, these specialists also typically play a crucial role in teaching audio and visual equipment owners how to appropriately operate their newly-installed devices.
To get started in this field, you typically need little more than a high school diploma and a pre-existing problem-solving skill set appropriate to this line of work. However, skills in electrical repair and installation will allow you to advance further in this profession and reap its full pay potential. This may include formalized certifications from a local community college as well as a moderate period of on-the-job training.
The Bottom Line
All in all, there are some excellent fields of employment that you can seek out if you want to earn a hefty paycheck without needing a college degree. While formalized education will help solidify your chances of breaking into one of these fields, you’ll likely be able to get your foot in the door with little more than your high school diploma and an appropriate set of industry-specific skills.
Opportunity is out there if you know where to look for it, so don’t waste another minute in a low-paying job if you believe you might qualify for one of these jobs described above. Don’t let a lack of a college degree hold you back from reaching your full earning potential!