Best Jobs Without a College Degree

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Let’s start by stating that we’re not here to sell you on going to college. We’re also not here to pass judgement for not pursing a higher education.

The decision to not attend college is personal for each individual. Within my family and network, some felt it was their only choice and others had valid reasons for not pursuing a degree. The most common responses I’ve received include:

  • Family responsibilities and commitments like having a child before completing college or a family member requiring intensive support at home.
  • Insanely high tuition cost which can be scary to even those in decent financial situations, unless you earn large scholarships or grants.
  • Parents diminished the importance of a degree because they didn’t need one to build a good life.
  • Joining the family business or turning a part-time job into a career seemed like the best option out of high school.
  • Unable to decide what they were passionate about and which profession to pursue after high school.

If one of these hits close to home, take comfort in the fact that there are millions of others in a similar situation.

For some individuals, these reasons can become the motivation to take action.

Whether it’s pursuing a certification, better job, or eventually a college degree to build a stable future for your family. It may even guide you in finding something you’re passionate about.

Even so, many have a hard time paying for college due to the continuing increase in college tuition costs. The cost for a college education has increased by at least 120% in the past two decades alone – that’s the low end of the range.

Average Tuition and Fees Increase in Dollars by Sector (1987-2018)
Source: The College Board

Tuition costs continue to increase which means less college grads will be joining the future workforce
Tuition costs continue to increase, which could mean fewer college grads joining the future workforce

This means more people are taking on student loan debt to cover the cost. It’s estimated that student loan debt is near $1.4 trillion in the US. Which translates into 10 or more years of monthly payments.

These figures are just unbelievable and it’s easy to see why many ditch the idea of college.

With that said, there are many factors that each individual considers when making the decision to pursue higher education.

What percent of workers do not have a college degree?

The number of people working with only a high school diploma or some college with no degree makes up the largest percentage of the workforce. High school graduates alone make up the greatest number of workers today.

High School Graduates make up the largest percent of workers
High School Graduates without a college degree make up the largest percent of the US workforce

While the majority aren’t manager level or specialized technical positions, many are good paying jobs for those without a college degree.

However, over the past couple decades there has been a 7% increase in the number of workers employed with a bachelor’s degree. This means more people are going to college and more companies are looking for college educated workers. The chart below illustrates this shift well.

High school graduates and those without a college degree make up the largest percent of the US workforce
The number of workers without a college degree continues to be make up the greatest percent of the workforce

It’s clear there are more people getting college degrees than ever before and this trend is not likely to end.

With that said, what’s interesting is that between 2015 and 2018, the overall number of high school graduates in the workforce will increase by 3-4% (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics). This may not seem big, but that’s an additional 1.1 million high school graduates joining the workforce. null

Does not having a college degree put me at a disadvantage?

By no means does it make you any less of a human being if the highest education you have is a high school diploma or an associate degree.

Also, I’ve met many college-educated people that lacked basic skills to work on teams, communicate ideas, or create something significant. This can be the difference between the education you get from school and what you learn through real-world experience.

Often what is lacking in those without a formal education can be overcome by your grit, passion, and the mindset that you will succeed – one way or another.

In fact, many well known figures became incredibly successful using their high school education, experience, and street smarts. This includes the likes of Steve Jobs (Apple), John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil Co.), Ted Turner (CNN), Russell Simmons (Def Jam), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), and the list goes on and on.

Odds are, you will not be nearly as well know or wealthy. But you can still have high earning potential with the right work ethic and desire to succeed.

There is one distinction we’d like to make on the education levels. While you can find great paying jobs with only a high school diploma, a lot more doors open with an associate’s degree.

If you have the desire, earning one from your local community college or even an online school will do just fine. Most schools offer part-time classes so you can chip away at an associate degree over several years.

In our list of top careers without a college degree, we will clearly identify where an associates degree or other certifications may be required. This can vary based on the position you are applying to and the employer.

Best Jobs without a College Degree (Bachelor’s or Higher)

We have categorized our list of the highest paying jobs without a college degree based on the industry they are in. This should make things easier if you’re looking for a career in a particular profession.

As you think about where you want to go, it’s important to define the criteria that are most important to you. This will help you start narrowing down the job possibilities and guide your decision making.

Questions to consider when thinking about switching careers:

  • What previous training and experience do you have?
  • What are your long-term professional goals outside of finding a job?
  • Do you enjoy providing care and support for those around you?
  • Do you prefer to work on things on your own?
  • Are you analytical and like to get into the details?
  • Are you comfortable learning new technologies?
  • Do you love being outside and working with your hands?
  • Do you help those close to you find solutions to their problems?

These are just some questions to ask, but they should help get you thinking about what professions might be a good fit.

In our list, you will notice a large number of healthcare jobs. This is mainly due to the demand for health care workers being one of the highest across industries. It also has great entry-level positions for those without a college education.

Construction and technology-related careers are also in high demand, but those job markets can be more competitive. They also occasionally require even more specialized certifications or on-the-job training.

Data Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

As we go through the jobs, we’ve included key data points around the average pay and expected job growth by profession. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics collects this data from many sources and can be used to inform your career decision-making.

Best Health Care Jobs

Below is a summary of the key information for several of the best careers in health care.

We cover these top Health Care jobs that don’t require a college education in much greater detail here.

1. Radiation Therapist

What They Do: Administer radiation treatments and dispense medications for cancer patients.
Median Salary: $80,570 ($38.73 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 13% (faster than average)
Associate’s Required? YesM

2. Dental Hygienist

What They Do: Examine teeth for cavities, clean and polish teeth, and prepare the mount for procedures like cavity fillings and crowns.
Median salary: $74,070 ($35.61 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 20% (much faster than average)
Associate’s Required? Yes

3. Physical Therapy Assistant

What They Do: Help patients who have suffered a serious injury regain critical movement and reduce pain.
Median salary: $46,920 ($22.56 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 30% (much faster than average)
Associate’s Required? No, but a license is required in most states

4. Pharmacy Technician

What They Do: Fill prescriptions and check out customers picking up medication from pharmacies.
Median salary: $31,750 ($15.26 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 12% (faster than average)
Associate’s Required? No

5. Personal Care or Home Health Aide

What They Do: Support people with chronic illnesses or disabilities that require assistance around the home.
Median salary: $23,130 ($11.12 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 41% (much faster than average)
Associate’s Required? No

6. Phlebotomist

What They Do: Draw blood samples from patients for testing.
Median salary: $33,670 ($16.19 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 25% (much faster than average)
Associate’s Required? No, but requires certification from a phlebotomy program

7. Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

What They Do: Work with specialized medical imaging equipment used to diagnose patients with cardiovascular or other conditions.
Median salary: $65,620 ($31.55 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 17% (much faster than average)
Associate’s Required? Yes

8. MRI & Radiologic Technologist

What They Do: Operate MRI equipment to scan for abnormalities with internal organs or tissues.
Median salary: $60,070 ($28.88 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 13% (faster than average)
Associate’s Required? Yes

9. Massage Therapist

What They Do: Provide massages using a variety of techniques to help customers relax or reduce muscle discomfort.
Median salary: $39,990 ($19.23 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 26% (much faster than average)
Associate’s Required? No, but may require massage therapist license or certification

10. Respiratory Therapist

What They Do: Treat patients having trouble breathing due to conditions often related to asthma, emphysema, or respiratory infections.
Median salary: $59,710 ($28.71 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 23% (much faster than average)
Associate’s Required? Yes

Best Technology Jobs

1. Web Developer

What They Do: Design, build, and maintain websites that provide information about products or services in just about any industry.
Median salary: $67,990 ($32.69 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 15% (much faster than average)
Associate’s Required? Yes, with the exception of freelance developers

2. Computer Support Specialist

What They Do: Triage technical issues, determine root cause, and implement solutions to limit the amount of time customers (business users) can’t work.
Median salary: $52,810 ($25.39 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 11% (faster than average)
Associate’s Required? No, but some companies may require associate’s or training

3. Mobile App / Software Developer

What They Do: Design, build, and maintain mobile applications or software based on the needs of the customer or user.
Median salary: $103,560 ($49.79 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 24% (much faster than average)
Associate’s Required? Yes, with the exception of freelance developers

Best Construction & Industrial Jobs

We cover these top Construction and Industrial jobs that don’t require a college education in much greater detail here.

1. Solar Photovoltaic / Panel Installer

What They Do: Install and maintain solar panels for residential or commercial customers.
Median salary: $39,490 ($18.98 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 105% (significantly faster than average)
Associate’s Required? No

2. Wind Turbine Technician

What They Do: Install and maintain wind turbines for residential or commercial customers.
Median salary: $53,880 ($25.91 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 96% (significantly faster than average)
Associate’s Required? No

3. Plumber and Pipefitter

What They Do: Install or repair pipes for household, commercial, or industrial use.
Median salary: $52,590 ($25.28 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 16% (much faster than average)
Associate’s Required? No

4. Construction Equipment Operator

What They Do: They often operate and maintain machines like backhoes, jack hammers, trenchers, dump trucks, bulldozers, and other equipment required to complete the construction job.
Median salary: $46,080 ($22.15 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 12% (faster than average)
Associate’s Required? No

5. Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanic and Installer

What They Do: Install or repair HVAC (heating, ventilation, and A/C) or refrigeration appliances for household, commercial, or industrial use.
Median salary: $47,080 ($22.64 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 15% (much faster than average)
Associate’s Required? No, but many companies and states may require a license and apprenticeship

Best General Business Jobs

1. Paralegal or Legal Assistant

What They Do: Support lawyers by conducting legal research, organizing case files, and drafting documents.
Median salary: $50,410 ($22.64 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 15% (much faster than average)
Associate’s Required? Yes

2. Real Estate Broker or Agent

What They Do: Research comparable home values, contact lawyers, and negotiate home price between the buying and selling parties.
Median salary: $47,080 ($22.64 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 6% (average)
Associate’s Required? No

3. Financial / Office Clerk

What They Do: Clerks perform administrative tasks including helping customers, organizing records, drafting documents, and completing business transactions.
Median salary: $38,680 ($18.69 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 9% (average)
Associate’s Required? No

4. Customer Support Representative

What They Do: Answer customer calls, mail, or instant messages to resolve issues or questions they have on the company’s products or services.
Median salary: $32,890 ($15.81 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 5% (average)
Associate’s Required? No

5. Receptionist

What They Do: Greet customers as they arrive, answer phone calls, organize documents, schedule appointments, and complete financial transactions.
Median salary: $28,390 ($13.65 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 9% (average)
Associate’s Required? No

Other Top Jobs for Consideration

1. Social and Human Service Assistant

What They Do: Support individuals and families to find services in the community and help them function independently in society.
Median salary: $28,390 ($13.65 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 9% (average)
Associate’s Required? No

2. Surveying and Mapping Technicians

What They Do: Utilize geographic mapping systems to plot land, buildings, and other structures for residential, public service, or commercial purposes.
Median salary: $43,340 ($20.84 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 11% (faster than average)
Associate’s Required? No

3. Grounds / Landscape Maintenance Worker

What They Do: Maintain landscapes by mowing, raking, digging, planting, trimming, and mulching around parks, homes, and businesses.
Median salary: $28,110 ($13.51 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 11% (faster than average)
Associate’s Required? No

4. Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatchers

What They Do: Answer emergency calls from individuals in distress to dispatch the necessary police, fire, or ambulance services.
Median salary: $39,640 ($19.06 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 8% (average)
Associate’s Required? No

5. Building Cleaners / Janitors

What They Do: Provide cleaning services for businesses, schools, or other facilities including wiping furniture, mopping, emptying trash bins, and cleaning rooms.
Median salary: $24,990 ($12.02 per hour)
Expected Job Growth by 2026: 10% (faster than average)
Associate’s Required? No

Conclusion

The list of top jobs spans almost every industry and geographic region. You can find the highest paying jobs for those without a college degree in health care. This includes jobs such as Radiation Therapist, Dental Hygienist, and MRI Technician.

The fastest growing jobs without a college degree are also in health care, but renewable energy careers are emerging as well. This includes installing and maintaining solar panels and wind turbines for all types of customers. Becoming a Wind Turbine or Solar Panel Technician is also great professional for those in rural areas where the technologies are being adopted fastest.

The opportunities available are plentiful for high school graduates, but it does take effort and drive to find the best path for you.

Do you have another job to add or have experience with any of these professions?

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