For decades, parents and teachers have stressed the importance of a college degree, telling children the only way to succeed in society is to earn a four-year degree or at the very least attend community college. The conversation around career preparation is changing, though. It seems more people are realizing the importance of vocational training in addition to or even in lieu of a degree program. In light of this shift, we sought to identify the most lucrative jobs without a degree that are currently available to high school graduates. Keep in mind that many of these jobs do require some training after high school, just not at a college or university.
To develop this ranking, our editors consulted the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to identify the high-paying jobs without a degree, limiting our search to jobs with a median annual wage of over $59,000 per year. We further narrowed the pool by eliminating jobs that required an associate’s degree or beyond. Thus, the results we list here are occupations that require either no formal education, just a high school diploma, some college (but no degree), or a postsecondary non-degree award. Lastly, we eliminated occupations that are currently declining in terms of demand. Having identified our pool of jobs without a degree, we then ranked them in terms of salary potential—that is, the most an individual could reasonably expect to make in that specific role. In cases of a tie, we used the median annual wage as a tie-breaker.
Median Annual Wage: $82,240
Salary Potential: $160,480
If you’re considering jobs without a degree, you should know that many commercial pilots make well over six figures per year and are completely free of student debt. Their jobs are not simple, however. Commercial pilots navigate aircraft for charter flights, rescue operations, aerial photography, and other non-airline flights. They may also be responsible for making flight plans and itineraries, checking fuel systems, inspecting the aircraft, and maintaining flight in challenging conditions.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that jobs for commercial pilots are currently growing faster than average. The demand for these professionals is particularly high in certain industries such as ambulance services, for instance. According to the BLS, prospective commercial pilots will also face less competition for jobs than airline pilots.
Though a college degree is not necessary in order to work as a commercial pilot, you will need to be licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). To obtain this license, you will likely have to attend a flight-training school. At the very least, you will need to secure lessons from an FAA-certified flight instructor. Once hired, commercial pilots are usually required to complete additional training on the job in accordance with Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs).
#2—Transportation, Storage, and Distribution Managers
Median Annual Wage: $102,850
Salary Potential: $158,370
Some of the most lucrative jobs without a degree are those of transportation, storage, and distribution managers. These logistics leaders are responsible for overseeing the movement of people, products, and supplies from place to place, often as part of a supply chain. Some of their specific duties may include planning the transportation of goods, inspecting warehouses, keeping records of items stored, and directing the activities of other company employees.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for transportation, storage, and distribution managers are growing about as fast as average. Though a degree is not required to enter the field, candidates with a bachelor’s degree in transportation and logistics or a related field such as business administration, for example, may have the best job prospects. Many employers also prefer that applicants have at least five years of work experience in a similar field prior to being hired.
#3—First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives
Median Annual Wage: $93,100
Salary Potential: $144,190
The occupation of first-line supervisors of police and detectives is one of the jobs without a degree associated with the highest potential earnings, and rightfully so. These leaders in policing have very challenging jobs and carry the weight of a lot of responsibility, including those with life and death consequences. Often referred to as police captains or police chiefs, these professionals work alongside the men and women in blue, providing them with the necessary direction and oversight necessary for them to do their jobs safely and efficiently. This can include providing training in police procedures, performing job assessments and observations, and providing expert investigative advice to detectives.
Though no formal postsecondary education is necessary beyond a high school diploma or equivalent, many first-line supervisors of police and detectives do hold associate’s or bachelor’s degrees in the field. Often, they are also required to have several years of experience working as a police or detective themselves.
The demand for first-line supervisors of police and detectives is increasing at a rate that’s about as fast as average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This means that opportunities for employment will be available, but applicants may face strong competition for these jobs.
#4—Makeup Artists (Theatrical and Performance)
Median Annual Wage: $72,030
Salary Potential: $130,710
You may not immediately associate the position of a makeup artist with a fat salary. This is one of those high-wage jobs without a degree that can be deceptive. While there’s no formal post-secondary academic training necessary for this occupation, the most talented makeup artists are handsomely rewarded for their face-painting skills. Their jobs can be challenging, though. Many make-up artists work long days on their feet, preparing actors for theatrical performances and getting them ready for television and film productions.
Some makeup artists hold associate’s degrees from two-year colleges, though these types of credentials aren’t usually necessary for entering the field. Newly hired makeup artists can expect to undergo a fairly extensive on-the-job training program, though. These programs can take up to two years to complete.
On the upside, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment opportunities for makeup artists are currently growing faster than average, so it’s a good time to enter the field.
Median Annual Wage: $75,330
Salary Potential: $123,980
Another option for individuals interested in lucrative jobs without a degree is the job of a transportation inspector. These professionals play important roles in the transportation industry as they ensure the safety and performance of automobiles and other types of vehicles. Transportation inspectors must examine vehicles to ensure not only that they operate properly, but also that they comply with safety and environmental regulations. They may specialize in a certain aspect of vehicle inspection such as emissions, safety, or quality assurance, for instance.
If you’re interested in entering the field of transportation inspection, you’ll need a minimum of a high school degree or equivalent. You can also expect to undergo some type of on-the-job training once hired. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in the field are growing about as fast as average. Related experience or professional certifications may increase your chances of employment.
#6—First-Line Supervisors of Firefighting and Prevention Workers
Median Annual Wage: $80,310
Salary Potential: $122,910
Of the high-paying jobs without a degree featured in this ranking, that of a first-line supervisor of firefighting and prevention worker may be the most challenging. In addition to providing supervision to the firefighters on his or her watch, these firefighter leaders often perform rescue and firefighting duties themselves. For that reason, extensive experience in the field is often required for these positions. Still, no formal education is necessary aside from the completion of fire academy training.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the demand for first-line supervisors of firefighting and prevention workers is currently growing about as fast as the average occupation. This growth equates to just over 3,500 new positions between 2018 and 2028.
#7—Elevator Installers and Repairers
Median Annual Wage: $79,780
Salary Potential: $121,200
One of the somewhat obscure jobs without a degree on our list is that of an elevator installer/repairer. These tradespeople are tasked with ensuring the proper functionality of elevators, escalators, and similar apparatuses. They may perform routine maintenance of elevators, inspect them for any disrepair, and fix issues when they arise. Elevator installers must work from the ground up, so to speak, putting in elevator cars and connecting the necessary wiring and control systems to make the elevator operational.
Though no formal degree is required to become an elevator installer or repairer, candidates may be required to complete an apprenticeship program. These training programs can be quite extensive, lasting up to four years.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for elevator installers and repairers are currently growing faster than average, so now may be a good time to enter the field. Some postsecondary education in electronics or a related field may give applicants the competitive edge they need to secure employment.
#8—Media and Communication Equipment Workers
Median Annual Wage: $77,080
Salary Potential: $117,300
Another of the surprisingly lucrative jobs without a degree is that of a media and communication equipment worker. These workers are responsible for installing, inspecting, and repairing audio and visual media equipment in homes, businesses, and on film sets. They have a highly specific skill set that makes them quite valuable to their employers.
Though a high school diploma or equivalent is all that’s necessary to become a media and communication equipment worker, some of these technicians hold associate’s degrees in the field. No matter your level of education when you’re hired, you’re likely to be required to complete some on-the-job training, however.
Jobs for media and communication equipment workers are growing at a rate comparable to that of the average occupation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). You should expect to face some competition for available positions.
#9—Detectives and Criminal Investigators
Median Annual Wage: $81,920
Salary Potential: $106,090
Did you know that one of the top jobs without a degree is that of a detective or criminal investigator? These professionals are sometimes referred to as agents or special agents and are tasked with collecting evidence and solving crimes. Some auxiliary duties related to this occupation include conducting surveillance, interviewing witnesses and suspects, and providing testimony in court. Some types of detectives and criminal investigators specialize in a specific type of crime such as homicide or white-collar crime, for instance.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that job opportunities for detectives and criminal investigators are growing about as fast as average. Applicants with experience in the field as well as those proficient in a second language will have the best prospects.
Although the position of a detective/criminal investigator is one of our featured jobs without a degree, that doesn’t mean that there is no required training. Conversely, candidates must undergo training from an academy and complete on-the-job training as well. For some police agencies, college classes may be required. Moreover, in order to secure top positions in the field such as those offered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), you’ll likely need a bachelor’s degree. Having an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice can also increase your chances of being hired.
#10—Transit and Railroad Police
Median Annual Wage: $74,030
Salary Potential: $106,090
Another of the law enforcement jobs without a degree with a potential for a six-figure salary is the position of a transit and railroad police officer. These special types of policemen and women are charged with protecting and serving railroad and transit employees and patrons. This requires surveillance of railroad/transit property, the performance of security checks on passengers, and the removal of trespassers, for instance. Other tasks may include providing investigative services in cases of a crime and collaborating with other law enforcement officials when necessary.
The entry-level education required of a transit and railroad police officer is similar to that of other types of police officers. That means you’ll need a high school diploma or equivalent and will be required to complete a training program offered by a police academy.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for transit and railroad police are growing about as fast as average.
#11—Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers
Median Annual Wage: $61,380
Salary Potential: $106,090
If you have a desire to protect and serve and are interested in jobs without a degree, then you may be the ideal fit for an occupation as a police/sheriff’s patrol officer. These law enforcement professionals make up the bulk of policemen and detectives and are uniformed officers. They are tasked with patrolling public places, conducting searches, and making arrests among other duties.
Employment of police and sheriff’s patrol officers is growing about as fast as average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Though no degree is required for entry into the field, a bachelor’s credential in law enforcement or criminal justice may make an applicant more employable. Military experience or proficiency in a second language may also increase your chances of secure employment.
#12—First-Line Supervisors of Construction Trades and Extraction Workers
Median Annual Wage: $70,540
Salary Potential: $105,720
Another of the highest-paying jobs without a degree is that of a first-line supervisor of construction trades and extraction workers. Professionals in this role provide leadership and supervision to construction and extraction workers and oversee the completion of complex projects. They may be required to read blueprints, inspect completed work, schedule job activity, and ensure safety standards are met.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the employment of first-line supervisors of construction trades and extraction workers is currently growing faster than average, so now may be a good time to enter the field. Though no college degree is required, employers in this field value experience. Many supervisors start as construction or excavation workers and are promoted due to high performance.
#13—First-Line Supervisors of Mechanics, Installers, and Repairers
Median Annual Wage: $69,320
Salary Potential: $104,020
One of the lesser-known high-paying jobs without a degree is that of first-line supervisors of mechanics, installers, and repairers. These professionals hold leadership roles in the industry and are responsible for providing direction and supervision to their staff. They may also be required to conduct inspections of completed work, order tools and supplies, monitor individual work performance, and provide necessary training.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that job opportunities for first-line supervisors of mechanics, installers, and repairers are currently growing about as fast as average. Those with extensive experience in the field as well as professional certifications and licenses may have the best job prospects.
The only requirements necessary to enter the field, however, are a high school diploma or equivalent and a few years of prior experience.
#14—Electrical Power-Line Installers and Repairers
Median Annual Wage: $70,910
Salary Potential: $101,560
Often referred to as line workers, electrical power-line installers and repairers are integral to the ongoing performance of the power grid that provides electricity to homes and businesses across the country. Their duties include climbing electrical poles, hanging power lines, inspecting transformers and other electrical mechanisms, operating power equipment, and following strict safety protocol. These tasks can be quite dangerous as they require close contact with high-voltage electricity.
Though a formal degree is not necessary in order to become an electrical power-line installer/repairer, some community colleges offer vocational training programs designed to prepare prospective line workers for success on the job. Professional certifications are also available from organizations like the Electrical Training ALLIANCE and BICSI. New-hires are usually required to undergo extensive on-the-job training as well. These programs can last as long as three years.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that job opportunities for electrical power line installers and repairers are currently growing faster than average. This uptick can be attributed to population growth and increased urban development that requires the expansion of the power grid. Though not required, associate’s degree programs in electricity may give applicants a competitive edge.
#15—Aircraft Mechanics and Service Technicians
Median Annual Wage: $62,920
Salary Potential: $97,820
If you’re looking for jobs without a degree and happen to be mechanically inclined, then the occupation of an aircraft mechanic or service technician may be the ideal fit. These tradespeople work in the aviation industry, inspecting and repairing aircraft engines and components. Their specific tasks may include conducting regular maintenance and examinations of aircraft assemblies; detecting and repairing cracks or leaks in landing gear, hydraulic systems, and other components; and keeping records of inspections and maintenance.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that jobs for aircraft mechanics and service technicians are increasing, albeit slowly. In order to qualify for one of these positions, you won’t need a degree, but you will need to complete a certification program approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Some on-the-job training may also be required.
#16—Fire Inspectors and Investigators
Median Annual Wage: $62,510
Salary Potential: $95,330
The job of a fire inspector or investigator is an appealing one because it’s among the most lucrative jobs without a degree, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy position to have. These fire professionals are often required to work in potentially hazardous conditions as they look for fire hazards and seek to identify fire sources. Depending on their specific role, fire inspectors and investigators may also be tasked with ensuring building code compliance, conducting fire safety programs, recreating the scene of a fire, and/or photographing evidence, for example.
Although it’s possible to secure employment as a fire inspector or investigator without one, an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in fire science or a related field is preferred by some employers. In most cases, you’ll also need several years of experience as a firefighter before becoming eligible for this advanced role.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that candidates will face strong competition for fire inspector/investigator openings despite the fact that job opportunities for these positions are growing at an average rate.
#17—Insurance Appraisers (Auto Damage)
Median Annual Wage: $62,520
Salary Potential: $94,060
Another of the little-known jobs without a degree associated with high wages is that of an insurance appraiser specializing in auto damage. These professionals usually work for insurance companies and are responsible for assessing automobile damage and filing the paperwork associated with auto claims. Other tasks include procuring estimates for repair work, making financial decisions regarding payouts, and researching the cost of automotive replacement parts.
An associate’s degree isn’t required for entry into the field, but some insurance appraisers do have one. Others have experience working in an auto repair shop or similar environment. Either way, new hires can expect to complete some on-the-job training before they’re allowed to work in this role independently.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for insurance appraisers who specialize in auto damage are growing at a rate that’s comparable to the national average. Candidates with expertise in computers and information technology will have the best job prospects.
#18—Electrical and Electronics Repairers (Powerhouse, Substation, and Relay)
Median Annual Wage: $80,200
Salary Potential: $91,840
Another of the most appealing jobs without a degree is that of a powerhouse, substation, and relay electrical and electronics repairers. Also known as powerhouse electricians or power transformer repairers, these technicians are responsible for testing and repairing the electrical equipment associated with the performance of substations, in-service relays, and generating stations. This may require the use of special devices and equipment such as voltmeters and ammeters, for example. Powerhouse electricians may also have to keep detailed records of inspections and test results.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that jobs for these types of electrical and electronics repairers will grow over the next several years, but the growth will be slow. Applicants with an associate’s degree in the field may have the best employment opportunities, though this credential is not required.
A high school diploma or equivalent is usually sufficient for entry into the field, but newly hired technicians can expect to undergo extensive on-the-job training. They may have to work alongside an experienced professional for quite a while before performing their required duties on their own.
#19—Electrical and Electronics Installers and Repairers (Transportation Equipment)
Median Annual Wage: $60,340
Salary Potential: $91,840
Still looking for jobs without a degree? Consider the occupation of an electrical and electronics installer/repairer for transportation equipment. These technicians are responsible for the installation and maintenance of mobile communication equipment on trains and boats. This includes sonar, surveillance, security, and other types of mobile electronic equipment. Depending on their exact role, specific tasks may include using computer software to test electronic devices, replacing defective wiring, and repairing blown fuses, for instance.
A high school diploma or equivalent is all that is required in terms of academic preparation in order to enter the field of transportation equipment repair. Still, many applicants take coursework from a community college, and some hold an associate’s degree. On-the-job training will be required for newly hired electrical and electronics installers and repairers.
#20—Signal and Track Switch Repairers
Median Annual Wage: $62,970
Salary Potential: $91,760
The final entry in our jobs without a degree ranking is the occupation of a signal and track switch repairer. This highly specialized job requires railroad employees to install and maintain the electric gate crossings, signal equipment and track switches necessary for railway transportation. Signal and track switch operators must routinely use specialized tools and equipment to test a variety of different mechanisms such as gate circuitry, interlocks, and hotbox detectors, for instance.
Though not necessary for employment, some signal and track switch repairers have an associate’s degree in a field related to their work. Others have undergone vocational training. Once hired, they can expect to complete an on-the-job training program, working under the direction of a more experienced technician until they’ve mastered the necessary skills.