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68% of Americans age 25 or older do not hold a bachelor’s degree. What are the highest paying jobs that don’t require a college degree?
According to census data, 68% of adults 25 and older do not have a bachelor’s degree or higher. While the research is pretty clear that there is an income gap between the income of the average bachelor degree holder and the average high school degree holder, I’ve had the opportunity through the blog to speak to hundreds of people from different walks of life. And I was surprised by how many people I met out there with no college degree who were quietly making serious money.
Even better? They got started on the path to financial independence four years earlier than the college-goers. I got interested in learning more about these quietly high-paying jobs. I found some great data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (helpfully organized by a site called HowMuch.net). Here are the highest paying jobs that don’t require a college degree.
|Occupation||Median Annual Wage ($)|
|Nuclear power reactor operators||91,170|
|Transportation, storage, and distribution managers||89,190|
|First-line supervisors of police and detectives||84,840|
|Power distributors and dispatchers||81,900|
|Elevator installers and repairers||78,890|
|Detectives and criminal investigators||78,120|
|Media and communication equipment workers, all other||75,700|
|Electrical and electronics repairers, powerhouse, substation, and relay||75,670|
|Power plant operators||74,690|
|First-line supervisors of fire fighting and prevention workers||74,540|
|First-line supervisors of non-retail sales workers||73,150|
|Captains, mates, and pilots of water vessels||72,680|
|Postmasters and mail superintendents||71,670|
|Electrical power-line installers and repairers||68,010|
|Gas plant operators||67,580|
|Petroleum pump system operators, refinery operators, and gaugers||67,400|
|Transit and railroad police||66,610|
|Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers||66,360|
|Signal and track switch repairers||65,350|
|Subway and streetcar operators||64,680|
|Claims adjusters, examiners, and investigators||63,680|
|First-line supervisors of mechanics, installers, and repairers||63,540|
|Insurance appraisers, auto damage||63,510|
|First-line supervisors of construction trades and extraction workers||62,980|
|Artists and related workers, all other||61,360|
|Makeup artists, theatrical and performance||60,970|
|First-line supervisors of correctional officers||60,560|
|Gas compressor and gas pumping station operators||60,470|
|Rail transportation workers, all other||60,420|
|Aircraft mechanics and service technicians||60,170|
|Chemical plant and system operators||59,920|
|Police and sheriff’s patrol officers||59,680|
|Stationary engineers and boiler operators||59,400|
|Electrical and electronics installers and repairers, transportation equipment||59,280|
|Construction and building inspectors||58,480|
|Fire inspectors and investigators||58,440|
|Postal service mail carriers||58,110|
|First-line supervisors of production and operating workers||57,780|
|Railroad conductors and yardmasters||57,480|
|First-line supervisors of transportation and material-moving machine and vehicle operators||57,270|
|Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products||57,140|
|Property, real estate, and community association managers||57,040|
|Real estate brokers||56,790|
Some of these options break into the $90k a year zone! Additionally, I’m fascinated by how varied these professions are. The median individual income in 2016 was $31,099. Almost everything on this list is at least double that figure, and yet they fit all sorts of different interests and skills.
You can work with your hands in construction. You can be a people person as a sales rep or real estate broker. You can be creative as a makeup artist. You can take a desk job as an insurance appraiser. You can travel the world as a commercial pilot. Your options are wide and varied, and they all produce healthy incomes.
But That’s Not The Ceiling…
A really important thing to take away from this list is that this is the median outcome for those in the profession.
That means if you show up with just average motivation and initiative (which, let’s be honest, is probably not much in the average worker), have average luck, and turn in average quality work, you probably earn the numbers in this table.
But this community is full of go-getters.
The entire belief set of The Money Habit is about how you should be making consistent, incremental improvements that slowly snowball you to success. It’s about how if you want above average outcomes, you need to put in above average efforts. As someone with above-average dedication, you could easily be making significantly more than the medians in this chart.
My Favorite Jobs That Don’t Require A College Degree
Many of my favorite jobs don’t require a college degree, and I want to take a moment to discuss them here because most of them don’t show up on this list. The census data list is all about the highest median income roles. But after what we just discussed about being willing to invest above average efforts, it is wise to consider your best options if you are, in fact, able to perform above the median.
If you’re the kind of person who is willing to hustle, take initiative, and go the extra mile, you will be well served to take on some sort of entrepreneurial role like the below.
My personal experience leads me to believe that the one of the highest paying jobs that doesn’t require a college degree is sales, specifically sales of products that are high-margin and large ticket. This would be things like enterprise software sales, insurance (to companies), things like that. As an investor, I discussed the operations of businesses in various industries, but there was one very strong unifying theme amonst them all. The salespeople were almost always the soem of the highest-paid individuals in the organization. To put a finer point on it, I once had a serial CEO tell me that in a healthy organization, the best-performing salesperson should make more in cash comp each year than the CEO. I’ve seen sales reps who made $250k, $300k, and even a million dollars a year. No college degree required.
Start Your Own Business
The failure rate for starting a business is incredibly high, but for the ones who do make it, the returns are outsized. The beauty of building a business is that you develop a valuable asset that continues to throw off money years later. You can eventually get it to the point where it runs without you and you are just collecting checks. There is also no ceiling on your pay. Your pay is only limited by how many customers you can get and how many you can serve at quality levels.
This is really a subset of starting your own business, but I think it deserves its own time in the limelight. I have been floored this past year on how financially beneficial running a blog can be. I didn’t get into blogging to make money, but even my loafing self who has all these restrictions on writing only about what interests me and not working on the project for more than 3-6 hours a week has managed to earn tens of thousands of dollars in my first full year. If you want actual success stories, there are some real income figures from big-time bloggers over here, with some detail on how they earn that money. The barriers to start are low, it’s a nice horizontal business meaning it can fit almost any interest, and you can run it by yourself and devote any amount of energy to it that’s appropriate for your life.
To be clear, I’m not saying that it’s easy to achieve success as a blogger. You still need to be above average to achieve above average results, but it’s a phenomenal opportunity that doesn’t require a college degree, can have a huge outsized return, and has a history of tons of alumni who have been able to launch successful versions without quitting their day job and living off of savings. It’s about as good an opportunity as is going to ever come knocking.
The world is full of interesting opportunities, and this list barely scratches that surface. I suspect you’ve run into some interesting examples of your own, and would love it if you added to the list in the comments.
Any other jobs you can think of that don’t require a college degree and make more than $50,000 a year? Did you think seriously about getting a college degree vs. jumping directly into the workforce?