Top 10 Highest Paying Jobs without a Degree

One of the debates raging amongst consumers right now, especially as college tuition continues to rise and student loan debt has passed $1 trillion, is whether or not a college degree is worth the money. I’ve been pleased with the results of my college education. However, my degrees have prepared me with the skills I use to make a living as a freelance writer.

You don’t have to get a college degree to get a good job, though. In fact, there are some great jobs out there that don’t require a college degree. Using median salary data from the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are 10 high paying jobs that don’t require you to complete a “traditional” four-year education at college.

air traffic controler

10. Plumber ($46,660 per year)

This category also includes pipefitters and steamfitters. And don’t be scared off by the median salary, either. A good plumber — especially one who owns his or her own business — can do much, much better. Indeed, the plumber we use earns an average of $90 an hour. That’s not to bad at all. You do need to go through an apprenticeship in order to become a plumber, and you will need the proper licenses required by your state.

9. Legal Assistant ($46,680 per year)

If you are interested in the law, but not interested in going to all those years of school to get a law degree, you can become a legal assistant. You will need some training, and there are programs that you might need to complete in order to become qualified. Once you become an assistant, you will be required to help with research, file organization, and other supportive tasks.

8. Electrician ($48,250 per year)

Another job that requires an apprenticeship and may require proper licensing is electrician. However, you won’t have to go through a traditional four-year program to become a worker in this career field. And, on top of it, the outlook for growth is better than average, so you have a good chance of seeing job growth over time.

7. Construction and Building Inspector ($52,360 per year)

Believe it or not, you can become a construction and building inspector with nothing more than a high school diploma. All you need is the right on the job training, and some experience in the construction/building industry. Then you can inspect construction, including homes and commercial buildings, to make sure they meet the right requirements.

6. Communications Equipment Install and Repair ($54,710 per year)

If you can learn how to keep communications equipment in good repair, you can be an equipment mechanic. Installing and repairing the communications equipment that has become an essential part of our society’s infrastructure is an important job. There is on the job training to teach you how to install and repair the equipment, but you don’t generally need a degree or a lot of formal education.

5. Writer/Author ($55,420 per year)

I know for a fact that you can make a living as a writer — it’s what I do. While the BLS says that a bachelor’s degree is required, it’s actually not. If you are a good writer, and you can get someone to hire you, there’s no reason for you to get a degree. Technicals writers can earn even more ($63,280 per year), but you do need better specialized training to become a technical writer.

4. Loan Officer ($56,490 per year)

That’s right, even if you don’t have a degree, you can be a loan officer. You will have to go through moderate-term training on the job, and many times it helps if you have worked in the bank and shown yourself capable.

3. Fashion Designer ($64,530 per year)

If you are creative, and have an eye for fashion, you can do this job and get paid reasonably well. These days you are likely to need some computer savvy, since many designers use technology in their jobs. However, you won’t need a degree. You just need to be ready to compete.

2. Web Developer ($75,600 per year)

Can you code? If so, you can become a web developer — even if you don’t have a four-year college degree. Take the time to learn a couple different developer languages, and you could be a relatively highly paid web developer after you have the chance to build up your portfolio.

1. Air Traffic Controller ($108,040 per year)

This job has long topped the list of high paying jobs that don’t require a four-year degree. However, it’s also considered one of the most stressful jobs out there, and you do need long-term training on the job. But if you can handle it, it’s a job that pays well and doesn’t require long schooling.

Photo by Kecko.


By , on Jun 23, 2013
Miranda Marquit Miranda is a professional personal finance journalist. She is a contributor for several personal finance web sites. Her work has been mentioned in and linked to from, USA Today, The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. She also has her own personal finance blog: Planting Money Seeds.


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  1. Pauline:

    One of my relatives with a qualified background wanted to become a building inspector but here that requires a lengthy apprenticeship. Guess what, since it’s a competitive field nobody locally was willing to work with him. It’s the same with real estate appraisers from what I understand. Essentially nobody wants to train their future competition.

  2. I would pick writer, although you can starve for a while. Second, a trade like plumber or electrician, there will always be demand for that as people get less and less able to fix stuff.

  3. Very interesting list. It is important to note that although not required some of these jobs are so competitive that employers want only those with a college degree. My daughter just got a job in the #9 category and all applicants had college degrees. But your points are well taken here and it is encouraging for many that there are some good jobs still out there for those without a degree.

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