40 Highest Paying Jobs You Can Get Without A College Degree

Data consistently shows that people with college degrees tend to earn more than people without them. The Social Security Administration estimates that men with bachelor’s degrees earn $900,000 more in median lifetime earnings than high school graduates. Women earn $630,000 more. The gap grows to more than $1 million for both men and women who earn graduate degrees.

Most Americans, however, do not obtain college diplomas. The U.S. Census Bureau found in 2021 that only 38% of the population over the age of 25 had bachelor’s or advanced degrees. Among the rest, nearly 28% ended their education with a high school diploma, 15% were college dropouts, 11% had associates degrees, and 9% did not finish high school. (Also see, the 25 worst jobs in America.)

For those without a college degree, there are often few opportunities for economic and occupational advancement, but there are some job categories that pay much more than the average for the level of education.

To determine the 40 highest paying jobs you can get without a college degree, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on wage and typical education entry requirements from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupations that typically do not require a college degree were ranked based on average annual wage as of 2022. Data on average annual wage and total employment are from the BLS May 2022 Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics program. Data on typical entry education requirements as of 2021, educational attainment for workers 25 and over for the years 2018 and 2019, and projected employment change from 2021 to 2031 came from the BLS Employment Projections program.

Some of the jobs on the list, such as fashion modeling and athletics, require unique skills and attributes the typical American of any educational background may not possess. Other occupations that do not require a college degree but are among the highest paying would require some technical education, apprenticeship, and/or licensing, such as commercial diving, sound engineering, or safety inspecting.

The most common jobs for people without college degrees are the 2.2 million wholesale manufacturing sales representatives and services sales representatives, positions that pay an average annual income of about $77,000 at full time. 

There are also nearly 1.3 million jobs as first-line supervisors in construction, energy and mining, and manufacturing, which offer similar average pay to sales reps. The average annual pay for these 40 occupations ranges from $73,380 for claims adjusters to $123,250 for commercial pilots — excluding professional athletes who earn an average of $358,000 annually.

More than half of the workers in 23 of these 40 jobs are people who did not complete college, led by construction supervisors, commercial divers, and signal and track switch repairers. More than three out of four ship and locomotive engineers, power-line installers, and gas and chemical plant operators do not have college degrees.  

However, demand for a dozen of these jobs is projected to fall in the coming years, led by power plant operators. Other jobs where demand is shrinking include ranching, private investigating, and mail superintendents. The most future-proofed of these occupations include gambling managers and lighting technicians, whose projected employment change from 2021 to 2031 is 13% and 15%, respectively. (Here are the industries laying off the most workers.)

Here are the highest-paying jobs you can get without a college degree. 

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