13 High-Paying Jobs That Don't Require a College Degree

Discover careers that prize on-the-job experience over formal education.

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Updated May 28, 2024
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For generations, Americans have viewed a four-year college degree as the ticket to a high-paying job. However, a bachelor’s degree is not always necessary to earn good money.

In fact, you can get a job that will help you move beyond living paycheck to paycheck without needing to spend four years or more earning a bachelor’s degree.

Following are 13 career paths that pay well even if you don’t spend those expensive years in college. These jobs let you hit the ground running — and earning — pretty quickly after high school.

Editor's note: All salary figures come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Commercial pilot

Viacheslav Yakobchuk/Adobe pilot and female first officer seated in the flight deck

Not to be confused with airline pilots, commercial pilots carry cargo, perform aerial chemical applications, fly helicopter or small aircraft tours, or serve as corporate pilots for executives and other dignitaries.

With a median salary of $113,080, commercial pilots don’t make as much as the $219,140 that airline pilots earn. But unlike airline pilots, commercial pilots don't necessarily need a bachelor’s degree. It's still enough to help you get ahead financially.

Commercial pilots must undergo flight training, complete their flight hours, and meet Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements.

Transportation, storage, and distribution manager

drazen/Adobe warehouse workers talk to their manager while walking

Transportation, storage, and distribution managers oversee the logistical operations of transporting, storing, and distributing goods.

These managers ensure companies' compliance with government regulations, coordinate among internal departments, and keep operations running smoothly.

A degree is helpful for this career, but a few years of industry experience can sometimes substitute for education. The mean annual salary for these managers is $111,870.

Elevator or escalator installer and repairer

Kirill Gorlov/Adobe specialist adjusting lift mechanism in elevator shaft

Elevator and escalator installers/repairers need to be comfortable working in tight spaces, such as elevator shafts. So, this job isn’t for the claustrophobic. But it does pay well.

The mean annual wage is $100,060, and it only requires a high school diploma and an apprenticeship. Apprenticeships are typically paid and they last about four years. In most states, an installer and repairer must be licensed.

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Postmaster or mail superintendent

Gorodenkoff/Adobe happy customer support manager using laptop

Postmasters and mail superintendents supervise postal workers and ensure that all the mail that comes through the post office gets delivered in a timely manner. 

They handle administrative tasks and oversee the basic functions of the post office, including coordinating delivery services.

The mean annual salary for postmasters and mail superintendents is $89,770.

Transportation inspector

APchanel/Adobe engineer under inspection and checking construction

Transportation inspectors check vehicles for problems, safety violations, and emissions issues and ensure they are prepared and safe to transport cargo. They might also inspect goods.

Inspectors use visual checks and diagnostic equipment to detect mechanical and other problems. Much of the training occurs on the job, and you may be required to become certified.

The mean annual wage for transportation inspectors is $83,920.

Lighting technician

nagaets/Adobe lighting engineer adjusts the lights on stage behind the scenes

Many shows or performances you see on a stage have a lighting technician behind them. These professionals design, set up, adjust, and take down all the lighting equipment for shows, lectures, church performances, and more.

Lighting technicians don’t need a four-year degree, but they do receive some training. The mean annual wage for this job is $73,250.

Subway and streetcar operator

Mulderphoto/Adobe female tram driver on workplace

Subway and streetcar operators safely operate trains or streetcars, greet passengers, and sometimes take fares.

To become a subway or streetcar operator, you typically need a high school diploma or GED. The mean annual wage for subway and streetcar operators is $77,370.

Line installer and repairer

Prapat/Adobe technician on wooden ladder is installing fiber optic system

Line installers and repairers work on fiber optic cables for telecommunications systems or work with electrical power systems. Apprenticeships are a common way to enter this field.

Although many workers in this field deal with high-voltage power lines, heavy equipment, and working from great heights, the pay is good. The mean annual salary is $85,900 per year.

Power plant operator, distributor, or dispatcher

Gorodenkoff/Adobe project engineer talks to female operator

Power plant operators control the equipment responsible for generating electricity. They monitor various indicators to make sure the plant is operating safely and that electricity is flowing efficiently to homes and other buildings.

While this profession doesn’t require a degree, years of on-the-job training are necessary before you’ll be ready to run a power plant.

The mean annual salary in this field is $91,880.

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Petroleum pump system operator

anatoliy_gleb/Adobe  engineer in work vest and helmet working on petroleum pump jack

Petroleum pump system operators monitor and control the manifold and pumping systems. They also may test oil.

The compensation is good, as petroleum pump operators make a mean annual salary of $88,120.

Gambling manager

cascoly2/Adobe slot machines of the casino

Gaming managers work at casinos or on cruise ships, ensuring that operations in their establishment run smoothly.

While a degree in business or hospitality is helpful for a career as a gaming manager, it is not always required. Gaming managers earn a mean annual salary of $98,270.

Construction/building inspector

itchaznong/Adobe architect team working with blueprints for architectural plan

Construction and building inspectors verify that building projects or repairs comply with city codes. The goal is to keep people safe.

While licensure requirements vary by state and city, some building inspectors need continuing education to maintain relevant knowledge in their field.

The mean annual salary for this job is $72,880.

Commercial diver

Giovanna/Adobe divers diving among white hermatypic marine coral reefs

Commercial divers help with underwater maintenance of equipment or structures. This might include installing or removing things or simply inspecting them.

Divers also conduct underwater experiments, photographing marine life, inspect structures such as bridges, or even rig submarine explosives.

Scuba diving is a fun hobby for some, but those who do it for a career are handsomely compensated — to the tune of $75,570 per year.

Bottom line

4 You/Adobe man using tablet relaxing on couch sofa

Many high-paying jobs require a college degree, but that’s not true for all lucrative career paths. With the rising cost of university tuition, it’s worth looking into some of these careers that offer plenty of earnings.

Choosing one of these career paths can boost your bank account by allowing you to skip expensive college courses. You will also get a head start on working while others are still racking up tuition costs for several years.

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Author Details

Jenni Sisson

Jenni Sisson is a freelance writer and editor who focuses on personal finance, real estate, and entrepreneurship. She has been published in Business Insider and The Ways to Wealth. In addition to writing, Jenni hosts the Mama's Money Map podcast to help fellow stay-at-home moms on their journey to financial freedom.