Is College Overrated? The Top 25 Highest Paying Jobs with NO College Degree

Joseph Meyer
Written by
Last update:

Table of Contents

Find Jobs in Your Area

25 Highest Paying Jobs Without A College Degree

Becoming fluent in a language and mastering the act of algebra is hard work, and it’s no surprise that 9 out of 10 American adults have a college degree. In fact, for the past few decades, it’s become a common misconception that a college degree is a necessity for employment in today’s modern workforce. But is that really the case?

Few decades ago, skilled trades were highly sought after given that, due to its lengthy training, costs, and the high competition, only a few were able to pursue it. These days, however, other viable options for income abound. Plenty of lucrative jobs can be found that don’t require a college degree. In fact, some of the highest paying jobs – that even exceed the picture of what college graduates earn – actually require no degree at all.

So, what’s a person to do if they’re not getting into grad school? Here, I’ve highlighted 25 of the highest paying jobs without a college degree. I’ve also included promotions that pay above the median wage for people with a given job title.

All statistics were compiled in October 2015 by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. All figures were converted to 2016 dollars using inflation data.

Margin Department Supervisor

Air Traffic Controller (ATC)

Air traffic controllers work in airports and towers to help aircrafts have smooth landings and take off. We can’t land planes without them! For this job, you need at least 6 months of on-the-job training. You don’t need a Bachelors, just a high school diploma.

Automobile Service Station Manager

Real Estate Broker

Landscape Architect

Lead Carpenter

A lead carpenter is responsible for supervising the overall construction of a building. This job requires extensive hands-on knowledge that often comes from several years of work experience. The work is demanding, so lead carpenters require a great deal of energy and stamina.


  • Ability to read blueprints
  • Ability to perform highly manual labor
  • Ability to supervise and manage workers
  • Knowledge of building materials
  • At least 5 years of construction experience

Director of Security

Elevator Mechanic

Elevator mechanic, surprisingly, is the no. 1 highest paying job for those who do not have a bachelor’s degree. Imagine what you can do with your job. You get in control of the elevator and can send people to a different floor to reach the destination. This job requires you to be strong enough to work through the technicalities of the machine, deal with machinery as well as work as a team with other mechanics. The wages will vary depending on the level of expertise required in the role, if you are working in the government or private sector, and the type of your company that you are working for.

Cable Supervisor

This one is tops on the list for most surprising! If you were asked to describe a cable supervisor, you wouldn’t think of a “manager” position, would you? As a cable supervisor, you’d be more of a glorified cable installer at a broadcast station. You would potentially be the person who is in charge of making sure all the cables are plugged into the right places. When things ran, you would be responsible for keeping track of the cables and making sure nothing got crossed up. It’s a bit surprising that a job like that would make the list of highest-paying jobs without a college degree.

Flight Service Manager

From flight coordinators to air traffic managers, a flight service manager manages the training of flight personnel within a company: This may also include the design of training manuals and acting as a liaison between the flight personnel and customers. An individual in this position also manages the budget set aside for training materials. In many cases, this involves the scheduling of pilots, crew and other aircraft operations.

Freelance Photographer

Once upon a time, even newspapers hired their own photographers. Now, news media often licenses stock photography, and freelance photographers are in high demand. If your college major was anything except art, you don’t have to finish your education and get a degree to be in high demand.

Personal Trainer

Funeral Director

Commercial Pilot

Much like a pilot in the airline industry, a commercial pilot takes passengers on a trip in the skies. This role requires a commercial pilot license, which requires extensive training and a background in aviation to obtain, but the path is relatively short. Commercial pilots have to acquire 100 to 200 hours of flight time in helicopters or airplanes, depending on whether they want to fly helicopters or airplanes; they also need to have accumulated a total of 100 hours as a pilot in command, which is the time from when they first took off by themselves as a pilot on their own time until they received an endorsement on their pilot’s certificate. The amount of time they take to train depends on how quickly they are able to achieve their flight time goals.

Truck Driving

16. Nuclear Power Reactor Operator

Fire Fighting

The truth is that college can be very expensive and financing your education while you’re attending can be very burdensome. There’s also the fact that you’re paying for a lot of dead weight, since a lot of what you’ll learn won’t be directly applicable to your career.

That being said, there are some jobs that require specialized training and knowledge, so in those cases, a college degree is a prerequisite. For example, you aren’t eligible to become a lawyer, a doctor, or a psychologist without a degree. But if you want to be in sales? You’re perfectly able to do so without a college degree.

When deciding whether or not it’s worth it to pursue higher education, you really need to consider what you’re going to study and how that training will help you in your chosen field. This list might be an eye-opener, though.

Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)

Railroad Jobs

Many members of the working and middle classes today feel like they’re stuck in a job that’s not really going anywhere. A lot of the jobs that were the most respected and most sought after have been automated (think manufacturing), outsourced (think call centers), or replaced by sophisticated machines (think driving trucks).

Are you one of those people who’s resigned themselves to a future of wage slavery for the rest of your life? Still feel like you’re not really sure what your legacy will be when you’re through? Maybe you’ve given up on ever waking up and looking forward to another day at work.

If you’re ready to get off the treadmill of life and move somewhere unknown, here’s your charter: the top 25 highest paying jobs with no college degree. This list is based on information provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, collected from various sources across the Internet, along with our own research. All of these jobs come with more than a comfortable salary and low stress levels. Only a few of them require a formal education, and none of them require an advanced degree. You could try to make your way into the corner office, or you could skip years of student loans and finish up with a paycheck instead.

Medical Coder

Information Technology (IT) Technician

Criminal Investigator

Brick Mason

Postal Service Worker

We all use this service at least once a month. This is the one career on the list that has a union, and the benefits are amazing. I have three friends who work for the postal service and they’re all practically retired at 40!

There are two major benefits to working for the U.S. Postal Service. The first is that they have an awesome pension. Second, and the most important one for teenagers, you can retire early. The average age of retirement is 55 years old. But it’s not all glory.

U.S. Postal Workers deal with the public, and dealing with the public during the holidays is a nightmare. They will have to work weekends and the safety of everyone involved is constantly in jeopardy. The job has its perks. The stress levels are probably low, but during the holidays they’re high.

Pharmacy Technician

Is Attending College Overrated?

Entering the job market straight out of high school can be scary. After all, the last four years of your life have been spent in the comfort of the same campus, growing to perfectly know the environment around you. Whether you’ve gone to a traditional high school or graduated early from a Google-run one, you are more than likely to feel a bit nervous about entering the job market with absolutely no experience under your belt.

Unfortunately, most people are taught the only way to compete in the professional world is to go to college. However, according to a recent study, over 80 percent of the highest paying jobs in America do not require a college degree. While college is definitely an excellent way to make a decent living, it’s simply not the only way to do it. Many people may fret about their prospects during their early years after high school, but the real world has come to match those feelings.

About the Author

Ryan Craig is the 2-Time Award Winning Co-Founder of CollegeAnswer, a nationally ranked and recognized Education Company in the US. In 2009, Ryan attended the prestigious Manhattan School of Science where he graduated Magna Cum Laude and received the award for Rising Star.

You Might Also Enjoy