17 Great Jobs That Don’t Require a 4-Year College Degree

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At an early age, I was taught to study as hard as I could in school so I could get into college, land a high-paying job and retire with a hefty sum in savings.

This sounded fine and dandy, but I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen to those who headed straight to the working world after high school?

Many have made the decision to do that, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 18.7 percent of Americans hold a bachelor’s degree, while 29.5 percent didn’t continue their education beyond high school. Some drop out of college, perhaps thinking they’ll be the next Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg.

And you know what? Not all great-paying jobs require a four-year college degree.

In the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson identifies some of those jobs. Take a look and then continue reading about more possibilities.

The average starting salary for new college graduates last year was $44,928, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The average student loan debt is about $26,000.

The good news is that you can earn comparable pay in some jobs if you head into the workforce straight out of high school or complete an associate degree. 

Here are 17 jobs that don’t require a four-year degree and pay a nice salary or wage, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Note: Some of these jobs require lengthy on-the-job training and apprenticeships. Search the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook for details.

1. Dental hygienist

Median income: $70,210 annually ($33.75 hourly).

Income range (lowest to highest 10 percent): about $46,540 to about $96,280.

Job growth outlook through 2022: 33 percent.

Required level of education: associate degree.

2. Registered nurse

Median income: $65,470 annually ($31.48 hourly).

Income range: $45,040 to $94,720.

Job growth outlook: 19 percent.

Required level of education: associate degree.

3. Web developer

Median income: $62,500 annually ($30.05 hourly).

Income range: $33,550 to $105,200.

Job growth outlook: 20 percent.

Required level of education: associate degree.

4. Heating, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and installers

Median income: $43,640 annually ($20.98 hourly).

Income range: $27,330 to $68,990.

Job growth outlook: 21 percent.

Required level of education: postsecondary non-degree award.

5. Construction manager

Median income: $82,790 annually ($39.80 hourly).

Income range: $49,680 to $144,520.

Job growth outlook: 16 percent.

Required level of education: high school diploma or higher.

6. Industrial machinery mechanic

Median income: $45,840 annually ($22.04 hourly).

Income range: $29,020 to $69,990.

Job growth outlook: 17 percent.

Required level of education: high school diploma or equivalent.

7. Electrician

Median income: $49,840 ($23.96 hourly).

Income range: $30,420 to $82,930.

Job growth outlook: 20 percent.

Required level of education: high school diploma or equivalent.

8. Brick mason

Median income: $44,950 annually ($21.61 hourly).

Income range: $28,980 to $77,950.

Job growth outlook: 34 percent.

Required level of education: high school diploma or equivalent.

9. Air traffic controller

Median income: $122,530 annually ($58.91 hourly).

Income range: $64,930 to $171,340.

Job growth outlook: 1 percent.

Required level of education: associate degree.

10. Telecommunications equipment installer

Median income: $54,530 annually ($26.22 hourly).

Income range: $30,840 to $75,040.

Job growth outlook: 4 percent.

Required level of education: postsecondary non-degree award.

11. Paralegal and legal assistant

Median income: $46,990 annually ($22.59 hourly).

Income range: $29,420 to $75,410.

Job growth outlook: 17 percent.

Required level of education: associate degree.

12. Plumber

Median income: $49,140 annually ($23.62 hourly).

Income range: $29,020 to $84,440.

Job growth outlook: 21 percent.

Required level of education: high school diploma or equivalent.

13. Real estate brokers and sales agents

Median income: $41,990 annually ($20.19 hourly).

Income range: $12.32 to $85.07 hourly.

Job growth outlook: 11 percent.

Required level of education: high school diploma or equivalent.

14. Firefighter

Median income: $45,250 annually ($21.75 hourly).

Income range: $22,030 to $79,150.

Job growth outlook: 7 percent.

Required level of education: postsecondary non-degree award.

15. Chef

Median income: $42,840 annually ($20.42 hourly).

Income range: $24,530 to $74,120.

Job growth outlook: 5 percent.

Required level of education: high school diploma or equivalent.

16. Radiation therapist

Median income: $77,560 annually ($37.29 hourly).

Income range: $51,720 to $113,810.

Job growth outlook: 24 percent.

Required level of education: associate degree.

17. Mortician

Median income: $51,600 annually ($24.81 hourly).

Income range: $28,100 to $94,860.

Job growth outlook: 12 percent.

Required level of education: associate degree.

Do you have any additional recommendations? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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Comments & discussion

We welcome your opinions, but let’s keep it civil. Like many businesses, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. In our case, that means those who communicate by name-calling, racism, using words designed to hurt others or generally acting like an uninformed bully. Also, comments that include links to email addresses or commercial websites typically aren't posted. This isn't a place to advertise your business.

  • Jason

    A lineman is another good paying job that doesn’t require college. There are plenty linemen that make more than I do as an engineer but they work for every penny.

  • N_Jessen

    Good stuff, but at least a few of those require certifications or apprenticeships not reflected in “level of education”.

    • Guest

      Something that was noted at the end of the article I guess. That’s what I get for skimming ;-)

  • Tahnya Kristina

    This is a great article. I went to university for four years and graduated with an economics degree. I was making $34,000 a year when I graduated so an average starting salary of almost $45k is great. I thought real estate agents made a lot more money.

  • Pat Ward

    Massage therapists can make good money if they are willing to hustle and work hard, they can make $15 to $20 an hour plus tips ($10 to $20 per client) or if they work for themselves, they can make $50 to $60 an hour for house calls or in a home office, requires a 2 year stint in massage school and licensing in most states.

  • Lisa Hartmann

    And the field of nursing is so glutted now that some areas are having a 47% unemployment rate. As with ANY career choice, research before committing to school and possible student loan debt. Most nursing jobs are requiring BSN as opposed to ADN due to overabundance.

  • Lisa Hartmann

    You can go for licensure with just a 2 yr ADN, but mostly won’t get hired without 4 yr BSN due to glutting of the field currently. I have been a nurse for 12 yrs and know there is no nursing shortage (perhaps some areas where no one wants to work due to living or working conditions). This is a myth. Go to allnurses.com and read many articles on job availability and ADN vs BSN job markets to review the topic. Research before spending time and money for ANY career choice in this economy.

  • Krysta Tulenko

    With the electricians, brick masons, plumbers and other jobs in the building/construction field, in order to make more than 15 bucks an hour being a member of a union is to your advantage. I know unions get a lot of bad press, but they also help make sure that every one of their members is employed, helps them file for unemployment during the down season, that is if the person cannot for some reason go to another part of the country to work. They also help make sure that the benefits packages are not only affordable for the member and his/her family, but to the company as much as they can. I have a cousin who is an electrician, and he will be lucky if he makes more than $15 dollars an hour in the area he lives and works in. So people really do have to do a lot of research into that particular field before going into it.