The 7 Best-Paying Jobs You Can Get Without a College Degree

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Warehouse workers talk at a desk
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Conventional wisdom says you need a college degree to get a good-paying job. Indeed, merely having one boosts your lifetime earnings by 75%, according to recent research from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

But in reality, there are a number of high-paying occupations that don’t require more than a high school diploma and some on-the-job training. As a bonus, most are jobs you won’t be embarrassed to share when someone asks, “What do you do?”

Following are the highest-paying jobs that require only a high school diploma or the equivalent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) — starting with the lowest-paying of the group and working up to the top spot.

7. Elevator installers and repairers

Elevator inspector
thanatphoto /

Median annual wage: $79,780

The folks who keep us moving smoothly between floors get paid well for their expertise. In addition to elevators, these installers and repairers may also install, maintain and repair escalators, moving walkways and similar systems.

The typical career path for an elevator installer and repairer is to finish high school and then enroll in a four-year apprenticeship program combining some classroom instruction with paid on-the-job training.

If you want to pursue this job, you must be physically able to do the job and pass basic reading, math and mechanics exams. A high tolerance for stress might also help, as this line of work is featured in our article “The 25 Most Stressful Jobs in America: Is Yours on the List?

6. Detectives and criminal investigators

Police woman is reviewing files and documents /

Median annual wage: $81,920

Detectives and criminal investigators may be uniform or plainclothes members of law enforcement agencies. They are responsible for tracking down the facts and evidence in criminal cases. Many of these professionals specialize in a particular type of crime, such as fraud or homicide.

Not just anyone can be a police detective. To start, you’ll need to be at least 21 years old and a U.S. citizen to get the job. Plus, most police forces only want applicants who meet stiff physical and personal standards. While detectives and criminal investigators may complete a police training academy, a college degree isn’t usually required.

Military experience can be a plus, and if you’re too young to apply to join the police force, look into cadet programs, the BLS suggests.

5. Commercial pilots

Commercial pilot
LightField Studios /

Median annual wage: $82,240

All you need is a high school diploma and some flight school training, and you’re ready for a high-flying, high-paying job as a commercial pilot.

These pilots may be hired for crop dusting, aerial tours or charter flights. Some are hired as corporate pilots to fly the private planes of business executives.

However, don’t confuse commercial pilots with airline pilots. While you don’t need a degree to be a commercial pilot, the BLS notes you will probably need a bachelor’s degree if you want to work for an airline and sit in the cockpit of passenger jets.

4. Power plant distributors and dispatchers

Manufacturing workers
Gorodenkoff /

Median annual wage: $83,020

Utilities employ most of the nation’s power plant distributors and dispatchers, according to the BLS. They are systems operators who make sure electricity travels smoothly from generating stations into homes and businesses. When there are transmission problems, these professionals are the ones who make sure things get fixed.

Given the importance of their job, power distributors and dispatchers are well-compensated and earned incomes with a median of $83,020 in 2018.

Rather than a college degree, these workers have extensive on-the-job training. A drawback to pursuing this career, though, is that, unlike other occupations on this list, power distributors and dispatchers can expect to see little to no increase in the number of jobs available in the years to come.

3. First-line supervisors of police and detectives

Man and woman beside computer, working at a police station /

Median annual wage: $89,030

Just as police detectives and criminal investigators don’t need a college degree to land their job, neither do their first-line supervisors. In most forces, the sergeant is the first-line supervisor.

These men and women move up through the ranks after proving themselves as police officers. Departments vary in their promotion procedures. Some use only written examinations. Others also use oral exams or comprehensive assessments, says the Police Executive Research Forum.

Beware, though: This is another line of work that made our article “The 25 Most Stressful Jobs in America: Is Yours on the List?

2. Nuclear power reactor operators

Nuclear power plant tech
Vladimir Mulder /

Median annual wage: $94,350

If you live near one of the country’s 59 commercially operating nuclear power plants, you might think about this well-paying job.

Nuclear power reactor operators monitor the reactors, adjust controls and record data. It’s a sensitive job, but one you can master with a high school diploma and extensive on-the-job training.

Operators are licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and typically take a technical training program to prepare for the NRC’s license exam. Nuclear power reactor operators never stop learning, receiving frequent onsite training.

1. Transportation, storage and distribution managers

Wholesale, logistic, business, export and people concept - Man warehouse worker checking goods at warehouse
iJeab /

Median annual wage: $94,730

You can earn nearly six figures with your high school diploma in a career as a transportation, storage and distribution manager.

This occupation is all about getting goods to where they need to be. Jobs typically are found in the transportation and warehousing industry.

Transportation, storage and distribution managers and logistics managers coordinate, plan and direct activities involving transportation, storage and distribution of products while following certain policies and government regulations or laws. For example, workers in this field may be responsible for selecting shipment schedules and routes as well as storage facility locations.

Jobs are expected to grow at an average rate, about 7%, between 2012 and 2022. You’ll need five years of work in a related field to enter this occupation.

Do you know of other high-paying jobs requiring a high school diploma only? Share your thoughts and experience in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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