College isn't for everyone, and not everyone can afford it, even with financial aid. For those high school graduates who decide not to attend college, there are many jobs in a wide variety of fields that don't require a degree. These are different from entry-level positions in white-collar industries that often call for a college degree and internship experience.
Jobs that you don't need a degree to do aren't limited to working in retail or fast-food restaurants. For example, medical and wellness, recreation and fitness, and maintenance and repair, and even finance, are all industries where a college degree isn't necessarily needed to make a good living.
Below are 10 jobs (in no particular order) that don't require a degree and could be some of the best opportunities around for high school graduates willing to be trained on the job. The statistics listed here are based on the most recent occupational data (2019) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- It is possible to have a successful career without a college degree.
- There is substantial job growth in the fields of medicine, maintenance and repair, and travel and leisure.
- Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses can find work in a variety of settings from private homes to urgent care centers.
- Launching a career in a field with jobs that don't require a college degree takes hard work, but there is plenty of opportunities.
1. Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurse
If you enjoy caring for others, but medical school seems too ambitious, a career as a licensed practical and licensed vocational nurse could be a good option. Either nurse, either licensed practical nurses or licensed vocational nurses. You will need to obtain a postsecondary diploma or certificate to earn your license.
The median annual wage is $47,480, and there are opportunities to work in various settings, from hospitals to nursing homes, and most jobs provide full-time work and benefits. The employment rates for licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses are projected to grow 9% by 2029, in part because the "Baby Boomer" population continues to age and needs assistance in private home environments or residential care facilities.
The experience you gain as a licensed practical or vocational nurse can also act as a springboard if you decide to go to college for a nursing or physician assistant's degree in the future.
2. Dental and Ophthalmic Medical Technician
Many medical technicians are needed in the medical industry that doesn't require an advanced degree, and among them are ophthalmic and dental medical technicians. Depending on your interest, you could find yourself working with an eye doctor or dentist or working in a laboratory. The median annual pay for both tech positions is $37,370, and this job is projected to grow 9% by 2029.
If you are interested in a career in dental services, another option is a dental assistant. The annual median salary is slightly higher at $40,080, and you don't need a college degree. However, some states require you to attend an accredited dental assistant program and pass an exam. Most, however, learn on the job.
3. Flight Attendant
If you love to travel and don't mind living a transient lifestyle or being on your feet for hours at a time, a flight attendant job can provide a steady income and travel perks. Be forewarned. It isn't as glamourous as it sounds. Flight attendants work extremely hard under potentially stressful and challenging conditions, and they put in long hours in the air, but the payoff may be worth it to you.
The annual median wage is $56,640, and you don't need a college degree, although you will need to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. Flight attendants' employment is slated to grow exponentially, 17% by 2029, as the airline industry expands.
4. Bakken Shale Jobs
The North American oil industry is a modern-day gold rush. Halliburton, an oil and gas exploration company, reports that jobs in the North Dakota Bakken Shale pay as much as $130,000 per year after just two years of experience. Truck drivers transporting oil out of North Dakota are reportedly making more than $100,000. According to insiders, there are thousands of well-paying jobs available, with many requiring little or no experience and no more than high school education.
Nearly 40% of graduates do not plan to attend college, according to the most recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Its research found that only 62% of male high school graduates and 69.8 percent of female graduates were enrolled in college or university.
Firefighting is a heroic career that doesn't require a higher-level degree. This potentially dangerous job comes with an annual median salary of over $50,000, plus benefits, and the pay can rise to nearly $95,000 with experience. Firefighters often pull 24-hour shifts, plus are offered extended overtime opportunities.
The title "firefighter" is a catch-all for many jobs in this field, including specialists like wildland firefighters and fire prevention workers. Getting a job as a firefighter is highly competitive, and most firefighters must get certified as emergency medical technicians or paramedics, which means coursework and experience in the field, plus passing certification exams.
If you love working with your hands and power tools, carpentry's age-old trade may be a good fit, and you don't need a college degree to become one. Most carpenters begin their careers as an apprentice and have the ability to become master carpenters with time and experience. Carpenters can work along with design firms and contractors, or on their own. There are many ways to utilize carpentry skills from designing furniture to building houses.
According to the BLS, the annual median wage is $48,330 and up, and the more specialized and in-demand carpenters can bring in close to six figures in major cities.
7. Elevator and Escalator Installers and Repairers
When you step onto an elevator or escalator, how often do you think about its reliability? This is one reason why an elevator repair person or installer has a median wage of $84 990, and the highest 10% of them earned more than $124,150. If you are interested in learning how to repair and maintain elevators, look at jobs working for the federal government, educational services, such as a college or a private school, or directly for a building contractor. These three areas provide the highest median wages for repairpersons.
If you don't go to college, but you can earn a one-or-two-year associate's degree in a field you want to work in, it may improve your salary and job opportunities.
8. Web Developer and Digital Designer
Not all jobs in IT don't always require a high-tech degree. An associate's degree at a two-year community college, or even an online course in web design, coupled with talent and drive, can earn you a solid $73,760 median annual salary as a web developer or digital designer.
This is one industry where talent and hard work pay off and don't necessarily require college experience. However, web development and design are a highly competitive field, and it may be worthwhile to, at the very least, take a few online courses in those subjects to command a higher salary.
9. Paralegal and Legal Assistants
If the field of law interests you but law school doesn't sound appealing, a job as a paralegal or legal assistant is an excellent place to land. Most paralegal jobs require an associate's degree or a certificate in paralegal studies from a program approved by the American Bar Association. And while it is true that many law firms prefer to hire a person with a bachelor's degree, but it is possible to be hired without these credentials if you find the right law firm.
The BLS projects the employment sector for these types of legal positions to grow 10% in the next 10 years, and the median annual salary for paralegals is $51,740, and the top 10% of paralegals earn over $82,500.
10. Pharmacy Technician
A pharmacy technician work alongside licensed pharmacists to dispense prescriptions to customers and health professionals. These jobs are ideal for detail-oriented high school graduates with an interest in the medical field. Most pharmacy techs work in retail chain pharmacies like CVS or RiteAid, and in hospitals, often at prescriptive medicine dispensaries.
As larger pharmacies begin to offer more general patient care like flu shots, Covid testing, and even eye exams, the demand for experienced pharmacy technicians is rising and projected to grow 4% in less than 10 years. If you are interested in becoming a pharmacy technician, you can expect to earn a median annual salary of nearly $34,000 and up.
The Bottom Line
One trait that every successful person must have that formal education can't teach is an extraordinary work ethic. A comfortable and prosperous salary may follow for people who are willing to work harder than others within their chosen field. The list is only a handful of well-paying jobs available for people who decide not to pursue college.
There are many opportunities in related fields where a desire to gain experience on the job can offer a living wage and benefits. Education is essential, but these jobs prove big financial rewards for those willing to work hard outside a classroom. They often offer better salaries and benefits than freelance gigs.