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20 Great Jobs Without a College Degree

20 Great Jobs Without a College Degree By

This is our report for 2012. For the 2013 Best Jobs Without A College Degree report, click here.

As millions of college graduates prepare to walk across the stage to receive their diplomas and join the workforce, they face an economy with high unemployment rates, increasing competition for jobs and mounting debt from their college expenses.

Compare that to currently working employees who didn’t attend college but have spent the past four years making money and honing their workplace skills while amassing little to no debt. Not going to college certainly doesn’t jive with what our parents and teachers drummed into us growing up. But it begs the question: does it really pay to go to college? Is it worth earning a minimum of a four-year college degree, at least financially speaking?

There’s no simple answer. In fact, there’s much more to consider before taking the position that college no longer is worth the investment.

Let’s Look At The Numbers

The annual cost for undergraduate tuition, room and board is estimated to be $12,804 at public institutions and $32,184 at private institutions for the 2010 academic year, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. That means that even a modest education—a bachelor’s degree from a public university or college—will cost at least $50,000. That expense can quadruple if you attend a top-level private university. Add to this the “opportunity cost,” meaning what you could earn over four years of working at a job instead of studying full-time, and you’re talking real money! So how long, if it all, does it take new graduates to recoup all those college costs?

Assuming you have no degree but are willing to do some advanced training, such as attending a technical school, you could earn around $30,000 a year as a beginner, if you are sharp. That means that over four years, you’d earn about $120,000, while your counterpart who’s in college earns little or nothing, and may even carry the same amount in debt by graduation.

In fact, the average debt for student loans is about $25,000, according to the Institute for College Access & Success' Project on Student Debt. Debts of $100,000 or more isn’t unheard of either, especially for those going to prestigious schools or those earning advanced degrees.

The table below compares the incomes of the top jobs in the Jobs Rated report, based on educational attainment required to get hired.

No College Degree vs. Jobs Requiring 4-Year Degree or Higher

No College Required$28,350$47,200$79,150
4-year degree or higher$51,250$85,300$130,600

When it comes to the facts and figures, however, an advanced degree really does pay off even though grads will carry some debt into their new careers. The math is all there. In fact, the average American worker with a four-year degree will earn over one million dollars more than their non-degreed counterparts during their career.

That is, except for those college grads that opt for short careers (i.e., stay-at-home parents who begin families just a few years after graduation) where a degree doesn’t pay. It takes several years in the workforce, armed with a college degree, to make it worthwhile. And when it does pay off, it’s worth the effort.

Unless you’re Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs, the only way it doesn’t pay to have a four-year degree is to have a career in one of the following highest paying jobs available for non-college grads:


  • 1. Dental Hygienist

    Income Average: $68,000
    Income Growth: 109%
    Employment Growth: 37.70%
    Overall Rank: 4
    1 of 20
  • 2. Online Advertising Manager

    Income Average: $87,000
    Income Growth: 255%
    Employment Growth: 25.00%
    Overall Rank: 8
    2 of 20
  • 3. Web Developer

    Income Average: $76,000
    Income Growth: 179%
    Employment Growth: 21.70%
    Overall Rank: 15
    3 of 20
  • 4. Medical Secretary

    Income Average: $31,000
    Income Growth: 114%
    Employment Growth: 41.30%
    Overall Rank: 39
    4 of 20
  • 5. Paralegal Assistant

    Income Average: $47,000
    Income Growth: 159%
    Employment Growth: 18.30%
    Overall Rank: 49
    5 of 20
  • 6. Stenographer-Court Reporter

    Income Average: $48,000
    Income Growth: 250%
    Employment Growth: 14.10%
    Overall Rank: 52
    6 of 20
  • 7. Heating and Refrigeration Mechanic

    Income Average: $43,000
    Income Growth: 158%
    Employment Growth: 33.70%
    Overall Rank: 63
    7 of 20
  • 8. Surveyor

    Income Average: $55,000
    Income Growth: 190%
    Employment Growth: 25.40%
    Overall Rank: 65
    8 of 20
  • 9. Executive Assistant

    Income Average: $44,000
    Income Growth: 131%
    Employment Growth: 12.60%
    Overall Rank: 67
    9 of 20
  • 10. Insurance Agent

    Income Average: $47,000
    Income Growth: 342%
    Employment Growth: 21.90%
    Overall Rank: 68
    10 of 20
  • 11. Industrial Machine Repairer

    Income Average: $45,000
    Income Growth: 127%
    Employment Growth: 21.60%
    Overall Rank: 69
    11 of 20
  • 12. Cosmetologist

    Income Average: $23,000
    Income Growth: 163%
    Employment Growth: 15.70%
    Overall Rank: 100
    12 of 20
  • 13. Hair Stylist

    Income Average: $23,000
    Income Growth: 163%
    Employment Growth: 15.70%
    Overall Rank: 105
    13 of 20
  • 14. Tax Examiner - Collector

    Income Average: $49,000
    Income Growth: 207%
    Employment Growth: 7.30%
    Overall Rank: 106
    14 of 20
  • 15. Wholesales Sales Representative

    Income Average: $52,000
    Income Growth: 304%
    Employment Growth: 15.60%
    Overall Rank: 106
    15 of 20
  • 16. Construction Machine Operator

    Income Average: $40,000
    Income Growth: 173%
    Employment Growth: 23.50%
    Overall Rank: 108
    16 of 20
  • 17. Electrical Technician

    Income Average: $56,000
    Income Growth: 138%
    Employment Growth: 1.90%
    Overall Rank: 109
    17 of 20
  • 18. Architectural Drafter

    Income Average: $46,000
    Income Growth: 140%
    Employment Growth: 3.20%
    Overall Rank: 110
    18 of 20
  • 19. Teacher's Aide

    Income Average: $23,000
    Income Growth: 112%
    Employment Growth: 14.80%
    Overall Rank: 112
    19 of 20
  • 20. Sewage Plant Operator

    Income Average: $41,000
    Income Growth: 156%
    Employment Growth: 11.60%
    Overall Rank: 114
    20 of 20

The third row of data under each job refers to the following: “Income Growth” pertains to the percentage of increase from beginning earnings to top level; “Employment Growth” refers to the projected increase in number of jobs through 2020 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; “Overall Rank” refers to the rank of each job in the Overall Ranking of all 200 jobs in the Jobs Rated report for 2012.

Looking at the numbers, even most of the top-20 jobs above earn far less income than the average job requiring a four-year degree.

If you are seriously considering opting out of college, but still want to earn a lot of money, there are three professions that at least approach what a college a grad can earn: Dental HygienistOnline Advertising Manager and Web Developer. Of course, even these professions require either a lot of preparation or some special knowledge to make it to the upper echelon of the pay scale.

If getting your college diploma is not in your future or even an option for you, don’t worry. There are still plenty of decent jobs where you can still earn a good living.

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what courses can i take


i hate going to school but you "need" to i don`t think you should because you can get plenty of jobs without a degree like a dental hygenist they get paid a lot and i looked up more jobs and some of them pay way more then a job that requires a college degree.


I dropped out of highschool and started at a cabinet shop with no experience. I worked hard and caught on quickly, now I make over $50 000 a year and train college graduates. A company of about 200, many of whom did go to college with big dreams, yet I make more than most of them. My father taught me to work hard, be diligent and not complain, any boss will recognize those traits. Good luck to you all.

For those with degrees under

For those with degrees under the age of 29 look at military service as an officer. Or look enlisted to pay off student loans. I'm 42 just retired out of the Army after 22 years and walked into a job making 70K. I don't have a degree but have the experience employers are looking for. You control your future, make yourself more marketable.

I need a new job!

I'm 49 years old, and I need to get out of this place! I have been here for 11 years. I make about $50,000/yr, but that is before taxes, and before the $400.00 PER MONTH I pay for insurance...which means I end up with about $500.00/wk. Sound like a lot? Trust me, it isn't. Not when you realize that I have a $4000.00 deductible to fulfill for insurance, and LOTS of medical bills. Not when you realize I pay my rent, gas heat, electric, car payments, car insurance, gas for car, cable/internet/phone, clothing, food, and anything else I need out of that. I don't have a degree, but I am only shy by TWO classes...had to quit school to be able to live, but was never able to afford to finish. At my age, nobody else will hire me, because face it, I'm too old for them to want to invest time and training. It's illegal, but yeah, so what...prove it. They'll deny that's the reason even when there is no other logical reason. The place I work with gets more stingy every year, and I work with a population of people that becomes more and more difficult to work with as I age...can't be restraining 250 lb aggressive autistic men at my age. I have given up my health, sanity, and happiness for this place for 11 years, but it's getting to the point where I can't afford to work here, but I'm too old to go anywhere else. I'm serious, I can't even afford to go ONE WEEK without a paycheck, and don't dare quit without another place to go. I've applied for 75 other positions, but all I hear is "No experience" (if I apply for something in a new field) or "No degree", even though I have doing my job all this time. I need to make similar or better money, so I WON'T be flipping burgers, but if I have to stay here much longer, I may have to just kill myself so I won't have to pay any more bills. Those are my choices. 

What about truck driver. I

What about truck driver. I make 68,000 a year. If you have a good driving record, you can drive for Walmart and make 80,000.

Truck Driver

I cant believe this is not listed, all you need is the lisences and that takes less than 3 months. Reguardless of the company you work for they make at least 15 dollars and hour but you have to be extremely carefull an accident can get you blacklisted! I am not confortable driving a car due to unforseen problems that arrise a person has  no control over so I take to bus to my warehouse job everyday for minimum wage.

New parents that need a job

Are there any other good jobs with out college so we can support our little one better. I have a job, but my husband needs one badly. Please let us know if you know of one in Kansas.

UPS driver make up to $36 an

UPS driver make up to $36 an hour in 4 years. With a 6000 pensiod a month aftwr 25 years

A corrections officer at the

A corrections officer at the state level in a prison is a great pay/benefit job. Not sure what state you reside but most only require H.S. diploma and no criminal history. 

urgent job needed

I am an international student who haven't even started her degree, still going through IELI at UNT. I badly need a job and really don't have any experience. What kind of job can i do and how do i go about it?

You can work in retail, like

You can work in retail, like at a major department store.. Or at a restaurant as a waitress/waiter. 

show me nuns 

show me nuns 

Yeah Right

A college grad making 51,000 right out of college, we all wish. These jobs barely want to pay you, and many wouldnt think twice about hiring you. You need experience to get a job, but I can't get a job because I do not have any experience. Straight out of college I started working for AT&T and even with my B.A i was paid the least out of all my employees. The funny thing is they tell you go to school, but many of the people I know are finding job placement hard. My friend works at TD bank and she has a B.S in accounting 12 an hour. Another person I know works for a daycare making 13 an hour with her B.A in education.  My old rommate a B.S in Psychologyand she works for L.A fitness making 11 an hour. We dont vaule education anymore, and job are slapping us in the face with these lowball numbers. It suckens me that after 4 years of college double majoring doing internships extra curricular activies building my resume and i still cant find a job.

your right

I have a masters degree in Education.  I cannot find a job.  For every 1 opening, you have 400 or so applications.  Therefore, if you don't know someone personally, forget it.  I refuse to work for 10/hr.  I am becoming so discouraged.  I feel your pain!  College seems like a scam.  Those jobs "requiring" a degree that average out that salary are Md's, and attorneys.  Don't be fooled!

Come to Louisiana...we need

Come to Louisiana...we need teachers here like you wouldn't believe :( 

without work as well

I have a masters in educatin as well and cannot find work either. Got burned out teaching special education and have been looking ofr the last two years. Competing with too mnay other people. I applied for  one job they wrote I didn't get, but told me they had to wade through over 350 applications. But hey . . . the economy is great according to the disembodied in washington.


Im 33 and live in DE. I am not typing this correct and just want to make that apparent before someone does for me.I got myself clean from perscription meds and am starting my life over, which i am very blessed to be doing cause there were alot of close calls. However, during my journey i picked up several criminal charges, including a drug felony and many mis.I did graduate from high school and attended some college but didnt finish. I am really just looking for any suggestions for a job that can include some school, where i can help people. The main issue is my record. Thank you for any help, very confused.



Still think you'll end up

Still think you'll end up being better off with it. I've never set foot in a classroom after high school. I worked my way up from the bottom to upper management in a lot of different companies. From restaurants to pharmaceutical companies, but here I am again starting off at 12$ an hour. Been laid off due to closures at 3 major distribution centers in the last 7 years. Now I'm 37 back at the bottom. Tired of it. With a degree atleast I could apply for some of the jobs I know my workplace experience qualifies me for. But if it says a degree is required... They usually mean it. Good luck. 

Going back

I'm 28 and now deciding to pursue a bachelors degree bc I'm in the same position as you.  Even with all the experience, alot of jobs require a degree *rolls eyes* and without it you'd have to bust your ass to make a respectable income.


HI IM SMITHA AM LOOKING FOR JOB ,what to be done if im in need of job after i got my kids i quit going now i want to go am realy not finding any way


how do i get job whne they are all bad?? :((((((-concerned child 

Under water Welding

you don't have to go to college to be a underwater welder you have to be a good welder and know about certain things. You can make about $300,000 after about 5 years. Before you are a well paid underwater welder you have to go to welding school for about 3 years and be a apprentice. Then plus 1 year for underwater swimming/ equipment use underwater. 

Because this job is very easy

Because this job is very easy to kill yourself doing and causes cancer/ exposes you to major radiation under water you cannot do it anywhere for very long because its so detrimental to your health your very well compensated for  slowly killing yourself  

You need school hours to be

You need school hours to be any kind of certified trade dummy.  



Technical school and college are very different...

.... to learn something you need some sort of training.

Career change

I am 43 yrs old and have worked in sales in the oil and gas industry for 18 yrs.  Just got laid off for the 2nd tim in 8 months.  Want a new career, any suggestions?

new careers

You should look for jobs in the medical marijuana profession. Its a legal trade now, and there are plenty of jobs online looking for sales and marketing reps, could be good for you...

Dental hygenist

Last I knew you needed to go to school to become a dental hygenist...



You need a 11 month Diploma.

You need a 11 month Diploma. Not a college degree....

No, you have to have a

No, you have to have a minimum 2 years in dental hygiene program, and one year pre-requisites. It's a 3 year associates degree. How people are saying it doesn't require an education are highly misinformed. An 11 month program for a dental assistant maybe, but not dental hygienist. A dental hygienist license also requires passing national and state exams, passing clinical exam, and continuing education every year. Definitely schooling involved with dental hygiene career! 

Getting a degree isn't the

Getting a degree isn't the hard part, it's working for a ethical dentist that follows rules 

Do your research!

You need an associate degree which includes prerequisites and 2 years of a dental hygienist so youre looking at about 3 years if schooling. 

THANK you. What is this list

THANK you. What is this list really about? 

well suck

average starting pay witha 4 year degree is 51,000? and that was 3 or so years ago.  dang.  i'm underpaid then.  i have a 4 year degree and i don't even make 30. and i've been in the job for 5 years.

Damn im making almost $30/hr

Damn im making almost $30/hr without a highschool diploma working an easy stressless labour job, this the kind of stuff that makes me not want to go to college

Where at?

Where at?

What do you do exactly?

What do you do exactly?

20 Great Jobs Without a College Degree |

Before taking out student loans of any kind, you should judge your ability to repay your debt after graduation. 


im look for a good paying job 

Advertising Manager

I am thinking of getting in advertising but there is no formal degree to learn about it. 

i'm just looking for a job to

i'm just looking for a job to do for fun

The best job is truck

The best job is truck diriving starters get $20 an hour pros get up to $40 an hour

truck drivers

how many hours do the truck drivers work for?

Lost, Very lost...

I am almost in my 30's and am very uneducated and completely lost in life. I don't know what motivates me anymore, I don't know what I am passionate about anymore, I don't know where I belong anymore. All I know is I don't want to live small paycheck to paycheck with shut offs every month and the feeling that I play no vital part in this world.

Go to a union hall and ask

Go to a union hall and ask about work then get into the apprenticeship program they offer its good pay and benefits 

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