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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.

Join the Discussion

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I unload my own product down in new york city by dolly out of syracuse, ny and make over 100k a year. Yet i dont see trucking on any of these.

what is your product?

what is your product?

I wanna know too. I'm 18 and

I wanna know too. I'm 18 and I just graduate from high school. Ohh and I'm a female. How do you became a truck driver. Please share. 

My husband is looking for a

My husband is looking for a career change, how do you go about getting into this career?

My boyfriend worked for FedEx

My boyfriend worked for FedEx for 5 years & it was pretty much the same. Tell your husband to look into FedEx or the Post Office.

Dental Hygeinist

Actually a Dental Hygeinist requires an intensive associates degree program, at a minimum, and a lifetime of continuing education. Fact checks would be helpful in an article like this.

Yes you do need a degree to

Yes you do need a degree to become a cosmetologist!


No it's not a degree.  Its a a diploma or certificate of completion and then you take a state board test.  Some states make you use a live model and some let you use a mannequin head.  (All states might be live model now because the mannequin hair is hard to work with.)  So no it's not a degree, it's a diploma and there is a difference.  Then after you are licensed, you will be required by many salons to take seminars on new techniques developed or learning how to cut/style the "up and coming" styles that come out each season, to stay up to date.  Some salons make it optional but the more you learn and update, the better you are and the more money you will make at it.   If you go into "makeup and doing facials" applications you may need a degree that teaches about dermatology so you know about the skin.  Cosmetology schools are everywhere and it usually takes 8 months to a year to get through the program.  You can't practice in a salon without a license though, so you have to take the state board test.  

i'm not smart enogh for shool

i'm not smart enogh for shool

Work in retail.

Work in retail.


20 years old didnt go to college sitting on my ass at my parents house no job no money i dont know what to do with my life need help

To you & the others who replied

The longer you wait to get your first job the worse it will look. So step 1 is to take employment, ANY employment. Doing nothing is not acceptable. If you can not get employed (and you are REALLY trying) look for volunteering options near you, possibly in your field of interest, as a way to earn experience. I recommend volunteering even after employment in various areas to test the field and see if it could be right for you. Aside fromg volunteering, auditing a class at your local community college is also a good way to sample a field and see if it interests you

Same boat except I'm 25

Same boat except I'm 25

Same boat for me as well

I'm 25. Female. live in California. And I'm in the same boat. 


I want to get a job but don't know where to start. I'm 22 gonig on 23.


There must be other issues here folks.  I don't buy it.  Where is the parrent kicking your @ss off the "woe is me" band wagon?Go buy a mower, trimmer and blower.  Start knocking on doors or put an add in a cheap magazine and start your own little "cash" lawn care biz.  I do that on the side of my full time carreer and pull in gobs of money.  Im from Indiana and I always hear fellow caucasions b!tching about hispanics running small towns over and taking their jobs.  Guess what? most of them came from nothing and are working the jobs you refuse to take.  Go ahead and keep languishing as you see the rest of the world pass you by.  At some point you will realize that life has dont just that.  No retirement.....nothing.  You just gave up....I dont buy the fact that you cant get a job somewhere.  If you are on weed, then take a 30 day break and pass the friggen test. I read through all the bu11sh!t friends and shake my head.  Early to mid 20s and no job in this economy is disgraceful.  If you were my kids I would take you under my wing and find you a path to independence.  Sounds like some of you needed a swift kick in the @ss a long time ago.  Now its your turn to rant back and give me another laundry list of bullsh!t.....

Any Jobs for an Introvert

I'm 22 going on 23 and in somewhat of the same boat. I'm not sure if I'm afraid of people or just take shyness to an extreme level. I tried fixing this by working fast food, repeated exposure and all that jazz...I think that actually made it worse.


But these all require degrees...

i need a job pleas help me....


do you want to be a teacher we will give you $4000 per hour.At newport pulic school.


I am 22 years old, looking for a good job working from home. So I can attend college. Is there any out there you know off? 

Im sick and tired of applying

Im sick and tired of applying for millions of jobs and not getting them because i dont have a bachelors degree. Also if you dont need college you need 5 years in the business how the hell am i supposed to get experience if i need college?!?!?!?! 

I feel your pain

I feel exactly the same way

Make money, no college

Man you want to make some good money without going to college, car sales is where it's at and it's a progressive income, did $50k my first year, projected to hit around $60 this year. 

Car Sales

Mike cars sales from what do you have a dealers licence? where are you geting the deals from what site.

I know people in the industry

I know people in the industry who make 100-150k/year selling cars. 

Im 18 and I recently

Im 18 and I recently graduated from high school, I have little work experience, where should I apply for work? I want a job with a good starting wage. Please help  

Really good job.

A really good place to start is Amazon idk where you live but I'm from KY minimum wage here is 7.25 and Amazon starts out at 12.25 and it's easy work.

Most of these jobs suck.

Most of these jobs suck.  The ones I am interested in aren't available in my pathetic small city.  Unfortunately, I can't move.  Isn't there ANYTHING out there that doesn't require a 2 or 4 year degree, but still pays at least $20,000 annually?

20k annually is about 10$ an

20k annually is about 10$ an hour. If you can't find a job for 10 bucks an hour you need to move. Most retailers and fast food start around 8 or 9 bucks an hour which is about 17k annually. Find a retailer such as Walmart, Sam club, costco and work your way up. I started as a cashier at a local retailer and in 3 years I have worked my way from 8 bucks an hour to over 20$ hr by applying internally after showing them I'm worth their time. Everybody starts as the low man on the totem pole unless you're born into money. Shift managers at fast food joints are 12-18 bucks an hour. Get out there and stop being picky about what you want.

Jobs making 20k

Making 20K isn't hard, it's making more than that- now that's hard these days!I've had these jobs and they pay 20K or a little over 20K: Hotel Front Desk, easy. Casino job, also easy, but I hard to deal with a lot of bullshit and all my coworkers were sleeping with each other like it was no big deal (weird work culture). 


The median annual salary for mechanic and automotive technicians is $37,120 . The highest earners in the field made about $

can you help me?

If you know a good  and easy way to go to Canada or US for work , please help me! 

i m done my B A now

I want Aa job

NDT technician

Hi Everyone, I'm very surprised to not see NDT technician on this list. Based on the 2015 salary survey (found Here: on average a level I tech makes about $65,927 per year at $20.97 per hour. And that’s something you can achieve in months, not years. You do not need a degree to do this job. In fact you can get you entire education for around $7,000.00-$9,000.00 dollars and in less than 8 months. There are even online schools so you don't have to change your whole life around to get your required education. Most people start around $20.00 per hour and get into the mid 20's to 30's per hour after several months. I personally know several people who got their full education within 6 months and got starting wages in the 30 dollar per hour range at their first job out of school. I don't understand why is this such an under represented industry on job lists such as this. It is extremely important work. NDT Technicians do inspections on the vital infrastructure of our country; from Bridges and railways to oil/gas pipeline, brake pads, landing gear and plane wings. Our daily safety is dependent on these technicians. If you want to learn more about how to become a Non-Destructive Technician try googling "NDT online school" and check out what's available. We need high quality people in this high demand high paying career field.Visit for more information about a career in Non-destructive testing.

would you suggest this career

would you suggest this career for a High School graduate?

My Son

This looks like an interesting, direct and a solid career.  My son is 18 and so not interested in much.  He's very sharp but disinterested in school.  I would like to see him explore this instead of attending a state college and flounder like he is in his present senior year.  Would you suggest this career for a High School Graduate fresh out of school?   

NDT Tech

Thank You for this info.  By chance do you know any NDT's in the San Diego area willing to talk to high schoolers?

Which NDT course should you take

There are so many NDT courses online, radiographic, sight inspection, etc. Which one would be the best paying, and in most demand? Very interested! Which one did you take? Thank you!  

No schooling, even no high

No schooling, even no high schooling, if you have the balls and physical ability, be a pipe welder, or any kind for that matter, I have high school diploma that's it. I make damn good money at 25 and have been for past 7 or 8 years, how far ahead am I been making that for that long allready rather than spend those years in college not making anything.  For a good welder expect no less that 50 000 a year, on to upwards of several hundred gran.....and there is always work a good welder won't go without work

My size is a curse

I am 22 and tried college (mainly to play football). Quit middle of second year to play arena football. Awesome at first but politics and low pay was not worth it.  Had some jobs through temp agency but need something permanent. I am 6ft 8" and 355 lbs and would like a good paying job that will suit my size. Don't want to live with my parents forever. Would like to know I could support myself and possibly a family someday.  Feeling a little lost as my temp. Job ended Tuesday. Any suggestions would greatly be appreciated. Where do you look for a high paying job without a degree and land an interview

God has a plan for you...

Your size is not a curse.  God made you perfect and has so much for you.  Find out the path that God has for you and receive insurmountable blessings in many ways.  I go to the Potter's House Christian Fellowship, and if you want you can look up the nearest church near you and attend.  He (God) won't let you down.  


I am 18 and have completede my schooling but cannot get into a college what to do

I work at the postoffice with

I work at the postoffice with just HSD. I work with people who have degrees doing the same job. You should try USPS, UPS and FED-EX. 

I recently had back surgery

I recently had back surgery and was told I probably won't ever be able to do a standing all day or lifting job of any kind again. I've been a retail clothing store manager and a restraint manager. Can't do those now because I can't stand all day or lift or unpack shipments anymore. I have medical office and and financial loan officer experience. I have no degree. Did some college but didn't graduate. I am having a terrible time fin ding a decent paying desk job. Suggestions? My credit stinks so that's a challenge too.

P/T Employment. Have CSR and Driving Experience

I am a HS grad and have some college experience. I am currently retired. A Im bored. I was a school van driver for almost 10 years when I retired. Before that I was a CSR with Astoria Bank but, due to a family emergency, I had to leave. Before that, many years ago, I worked in several banking departments. I am currently looking for part-time emplyment. I am in good health and have a strong work ethic and am very reliable, prompt and people-friendly. Looking for a someplace that could use my knowledge, experience and enthusiasm.

Hey. I m a new immigrant with

Hey. I m a new immigrant with a green card. I know nothing about US. I have civil engineering masters degree from Ethiopia.  I need advise on what type of work I can get. 

Go to school and transfer

Go to school and transfer your Master degree to us standard

School Wasn't For Me

I dropped out of college my sophomore year. I held a 4.0 average and was a member of numerous honor societies. However, the illogical nature of academia became too much. I had to put my family first, my health first, and my profession first before academia. If one does not pay the bills the paper due Friday will not mean very much at all. Academia could not even begin to grasp this concept, therefore I dropped out. Now, I make more than approximately 90% of my classmates who went on to complete their degree. This success was not instant however. The preditory student loans I took nearly destroyed me. It took nearly eight years, but I got back on my feet. 

What do you do for a living?

What do you do for a living? Thanks.

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