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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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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 

Think of all the things you

Think of all the things you like doing for fun and write them down... There is a job in almost everything out there you may just have to relocate to do that job you will be happy doing. You got this

Keep your head up

Keep your head up man! God will give you your passion back!

I was in the

I was in the same position as you. I sat down 3 mornings per week with pen and paper and decided that i first needed to know who i am, what makes me happy, what i like, what i don't like, what fires me up, where do i wish i could live, what would i do if money were not an issue, what did i like as a kid, what are my hobbies if any and put that all i paper, I learned a lot about myself. I still am looking for my passion or purpose but i know what i want my life to be like and what makes me happy, now i looking for a place to use that information. Now i feel better and know something will come along. Good Luck

I am the same also!

Brad, What did you do to find yourself?  I am 46 and I still do not know what I want to do. I  have a Batchlors degree and it did not seam to help me either. I want a career that I can make a difference in.. Life is carzy and you sitting down to fugure it our enpires me to do the same. Good Luck!!

Not trying to b mean but how

Not trying to b mean but how do u have a bachelors degree but mispell the words "seem" and "inspire?" Does your resume look like that? Just saying...

Do something meaningful

What you guys need is to go volunteer with peace Corp or one of those organizations that send people to areas where it's poverty-stricken. One trip to one of those places will help you reevaluate your life and what you want to do with it. 

I totally agree with you. I

I totally agree with you. I have been a stay at home mom for amost 12 years. And now I am just tired of staying home and would like to do more to contribute to my family. So we have more of a financial freedom. 

i agree

I am in same exact boat.

Feeling Lost

Hi...Sorry for bothering you, but I was on this site looking for information on something completely different and I came across your comment.  I'm a career coach and I work with an organization called Raise Your Flag - you should go and check them out at   It's a site for those who don't have college degrees or diplomas and who are looking for hope to create a future that is more than what they have.  You won't find a magic wand, and I'm not going to lie - it does take some work to figure out what you want to do, but once you put that effort in you will be on your way to a career path that's rewarding andright for you.  There's no cost and no catch - just help from people who get it.  And you have nothing to lose so go take a look.  Going there may just help you find your way.  I hope it helps! 


Need a job

no job

no job no ins. need 75,000 yearly

what will i have to do for a

what will i have to do for a job that pays will as you guys


I need a job

In my opinion, the underlying

In my opinion, the underlying issue does not lie with ones ability to think critically and carry out any/all job related duties in ANY industry, with or without degree. The issue is that living expenses within many parts of the US do not match the available salary earnings related to jobs. It doesnt matter how many degrees you earn or not,; the bottom line is that we all want to earn more in order to live.College puts people in debt because its overpriced to begin with which discourages people from attending.  Poor people "feel" poor because they see that what they earn gains them little in terms of resources. And thats an issue for all of us in all income levels, struggling to go to the next level.If the US expects everyone to contribute to its economy, then school and proper education should be easier to attain for EVERYONE. I mean, can we at least make education free like it is in Denmark? Wtf.. that way you encourage an educated, healthy and productive population of people that can afford to live. I am an artist by heart but an entrepreneur by brain and I am currently in school pursuing 2 degrees, not just so I can gain access to opportunities but also so that I gain skills necessary to launch my own businesses.I dont really think about the debt that im building because I see college as a investment with a return that I will create & develop. Im not depending on just a job to sustain me...I want to own my own ..... What matters most is building a life that works for you. None of the jobs on the above list sound appealing...if they dont require college, some of them still require technical school and may not be guaranteed CAREERS ( something you can do till you retire). I would encourage anyone & everyone to be steadfast in their personal growth, learning and development. Dont let college be the only time that you learn something or study. There are plenty of online resources that can be used for self education...turn that self education into a freelance startup, a new passion or an entry level position. And furthermore, what this article says about opportunity costs is a sham imho....who says that you cant make money while youre in school?? Who says that you have to wait??And also be prepared to find work in other parts of the globe, especially if youd prefer to live somewhere that is less expensive. Dont let life dictate your worth...YOU dictate your worth. 

You could be a mentor

I wish I had someone like you in my life.  I'm very self sufficient but sometimes my goals seem like a distant dream.  When I was in my late teens/early 20s, I was inspired to soak up a lot of knowledge from books of all mediums.  Once I started working, all my zest for learning started to fade and all I wanted to do was make money and socialize.  Now that I'm 31 and still at the same job, I feel sad.  I'm still in school but my dream of completion is so far away.  Somedays I just want to quit and wish I had a cheerleader to keep me going.  

Pest Control Operator

Different states have different requirements for you to start your own pest control company. You will need to put in your time working for a licensed company. Once you get the experience and pass state licensing, you can easily earn $50-$100 per hour(with your own company).  If you are good with people and are not afraid to get a little dirty, look at some of the national companies to start.

Search of a good career

I am in search of a good paying job.  As of right now I am working full time at a company that deals with landscaping, irrigation, and construction.  I have been doing manual labor all my life and have pick up a good bit of skills.  If I don't know how to do something I can/will figure it out on my own or simply by watching someone else perform the task at hand.  I am eager to learn as much as possible.  If anyone can help me go further with my goals just reply back.


Anyone that can work that hard to make other people rich is extremely talented.Where there is a will, there's a way. Listen to motovational videos on youtube every single day. (My fav is Les Brown)  Start up a business,  but it has to be your dream. I know people with Master's degrees that I'm more successful than. I failed the 1st grade, daydreamed and copied my friends homework, and quit school in 9th grade. School wasn't for me but ADD/OCD, Faith, and determination makes everything possible. Luckily youtube and google can give you everything to make it happen (the hardknock college lol) You can have whatever you want in life but you have to believe it to see it!! Good luck... now go get your dream and stop working so hard making someone elses dream come true!!

Your attatude is great and

Your attatude is great and hard work does pay off. With this type of attitude you can do many things. However, I do disagree with you on one thing. Everyone can not have what they want if the just believe. That is so far from the truth. I know a friend that would love to become a firefighter, but can not because of physical limitations. A person that has no legs can not become a firefighter. A blind man can not fly a plane. How can a mute person be a call taker. You may try to say that there are people out there that have done things that may seem unachevible. I know of a man that gets up and does speeches to crowds of people without having arms or legs. That same man with that same drive could not do many jobs that do require arms or legs, say a police officer. But the attitude is right and with it one can achive many things. To say one can do anything is not true.  


I NEED A JOB THAT I CAN EARN $ 20.00 an hour . I have office experience,do download,billing ,redetermination,reconsideration,hearing ,scheduling,ordering office supplies,doctor rounds,PCT tools ,Registration, answering phones,Managing and scheduling times for therapist ,placing payors on the patients documents,verifying insurance ,putting charts together for a Rehab company . I need to earn more .


I have a college degree and barely make ends meet.I am looking for a career. I am very interested in finding a better job.

i need a job

i am barely scraping by. i need a way to earn money without any equiptment needed. if you know what i can do please write back as soon as possible. i am very kind and will do almost anything for money .thanks .   my friends call me homeless man 22 . you will eventually find me somewhere on the streets.

Looking for a job

Hi,I have flunked in 12th class but i have done with FRANKFIND Air Hostess training,some typing skill, & worked for Front office in hotel for a period of 5 years Thanks & Regardsmathew8884688862

I need a Job

As I am struggling since last almost more than 2 years to get settle down after lost in my business with my friend, but still struggling to find some job and I really do not know what to do after lots and lots hard efforts and struggling but it seems my bad luck. or what to say.. I really don't know. Please need assistance to guide me what better things to do to find a job. thanks . my email is 

dental assistant or hygienists?

Many people confuse dental assistant with dental hygienist. An assistant only goes to training and a hygienist actually has to complete college. They have both 2 year and 4 year programs for the dental hygienist. much like a registered nurse. They are beginning to get rid of dental hygienist jobs because it is more cost effective to hire dental assistants who pretty much do the same thing. My advice to anyone looking for a career in dentistry is to go only for the assistant position or become a full fledged dentists. Hygienist usually have a hard time finding work. I have a CDL and a high school diploma. That's it..Currently work as a public transit train (metrolink) driver. make $45,000 yearly, straight 40 hour a week job with decent benefits and a union. you'd think we'd make more money, but you would have to work overtime to see a decent net pay. mind you, union dues, pension and insurance along with taxes eat up some of my check. I live off roughly $29,000. I dont want to go to college and as you can see, I am searching for better paying jobs that dont require a degree. Guess I am out of luck huh,but that oil field job someone posted earlier sounds pretty good. My dream job would be to At Least make double what I make now. I am a girl, but heck, if I can drive a whole train or a mass transit bus, I can surely drive an oil truck. How hard could it be. someone fill me in. namaste.

Dental hygieist

Hi i know what your looking for there will be a lot of openings untill 2020. 

Terrible advise .... dental

Terrible advise .... dental hygienist make way more money and do way less work than a dental assistant.  The job outlook for a hygienist is great compared to assisting. 


They forgot welding at a job. I'm 23 years old an I'm making $60,000 a year as a welder right now.

what state do you live in 

what state do you live in 

Welding Job

I'm not sure where OP is from, but here in Tampa my buddy was making 58k/yr to do it for a waste company.

i thought u had to go to

i thought u had to go to college to be a dental hygienist? 

You do. It's atleast a 2 year

You do. It's atleast a 2 year program. 

not a 4 year degree...can

not a 4 year degree...can complete the certification in 6 months

IT jobs

They left out Computer Networking or Database Programmer/Administrator jobs.   If you have a high school diploma and the individual certification training (basically read a book, understand concepts, take a test and pass) and do good work, a company will hire you and pay you pretty good for not having a degree.    The IT field, for the most part, is usually pretty leanient on degrees as long as you can prove that you know what you are doing.   Just because you built a computer once doesn't make you an expert.  They will test you at interviews...believe me.


I agreeI wanna become an IT specialist

What about policemen? Usually

What about policemen? Usually no requirement of a college degree and pretty decent pay

No, policemen don't earn that

No, policemen don't earn that much unless they are high ranking. At least not around here. A lot of our officers have part time jobs.


I have some college, but never finished.  I'm 40 years old, and a nanny.  I LOVE my job: kids are great; my little co-workers adore me.  I make $60,000/year. 3 weeks vacation.  One week sick leave.  6 Holidays (other families have given me 10 holidays!)  No stress job.  No deadlines.  Great parents (I choose the families; I don't let them choose me!)  Drawbacks:  YOU MUST LOVE KIDS!, Long hours, most families do not offer health insurance, must live an area where nannies are needed, ie, large cities, rich cities.   

Being a Nanny

me and my husband just relocated to a new city and just had a baby I would love to watch kids but how do u find work I can't exactly post something or hand out fliers. Lol at least I wouldn't take that person.


have you tried

I don't get it

how can you get a job with no post-secondary degree? 

Good job, no college degree

My son (who hated school and got a GED at 17), earns $40,000 + per year plus incredible benefits as a live table dealer at Harrah's. Because he got in at the opening of a casino, he didn't even have to pay for his training.  There is potential for advancement to double that salary without anymore education.  The clientele of casino's may be messed up, but to work there you have to be completely drug free and can be fired immediately for gambling of any kind anywhere.  He says the biggest down-side to the job is getting cussed out every day. 

I've been doing that job for

I've been doing that job for over 10 years and it's killer mentally and physically.  the routine of dealing wears your out over the years, cigarette smoke in your face will hurt your health.  I know the industry, you can't be fired for gambling, except if it's at the casino you work at or affiliates.your claim of advancement and doubled salary is almost non-existant.  harrahs does not have good benefits, but they're better than nothing.  you are correct about being cursed out daily and being drug free is a must.  established casinos do not hire full time, only new ones.

not recommended

I've been doing that job for over 10 years and it's killer mentally and physically.  the routine of dealing wears your out over the years, cigarette smoke in your face will hurt your health.  I know the industry, you can't be fired for gambling, except if it's at the casino you work at or affiliates.your claim of advancement and doubled salary is almost non-existant.  harrahs does not have good benefits, but they're better than nothing.  you are correct about being cursed out daily and being drug free is a must.  established casinos do not hire full time, only new ones.

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