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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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Unique job in high demand.

Piano tuner.  I have a friend who charges $50 to tune a piano.  He is usually booked out 2 weeks.  It's unique, in high demand, and there is a shortage of skilled tuners.  It also has a high repeat rate as each time a piano is moved it detunes and needs retuning.  This person is in business for himself and works when and as much as he wants.

Financial advice

All being said, earnings are relative to your debt. You can make $100K (whatever the job is) but if you can't manage your own debt and you owe more than you make then earnings is moot. You have to budget and live within your means. Example: If your yearly income is $100K but your yearly expenses (including savings & investments) are around $50K, then you are $50K to the good. I tell my clients if you're smart, want to retire early, and live on a comfortable income invest early in a diversified mutual fund, have a target, say $500K (just for example), when you reach that target you can earn around 23% interest per year, which comes to $115K per year or $9583 a month. Sound good? It's doable! It just requires a little discipline.

Oil field jobs in ND

Anyone looking to move to Southwest ND right now and work in the oil boom can make close to $100,000 driving an oil or water truck for an oil company. I've worked many dead end jobs, but it takes hard work and luck to be honest, to make it without one. I thought real estate appraisal was a great chance, but now have to get a BA to obtain licesnsure as of Jan. 2015. Congress passes many laws because they have friends. Their friends are giving them money and benefits to pass laws that require us to go to college, not only to keep them out of the work place longer, but to spend ridiculous amounts of money to professors and teacher unions so they dont have to work so hard and they can build that GLORIOUS new university library, or some other building on campus to attract more people. Education is smart, if you have the means to get it. If not, be smarter than them in common sense and skill. College is a for-profit business, dont forget, but so are you. I've made over $60000/yr driving truck in ND, but expect to work the overtime hours...every day. Good luck to you all.

Oil Industry

Is this still available. My husband and I have been talking about moving there. I need to find out how to go about it. Can you help?

truck driver

hey i have cdl license.. which company should i apply for ?

I get that!

I have driven trucks for a couple years myself I love trucks and trucking.trucking is not a bad career at all.Yes it's hard work but in the end its worth it. I have learned alot doing it; and have had a alot of fun doing it. I had a part time trucking job pay roughly $18,000 talk about fantastic income for PT work.


We need that mula!!




Yeah a lot of these don't require college (Some that I have seen that are hiring actually do require it) but most of them still require previeous work in that catagory, so even though you don't havea  college education you still need to find a job that gives you that experience so you can work that job or you have to pay for training. I just paid $250 for Loss Prevention training and right now I am having a hard time finding one that will hire, plus I've been turned down cause I still don't have experience on the actual field.

I dropped college & became a web coder.

I make $180,000+ a year & have two sucessful small businesses that have nothing to do with IT. Do not listen to the losers who will work the same job for the rest of their boring lives. Working for others is a drag. Find what ignites you, and turn it into a living. Look at the achievements of Sir Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein and the list goes on. The key is not giving up & the willingness to learn something new everyday. Best wishes.

I need your help.

Hey, I'm going to go out on a limb here and ask for some advice on how you achieved this. I work in IT but the hunt for a new job is killing me. I have great experience but the hiring managers seem to turn me down as soon as they realize I don't have a degree.  I feel like I'll never have any leeway in my already skimp budget. Living paycheck to paycheck is AWEFUL! It's starting to get hard to sleep at night. Is there any way I can get in touch with you and discuss in private?

Truly interested

I am 29yrs old. But I don't have time to waste. please if you can give me any incite on how to be successful on your own. Help me out in fact I would greatly like if u could mentor me. Possibly? 

this is it

ok well i think if your 29 you should already have a job 


That's a little rude. Some people change professions and want something new. Everyone's got their on pace.

Job ideas??

My name is Andrew I am looking for job ideas. Right now i am a manager for a drinking and driving awarness program. Job includes driving all over the country/world been to 50 states 7 countrys we go to high schools, colleges and lots of millitay bases telling and teaching people the dangers of drinking and driving. My girlfriend and i are expecting our first baby in March. and my job now makes me travel ALOT gone for months at a time and i make pretty good money for not having a college degree. I am just in a slump i have not had to put a resume together in years and havent ever had to look for a real job and dont know where to start with my field of experence. I am very motivated and hard working i dont give up on anything. I am a very hands on person and id love some input about possiable job ideas. Thank you!

Job ideas

Look into court reporting. Could be very lucrative but you do need to acquire the skill by working hard and practice practice ppractice good luck

it can be done

50 years old, Director in a successful company.  Earnings $150K yr.  No College. How?  Get over yourself and learn from others.  Accept that you made a bad decision in not getting an education and move on.  Accept that “it’s not about you, and learn to get along with others”. Find a good company, work your way up.  Executives care about finding those who "get it", which is defined as work hard, good ethics, aren't problematic, and are willing to learn.  If you're one of those people who expect something for nothing, then accept your destiny now.  If you're one of those unfortunate people, who may have come from the other side of the tracks, or didn't get guidance from parents/family, but feel you can do better than you are, FIND A MENTOR.  Beware of false leadership, beware of scammers, and beware of those who will bring you down with them.  There are many of us, and we are in influential positions everywhere.  YOU MUST PROVE YOURSELF, and only you can do this.  It isn't easy, but it can be done.


Thanks of the post....very encouraging.

lol its stupid

lol its stupid

stupid is a mean word!!!!!!

stupid is a mean word!!!!!!


stupid is as stupid says

Read The Article...

If you people could actually read it does say that these are jobs you can get without a 4-year degree... To reiterate these are jobs you can get with specialized training or special knowlege or skill...

Is there a list of employers

Is there a list of employers willing to train?  Is there a "Change Careers" office people can go to?

No college for me

I have not gone to college and I am 22 years old. I am branch manger which is crazy right? No! I have worked my butt of for and I still make 85,000 a year

I am looking to have a career

I am looking to have a career that paysmuch like youself. How did you get started? 

for what company?

for what company?


Can u be a little more specific with the circumstances allowing you to become a 22 year old branch manager making $85,000 a year?

56 and desperate

I've worked retail sales for 28 years and I'm desperate to make a major change in my career.  I'm tired of what I do amd am un optimistically going to try career counseling.  I have no idea what to do!?  Any suggestions? Thanks..btw only GED... 

dental hygienist

So the question is. . do you have to go to college to become a dental  hygienist?? 

Yes you have to get into

Yes you have to get into hygiene school which is a lot like med school only it's just two years and to get in there are a lot of pre Reqs.

Doing what you love

Everyone wants to do what they love but the reality is that we all have bills to pay and mouths to feed, even if it's just our own. Loving what we do won't necessarily do either. I made a big career change after 15 years of hard work in the same field to do "what I loved" and now I'm finding that it is only going to land me in the poor house. I do not have a college degree, but my education is equivelent to a bachelors degree, still noone will take me seriously. So moral to story, GO TO COLLEGE! It's not just what they teach you, it's a show that your willing to learn and go the extra mile to do so. I wish I had listend to this 20 years ago so I wouldn't be in the spot I am now; almost 40 and nowhere.


Would like to talk with you. I have been doing what a live for 30 years but no longer making money doing it. Very disheartening , not that I was ever wealthy but now am quickly taking a nose dive. Can not sleep at night. Considering college at 50. But what do u take and by the time I'm done who is going to hire me. I have alot to offer but not taken into consideration.

I'm an individual and on a budget

In my opinion, college is a way that employers have gotten employees to pay for their own job training.  Many Americans can not afford college (as evidenced by the $1 trillion + student LOAN DEBT).   Also, I have recently heard about a study that found that a degree does not guarantee a good employee.  There are very hard-working, intelligent people that never went to college.  So,  lacking a degree does not prove anything to me, just as having a degree does not prove anything to me.  People are individuals.  If we are so narrow-minded that we rule out everyone without a degree, we will overlook and miss out on brilliant talent.  Sitting in a classroom and listening to someone talk at them is not the way that everyone learns.  

Yeah, right

I, too, am almost 40 and nowhere. I get a low salary and have been stuck in a dead-end job for years. I hope I can someday find a factory job that pays well. Not everyone has the time or money to go to college, I certainly don't; in fact, I don't even have a car to get to college...I work close to home. Money is the biggest factor; I'd be in debt the rest of my life if I tried to get a higher education. Besides, not all of us have a certain job in mind; office jobs are very boring anyway, and that's what I'm stuck in right now. It's easy to tell someone else to go to school when they don't have the money or opportunities. Not all of us come from middle-class or wealthy, two-parent families. I was born poor and I will probably die poor; those with no money usually have no chance in this life.


I feel for you man. Im going nowhere fast as well.

Do not loose hope, go to

Do not loose hope, go to church! Our Lord is waiting for you!

Excellent Point

Yes, we seem dangerously close to a Caste system in the USA.  They just call it Social Stratification here.

yea sure

Please...please for the love of god elaborate on your thoughts, because that makes so much sense. At least you can afford a computer with which to deposit bull**** across the internet. Unless you're just chilling in your local public library or something.

You are never to old to learn

You are never too old to learn dont give up hope just start with one course there are tons online.  see if you want to do it.i am 47 and just finished a year and it has enhanced my confidence and gained knowledge.  You are frustrated and just need to start something 

Get your facts straight!

Before you go posting about certain jobs that don't require a degree, you need to do some research! A dental hygienist DOES require a degree. It is very offensive to see this as a dental hygiene student working my ass off to graduate. Dental hygiene programs are very hard and time consuming! Any person walking off the street wouldn't have the first clue as what to do as a hygienist. A degree is a MUST! Apparently the person writing this article doesn't have a college degree and doesn't know the first thing about research!

Maybe where you are but not

Maybe where you are but not where i live. I completed a certificate program and make the same salary as the dh that completed her degree. 

Maybe you should have done a

Maybe you should have done a bit more research, because you do not need a degree. lolBut since you did not and you chose to go with the crowd. HIT THE

not true

  almost all states require hygienists to graduate from an accredited dental hygiene program.  They can earn from associates to masters in dental hygiene.  You may be from a state that does not require hygienists to do so, but like i already wrote, most states do.


Thats a good one

im a dentist in upstate ny

im a dentist in upstate ny and you dont need a degree to be a dental hygienist. i actually trained both of mine in a few weeks. A degree helps you when someone just wants to hire out but its actually easy to just train someone already working in my office. 


Perhaps you are thinking of assistants?  They can usually be trained on-the-job. However, many states require that they get licensed in radiology.As for dental hygienists...  for your state:New York – Applicants must have completed an accredited dental hygiene training program that includes training related to infectious diseases and passing scores on the National Board exam and the NERB examif you are "training" and allowing any one who is not licensed to do prophylaxis treatments in your office, i would advice you to reconsider. you will be hit with major lawsuits if your patients find out and will be investigated by your dental board.

I'm a dental hygienist and

I'm a dental hygienist and you absolutely need a degree and a license to practice.  A dental hygienist must pass a national board exam and a clinical exam to qualify for licensure.  You could train a dental assistant on the job, but if you have trained someone to provide quality dental hygiene services, I would never visit your office.  You should be fined by the New York Board of Dentistry for allowing this.

What would be the main Job

What would be the main Job for a Dentist Hygienist ?What is the pay per hour and how many hour would i work?Where exactly in upstate New York?

Join the military

It helped me loads. I landed a 6 figure job with only an A.A. degree. While going to school after the military, I worked at Best buy. I think my combo of Military, school and retail sales helped me land a great job. If the military is not an option for you, try staring at a company at the bottom of the totem pole. I know three sales people at my company that make 100K+, that all started out in the warehouse packing boxes. For those of you that have 4 year degrees, look for jobs outside of your degree. Many "good jobs" require a 4 year degree, but it does not have to be in that same field.  

Pls. Advise

I have a graduate education & many years of experience in human resources and as an educator and can not find a fulltime position. Is your company hiring?

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