Great careers in strong, fast-growing industries are available even if you don't have a Bachelor’s degree. The catch? Be prepared to compensate with good, old fashioned hard work and some post-high school training, according to our annual CareerCast review of the best jobs without a college degree.
Studies show that earning a college degree will lead to a more rewarding career financially than if you never advance beyond high school. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average median weekly salary for a worker without a degree $651, compared to $1,108 for those with a bachelor’s degree.
They also show that spending some time in college, such as for an associate's degree, will pay off in higher earnings compared to having just a high school diploma. That average weekly median salary jumped to $777 for those gaining an associate’s degree.
Yet for job seekers who simply didn't or couldn't attend college, there are still many rewarding career opportunities available if they know where to look, including in fields such as health care, personal services and information technology.
Bill Robson has spent 35 years in IT, working both on the hardware side and in software development and analytics. He has the unique experience of both succeeding in the IT industry without a four-year degree, and has hired others with similar backgrounds.
“A person taking a non-traditional path will be at a disadvantage in the IT workspace," says Bill Robson of Sammamish, Wash., who has excelled in the IT industry without a college degree. "But can you overcome that disadvantage? Yes. Will you need extra perseverance to do so? Most definitely, yes.”
Robson says that when he has interviewed candidates over the years for positions with ITT Corp. in Phoenix, and for jobs with Digeo Inc. in Kirkland, Wash., the job descriptions often asked for a college degree. But Robson says a work portfolio and a proven ability to excel always trumped a degree in his evaluations.
“Demonstrating skill and capability in one career path is a great indicator of being able to do so in another, and my experience with hiring applicants who did not follow a traditional Computer Science degree path has proven that point over and over again,” Robson says.
For those trying to find a way into the IT field, Robson says that freelance and contract work offer a great way to establish a portfolio. Such work can be found on job boards targeted to the industry, such as the CareerCast IT network.
Self-employment also is a promising path for several of our top jobs without a college degree. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that more than 22 million Americans are self-employed. The highest growth industries for self-employment include automotive repair and personal grooming, and for those who are trained or have experience as automobile body repairers, hair stylists or skincare specialists, the opportunity to thrive as business owners is significant.
Though college degrees aren't required for these jobs, they do require specialized training. Individual states have licensing boards for skincare specialists and hair stylists, and specialty programs exist to help students learn the basics. Similarly, trade skills offer aspiring welders, automotive repair specialists, electricians and carpenters training to get started.
Likewise, job seekers in the healthcare industry can get their start through associate’s programs in nursing, respiratory therapy and medical record-keeping. Each of these three jobs have positive outlooks for hiring by 2022, reports BLS, as the healthcare industry as a whole grows. Pay also is competitive, and none of these jobs require a four-year college degree, the BLS reports. But be prepared to put in plenty of effort, says Karon Gibson, a registered nurse in Chicago.
She says while earning nursing certification, she put in work perhaps worthy of a Master’s degree. A nurse cannot work independently to gain experience like someone in an IT field or trade skill. The challenge in getting started in healthcare, Gibson says, is finding work with an organization that values individual qualities beyond just educational background.
“I found outlets that valued education, experience and creativity in life and accomplishment,” she says, which is how she has excelled without a four-year degree.
Here is our list of the 15 best jobs that don't require a college degree:
1. Administrative Assistant
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recommends at least a high school diploma or equivalent for those pursuing positions as an administrative assistant, though such careers in specialized fields like healthcare may require industry-specific training. This can be gained from trade schools.