Education matters. According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the median income of employees in different industries is directly correlated to their education levels. Individuals with no high-school diploma earn the least, while those with a professional degree earn the highest.
Traditionally, a college education is viewed as the key to upward social mobility. However, it must be noted that these are median incomes and capture only part of the story.
The sad reality is that higher qualifications do not “guarantee” a lucrative and successful career. In fact, a survey of the restaurant workforce revealed that 21% of employees have a bachelor’s degree or higher!
Naturally, career-minded people – who are either unwilling to fall into the debt trap or just do not see the return on their investments into education – are choosing alternate career paths.
This brings us to the big question – is it possible to make decent money without having a college degree?
You’d be surprised to discover the number of jobs that don’t require a degree, yet still pay a handsome salary.
Here are the top 11 high-paying jobs that do not necessarily require a college degree:
Median Annual Income: $86,080
That’s right, you can earn a hefty income as a commercial pilot without spending your parents’ lifetime savings on a bachelor’s degree. However, there’s a caveat. Most American airlines require you to have a bachelor’s degree to fly their aircrafts. So, your ideal job options as a commercial pilot would be as an aerial firefighter, an aerial photographer, pipeline patrol pilot, and so on.
The best part? It’s easy to become a commercial pilot. You just need to rack up 250 flight hours, which usually takes about 12-18 months. Then you receive the certification and can find a job easily.
Median Annual Income: $86,550
Programmers typically start at around $65,000 per year and can rapidly increase their earnings thanks to the high industry demand for skilled programmers. In fact, there is a dire shortage of good programmers, and this will only worsen over time. This leads many businesses to hire employees who lack a college degree, but have relevant expertise and/or experience.
There are many ways you can build up your profile as a consummate programmer – certifications, internships, bootcamps, online courses, and more. It doesn’t take much time for programmers to start earning 6-figure salaries.
Median Annual Income: $138,836
The IT industry is a gold mine of high-paying jobs that don’t require employees to have a four-year college degree. Database Managers, for instance, is one such job. They are responsible for storing, organizing, securing, and making data accessible to people who need it. They typically work in computer systems design and support companies, although they are in demand across various industries.
Strong knowledge of database languages like SQL is usually a sufficient qualification for aspirants to land a job in this industry.
Median Annual Income: $64,486
Think of underwater welding as scuba diving and welding put together. Well, that’s easier said than done, but get the gist. Although you don’t need a college degree to become an underwater welder, you need welding certifications and multiple diving licenses. You will be working on submerged equipment in the oil industry or the construction industry.
The great thing about this job is that it has a steep learning curve. If you get good at it, your salary climbs up rapidly into a 6-figure value. Top salaries in this field are as high as $147,000 per year.
Median Annual Income: $87,930
Aircraft mechanics are of critical importance to everyone from commercial airlines to private charters. It is the aircraft mechanics who keep a close eye on the aircraft’s condition, identify hazardous conditions, and determine when an aircraft should not fly. Naturally, it’s a high-paying job.
The good news is that you only need a high-school diploma or equivalent to land a job as an aircraft mechanic. Although a formal certification is not required, it’s strongly advised that candidates do get one from an FAA-registered training school. It improves the job-worthiness of the candidate. Aircraft mechanics usually work under a supervisor or manager.
Median Annual Income: $74,320
A diagnostic medical sonographer, commonly known as an ultrasound technician, uses ultrasound technology to produce high-quality images of internal organs like kidneys, liver, pancreas, uterus, breasts, and so on. They typically work under the direction of physicians and play a vital role in the diagnoses of patients.
While some sonographers do have a bachelor’s degree in sonography, you can get the job by joining a 1-year certification program too. The demand for sonographers was growing at an impressive rate of 16.8% before the pandemic. Although the pandemic has made a dent in its growth, it’s still an in-demand job with a hefty salary.
Median Annual Income: $122,990
This job is for people who can be calm, composed, and focused in high-pressure situations. Air Traffic Controllers are responsible for coordinating with pilots to prevent aircraft accidents. Their duties include guiding pilots during takeoffs and landing, helping them maneuver through bad weather, alerting them of other aircrafts’ presence, and so on.
An aircraft controller continually monitors the various instruments available at their disposal to determine the positions of aircraft in their “vicinity” and offers the pilots the support they need to navigate their aircraft safely. Sometimes, the job can get monotonous, but during emergency times, performing their duties effectively means the safety of hundreds of lives.
While most air traffic controllers hold a bachelor’s degree from the Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative, it’s not mandatory. You can complete the FAA training or join the military to qualify for this job. Many air traffic controllers earn well over $150,000 per year.
Median Annual Income: $56,787
A radiologic technician’s job is similar to that of an ultrasound technician; both of them are tasked with taking images of internal organs of the body. However, there’s one crucial difference – while the ultrasound technician uses ultrasound technologies to produce the images, a radiologic technician uses X-rays, MRIs, and other technologies.
Radiologic technicians work under the instructions of physicians and work with them to diagnose patients’ conditions. They work in hospitals, laboratories, outpatient care centers, and physicians’ offices. Most radiologic technicians have an associate’s degree in MRI or radiologic technology, however it’s not mandatory to have one. You can complete a certificate program that lasts one to two years to qualify for the job.
Median Annual Income: $65,899
Boilermakers handle containers that hold gases and liquids, often in high pressure and temperature conditions, in industrial setups. They are responsible for assembling, installing, inspecting, and repairing boilers, closed vats, and other large vessels. The job is not only physically demanding, but also dangerous due to the risk of boiler explosions.
However, if you are willing to take the risk, you will be paid well for your efforts. In fact, if you are eager or willing to work in remote areas, your salary can be significantly high (think 6-figure incomes). Most employers don’t look for any degree, but require candidates to have at least 3 years of on-the-job training. Even during the training period, you can expect to earn well, especially in the oil and gas industry.
Median Annual Income: $84,990
If you don’t want to move to a remote location, work within the city limits, and still earn a 6-figure income, then the elevator mechanic job could be your dream career. While their median income is around $85k, some of the more experienced elevator mechanics earn well above $100k per year. Elevator mechanics are responsible for installing, repairing, and maintaining elevators, escalators, moving sidewalks, and other people transportation equipment.
There are two ways you can kickstart your career as an elevator mechanic – get on-the-job training, or join a vocational school. The former is difficult to pursue, but if you can find an employer who is willing to hire you as an intern, an apprentice, or a junior mechanic, you will start earning right off the bat.
Median Annual Income: $94,560
Transportation, storage, and distribution managers work in a logistics environment that typically involves a warehouse. Their job comes with a lot of responsibilities, including transportation and storage of a variety of goods. They are responsible for minimizing transportation costs, optimizing warehouse space, and ensuring on-time distribution of the shipments. Their role also necessitates coordinating with drivers to manage both inbound and outbound deliveries.
Due to the responsible nature of the job, these managers are generally required to have a bachelor’s degree and several years of experience. However, you can land this job with solid experience in the logistics industry. This industry is growing rapidly, and there’s a skill shortage, which is set to worsen. So, the minimum qualifications are a high-school diploma.
Success is Within Your Reach
The world has changed a lot in the past few decades. Educational qualifications are not everything. You can land a high-paying job in the industry of your choice as long as you have the skills necessary to perform your role.
So if you don’t have the resources to pay for a 4-year bachelor’s degree or do not want to wind up in a student debt trap, the above career options are still within reach – particularly if you have a high school diploma or other relevant qualifications.
You don’t necessarily need a college degree to build a successful career.