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The Top 20 Jobs That Don't Require a College Degree

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We all know there are 100 websites out there that claim to direct people without any kind of college education to high paying job opportunities. They argue that you don’t need any college degree to make decent money. This is true, but what they don’t tell you is how you qualify to get the jobs and what you have to do to qualify. So this list is going to give you the general job titles (what one company calls a janitor another calls a maintenance engineer) with the real prospects the job has for you. Many of these so-called no degree jobs require you to still know a lot about formal education skills such as math. For this to be worth anything to you, it needs to be realistic.

Here are the selected jobs, listed in no particular order. It is not going to include every job, and some of the jobs are located in other states or geographical locations. That means you might have to move to get one of these jobs and spend some time making minimum wage before you can actually make what the median wages advertise. Some people confuse median with average. Here is how it works. If a salary survey asks 100 people what they make a year, and 50 report $10,000, 49 people report $14,000, and one reports $100,000 the average is $12,860. The median is the middle point of the salaries, which is $10,000. Nobody makes $12,860. Half make less than that number. And both the average and the median don’t tell you somebody made $100,000.

The list is a mix of top paying jobs, career jobs, projected high demand jobs, and jobs that require a special talent or skill. You may be able to repair an old Sony Walkman cassette player, but that skill does not translate very well in today’s economy. Also, not every job opportunity will be available in your area, so you need more than just a list of the most in-demand jobs.

1. Choreographer

We start with an artsy type of job because these types of jobs are generally more about natural talent than the result of an education. You can’t teach talent, you can only develop it. Choreographers are reported to make an average of $50k a year. While many people think this is strictly a Hollywood type job, technology has given many small film production companies the ability to make and distribute their own Indie movies. Your job is basically to create new dance routines and rehearse the performances of the routines prior to actual filming. Stage plays also use choreographers, so you may find local opportunities as well. Getting a job will likely require you to have some experience, or at least some sample videos of what you have done in the past and what your ideas are for the future. Without any kind of video resume and samples, chances of being serious considered are virtually nil.

2. Postal Carrier

This is one of the many well-known civil service type jobs. You are going to have to find a way to schmooze your way in since being chosen from the thousands of applicants will require some kind of in-house connection. Don’t’ expect to start of making $50k a year as you will have to get some on the job experience before moving up to a potentially cushier inside job, like a postmaster or mail superintendent. You will also have to do some on the job training, most of which likely will be outside. If you noticed, most of the people who work inside the post office selling you stamps are older people. They are older because they have spent a lot of time doing what you will start out doing, so don’t expect them to retire anytime soon. Now if you like being outside a lot and are patient, this kind of job can present long term opportunities.

3. Tractor-trailer truck drivers

For all the mocking this job gets in general discussions about careers, this is one of the most realistic job opportunities available, in some cases even if you don’t have a high school diploma. Consider this: everything you buy in a store or have in your home or apartment was delivered by a truck. Many people know UPS jobs pay decent, and there is a demand around the holiday season. But the big rigs offer permanent, long term employment and pay well. But you have to know what goes with the territory. Long hours driving many miles on trips that may take days to complete is a general description, but as you get some experience you will have more control over your schedule. The majority of the year has you living on the road. The median hourly rate is just under $20 an hour.

4. Veterinary technician

This is one of the more pleasant jobs if you like working with animals (not just cats and dogs) and can deal with animals who are sick or suffering. That is what the job entails. The pay is relatively low, with a median salary of $31,800 a year, so you must love what you do and not expect to retire in 10 years. You need to be able to deal with assisting the vet with surgeries, which is not to everyone’s liking. But it is a personally rewarding job, and many veterinary technicians simply do it for the self-satisfaction factor. You may be required to work odd hours (remember Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines?

5. Food service manager

We are not talking about working at a fast food joint – but it is the usual starting point. And it does not have to be limited only to managing a local Arby’s or Burger King. There are many higher quality restaurants that seek experienced (there is the key) people who are committed to a career in food service management. The average salary is just above $50k a year, and the variety of challenges such as meeting deadlines and ensuring the quality of the food make for more than just the routine of a 9 to 5 job. More people are eating out, and parties and celebrations often take place in dining halls with large groups of people, so having a pleasant personality and organization skills are two of the non-technical skills required.

6. Franchise operator

It depends on the franchise, but many chain stores such as 7-11 will teach you how to run the store and do the basic bookkeeping so you can manage the store and keep the profits (after service and franchise fees). It does require a certain amount of upfront money, but depending on the franchise it is something within the average person’s reach. You will need management and organizational skills to deal with the day-to-day operations. The amount of your profit will depend on the franchise and the location of your store, but for many who are willing to invest their time and money along with a certain amount of risk, it is a rewarding opportunity.

7. Commercial pilot

Really? Yes, really. But you have to first understand what is meant by a commercial pilot. While it is true that American and United airline pilots are commercial pilots, they have some serious education in aerodynamics and other engineering fields. But there are many kinds of commercial pilots. You can fly tour planes, cargo planes, or be a Lear jet pilot for a celebrity – with the right training and flight credentials. The average pilot makes about $50k a year, and the key to moving up the ladder is salary and opportunities is flight experience. This is one job area where experience heavily outweighs knowledge, so if you want to show up those college grads, this is a definite way to do it.

8. Receptionist

Let’s first start off by saying that the average salary is about $30k a year. As for the job responsibilities we can tell you from experience that a high quality, professional receptionist is one of the most important people in the company. The reason is that they have a serious storehouse of knowledge about both the company and the people in the company. Depending on the size of the company, upper management may have a close relationship with the receptionist, and try to retain them as long as reasonably possible. You may not want to spend 30 years as a receptionist, but for a short term career that preps you for something higher paying and settles you into a routine, it has many advantages.

9. Carpenter

We could include other trade type jobs in this category: plumber, heavy machine operators, HVAC servicemen, etc., all which have the one thing in common – they require some type of apprenticeship before getting paid the higher wages. Again, the number of years of experience is key to advancing to the more interesting and challenging work. This is one of those jobs that not everyone has the natural skill and talent for, so if you do find out where you can get your foot in the door.

10. Personal care assistant

This is the first of several medical field job opportunities that will be on this list. The reason is simple: with an aging population there will be more and more people in need of personal medical care, whether it is because they have developed a chronic illness such as diabetes, or simply have reached a point where they need assistance with day-to-day living activities. The bad news is that the median salary is just $20,890 a year, which would put someone close to if not below the poverty level income guidelines. If you are looking for a career in the medical field you will have to complete some type of formal education, but this can be used to give you the experience you need to create a stronger resume after graduating.

11. Insurance salesperson

People who choose to sell insurance in the modern era sell a variety of policy types: health, auto, life, and home just to name a few. The median salary is $28,200 but don’t let that salary figure fool you. Commissions are a staple of insurance sales, with your potential limited only by your willingness to go out and make sales. You may not be able to become a millionaire selling insurance, but ask yourself who doesn’t need some type of insurance. Having the type of personality that people gravitate to is a huge plus, but with most things involving selling you cannot be thin skinned or easily discouraged when you fail. In most states you will have pass some type of background check and undergo some type of formal training before being able to publicly sell insurance policies.

12. MRI Technologist

It seems getting an MRI done these days is just as common as getting your blood pressure taken. MRIs are used in the diagnosis of many common medical problems, and as the cost of the equipment drops, so will the number of hospitals that have them on their premises. That means the number of qualified operators will also increase. The median salary for an MRI tech is $67,720. Though you may only need a high school diploma, you need to be comfortable with modern technology and be willing to take additional training courses as needed. It is also a responsible position as a single test takes about 45 minutes to complete, so a mistake in the procedure will cost the hospital more money to redo the test.

13. Bookkeeper

If Hollywood movies like Casino and The Untouchables are any indication, you can be both uber-important and famous by becoming a bookkeeper. The reason is that you know about a company’s or organization’s every financial transaction. Computer software may eliminate the paperwork involved, but the basics of bookkeeping, recording each transaction in its proper accounting category, requires a human mind. As for the pay, the projected salary is expected to increase from just under $40k a year to over $47k a year. If you like what you do after getting a couple of years of experience under your belt, you can consider going to college and major in Accounting to give you more opportunities and a higher pay scale to work with. Some people think accounting is boring, and as a bookkeeper you will be able to find out for yourself.

14. Front line retail supervisor

As with fast food restaurants, working your way to a front line managerial position is a built-in opportunity to do more than just repetitive work 6 to 8 hours a day. The pay is decent – about $35k a year on average. This is the kind of job that you can start preparing for while you are in high school, working part time. A store owner or manager wants people who know the entire operation of the store and people who know the people around them. Of course, one skill you will have to develop is knowing how to separate friendship from business, since it is likely your promotion will require you to manage friends (who may become former friends). The job has its share of daily challenges, such as managing work schedules and responsibilities. Overall, it is a job that has a stable, long term potential.

15. Customer support

You knew this one was coming, but not every customer support position can be had just by having a high school diploma (or less). There are certain aspects of support, such as understanding how to troubleshoot technical problems, that may require some college albeit not necessarily a degree. The median salary is $49,500 but obviously it is not a typical starting point. Many of the skills are transferable to other companies, so the more you learn the more you can earn – even if the company you’re working for doesn’t want to ante up. Customer support for Verizon and AT&T cell phone contracts require about the same knowledge. Having a people-first personality makes your job immensely easier because you will be dealing with a wide range of personalities.

16. Social and human service support

Another job that will see a higher demand as the Baby Boomer population continues towards retirement age, working in this job may require a basic certification for things such as CPR and other medical knowledge that you may encounter on the job. Usually there is a short period of on the job training where you will get paid close to minimum wage until you demonstrate you can do the job. While many people consider delivering services such as rehabilitation and social work menial, their importance cannot be underestimated. Why? Recent news reports dealing with nursing home fiascos have caused major legal problems for the owners of the facilities. Naturally, wanting to help people is a basic requirement, and once you get past the training period you will have the $31k median salary to expect. Like customer support jobs, most of your skills are transferable to other companies.

17. Pharmacy technicians

We want to be careful not to mislead you on this job. A Pharmacy Tech is not a pharmacist. You will likely need to go through a training or certification process, as many states have legal requirements pharmacies must meet. You basically will help the pharmacist dispense medication and work with customers to answer certain questions. This is a job that will keep you very busy at times, while other times you will be watching time drag by. But it is a position that carries with it a lot of responsibility because handing someone the wrong prescription can have serious consequences for the patient. If you think all people check their prescriptions, that is a major mistake in this job. You may also need to know about the different medical insurance quirks, which can drive any sane person to the edge. The current median rate is $31,600 a year.

18. Medical assistant

The third job in a row where the median salary hovers around $31k. Medical assistants come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and if you have ever been to a hospital chances are you have already dealt with several types. They may have you signing off on paperwork or discuss how you plan to pay for the services you are about to receive. Many healthcare facilities require a certification because you will be working with a very vulnerable population, everyone from parents with babies to elderly people with chronic illnesses. The ability to handle stress and be very nice to very un-nice people are two very valuable skills that cannot be taught in a classroom.

19. Tax preparer

This is one of my favorite recommendations because it has so many features that make it an ideal job. First, it is seasonal work for the most part, so if you get busy enough you can avoid working a 9 to 5 job 52 weeks out of the year. Second, it pays better than many of the other jobs, coming in at a median salary of $41k a year. For people who like basic math but not the calculus type math required for a degree, this can be a dream come true. If you are thinking that computer software will do away with these jobs, think again. People find the online filing even more of a pain than trying to do it themselves. And if you get enough experience you can prepare taxes for friends and family, just don’t make the mistake of doing it for free.

20. Nuclear-power-reactor operator

I wanted to close with a job that exceeds the sometimes discouraging median salary of most non-college education jobs. The median salary for this job is $88,560. This is an example of many minimal education jobs that has long term salary potential. There are several problems with this and other advertised “high paying” jobs for people with a high school diploma or less. First, there are very few of them available. Currently there are a total of 99 nuclear power plants operating in the United States. Just by the numbers there are more job openings as a Fortune 500 CEO. Another is common sense practicality. How many people do you know who would hire in someone with little or no experience to manage a nuclear power plant? Enough said.

The major industry sectors you can expect to work in without a college degree are: retail, trade occupations, and medical services. As you can see from the list, even some of these jobs require on the job training or a certification exam. The dirty little secret that businesses and government don’t want you to know is that technology killed most of the basic education jobs and force you to go into college to get a decent paying job. But college is not for everyone, despite what the high school counselors and business ads tell you. That leaves you with a far smaller number of options, and is one reason so many of the jobs that require college education go unfilled. If you have to give in to getting a college degree, check out the jobs that require only 2 years of college or vocational training.

Garrett Parker

Written by Garrett Parker

Garrett by trade is a personal finance freelance writer and journalist. With over 10 years experience he's covered businesses, CEOs, and investments. However he does like to take on other topics involving some of his personal interests like automobiles, future technologies, and anything else that could change the world.

Read more posts by Garrett Parker

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