A 2018 joint survey by Summer and Student Debt Crisis paints a grim picture of the far-reaching consequences of American graduates’ mushrooming student loan debt.
Survey respondents reported an average annual income of about $60,000, compared with an average individual student debt load of $87,500. For a significant number of respondents, high debt-to-income ratios made loan repayments difficult or impossible, with 18% reporting that they were in default on at least one student loan and 44% indicating that they would struggle to make their next student loan payment.
The True Cost of a College Degree
Meanwhile, student debt interferes with the personal and financial milestones many Americans are taught to take for granted. The vast majority (80%) of survey respondents said that student loan debt precluded saving for retirement, 56% said it made it impossible to buy a home, and 42% said it interfered with car buying.
Still, countless young Americans willingly enroll in four-year degree programs each year, assuming that the financial benefits of these degrees outweigh the downsides of five- or six-figure debt. They’re not always correct. Whether by choice or necessity, many four-year college graduates are underemployed, or working jobs that don’t require bachelor’s degrees.
That said, some jobs that don’t require bachelor’s degrees pay pretty well, particularly after accounting for lower educational prerequisite costs and shorter training periods.
If you’re not sold on the benefits of a four-year degree or you’re looking to make a career change that doesn’t require going back to school, these high-paying jobs could be right for you. Many require only a high school diploma or equivalent; others require post-secondary certification or two-year associate degrees.
Highest Paying Jobs That Don’t Require a College Degree
These are among the highest-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree, roughly in order of projected job growth through 2030 from highest to lowest. Unless otherwise noted, data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook.
1. Physical Therapist Assistant
- Degree or Certificate Requirements: Associate degree from an accredited physical therapy program required
- Training Requirements: All states require physical therapist assistants to hold current state licenses, meet continuing education requirements, and pass a national exam; employers may prefer candidates with previous experience as physical therapist aides
- Median Salary (2021): $49,180
- Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $37,280 to $80,170
- Growth Outlook (2020 – 2030): 44,900 new positions (32% job growth)
Physical therapist assistants work directly under physical therapists, usually in hospital or outpatient office settings. They’re responsible for implementing and guiding the treatment of patients recovering from serious physical injuries and illnesses. Specific duties typically include:
- Using equipment and devices, such as walkers, to help patients regain function
- Showing patients how to perform specific therapy exercises and assisting as needed
- Communicating with patients and family members about continuing therapy, such as at-home, self-assisted exercises
- Communicating patient progress and needs to physical therapists
No matter where you plan to work, you must complete a two-year degree program and obtain a state license to become a physical therapist assistant. Given the abundance of available positions, impressive job growth projections through 2026, and solid pay, that’s a reasonably safe investment of time, effort, and money.
2. Occupational Therapy Assistant
- Degree or Certificate Requirements: Associate degree required; programs must be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE).
- Training Requirements: Many occupational therapy assistants work as occupational therapy aides before or while pursuing their associate degree
- Median Salary (2021): $61,520
- Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $46,810 to $80,210
- Growth Outlook (2020 – 2030): 16,800 new positions (34% job growth)
Occupational therapy assistants work under occupational therapists, usually at hospitals or outpatient offices. Depending on the makeup of their patient populations, occupational therapy assistants’ duties may include:
- Assisting patients recovering from physical injuries with stretching and strength exercises
- Helping patients with degenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s, manage their conditions (for instance, by training them on devices designed to assist everyday activities)
- Supporting patients with permanent physical or cognitive disabilities
- Recording patient progress and communicating with occupational therapists as needed
If you derive satisfaction from helping others, this profession could be a great fit for you. However, daily work with physically and cognitively impaired patients can take an emotional toll; this isn’t a job for the faint of heart.
3. Respiratory Therapist
- Degree or Certificate Requirements: Associate degree from an accredited program required; some employers may prefer candidates with bachelor’s degrees
- Training Requirements: Most states require certification by the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) and may impose additional licensing requirements; on-the-job training varies by employer
- Median Salary (2021): $61,830
- Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $47,380 to $95,540
- Growth Outlook (2020 – 2030): 31,100 new positions (23% job growth)
Respiratory therapists provide a range of respiratory treatments and therapies to patients in hospitals and long-term care facilities. Because most respiratory therapists serve inpatient populations with round-the-clock needs, not all work normal business hours. For night owls, graveyard shift respiratory therapy positions abound, but there’s also plenty of opportunity for those who prefer the 7-to-3 shift.
Most respiratory therapists work with patients experiencing chronic breathing difficulties due to a range of conditions, from premature birth and cystic fibrosis to chronic ailments such as COPD and heart failure. Some work in the emergency department, triaging patients with acute breathing difficulties due to heart attacks or trauma.
Respiratory therapists duties typically include:
- Performing intake exams on new patients
- Running diagnostic tests, such as measuring lung capacity and blood oxygenation
- Performing treatments as needed
- Educating patients on at-home and continuing treatments, such as portable oxygen and ventilation equipment
- Communicating with physicians as needed
Although the prerequisites to become a respiratory therapist take at least two years, the payoff is pretty safe, thanks to rapid job growth and widespread availability of reliably high-paying jobs.
4. Dental Hygienist
- Degree or Certificate Requirements: Associate degree from an accredited program (usually three years) required
- Training Requirements: All states require dental hygienists to meet initial and ongoing licensing requirements, which typically include a licensing exam and continuing education
- Median Salary (2021): $77,810
- Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $60,100 to $100,200
- Growth Outlook (2020 – 2030): 23,100 new positions (11% job growth)
Those of us who visit the dentist regularly are quite familiar with dental hygienists’ duties. They include:
- Using specialized tools to clean teeth, which requires good hand-eye coordination
- Preparing patients for dental X-rays and operating X-ray equipment
- Educating patients about oral hygiene
- Communicating with dentists as needed
With a median salary exceeding $75,000, dental hygienists do pretty well for themselves. The downside is that a three-year associate’s degree requirement is all but required for entry into the guild. However, it’s nice to work in a field where the customers can’t talk back.
5. Diagnostic Imaging Workers
- Degree or Certificate Requirements: One-year certificate from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) required; CAAHEP-accredited associate’s degree preferred
- Training Requirements: Other than certification, training requirements are minimal; some states may have formal licensing requirements that build on certification
- Median Salary (2021): $75,380
- Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $59,640 to $101,650
- Growth Outlook (2020 – 2030): 19,100 new positions (14% job growth)
The BLS’s technical term for this occupational category reflects its hodgepodge character: “diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists.” Diagnostic imaging workers include sonogram (ultrasound) technicians, who typically specialize by bodily region (abdomen, breast, gynecologic, and so on), and cardiovascular diagnostic specialists, who use catheters and other specialized equipment to image and monitor patients’ cardiovascular systems.
Regardless of specialty, diagnostic imaging workers are generally responsible for:
- Performing patient intake and preparing patients for exams
- Preparing and maintaining diagnostic equipment
- Performing diagnostic exams
- Reviewing images for quality and coverage
- Analyzing images and other diagnostic information and preparing summaries for diagnostic physicians
The prospect of committing to a relatively narrow specialty may seem daunting, but diagnostic imaging workers’ education and training prerequisites aren’t as demanding as those for other medical technologist fields. Many hospital systems continue to hire diagnostic imaging workers fresh out of one-year certification programs, and most states don’t have formal licensing requirements.
6. Web Developer
- Degree or Certificate Requirements: No formal education credentials required for self-employed developers; most employers prefer candidates with associate degrees, and some specialized positions require bachelor’s degrees
- Training Requirements: Variable on-the-job training requirements; certifications in specific programming languages and other specialties may help hiring and advancement prospects
- Median Salary (2021): $77,200
- Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $40,750 to $146,430
- Growth Outlook (2020 – 2030): 25,500 new positions (13% job growth)
Laypeople are often surprised to learn that aspiring Web developers needn’t bother with four-year degree programs. Indeed, the roughly one in six Web developers who work for themselves technically need no formal education at all, though discerning clients prefer to work with degree- or certificate-toting devs, and they pay a premium for them. This is one of the few remaining fields where self-taught individuals can find success simply by establishing a presence and prospecting for clients.
If you hope to land a Web developer job with a private or public employer, though, you’ll probably need an associate degree in computer science or graphic design. You’ll also need to demonstrate your development chops through rigorous pre-hire testing.
Web developer roles vary widely. Front-end developers work on the public websites we use every day and are responsible for their overall appearance, features, function, and maintenance. Back-end developers are responsible for websites’ technical architecture and may take the lead on troubleshooting and major updates.
7. Radiation Therapist
- Degree or Certificate Requirements: Post-secondary certificate required; associate degree preferred for many positions
- Training Requirements: All radiation therapists must obtain American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) certification, and most states require special licenses; employers’ on-the-job training requirements vary
- Median Salary (2021): $82,790
- Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $61,030 to $128,550
- Growth Outlook (2020 – 2030): 1,600 new positions (9% job growth)
Radiation therapists help treat patients with cancer and other ailments requiring targeted radiation therapy. They generally work at hospitals or outpatient treatment centers, where they:
- Calibrate and operate radiation therapy equipment, such as linear accelerators
- Communicate treatment procedures and potential complications to patients
- Monitor patients for post-treatment complications
- Observe radiation safety protocols to reduce the risk of harm to the patient and long-term employee exposure
- Communicate with radiation oncologists (specialized physicians)
If you’re a detail-oriented person driven to help and comfort the seriously ill, this could be a great job for you. Plus, most radiation therapists work predictable hours in tightly controlled office or clinical settings, allowing for reasonable work-life balance.
8. Computer Support Specialist (Network Support Specialist)
- Degree or Certificate Requirements: Entry-level roles may require only some post-secondary coursework in computing and related fields; an associate degree may be required to advance
- Training Requirements: Employers may require vendor-specific or vendor-neutral certification, depending on the nature of the work; otherwise, expect a variable period of on-the-job training
- Median Salary (2021): $57,910
- Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $38,560 to $102,410
- Growth Outlook (2020 – 2030): 72,200 new positions (9% job growth)
Computer network support specialists, sometimes referred to as “computer support specialists” or “network support specialists,” provide technical support for computer networks and their human end users. Some interface directly with users; others work in conjunction with user-facing intermediaries who relay issues for support specialists to address.
Depending on their employers’ needs and the nature of the networks for which they’re responsible, computer network support specialists may:
- Test networks and systems for bugs or functionality issues
- Diagnose and address specific and system-wide issues
- Process user complaints and feedback
- Help users troubleshoot problems on their own
- Apply patches and updates to protect and improve networks and the software programs running on them
- Train non-technical employees on network-related matters to improve the user experience and system function
Computer network support specialists work under network or system administrators. For those who don’t mind spending long hours in front of multiple computer screens, there are plenty of opportunities to find work and advance in this field. One catch: Really plum jobs often require employees to be available at odd hours to serve users in different time zones or apply updates when few users are online.
9. Radiologic & MRI Technician
- Degree or Certificate Requirements: Associate degree from an accredited radiologic technology program is required for most positions
- Training Requirements: Most states require radiologic technicians to obtain licenses, which typically involve an initial exam and continuing education; MRI technicians may need an additional certification
- Median Salary (2021): $61,980
- Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $41,480 to $89,760
- Growth Outlook (2020 – 2030): 21,600 new positions (9% job growth)
Radiologic technicians (radiographers) use radiation-based techniques such as X-rays and computed tomography (CT) to image body tissues and structures. MRI technicians use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment to do the same.
Most radiologic and MRI technicians work in hospitals and outpatient clinics. Duties vary by sub-specialty but generally include:
- Preparing patients and equipment for imaging
- Communicating with supervising physicians to ensure the correct areas of the body are imaged
- Maintaining imaging equipment
- Checking images for quality and coverage
- Following radiation safety procedures
Like other health care technicians, radiologic and MRI technicians can easily find work in tightly controlled, regular-hour settings. If you prefer to work in the evening or on irregular shifts, look for work associated with emergency departments and urgent care centers.
10. Commercial Makeup Artist
- Degree or Certificate Requirements: Post-secondary certification from a vocational school or community college preferred; self-employed artists may need no formal credentials
- Training Requirements: Beyond the practical training provided by post-secondary certificate programs, new artists may train on the job under more experienced artists
- Median Salary (2019): $75,730
- Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): Not indicated
- Growth Outlook (2019 – 2029): 500 new positions (11% job growth)
Despite its relatively small size, the makeup artist profession is growing faster than the job market as a whole. If you’ve always dreamed of working in film or media, this is a great way to get close – literally – to the talent without having to remember any lines.
Makeup artists often specialize in specific disciplines, such as hair, prosthetics, or special effects. Working conditions and hours vary widely. If you land a job with a local news affiliate, you’ll have predictable – although potentially early or late – hours. In film production, you’ll likely work grueling hours during filming, then find yourself on leave until the next project. The upside is that makeup artist pay is rising much faster than the rate of inflation.
11. Nuclear Medicine Technologist
- Degree or Certificate Requirements: Post-secondary certificate required; most employers require an associate degree from an accredited nuclear medicine technology program
- Training Requirements: Many states require formal licensing, which typically involves passing a licensing exam and adhering to continuing education requirements; most employers require certification through ARRT or the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB); certifications in specific imaging techniques, such as computed tomography (CT) or positron emission tomography (PET), may be useful for advancement
- Median Salary (2021): $78,760
- Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $60,550 to $105,530
- Growth Outlook (2020 – 2030): 1,400 new positions (8% job growth)
Nuclear medicine technologists handle and administer medical-grade radioactive substances for medical imaging and treatment applications. Most work in hospitals or outpatient clinics. Depending on their employer’s focus, their sub-specialty, and their patient population, their duties may include:
- Performing patient intake and preparing patients for imaging or treatment
- Preparing and dosing radioactive substances
- Operating imaging equipment during diagnostic exams
- Observing patients for unusual reactions to treatment or imaging
- Adhering to radiation safety protocols, including waste disposal protocols
- Working with physician supervisors as needed
Nuclear medicine technologists generally work predictable hours in controlled settings, allowing for optimal work-life balance. And don’t let the relatively small size of the field dampen your enthusiasm; there’s ample opportunity to advance and increase your earnings through further certification.
12. Flight Attendant
- Degree or Certificate Requirements: High school diploma or equivalent and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification required; most flight attendants have at least one to two years of prior service industry experience
- Training Requirements: Three to six weeks of training at an airline flight training center, followed by successful completion of the FAA certification exam; ongoing training required to maintain certification
- Median Salary (2021): $61,640
- Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $37,020 to $81,400
- Growth Outlook (2020 – 2030): 31,100 new positions (30% growth)
Along with the employees staffing ticketing counters and gates, flight attendants are airlines’ front-line employees, and they need to look and act the part.
If you have visible tattoos or aren’t willing to conform to relatively conventional standards of personal presentation, this probably isn’t the job for you. If you’re unusually tall, you might have trouble finding work as a flight attendant too. And, of course, you’ll need to spend a lot of time traveling: 75 to 100 flight hours per month, according to the BLS. This isn’t an occupation for homebodies.
In addition to above-average compensation for a job that requires no post-secondary education, flight attendants enjoy choice perks such as free or discounted airfare and free standby tickets. If you’re afflicted by wanderlust, becoming a flight attendant could be a great way to reduce the cost of international travel or domestic jaunts.
13. Property Manager
- Degree or Certificate Requirements: High school diploma or equivalent required for non-specialized positions; bachelor’s degrees in business or finance may be required for commercial property management positions that involve contract negotiation or financial management
- Training Requirements: Some states require real estate brokers’ licenses; otherwise, variable on-the-job training and prior experience in junior roles required
- Median Salary (2021): $59,230
- Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $30,740 to $124,680
- Growth Outlook (2020 – 2030): 11,400 new positions (3% growth)
The workers that the BLS calls “property, real estate, and community association managers” are a varied group. They range from part-time residential rental managers overseeing a few properties on landlords’ behalves to besuited real estate professionals running 1-million-square foot office towers.
Expectations for property managers vary widely as well. Commercial and industrial property managers are more likely to need four-year degrees than residential property managers, and first-time managers are unlikely to land plum gigs at prize properties of any sort. But thanks to continued growth in the residential real estate sector, opportunities for advancement abound.
Depending on the nature of the property and the expectations of its owner or board, a property manager’s duties may include:
- Showing units to prospective tenants or buyers
- Inspecting common areas and equipment and making repair arrangements as needed
- Managing accounts payable and receivable, including rent or fee income, employee payroll, and vendor expenses
- Negotiating vendor contracts – trash removal, cleaning, maintenance, and so on – as needed
- Interfacing with tenants or owners and addressing their complaints
- Understanding and complying with applicable state and federal fair housing laws and anti-discrimination statutes
Property managers whose duties include selling property – for instance, homeowners’ association managers authorized to sell units in the community – must hold applicable state real estate licenses. In some states, licensing is required even for managers who don’t sell property, though requirements vary by jurisdiction.
14. Building Inspector
- Degree or Certificate Requirements: High school diploma or equivalent required; some employers prefer candidates with post-secondary coursework, certifications, or associate degrees in architecture, drafting, engineering, and related fields
- Training Requirements: Extensive on-the-job training that typically pairs trainees with experienced inspectors for weeks or months; some formal instruction or study on local building codes may be required as well; most states require building inspectors to pass state licensing exams
- Median Salary (2021): $61,640
- Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $38,110 to $100,520
- Growth Outlook (2020 – 2030): 3,800 lost positions (-3% job growth)
Building inspectors certify that existing and new-construction buildings meet all applicable local building codes and zoning regulations.
Building inspectors work in a variety of settings, from construction sites (construction inspectors) to existing commercial and residential properties (municipal building inspectors) to private residences (home inspectors). They must be intimately familiar with local building codes applicable to the types of properties in which they specialize; requirements for commercial office buildings are very different from those for rental housing, for instance.
Many aspiring building inspectors choose sub-specialties such as:
- Electrical inspection
- Elevator inspection
- Mechanical inspection
- Plumbing inspection
- Plan inspection (which involves close work with architectural plans)
Although building inspectors do plenty of administrative work in traditional offices, most get out and about quite a bit. If you’re looking for a job that takes you somewhere new most days, this could be it. The only catch is that the industry’s job growth outlook isn’t particularly rosy, so entry-level building inspector jobs might not be easy to find in your area.
Side note: Much of the work building inspectors evaluate is performed by relatively well-compensated tradespeople in under-the-radar specialties, such as elevator installers. Most of these jobs don’t require four-year degrees either.
- Degree or Certificate Requirements: High school diploma or equivalent required; certification from an accredited technical school may improve job prospects
- Training Requirements: New electricians typically work as apprentices for four to five years; apprenticeships require 2,000 hours of on-the-job training per year
- Median Salary (2021): $60,040
- Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $37,020 to $99,800
- Growth Outlook (2020 – 2030): 66,100 new positions (9% job growth)
Amid rampant automation, jobs for highly trained tradespeople hold steady. Better still, aspiring electricians needn’t enroll in any formal post-secondary education program. Most continue to learn the trade through four- or five-year apprenticeships under the wing of a licensed electrician, then sit for a state licensing exam that reviews the finer points of local and national electrical codes. The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) has a rundown of state-specific licensing requirements.
Electricians work long hours, and the job isn’t glamorous. It’s detail-oriented and fairly dangerous, as jobs go, though adherence to basic electrical safety protocols goes a long way. But it’s honest work for those who want it.
16. Line Installer & Repairer
- Degree or Certificate Requirements: High school diploma or equivalent required, with at least one year of algebra coursework; a one-year certificate from a vocational school or two-year associate degree may improve job prospects
- Training Requirements: Many line installers complete apprenticeships, typically lasting three years; otherwise, extensive on-the-job training
- Median Salary (2021): $74,530
- Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $46,200 to $107,100
- Growth Outlook (2020 – 2030): 700 new positions (flat job growth)
Line installers and repairers install and repair electrical and telecommunications transmission lines. With median earnings about $5,000 higher, electrical line installers and repairers make out better than telecom installers and repairers. But both do just fine, especially considering neither job requires anything more than a high school diploma and a willingness to complete a three-year apprenticeship or comparably long on-the-job training – though some vocational school work (ideally, a vocational degree) may improve job prospects.
Unlike many tradespeople, line installers and repairers aren’t required to be licensed; however, like vocational school work, voluntary certification – such as fiber optic certification through the Fiber Optic Association (FOA) – may improve job prospects.
Line installation and repair opportunities vary, but the trade is typically great for people who enjoy working outside – possibly in extreme weather conditions – and traveling. Before he settled down and got a job with a local utility, a friend of mine spent several years traveling the United States with his dad installing fiber optic cable. They made good money and obliterated their collective domestic bucket list along the way.
Line installation and repair workers operate downstream of professionals in a number of other utility specialties that don’t require college degrees. These include but aren’t limited to power plant operators, nuclear power reactor operators, and power distributors.
17. Water Transportation Worker
- Degree or Certificate Requirements: No formal education requirements for lower-level positions; captains and engineers may need bachelor’s degrees from accredited merchant marine programs but can obtain them on the job
- Training Requirements: Engineers and captains must complete Coast Guard certification; otherwise, variable on-the-job training
- Median Salary (2021): $62,760
- Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $30,490 to $133,620
- Growth Outlook (2020 – 2030): 7,800 new positions (12% growth)
Water transportation workers include ship captains and pilots, ship engineers, small craft operators, and oilers. Ship captains and engineers make out better than the others with median pay of about $70,000.
Water transportation work has its drawbacks, to be sure. Deep-sea crews spend months away from home, and shorter-haul vessels may be out of port for weeks at a time. If work-life balance is important to you, look for work on a harbor-bound vessel, such as a tugboat.
Water transportation is safer than it used to be, but it’s still pretty dangerous. Shipwrecks aren’t the only significant hazard; onboard safety perils abound, from engine blowouts to common electrocution.
Bear in mind that engineer and captain roles aren’t entry-level. If you’re looking to break into water transportation without first getting a four-year degree from a merchant marine program, you’ll need to start as an oiler or lower-level crew member and work your way up.
- Degree or Certificate Requirements: Associate degree in drafting is required for most positions; higher-level roles may require a bachelor’s degree
- Training Requirements: Certification from the American Design Drafting Association (ADDA) may improve job prospects; otherwise, variable on-the-job training
- Median Salary (2021): $60,290
- Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $37,390 to $92,970
- Growth Outlook (2020 – 2030): 3,600 lost positions (-2% job growth)
Working under the supervision of licensed architects or engineers, drafters use computer-aided design (CAD) software to convert rough architectural or engineering schemes into precise technical drawings. Their work product then becomes the basis for manufacturing or building construction processes.
Drafters specialize in a variety of fields, including:
- Architecture (buildings and building systems)
- Civil engineering (infrastructure)
- Electrical (complex electrical systems, such as those in power plants)
- Electronic (microchips and other semiconductor products)
- Mechanical (manufactured products)
Drafters generally work predictable hours in traditional office settings, but they may have opportunities to visit job sites and manufacturing plants from time to time. Mechanical and electronic drafters are more likely to work in close consultation with manufacturing teams.
The biggest downside of a career in drafting is the looming threat of automation. A recent reversal after years of sustained job growth could portend poorly for the industry, though newly minted drafters still remain in demand.
19. Sales Representative (Wholesale & Manufacturing)
- Degree or Certificate Requirements: High school diploma or equivalent required for non-specialized positions; bachelor’s degrees in applicable fields may be required for specialized sales positions, such as pharmaceuticals, industrial equipment, and medical devices
- Training Requirements: Variable on-the-job training; for specialized positions, formal sales training may last up to a year and include extended rotations at manufacturing plants, fulfillment centers, and company headquarters
- Median Salary (2021): $62,890
- Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $30,620 to $125,750
- Growth Outlook (2020 – 2030): 77,600 new positions (5% job growth)
Wholesale sales representatives sell products to organizations, typically for-profit businesses, nonprofit institutions such as universities, and government agencies. Their duties typically include:
- Identifying and cultivating sales prospects
- Educating prospects on the products they sell and helping them choose the best options for their needs
- Convincing prospects to buy
- Negotiating pricing and contract terms
- Handing off orders to other divisions for processing and fulfillment
- Addressing any follow-up questions and concerns from customers
Sales reps who sell specialized products may team up with sales engineers, whose many years of combined academic and practical experience empower them to address complex technical issues beyond the sales rep’s ability. These pairs may work closely, hitting the road as a team, or at arm’s length, with the representative cultivating leads in person and the engineer remaining on call at the manufacturing plant or company headquarters.
Sales reps generally work within variably sized geographic sales territories. Depending on product volume and organization size, they may be responsible for selling multiple related products or even represent multiple manufacturers or resellers. In other cases, sales reps may focus on a single high-volume product.
20. Real Estate Brokers and Agents
- Degree or Certificate Requirements: High school diploma or equivalent, but post-secondary coursework or degrees may boost job prospects; brokers must obtain and renew state licenses through in-person or remote providers like 360Training.com
- Training Requirements: One to three years of on-the-job experience as a sales agent; some brokerages have formal training programs for newly hired agents, while others expect new agents to learn from seasoned reps
- Median Salary (2021): $48,770
- Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $30,470 to $176,080
- Growth Outlook (2019 – 2029): 21,800 new positions (4% growth)
Real estate sales is among a dwindling set of occupations into which pretty much any extroverted, self-starting high school graduate can break.
Aspiring brokers must work as real estate sales agents under licensed brokers for at least a year before sitting for their state real estate licensing exam. According to the BLS, brokerages increasingly prefer candidates with college degrees. However, it’s still possible to get your foot in the door with just a diploma, some post-secondary coursework in business or finance, or both.
Brokers have more professional freedom than agents. A licensed broker can found a new brokerage or work toward a partnership at an existing brokerage. Brokers generally earn more than sales agents too – although sales volumes, property prices, and commission structure are more important to take-home earnings than occupational licensing. For some brokers, selling houses is a side gig, not a full-time occupation, so their net earnings are invariably lower than full-timers’.
Brokers must renew their sales licenses every two to four years, depending on state policy. Some states may require continuing education too.
21. Funeral Service Manager (Funeral Home Manager)
- Degree or Certificate Requirements: Associate degree in mortuary science or funeral service required; for funeral service managers looking to perform cremations, a certification from a recognized body – such as the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) – is required
- Training Requirements: All states require funeral service managers to obtain state licenses, which involve an internship period lasting one to three years, a licensing exam, and variable continuing education requirements
- Median Salary (2021): $74,000
- Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $42,260 to $135,660
- Growth Outlook (2020 – 2030): 1,600 lost positions (-6% job growth)
We all end up in the same place: a mortuary freezer. There, and for a period after that, we’re in the capable hands of funeral service managers and their staff, including undertakers, funeral directors, and cremation specialists.
Most funeral service managers work out of funeral homes. At any given funeral home, the funeral service manager is typically the most senior day-to-day employee on-site and is responsible for all facets of the home’s management. Depending on the size of the home and the faith traditions of its clientele, funeral service managers may oversee memorials and funeral services in a variety of settings, including houses of worship, gravesites, private homes, and community centers.
Bear in mind that this is not an entry-level position. Most funeral service managers work for years in subordinate positions within the death services industry. At a minimum, aspiring managers must spend a year or longer in a funeral management internship program under a more experienced manager’s supervision. And the field’s long-term outlook is cloudy at best due to ongoing industry consolidation.
22. Mechanical Engineering Technician
- Degree or Certificate Requirements: Post-secondary certificate or associate degree in mechanical engineering technology
- Training Requirements: Pre-employment internships are helpful; otherwise, training occurs on the job
- Median Salary (2021): $60,460
- Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $37,670 to $95,300
- Growth Outlook (2020 – 2030): 2,300 new positions (6% job growth)
Mechanical engineering technicians assist mechanical engineers in the design, development, and production of mechanical equipment. Depending on the nature of their lead engineer’s work, their duties might include:
- Making rough sketches of new or modified parts
- Calculating production tolerances, part specifications, and other data essential to the manufacturing process
- Planning product tests
- Collecting and analyzing data during product testing
- Assembling and modifying prototypes
- Planning production, which might include cost and labor estimates
Many mechanical engineering technicians work in traditional office settings, particularly when their employers specialize in design rather than production. Technicians employed by manufacturing firms may work on or just off the production floor. While some plant-based technicians may work irregular hours to coincide with scheduled shifts, 8-to-5 work abounds in this field.
23. Avionics Technician (Aircraft Mechanic)
- Degree or Certificate Requirements: Employers eventually require a completion certificate from an FAA-approved aviation maintenance technician school but may hire trainees without one; an associate degree may improve job prospects
- Training Requirements: Extensive on-the-job training to prepare non-certified trainees for FAA certification; training generally includes working under the supervision of certified technicians
- Median Salary (2021): $69,280
- Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $38,700 to $100,860
- Growth Outlook (2020 – 2030): 7,300 new positions (5% job growth)
Avionics technicians maintain and repair aircraft avionics systems – the extensive, formidably complex electronics systems that keep planes in the sky and in touch with the ground.
Avionics technicians work in challenging environments, such as loud, bustling hangars; airfields buffeted by extreme weather; and cramped aircraft compartments. If you crave the predictability of a white-collar office, this isn’t the occupation for you. But if you enjoy working with your hands and making a small but critical contribution to the modern aviation industry, you’ll fit right in here.
The avionics technician trade remains heavily unionized, along with most other aircraft service professions. Whatever the downsides are of labor unions, avionics technicians as a whole undoubtedly benefit from higher wages, better benefits, and safer working conditions than peers in comparable non-unionized positions.
If you prefer to spend more time in the cockpit, it’s worth noting that commercial pilots aren’t always required to have four-year degrees. However, training and credentialing requirements for this role do vary, so we can’t credibly call commercial flying a job that does not require a college degree.
24. Office Line Supervisor
- Degree or Certificate Requirements: High school diploma or equivalent required; some positions may require vocational school certificates or associate degrees
- Training Requirements: One to two years of prior work experience; variable on-the-job training requirements
- Median Salary (2021): $60,590
- Salary Range (10th to 90th Percentile): $37,370 to $97,610
- Growth Outlook (2020 – 2030): 46,700 lost positions (-3% growth)
The BLS’s proper name for this occupation is “first-line supervisors of office and administrative support workers.” What unites the more than 1.6 million “first-line supervisors” is direct supervisory responsibility for entry-level employees. Beyond that, this occupation’s job duties vary widely. According to the Occupational Information Network (O*NET), they might include:
- Ensuring subordinates’ adherence to quality and accuracy standards
- Resolving escalated customer complaints
- Providing task-related guidance to junior or less-experienced employees
- Completing clerical paperwork and recordkeeping, such as payroll
- Evaluating and managing subordinates’ job performances
First-line supervisors often advance organically within their organizations. If you start at a larger organization in an entry-level job that doesn’t require a college degree and work hard for a while, a first-line supervisory job is likelier than not to open up.
Virtually all of the jobs on this list demand either some post-secondary certification or extensive on-the-job training. Many ask for both. And a fair number require aspirants to obtain and maintain state-issued professional licenses. In some cases, these combined post-secondary educational prerequisites and on-the-job training requirements match or exceed the time commitment required to obtain a four-year degree.
However, none ask tens of thousands of dollars in student debt as the price of admission, and the median pay for most is higher than the U.S. median per capita income. A willingness to work hard may be all that’s necessary to seal the deal.