50 Good Careers You Can Get Without a Degree
Thinking about the future can be a stressful endeavor if you’re not sure what you want to do with the rest of your life. The key is to first question whatever anyone tells you. Try without fear of failure, and know that each thing that doesn’t work will bring you one step closer to what does. Conventional wisdom may tell you that you need to graduate high school, go to college, get your bachelors, then masters, and finally, a PhD. While there is nothing wrong with this path, don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s the route you should take. Each student is different, and as you’re about to see, you can find a great career without racking up the student loan debt and having any fancy degrees. That doesn’t mean your path will be easier, though, so make sure that you plan to extend your education beyond high school, whatever you do. Here are 50 Good Careers You Can Get Without a Degree to help you along.
If you’ve thought about becoming a dental hygienist, aka teeth cleaners, here’s a good reason to follow through: as of 2010, they made, on average $68,250 per year or a little more than $32 per hour. You must become licensed to do the work in the US, but beyond that, the requirements vary from state to state. Here’s a link for How to Become a Dental Hygienist.
2. Web Developer
HTML, CSS, PHP, Ruby, Perl, Python — get used to the various terms if you want to become a web developer. The good news about this type of job, is that it’s more of a doers profession. In our own experience, we know some talented, well-paid individuals, who don’t have a college degree, nor any letters after their name. You don’t have to have a specific slate of coursework or anything like that. Bottom line: if you’re eager to be the best, have the money to invest in some how-to manuals, and then put the necessary time in to your education, you can find work. Web developers make, on average, about $76,000 per year, according to CareerCast.
3. Online Advertising Manager
An online advertising manager often has the same advantages of not needing a degree because there are so many websites vying for ad dollars that there isn’t enough talent to fill the vacancies. This presents a wonderful opportunity for self-starters, who are good at networking through social media, email, or in-person. You could even start your own website and handle advertising campaigns, pricing, inventory, and the implementation/coordination of ideas. If it gets results, then you have a resume builder to a bigger position. CareerCast estimates that online advertising managers make around $87,000 annually.
4. Paralegal Assistant
The dollar doesn’t go quite as far as it used to, so the $47,000 you could make as a paralegal assistant may not mean as much as it did five years ago, but it still beats minimum wage and most starter jobs or positions that require two to three years experience. Requirements, as with dental hygiene, vary from state to state. Most attorneys will usually want you to take their state’s official exam, but it’s not impossible to land a position before you’ve done that as long as you’ve completed an accredited paralegal training course. The training is much shorter (and cheaper) than what college expects, and the results can be rewarding. Plus, you’ll get a chance to witness and research some interesting cases along the way.
5. Cosmetologist or Hair Stylist
Cosmetologists my only make around $23,000 on paper, but keep in mind this is an all-cash business, which means a lot of your earnings will come through tips and how much drive you have to earn a living. There are a lot of cosmetologists and hair stylists out there, who earn quite a bit more than the “official” number, and a lot of that money is non-taxable (unless you report it). We’re not telling you to slight the government. In case they’re reading this, WE WOULD NEVER DO THAT. But, it’s something to think about.
6. Dog Walker and Animal Care Specialist
The closest thing we’ve found on salary information for this one is $22,070 — source: Reader’s Digest — but if you live in a bigger city of 300,000 or more people, the job can be very lucrative thanks again to the all-cash nature of the business. It also gives you a chance to handle and care for pets, and if you’re an animal lover, that’s a dream come true. Plus, for dog walkers especially, you get to exercise while you work. How cool is that?
7. Freelance Writer
Wait a minute. Don’t you need to learn English and grammar and syntax and all that fancy stuff the colleges teach to become a freelance writer? Yes. Yes, you do. But you don’t necessarily need college to learn it. In my own experience, a love of reading and experimenting with my own words taught me more about language use than any teacher ever did. I had a natural passion for it, but can honestly say that working professionally as a freelance writer has more to do with drive than school. I put in just as much work to learn the language, but most of what I learned was self-taught, and the rest came in grade school. The life isn’t an easy one, but it does pay the bills. Some years are better than others income-wise, but I can say that I’ve been at it full-time for four years, and have made north of $40k every one of those years. Like any profession, the longer you do it, the better you get at finding higher paying work, and there is nothing special about this guy. You could probably do even better. Just make sure you stand up and walk around every once in a while. These sedentary professions can give you what I like to call “frying-pan butt.”
8. Court Reporter
Working as a stenographer, or a court reporter, can be very interesting work. You get to learn about the legal system and see some pretty interesting cases unfold before your eyes and ears. CareerCast reports that professionals in this line of work earn on average $48,000 annually. In government positions, you will want to get certified through the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) or The National Verbatim Reporters Association (NVRA), but it’s not necessary to find work, and the skill can be learned through any vocational or trade school and some colleges.
If you want a career as a land surveyor — or an individual, who helps to establish property boundaries — then you’ll want to get your high school diploma or GED and have strong math skills. From that point, you can find a job as a rod man, who typically goes out and locates survey pins and benchmarks, then drives survey stakes into the ground. As a rod man, you’ll be part of a field survey team. This will give you access to on-the-job training. The rest of what you’ll need you can pick up through a community college or technical school. Surveyors, according to CareerCast, make on average $55,000 per year.
10. Heating and Refrigeration Mechanic
If you’re good with your hands, then a career in HVAC is a good path to pursue. These pros make around $43,000, according to CareerCast, and need the standard high school diploma or GED with an emphasis on chemistry, blueprint reading, mechanical drawing, and computer applications. From there, a local trade union should be able to set you up with apprenticeship guidelines and opportunities for paid, on-the-job training. You’ll want to apply to an HVAC program as well, which can take anywhere from three to five years for completion.
As the right hand of any business executive, you’ll see just how busy and hectic the world can be because you’ll be managing his or her schedule, handling correspondence, getting them to show up for appointments on time, and taking care of whatever else you need to for keeping the boss-man or boss-woman on track. Executive assistant pay can be quite lucrative with CareerCast reporting an average of $44,000 for annual salary, but this number can get even higher at some of the bigger companies. Skills: organizational, secretarial, and communication. For many, these things come naturally, and if you’re good at them, who needs higher ed?
12. Industrial Machinery Mechanics and Maintenance Workers
As of 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that individuals in this profession made around $44,160 per year, or $21.23 per hour. For entry level, you only need a high school diploma or GED equivalent. Top skills include manual dexterity, mechanical and problem solving abilities, and technical skills for being able to diagnose issues with complex equipment. According to BLS, most long-term pros in the profession take a two-year associate’s program in industrial maintenance.
13. Insurance Agent
Insurance agents can make a nice living whether they manage their own branch or not. The profession is one designed for self-starters, who are comfortable in face-to-face communications and who can handle rejection. You also have to be able to work well under pressure as most of your income will come from performance. Companies may or may not prefer a college education. Usually, it won’t matter that much to them as they have their own training programs for how to sell the product and manage claims. According to CareerCast, the average insurance agent makes close to $47,000 per year.
14. Tax Examiner — Collector
The BLS notes that a tax examiner or collector will ensure governments get tax revenue from businesses and citizens. They review tax returns, identify taxes owed, conduct audits, and collect overdue payments. These professionals average $49,360 annually, or around $23.73 per hour. It’s worth noting that to enter this profession, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree or more at the federal level. But at local and state, you can find a position with relevant experience in collections, management, customer service, and tax compliance.
15. Wholesale Sales Representative
Proven sales ability is a trump to all other forms of education in this profession. With the sheer volume of companies that are out there looking to make a difference, you can distinguish yourself through a trainee position with the company at which you apply. While some of the more established companies may require a college education, most businesses just want results. CareerCast reports that the average wholesale sales rep can make around $52,000 per year.
16. Construction Machine Operator
The BLS reported that construction machine operators, as of 2010, earned on average $39,460 per year or around $18.97 per hour. All you need to make a career in this profession is a high school or GED equivalent, but you will also require moderate on-the-job training in order to learn the controls and safety precautions. For a formal apprenticeship program, you will have to take 144 hours of technical instruction and around 2,000 hours of paid OTJ. Whether apprenticeship is required will depend on the employer.
17. Architectural Drafter
An architectural drafter uses software programs to convert blueprint rough-hand and designs of engineers and architects into a workable model. Their work can draft anything from skyscrapers to microchips, and they average around $47,880 per year for their efforts, as of 2010 (Source: BLS). To become a drafter, you’ll want to take an associate’s program at a community college or technical school.
18. Electrical Technician
Electrical technicians install and maintain the electrical systems for businesses, factories, and homes. According to the BLS, they make around $48,250 per year, or did as of 2010. That translates to a respectable $23.20 per hour. Private contractors can earn a lot more than that. To get there, however, you’ll need to have some business savvy and be good at what you do. Learn from the best through an apprenticeship. To qualify, you’ll need to be at least 18 years old with one year of algebra, a high school degree (or equivalent), a qualifying score on an aptitude test, and a drug free lifestyle. Working with electricity can be dangerous, so take it seriously. There is little room for error, but the career itself is rewarding.
19. Sewage Plant Operator
Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and Systems Operators, according to BLS, average close to $41,000 per year or about $19.60 per hour. The position requires a high school diploma or GED equivalent. A typical day will consist of the operator using a system of machines to control the transfer or treatment of water and wastewater. For additional training, you may want to try community colleges, technical schools, or trade associations, and take courses in water quality management or wastewater treatment technology.
20. Commercial Divers
To become a commercial diver, you’ll want to carve out four to six months of specialized training. A good place to start is the Commercial Diving Academy, which can bring you up to speed on a number of careers like search-and-rescue, industrial construction, underwater pipelining, salvage, and a variety of other areas. Whatever you decide, pick an area for specialization, and the $58,000 annually that these pros earn could result in even greater earnings.
21. Rotary Drill Operators
The oil and gas industry can be tough labor, but very rewarding. While rotary drill operators average $49,220 per year, those in the 75th and 90th percentile earn $66,650 and $84,390, respectively, according to the BLS. In other words, tremendous upside! This position is one of the few that require less than a high school diploma, though more companies are looking for at least a GED. And to advance, you’ll need extensive on-the-job training.
As a railroad conductor and yardmaster, you will coordinate the daily activities of both freight and passenger train crews. Conductors handle these duties on the train, while yardmasters stay put at the rail yard. According to BLS, the positions require a high school diploma and OTJ training, and median salary is around $49,770 per year.
23. Chemical Plant and Systems Operator
As a chemical plant and systems operator, you can make anywhere from $33,000 to $75,380 with a median annual salary of $54,390. The responsibilities include to control or operate entire chemical processes or systems of machines. Hiring has slowed in this sector, but if you can get one of these jobs, they’re worth keeping. The vast majority have high school diplomas or the GED equivalent, and they typically start in an entry-level position before moving up the ladder.
24. Real Estate Sales Agent
Real estate has been a tough sector since 2008, but the market definitely shows signs of picking up, and when it does, the average salary of $42,680 per year is likely to increase. Of course, pros who are able to crack the commercial real estate market can earn far more than that, but it gets highly competitive at that level. Still, you’ll never reach it unless you take that first step, and when it comes to becoming a real estate agent, that step includes having a high school diploma, being at least 18 years of age, and passing the licensing exam in your state. You will also need to take several hours of real estate classes as determined by the guidelines within your state.
25. Subway and Streetcar Operators
To enter this occupation, you will need at least a high school diploma and several months of OTJ training. These positions are mostly government jobs, which mean they usually come with solid benefits, and you’ll get to travel a lot, though it may not be particularly exciting since you’re seeing the same parts of a city over and over again. Still, the $56,880 median salary is enough to make up for it.
26. Gaming Supervisors
A gaming supervisor works in a casino and does anything from dealing cards and tending slot machines to making payouts and supervising other employees. Depending on where you are in the casino, pay can be quite well with tips serving as a nice tax-free supplement to the regular median salary of $20,260 per year. The major things you’ll need to do the job right: high school diploma or GED and customer service skills.
27. Wildland Fire Fighter
To become a forest fire fighter, you’ll need to be at least 18 years of age and a US citizen. The high school diploma or GED is not an absolute requirement, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt. The work you’ll be doing leaves little room for error as you’ll be risking your life to quench out of control blazes, but the work is high-adrenaline and does pay well at around $47,270 annual median salary.
28. Private Detectives and Investigators
As a private detective you’ll have to find facts and analyze information related to legal, financial, or personal matters. The work is rarely dangerous, though that isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. Most PIs take on cases of marital infidelity or they are hired by families to kindle the fire on cold missing persons cases. Insurance companies also use investigators to catch fraudulent claims. The work is usually interesting, and on average it can earn you around $42,870 per year — more if you’re experienced and have good business acumen. To become a PI, there are no formal requirements, but you will need a lot of common sense and life experience to excel.
29. Explosives Workers
If you would like to be an “earthmover” or demolitions expert, then this is the career path for you. Individuals in this line of work earn an annual median of close to $48,620 per year, and they get to make loud noises and blow things up. Sound cool? You’ll need a high school diploma or equivalent to make it work, and your state may require specific licensing procedures. To learn more, check with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives office in your state.
30. Makeup Artists — Theatrical and Performance
Makeup artists at the level of stage and theatrical performance don’t have an easy path to achieving their dreams, but it can be very lucrative, interesting work for the lucky few. The median annual salary for these individuals is $64,450, but much of the early part of one’s career is spent toiling in the mid-$20k to mid-$30k range. If you stay at it and are committed to the craft, you could go far.
Flight attendants get to travel all around the country and parts of the world, sometimes in one day. Along the way, they get to experience the thrill of flying and meet a variety of interesting people along the way. Annual median salary runs at about $37,740. So far, you need just a high school diploma as most of the training is done by your employer, but many airlines are starting to target college grads.
32. Auto Body Repairers
Automotive body and glass repairers refinish, restore, and replace bodies and frames, windshields, and window glass, on a number of different vehicle types. Annually, they make about $37,580. Getting a job is easy in the sense that you don’t require any formal education, but after hire, plan to continue your education through industry certification programs.
33. Air Traffic Controller
The road to becoming an air traffic controller is rigorous for the uninitiated, but with a pay range from approximately $74,922 to $102,030 per year, “rewarding” would be putting it lightly. First of all, all air traffic controllers must be United States citizens. In most cases, they should be younger than age 31. Additionally, they will be called upon to pass a medical examination, security investigation, and should demonstrate three years of progressively responsible work experience and/or a full four-year course of study leading to a bachelor’s degree, or some combination of the two. In other words, some college is preferred, but a degree need not be in the bag, so to speak. Finally, an applicant must achieve a score of at least 70 on the FAA pre-employment test, speak English clearly enough to be understood over communications equipment, and complete an interview. (Source: FAA)
34. Special Enforcement Agent
At the federal level, you’re probably going to need a college degree, and military experience wouldn’t hurt. However, at the state level, there is still room for advancement with just a high school diploma or associate’s degree. You’ll need law enforcement experience, and any special training that you received through that path and/or the military will help out greatly. On average, special enforcement agents make around $53,990 per year and work with agencies like the state bureau of investigation, FBI, and DEA. This isn’t something you’re going to apply for out of high school and get, but you can become a police officer and grow from there.
35. Municipal Firefighter
It takes a special person to work as a Municipal Firefighter. Risking your life to save others, dealing with heights, smoke inhalation, and the threat of being burned alive — we’ll leave that to you brave folks. The median salary for a pro in this position is about $58,902, and you will usually work in 24-hour shifts that could vary depending on municipality. All you’ll need is a high school diploma and the ability to pass standard and physical examinations.
36. Telecommunications Line Installer
With the Internet and cable solutions increasingly popular, the demand for telecommunications line installers will only continue to grow through the years. In fact, some estimates have stated that every household will be on the Internet inside of five years. People use the Internet for work, downtime, and to watch movies and listen to music. The only thing that makes it possible is a proper connection, which is where you would come in to this equation. Telecommunications line installers earn around $54,710 per year and must complete high school as well as some specialized postsecondary training.
Most areas require plumbers to have a license, but beyond that, no college is required. Most of the professional training occurs on the job, and plumbers earn around $46,660 per year at the median. If you’re starting out from scratch and you don’t have any direct contacts to show you the way, then a technical college is a good place to begin your training.
38. Margin Department Supervisor
The Margin Department Supervisor overlooks operations of the margin department, denies and approves credit to clients, monitors account activity, and ensures compliance with all relevant government regulations. The position could require a bachelor’s degree in an area of specialty and four to six years of experience in the field or a related area. You should be dependable and pick up things quickly. Landing a job like this will earn you a median of $83,000 per year, according to Salary.com.
39. Automobile Service Station Manager
Automobile service station managers will forever be in demand thanks to the fact that through good times and bad, people will need maintenance done to their vehicles. In the role of station manager, you will make sure staff is conducting repairs in a timely fashion. You will keep costs as low as possible. And the good ones make $72,000 per year and up.
40. Landscape Architect
Landscape architects are required to be licensed in every state, but the specifics usually differ from there. One commonality they share is that most prefer a degree specifically in landscape architecture, which you could get from any number of postsecondary — college or technical — schools. Work experience, and a passing score on the Landscape Architect Registration Exam are also invaluable assets. Landscape architects get to work with amusement parks, outdoor recreational facilities, and all kinds of other goodies, and they make $62,090 per year.
The jobs listed below are others you might consider for escaping minimum wage, but if you have higher aspirations, we recommend you keep working on your education. With the cost of everything going up and salaries not keeping the same pace, you could find it difficult getting ahead, especially if you have a lot of expenses. The good news, however, is that any of these positions come with lower tax liability, and they could have some advancement opportunities and pay bumps along the way that make life easier. But even if none of these turn out to be your final career, they can often serve as gateway jobs to better positions, so they’re still worth your time.
41. Medical Secretary $31,000
42. Teacher’s Aide $23,000
43. Truck Drivers — Semi- and Tractor-Trailer $39,260
44. Welder $35,220
45. Pest Control $32,480
46. Customer Service $32,780
47. Coin, Vending, and Amusement Machine Service $31,950
48. Locksmith $37,550
49. Bartender $21,310
50. Personal Trainer $37,500
[Image Dental Hygiene via Flickr Creative Commons]
[Image Executive Assistant via Flickr Creative Commons]
[Image Conductor via Flickr Creative Commons]
[Image Flight Attendants via Flickr Creative Commons]
[Image Personal Trainer via Flickr Creative Commons]