While earning a college degree can help you prepare for high-paying careers, you can find many jobs that pay well that don’t require a degree. Many companies have eliminated degree requirements, focusing instead on candidates’ skills as businesses compete for workers.
According to Harvard Business Review, companies reduced their educational requirements for 46% of middle-skill positions from 2017-19. These jobs still require some post-secondary training but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree.
That’s good news for many people concerned about the cost of attending college. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, students in the U.S. paid an average of $13,900 at public institutions and $27,200 at private nonprofit institutions for tuition, fees, supplies, and living expenses in 2018-19. Those costs can linger, with many graduates spending years paying off student loans.
Many factors impact how much you can expect to earn in the workforce. Where you live, your work experience, and your chosen field can all lead to higher pay. The careers listed below usually offer relatively high pay without requiring a four-year degree.
High Paying Jobs That Don’t Require a Four-Year Degree
Air Traffic Controller
Air traffic controllers ensure aircraft keep a safe distance from other aircraft and potential hazards. These individuals work in airport control towers, particularly near large airports. Others may work from secure offices across the country to assist pilots en route to a location. Most work for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a federal agency.
Because air traffic requires the expertise of its controllers around the clock, these individuals may work day, evening, or night shifts and work weekends and holidays. Three years of work experience, a bachelor’s degree, or a combination of work and education qualify you for this position. The Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative offers two- or four-year degree paths with a curriculum focused on aviation topics. Trainees must enter the FAA Academy no later than their 31st birthday.
Commercial pilots operate aircraft, transporting people or goods from place to place. They prepare and file flight plans and check aircraft mechanical and fuel systems before taking off. While in flight, they monitor systems and communicate with air traffic control. They must respond to emergencies and changing weather and navigate the plane to its destination.
Commercial pilots earn their wings through training and experience, with many attending certified flight schools. The FAA governs pilot training and certification. Pilots begin with private pilot licenses and continue to log flight time, documenting various maneuvers and procedures as they progress through pilot certifications. Pilots must meet age requirements and pass a physical exam.
Construction manager oversee construction projects from cost estimates and work schedules through final inspections. They work closely with architects and engineers to ensure the project meets building requirements. They may also supervise subcontractors working on building, masonry, electrical systems, or plumbing. The manager ensures the company secures necessary permits and completes any required building inspections.
Construction managers often bring several years of experience in construction to their position. Some individuals earn an associate degree or bachelor’s degree in construction management that supplements their work experience. Some companies offer on-the-job training under the supervision of an experienced manager.
Elevator Installer and Repairer
Elevators require proper installation and regular maintenance to transport individuals safely. Because these systems require specialized knowledge and skills, elevator installers and repairers focus their training on these mechanical and computerized systems.
Training takes place through an apprentice program, but repairers and installers must participate in ongoing training to stay up-to-date on changing technology. Most states require a license to work on an elevator system, and you can earn professional certifications.
Most elevator installers and repairers work as building equipment contractors. It’s a physically demanding job. You will work in cramped areas in hot and cold environments and at high altitudes. While many tasks occur during scheduled hours, elevator repairers may respond to emergencies.
These computer professionals help organizations build and maintain information systems and computer networks. They install hardware and software and serve as a resource to identify problems and find solutions. IT managers often oversee a staff of technicians that perform repairs or maintenance.
While many IT managers may earn a degree in computer science, an associate degree or industry certifications and relevant work experience can qualify individuals for these positions. Most managers work full-time in an office setting.
Morticians and funeral directors work directly with families to plan the details of the funeral. They also embalm bodies and perform cosmetic work to prepare remains for viewing by family and friends. The funeral director often coordinates details of the funeral service, including arranging for clergy and pallbearers, scheduling the opening and closing of graves for burial, and writing an obituary.
Prospective morticians can study mortuary science or funeral service as part of an associate degree program. Students may gain experience by working part time for a funeral home. Training may also include an apprenticeship. In addition to training and educational programs, morticians must pass a state licensing exam.
Nuclear Power Plant Operator
Nuclear power plant operators adjust control rods to regulate how much power a nuclear reactor produces. They monitor the reactors, generators, turbines, and cooling systems, collecting data and reporting and responding to abnormalities. About 5,300 nuclear power reactor operators were employed in 2020, most working for utility companies.
Training for these positions typically involves on-the-job technical training. Nuclear power plant operators must pass the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s licensing exam. Ongoing training ensures operators can use new monitoring systems. Many utility companies require background and security checks on all employees, especially nuclear power plants.
Product managers supervise the manufacturing or production of a specific product. They may work in software development, marketing, manufacturing, or other fields, and job requirements vary by field. Some product managers hold a degree in business or a related field. Others gain the experience necessary through working for a company and taking on leadership roles.
The product manager ensures production quality, manages a budget, and maintains production timelines. They need problem-solving skills, time-management skills, interpersonal skills, and leadership skills.
Radiation can treat a variety of cancers and tumors. Radiation therapists work as part of a patient’s treatment team to deliver this critical therapy safely and effectively. The therapists explain treatment plans to patients and their families, calibrate machines, monitor the patient’s reactions, and keep detailed notes of all treatment sessions. About 65% of radiation therapists work for hospitals.
Radiation therapists possess good interpersonal skills, technical skills, and physical stamina. Training includes study in human anatomy, computer science, and mathematics, typically in a one-year, two-year, or four-year program. Most states require radiation therapists to pass a national certification exam and maintain state certification.
Real Estate Agent
Real estate agents help connect buyers and sellers of real property, such as homes, land, and commercial buildings. Many agents work for themselves or under the direction of a real estate broker. They often can set their schedule but may work irregular hours to meet with clients. They help sellers market their property, advising on property pricing, staging, and advertising. They also show properties to potential buyers and negotiate purchase terms.
Real estate agents must pass a state exam and maintain a state license. Community colleges, real estate companies, and educational service providers offer courses that can help prepare you for the state exam. Topics include fair housing laws, legal descriptions, real estate ethics, mortgage lending, and listing agreements. Many courses require a few months to complete.