The majority of American adults aged 25 or older do not hold a college degree of any kind (including associate degrees). In this report, AdvisorSmith explores the professions that are the highest paying for this segment of the population, which accounts for 54% of people aged 25 or older.
In this study, we used data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on occupations and educational attainment to identify occupations in which more than 50% of workers do not have a college degree. Associate and two-year degrees were counted as college degrees for the purposes of this study. We then ranked the top 25 and top 100 occupations based on their annual median salary to find the highest paying jobs for workers without a college degree.
All of these professions have an annual median salary that is well above the national median salary of $39,810. The range of median salaries in the top 100 professions ranges from $48,690 to $100,530 at the very top of the range. Out of the top 25 professions, the most common high-paying job was First-Line Supervisors of Construction Trades and Extraction Workers, and of the top 100 jobs, the most common was First-Line Supervisors of Office and Administrative Support Workers. Many of the top-paying jobs are considered essential workers, who provide important services to keep our society and economy running smoothly. Power and transportation industries especially accounted for many of the highest-paying jobs.
Read on to discover the top 25 jobs that pay the most to workers who have not completed a college degree.
Top 25 Highest Paying Jobs Without a College Degree
1. Nuclear Power Reactor Operators
Annual Median Salary: $100,530
Total Jobs: 5,050
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 61.4%
A highly specialized profession, Nuclear Power Reactor Operators perform critical functions necessary to ensure that nuclear power plants can produce energy for homes and businesses while operating in a safe manner that protects the health of workers at the plant as well as residents of the surrounding communities. In this occupation, operators are responsible for monitoring and adjusting controls at nuclear power plants, responding to abnormalities, performing tests, and handling nuclear fuel.
While the majority of nuclear power reactor operators do not have a college degree, the job requires knowledge of physics, math, some engineering, as well as mechanical skills. The difficulty of this knowledge, as well as the high conscientiousness required, makes this the #1 highest paying job for workers without a college degree.
2. Construction Managers
Annual Median Salary: $95,260
Total Jobs: 293,380
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 58.0%
Construction managers are responsible for planning, supervising, and coordinating construction projects. In this role, they interface with the project’s developer, as well as the numerous contractors and subcontractors that are involved with building a structure. They often work on-site at construction projects in order to effectively manage the flow of workers, materials, budget, and schedule. Construction management is a growing field, with higher-than-average employment growth, and the field of construction offers many opportunities for workers without college degrees.
Most construction managers that do not hold a college degree work their way up, beginning as assistants or as trade specialties, and receive extensive experience on-the-job before becoming construction managers.
3. Transportation, Storage, and Distribution Managers
Annual Median Salary: $94,560
Total Jobs: 132,040
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 60.9%
Transportation, storage, and distribution managers are responsible for the management of goods and warehouses that supply our economy. With the rise of e-commerce, logistics has become a growing and in-demand field, and one that pays high wages to workers without college degrees. When consumers order goods from a website, an entire team of logistics workers from various companies collaborates in order to move goods from a distribution center all the way to the customer’s house or place of business.
4. Power Distributors and Dispatchers
Annual Median Salary: $90,700
Total Jobs: 10,770
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 61.4%
Power distributors and dispatchers are workers who monitor and regulate the distribution of electricity between power plants, distribution lines, substations, and end-users. Our electricity grid is a dynamic system that is constantly fluctuating, with changes in power generation levels, electricity consumption, and electricity prices. In the midst of this delicate dance are power distributors and dispatchers, who act as the equivalent of air traffic controllers for power and electricity.
This occupation requires substantial on-the-job training, even though the majority of workers in this field do not have a college degree.
5. Elevator and Escalator Installers and Repairers
Annual Median Salary: $84,990
Total Jobs: 28,350
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 81.2%
With population growth and the increasing density of city centers in the United States, elevator and escalator installers and repairers are in high demand. With more demand for multi-story buildings across the country, as well as maintenance required on the existing elevators and escalators that have already been installed, the specialized knowledge needed to install and repair escalators and elevators leads to high pay for this profession.
While over 80% of these workers do not have a college degree, repairing or installing an escalator or elevator requires strong mechanical skills. Additionally, these days, almost all elevators and escalators are computerized, so knowledge of specialized software is also required.
6. Electrical and Electronics Repairers, Powerhouse, Substation, and Relay
Annual Median Salary: $82,780
Total Jobs: 22,650
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 59.9%
Electrical and electronics repairers, Powerhouse, Substation, and Relay workers are responsible for testing, maintaining, and repairing power equipment at various locations throughout a utility or power generation company’s network. When the power goes out, these are some of the workers who are called. These repair and maintenance workers need to have strong mechanical, engineering, and math skills, as well as knowledge of specialized software and equipment.
Most of these workers receive vocational training, and once they have acquired the requisite knowledge, can benefit from high salaries.
7. Nuclear Technicians
Annual Median Salary: $82,080
Total Jobs: 6,420
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 50.0%
Nuclear technicians assist nuclear operators, physicists, engineers, and other professionals at nuclear power plants in order to help produce nuclear power. Some of the duties of this profession include monitoring equipment and performance, measuring radiation, collecting air, water and soil samples, and maintaining equipment. Exactly half of these workers do not have a college degree.
8. Power Plant Operators
Annual Median Salary: $81,990
Total Jobs: 33,620
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 61.4%
Power plant operators are responsible for monitoring and maintaining power plants in order to ensure that they are operating correctly. These workers are in charge of regulating the flow of electricity, adjusting the amount of power generated based on market conditions, and maintaining power generation equipment like pumps, fans, boilers, generators, and more. Operators of power plants need to understand the software used to operate their plants, as well as have mechanical knowledge, and have a high level of attention to the details of their plants.
9. Transportation Inspectors
Annual Median Salary: $75,820
Total Jobs: 30,020
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 66.2%
Transportation inspectors are workers who inspect transportation vehicles to ensure that they are safe. Many of these inspectors work for the federal government or state and local governments. Rail and freight companies who operate trains also employ many transportation inspectors, as does the automotive repair and maintenance industry.
10. Makeup Artists, Theatrical and Performance
Annual Median Salary: $75,730
Total Jobs: 3,400
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 80.7%
A highly specialized profession, makeup artists for theatrical and performance are the 10th highest paying profession for those without a college degree. In this career, makeup artists make sure that stage, TV, and film actors look their best while they are performing. While this profession requires good knowledge of makeup, it also requires strong people skills in order to collaborate with directors, producers, other visual artists, and actors and actresses.
11. Gambling Managers
Annual Median Salary: $74,970
Total Jobs: 4,450
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 62.9%
Gambling managers work in casinos to manage gambling operations. From making sure that players are satisfied to ensuring security and that games are properly weighted, gambling managers have a wide variety of responsibilities to make sure that the house wins in the end. Most gambling managers get their start working as a staff member in a casino and work their way up through on-the-job training.
12. Ship Engineers
Annual Median Salary: $74,610
Total Jobs: 8,410
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 79.1%
Ship engineers make sure that ships and boats can run, which is critical when ships are at sea, far away from a dock. In this role, ship engineers are responsible for operating and maintaining a ship’s propulsion system. Components that the engineer is responsible for include the engine, pumps, boilers, and much more. While almost 80% of these workers haven’t attended college, this job requires specialized knowledge that is gained from on-the-job training.
13. Petroleum Pump System Operators, Refinery Operators, and Gaugers
Annual Median Salary: $74,180
Total Jobs: 40,370
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 75.9%
Petroleum pump system operators, refinery operators, and gaugers are workers who are responsible for operating petroleum refineries. In this job, these operators start and stop pumps, monitor equipment and pressure levels, and adjust valves and pumps to ensure that petroleum is being refined properly. This job requires knowledge of mechanical systems, a good grasp of math, as well as the ability to use industrial control and inventory management software.
14. Signal and Track Switch Repairers
Annual Median Salary: $73,890
Total Jobs: 6,860
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 78.4%
Keeping the path smooth for trains, signal and track switch repairers make sure that tracks are in good condition for trains, light rail, and subways. They also do service and repair work on signals so that trains stay on the correct track, and so that crossing arms are always activated when trains cross intersections. This work involves traveling around the rail network in order to inspect, maintain, and repair all parts of the network.
15. Electrical Power-Line Installers and Repairers
Annual Median Salary: $72,520
Total Jobs: 111,660
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 80.4%
Also in the power industry, electrical power-line installers and repairers are also some of the highest-paid workers without a college degree. When there is a storm and the electricity is impacted, many times these workers will be called to work. Doing this work requires workers who are not afraid of heights, as much of the work is done at the top of power poles. This work requires strong mechanical skills as well as steady hands and good dexterity.
16. Captains, Mates, and Pilots of Water Vessels
Annual Median Salary: $72,340
Total Jobs: 33,370
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 68.1%
Ship captains are workers who are licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard. In this role, captains, mates, and pilots are responsible for the safe operation of their water vessels, which may include boats such as tugboats and ferry boats. These boats may be operated in the deep sea, coastal waters, the Great Lakes, or inland waterways.
17. Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Agricultural Managers
Annual Median Salary: $71,160
Total Jobs: 5,060
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 65.5%
Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers are responsible for producing the food that we eat, including fruits and vegetables, livestock, and dairy products. The farming industry continues to consolidate and also is increasing its use of technology, so the number of people in these roles has plateaued. A single farmer is increasingly able to oversee vast amounts of acreage.
18. Gas Plant Operators
Annual Median Salary: $70,710
Total Jobs: 14,410
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 75.9%
Gas plant operators are another type of power industry job that is well paid. Like their colleagues at other types of power plants, gas plant operators need to monitor and maintain plants so that gas can be produced safely for use at home or in industrial processes. Similar to many of the other power jobs listed in this study, gas plant operators receive substantial amounts of on-the-job training.
19. Orthotists and Prosthetists
Annual Median Salary: $68,410
Total Jobs: 9,830
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 50.6%
Orthotists and prosthetists make and fit medical devices such as braces or artificial limbs for patients to allow patients to improve mobility or functionality. In addition to interacting with patients to understand their needs and taking measurements, workers in this role also select materials, make designs, and adjust and maintain prosthetic and orthotic devices.
20. Subway and Streetcar Operators
Annual Median Salary: $67,880
Total Jobs: 10,730
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 75.7%
Playing a critical role in urban economies, subways and streetcars move large numbers of people around cities quickly and efficiently. The operators of these vehicles are responsible for tasks such as opening and closing doors, starting and stopping the vehicle, and sometimes collecting fares as well. Most of these jobs are public sector jobs.
21. First-Line Supervisors of Mechanics, Installers, and Repairers
Annual Median Salary: $67,460
Total Jobs: 485,700
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 73.4%
First-Line supervisors of mechanics, installers, and repairers are the managers of facilities and maintenance workers. These workers are responsible for overseeing the quality of installation and maintenance work, as well as planning and scheduling. Most of these workers start out working in the same profession as they now oversee and are ultimately promoted into a foreman or supervisor role.
22. Locomotive Engineers
Annual Median Salary: $67,090
Total Jobs: 35,520
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 76.8%
Responsible for driving trains, locomotive engineers are employed by rail companies to move passengers and freight around the country. This job requires constant attention, as well as an emphasis on safety.
23. First-Line Supervisors of Construction Trades and Extraction Workers
Annual Median Salary: $66,210
Total Jobs: 626,180
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 81.2%
First-Line supervisors of construction trades and extraction workers are the foreman and superintendent of construction sites and mining or other extraction sites. They are responsible for supervising and coordinating teams of construction workers or extraction workers. Most of these workers are promoted from the same types of teams that they supervise.
24. Gas Compressor and Gas Pumping Station Operators
Annual Median Salary: $66,160
Total Jobs: 3,440
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 82.2%
When natural gas is transported from one location to another, it needs to be pressurized periodically along the way. Compressor and pumping stations “push” gas through the pipeline in order to move it along towards its final destination. Gas compressor and gas pumping station operators are responsible for the operation and maintenance of these stations to ensure that they are properly compressing gas and also operating safely.
25. Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technologists and Technicians
Annual Median Salary: $66,020
Total Jobs: 11,540
Percent of Workers Without a College Degree: 57.2%
Aerospace engineering and operations technologists and technicians are responsible for operating and maintaining equipment for the production and testing of new airplanes and spacecraft. They help to build the test facilities and parts used to test new aircraft, and they also help aerospace companies comply with certification regulations. This specialized job requires knowledge of CAD software, as well as mechanical, engineering, and math knowledge.
100 Highest Paying Jobs Without a College Degree
The table below lists the 100 highest paying jobs that do not require a college degree. The table lists the name of the job, the total number of jobs in the United States, the median salary, and the percentage of workers in the job who do not hold a college degree.
|Rank||Job Title||Total Jobs||Annual Median Salary||% Without Degree|
|1||Nuclear Power Reactor Operators||5,050||$100,530||61.4%|
|3||Transportation, Storage, and Distribution Managers||132,040||$94,560||60.9%|
|4||Power Distributors and Dispatchers||10,770||$90,700||61.4%|
|5||Elevator and Escalator Installers and Repairers||28,350||$84,990||81.2%|
|6||Electrical and Electronics Repairers, Powerhouse, Substation, and Relay||22,650||$82,780||59.9%|
|8||Power Plant Operators||33,620||$81,990||61.4%|
|10||Makeup Artists, Theatrical and Performance||3,400||$75,730||80.7%|
|13||Petroleum Pump System Operators, Refinery Operators, and Gaugers||40,370||$74,180||75.9%|
|14||Signal and Track Switch Repairers||6,860||$73,890||78.4%|
|15||Electrical Power-Line Installers and Repairers||111,660||$72,520||80.4%|
|16||Captains, Mates, and Pilots of Water Vessels||33,370||$72,340||68.1%|
|17||Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Agricultural Managers||5,060||$71,160||65.5%|
|18||Gas Plant Operators||14,410||$70,710||75.9%|
|19||Orthotists and Prosthetists||9,830||$68,410||50.6%|
|20||Subway and Streetcar Operators||10,730||$67,880||75.7%|
|21||First-Line Supervisors of Mechanics, Installers, and Repairers||485,700||$67,460||73.4%|
|23||First-Line Supervisors of Construction Trades and Extraction Workers||626,180||$66,210||81.2%|
|24||Gas Compressor and Gas Pumping Station Operators||3,440||$66,160||82.2%|
|25||Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technologists and Technicians||11,540||$66,020||57.2%|
|26||Railroad Conductors and Yardmasters||45,710||$65,990||73.2%|
|28||Electrical and Electronic Engineering Technologists and Technicians||122,550||$65,260||57.2%|
|31||Aircraft Mechanics and Service Technicians||133,310||$64,090||66.9%|
|32||First-Line Supervisors of Correctional Officers||46,430||$63,730||58.8%|
|34||Calibration Technologists and Technicians and Engineering Technologists and Technicians, Except Drafters, All Other||88,330||$62,990||57.2%|
|35||Pile Driver Operators||3,540||$62,600||91.8%|
|36||Chemical Plant and System Operators||28,840||$62,550||75.9%|
|37||Electrical and Electronics Installers and Repairers, Transportation Equipment||9,790||$62,530||59.9%|
|38||Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators||32,520||$62,150||75.1%|
|39||Fire Inspectors and Investigators||13,710||$61,660||62.5%|
|40||First-Line Supervisors of Production and Operating Workers||631,100||$61,310||73.9%|
|41||Executive Secretaries and Executive Administrative Assistants||542,690||$60,890||61.1%|
|42||Construction and Building Inspectors||110,420||$60,710||55.0%|
|43||Railroad Brake, Signal, and Switch Operators and Locomotive Firers||11,080||$60,260||76.8%|
|44||Postal Service Mail Sorters, Processors, and Processing Machine Operators||102,390||$60,140||71.8%|
|45||Hoist and Winch Operators||4,800||$59,720||93.1%|
|46||Electrical and Electronics Repairers, Commercial and Industrial Equipment||58,930||$59,300||59.9%|
|47||Model Makers, Wood||810||$59,260||77.4%|
|48||Roof Bolters, Mining||3,140||$59,090||87.4%|
|50||Precision Instrument and Equipment Repairers, All Other||10,570||$58,720||54.7%|
|51||Plant and System Operators, All Other||12,950||$58,390||75.9%|
|52||Electro-Mechanical and Mechatronics Technologists and Technicians||14,290||$58,350||57.2%|
|53||Control and Valve Installers and Repairers, Except Mechanical Door||52,270||$58,100||81.9%|
|54||Telecommunications Equipment Installers and Repairers, Except Line Installers||208,480||$57,910||66.5%|
|55||Fish and Game Wardens||6,800||$57,500||53.3%|
|56||Model Makers, Metal and Plastic||4,300||$57,020||84.2%|
|57||Mechanical Engineering Technologists and Technicians||42,820||$56,980||57.2%|
|58||Telecommunications Line Installers and Repairers||120,900||$56,750||76.5%|
|59||Crane and Tower Operators||45,480||$56,690||90.2%|
|60||First-Line Supervisors of Office and Administrative Support Workers||1,487,870||$56,620||52.1%|
|61||Industrial Engineering Technologists and Technicians||67,110||$56,550||57.2%|
|62||Computer Numerically Controlled Tool Programmers||25,570||$56,450||81.1%|
|63||Rail Car Repairers||25,930||$56,390||82.5%|
|65||Rail-Track Laying and Maintenance Equipment Operators||16,180||$56,100||87.1%|
|67||Radio, Cellular, and Tower Equipment Installers and Repairers||14,370||$55,380||66.5%|
|68||Food Service Managers||235,470||$55,320||64.8%|
|69||Continuous Mining Machine Operators||14,630||$55,280||90.4%|
|70||Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters||442,870||$55,160||87.4%|
|71||First-Line Supervisors of Transportation and Material Moving Workers, Except Aircraft Cargo Handling Supervisors||455,390||$55,060||70.8%|
|73||Structural Iron and Steel Workers||76,570||$55,040||89.8%|
|74||Rotary Drill Operators, Oil and Gas||21,010||$54,980||89.0%|
|75||Loading and Moving Machine Operators, Underground Mining||4,200||$54,210||90.9%|
|76||Aircraft Structure, Surfaces, Rigging, and Systems Assemblers||42,940||$54,210||83.8%|
|77||Refractory Materials Repairers, Except Brickmasons||820||$53,990||78.0%|
|78||Tool and Die Makers||70,770||$53,920||79.9%|
|79||Aircraft Cargo Handling Supervisors||9,500||$53,850||70.8%|
|80||Industrial Machinery Mechanics||387,630||$53,590||78.0%|
|81||Hearing Aid Specialists||8,210||$53,420||50.6%|
|82||Civil Engineering Technologists and Technicians||68,870||$53,410||57.2%|
|83||Mobile Heavy Equipment Mechanics, Except Engines||147,800||$53,370||82.5%|
|84||Brickmasons and Blockmasons||60,650||$53,100||92.2%|
|85||Wind Turbine Service Technicians||5,960||$52,910||78.4%|
|86||Terrazzo Workers and Finishers||2,970||$52,180||96.7%|
|87||Rail Transportation Workers, All Other||2,650||$51,600||75.7%|
|88||Chefs and Head Cooks||128,190||$51,530||69.5%|
|89||Postal Service Mail Carriers||339,650||$51,310||72.6%|
|90||Geological and Hydrologic Technicians||17,110||$51,130||50.0%|
|93||First-Line Supervisors of Gambling Services Workers||29,420||$50,710||73.1%|
|94||Environmental Engineering Technologists and Technicians||18,010||$50,620||57.2%|
|95||Miscellaneous First-Line Supervisors, Protective Service Workers||82,590||$50,490||53.1%|
|96||Sheet Metal Workers||131,300||$50,400||85.9%|
|97||Underground Mining Machine Operators and Extraction Workers, All Other||13,790||$50,160||90.9%|
|98||Bridge and Lock Tenders||3,150||$50,110||76.3%|
|100||Layout Workers, Metal and Plastic||8,150||$49,940||88.3%|
In this study, we found the highest paying jobs in the United States for workers without a college degree using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. First, to determine jobs in which a college degree is not required, we used data about educational attainment, which provided the percentage of workers who have attained the following levels of education:
- Less than high school diploma
- High school diploma or equivalent
- Some college, no degree
- Associate degree
- Bachelor’s degree
- Master’s degree
- Doctoral or professional degree
We added the percentage of workers with less than a high school diploma, those holding a high school diploma, and those with some college but no degree. If the proportion of workers in these three categories was over 50%, meaning the majority of workers with this occupation did not have a college degree, we determined that a college degree was not necessary for this occupation.
After identifying occupations that do not require a college degree, we used data from the Occupational Employment Statistics data set to identify the top 25 and top 100 occupations by annual median income. These occupations were the highest paying jobs for workers without a college degree.
1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections, Educational attainment for workers 25 years and older by detailed occupation
2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics