The Best Jobs Without A College Degree 2017 (In One Simple Chart)

The Great Recession destroyed the job market for workers without college degrees, and the situation hasn’t gotten any better.

This begs the question - can you still enjoy a high standard of living without a college degree? And what are the highest paying jobs for people without a traditional higher education?

This new chart, from, sheds some light on these pressing questions.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks which professions do not require a college education, how many people currently hold those jobs, and their median salaries. We combined this information into a scatter plot graph. The more dots you see, the more people work in that profession. And the higher the dots on the vertical axis, the more money they make.

You can quickly see some pretty interesting trends. There are a lot of people without college degrees who make a great living. The median household income in the U.S. is $56,516. By that standard, all the jobs on our chart pay well above average.

Specialization is the key to earning a high wage, especially in an area that cannot be outsourced. Elevator installers, power plant operators, transportation inspectors—these are all professions that require a high level of skill and must be done in person by someone with years of experience and certifications. Regardless of how automation affects the economy, you won’t ever be able to replace jobs like firefighting and law enforcement, despite what futuristic movies like Minority Report may have you believe.

Top Ten Highest Paying Jobs Without Needing a Degree 

1. Nuclear power reactor operator - $91,170 (salary) & 7,170 (workers)

2. Transport manager - $89,190 (salary) & 113,270 (workers)

3. Police supervisor - $84,840 (salary) & 100,200 (workers)

4. Power distributor - $81,900 (salary) & 11,380 (workers)

5. Elevator installer - $78,890 (salary) & 22,240 (workers)

6. Detective - $78,120 (salary) & 104,980 (workers)

7. Commercial pilot - $77,200 (salary) & 38,980 (workers)

8. Media equipment worker - $75,700 (salary) & 18,620 (workers)

9. Electrician - $75,670 (salary) & 23,060 (workers)

10. Power plant operator - $74,690 (salary) & 35,010 (workers)

And now, a word of caution. The top 25 professions where you don’t need a college degree only employ about 1.4 million people. That’s a lot of people, but the entire working population in the U.S. is over 205 million people. In other words, these jobs not only demand years of experience and specialization, but they’re also pretty rare. And don’t be mistaken: you may not need a college degree, but you do need some type of post-secondary training. You can’t just graduate high school and start your own electrical company. You have to work as an apprentice or join a training program first.

That being said, it’s still possible for people without a formal college education to earn a respectable salary. The big takeaway from our chart is that you want to be in a position that can’t easily be replaced through automation or outsourcing. If you can find a career like that, then you’re in good shape to enjoy a high standard of living.


greenskeeper carl Goldennutz Thu, 09/21/2017 - 00:40 Permalink

If i could do it all ove again, Id have gone straight into a welder type trade school right out of high school and never set foot in a college. Buying the truck and all the equipment is an expensive investment, but many of those guys are self employed and work 40-60 hours a week or more and make a killing. No boss, no employees, just them and their equipment. Underwater welders make a killing too, but thats a good bit more dangerous.

In reply to by Goldennutz

Anteater greenskeeper carl Thu, 09/21/2017 - 01:09 Permalink

You didn't miss anything. Welding is like needle-point, and ifyou're in ship repair, welding is like fiery needles stabbing yourbody from hot slag. I was in a bar in Alaska telling some guyI was a welder-fitter on the fishing boats, and showed him theslag pockmarks burned into my arms. He smiled and pulledhis shirt up, his entire chest from collar to sternum lookedlike silly putty, pockmarks on pockmarks. AK pipeline welder.You're much better off to be a CNC tool-and-die machinist.That was where I had my most fun. Got up to 5-axis mill,but the office fuckers would never pay me more than $28.Now I think they have Hindus in Mumbai write CNC code,and the machine is automated, all you do is change parts.Learn any trade that isn't connected to the Hindu internet.

In reply to by greenskeeper carl

greenskeeper carl consider me gone Thu, 09/21/2017 - 00:37 Permalink

Im no big fan of unions either, but I reserve most on my endemnity for public sector unions. They are the scourge of the job market. Many otherwise honest jobs require joining one. The sea vessel captain one is a bit misleading, the range of pay for that is huge. You can get a license in a week or two, but it will be for a very small vessel starting out, and unless you know someone, you aren't getting a captain job, and even if you do, the pay is often shit on smaller boats. In order to move up to bigger vessels where the pay is good, you will have to have time on larger boats as something other than a captain to move up on your license. The 500 ton is where you start to get to the real money, and it can take years, decades to get there, and you aren't making 72k, not even close, on your way up. The lack of offshore oil activity has also made those jobs much more scarce, at least here in the gulf coast region. You go to an out of the way place on the water, and you will see dozens of OSVs just sitting there, wasting away, with no work to be had. Louisiana is the worst, driving down to Port Fourchon and Grand Isle, there are hundreds of the things, many of which haven't left the dock in years. Tough business to get into right now.

In reply to by consider me gone

NoDebt Wed, 09/20/2017 - 22:41 Permalink

Underwater welder!  (If I had it to do all over again I would be an underwater welder.  No joke.  Mentioned it many times on ZH.  Money is good and if anything goes wrong you're dead in less than a second.  Either way, you're set for life.) 

Jack's Raging … NoDebt Wed, 09/20/2017 - 23:19 Permalink

As someone connected to the industry, it's dead. Very little to weld underwater anyway--mostly just inspect. Demand for any sort of underwater work has been gone for a long time and is not poised to return any time soon. There is a glut of divers chasing very little work. There is actually more work inland inspecting things like water towers than there is off-shore. Right now if you're doing diving work offshore, it's probably for the military.

In reply to by NoDebt

Anteater Jack's Raging … Thu, 09/21/2017 - 00:55 Permalink

I built my own business inspecting water towers and reservoirs, and didfairly well, the only business I had where I was able to hire an employee,but a string of horrible fatalities from the nincompoop wannabes getting sucked into the water piping, or telling someone they peed in the waterkilled that business. It's all done by ROV now, for the most part, as it'sway too bulky to climb a 100-foot tower with a hookah setup SuperLite.Had some great memories from that, swimming slow spirals in a pitchdark tank, with a Nikonos and a wet suit and no haul-back out rigging,even when you went into deco, and had to hang there in the darkness.We snorked out the mud from the bottoms of the tanks too. My buddywas cleaning out one tank, totally in darkness except for his headlamp,and found a pile of mummified bat bones. I actually heard him scream.

In reply to by Jack's Raging …

Overleveraged_… Wed, 09/20/2017 - 22:41 Permalink

People if you want to make decent money you have to get into sales. Automotive, real estate, insurance, medical equipment, forklifts, printers/scanners, whatever. A solid base play + commision sales job can get you into the 6 figures. All you need is a decent place to work that is relatively busy, phone/email skills and be hungry for money. Sometimes it's slow, other times its too busy to handle. Save money and have good habits.  

Theosebes Goodfellow MsCreant Thu, 09/21/2017 - 09:22 Permalink

I have to agree with Roddy & Ms. Creant. Having sales skills means you can use them elsewhere for the rest of your life. Trump may have written a book called "The Art of the Deal", but sales is a science. If you learn the science you can apply it to any product or service. Dr. Donald Moine proved that using NLP and wrote several books about it. Once you master it, it's like shooting fish in a barrel."Wouldn't you say that everyone could be better if they had better sales skills?"  Framing for the "yes". 

In reply to by MsCreant

c2nnib2l Wed, 09/20/2017 - 22:43 Permalink

Lumberjack can make a good living, tank drivers, crane operators as already mentioned, I've heard prostitutes can earn a fortune from $500-$1000K per day ;)