Twenty high-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree
In his State of the Union address this month, President Biden hailed a new Intel semiconductor project in Ohio that will create 10,000 jobs.
“Jobs paying $130,000 a year,” he said, “and many don’t require a college degree.”
Can any American hope to earn $130,000 without a college degree? Education pays, as the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics announced on its website. The median annual salary for a worker with no degree was $46,748 in 2021. An employee with a bachelor’s degree earned $69,368.
Yet, high-paying jobs abound, even for the degreeless — and many sit unfilled. American society, with its relentless focus on college completion, sometimes ignores high-paying fields that require only modest vocational training or apprenticeship.
“The good news is that there are plenty of occupations out there that pay well without a college degree,” said Ryan Farrell, an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Here are 20 jobs that paid better than $46,748 in 2021 and don’t require a college degree, ranked from lowest salary to highest. Salaries are medians, which means half of workers earned more. At the high end, a few of these positions do indeed pay upwards of $130,000.
Massage therapist. Salary: $46,910. The pay isn’t great, but 150,000 Americans make a living kneading knotted flesh, with another 30,000 jobs expected in the decade to come.
Security and fire alarm installer. Salary: $48,320. More than 70,000 workers install, program, maintain and repair alarms. The labor bureau expects modest growth in this field in coming years.
Chef or head cook. Salary: $50,160. Roughly 150,000 Americans toil in hot kitchens, and job growth is brisk. The work “can be hectic and fast-paced,” the labor bureau warns, and often puts the chef in close proximity to the dreaded gas stove.
Firefighter. Salary: $50,700. More than 325,000 Americans fight the nation’s fires and free cats from trees. Job growth looks good, but the work can be dangerous, and the suits get hot.
Wind turbine technician. Salary: $56,260. These workers install, maintain and repair wind turbines. The gig is not for everyone: technicians “generally work outdoors, in confined spaces, and often at great heights,” according to the labor bureau. On the upside, the feds expect 44-percent job growth by 2031.
Ironworker. Salary: $57,160. More than 80,000 Americans install iron and steel to support buildings, roads and bridges. Job growth is good, but the work is not for everyone, and vertigo is a deal-breaker.
Private detective. Salary: $59,380. Job growth looks promising in this field, which employs more than 30,000 Americans. Duties may include sitting for long hours in a car with lukewarm coffee, wearing a trench coat and fedora and roughing up Peter Lorre.
Lodging manager. Salary: $59,430. Upwards of 50,000 Americans oversee the nation’s accommodations facilities, and job growth is brisk. The hours can be long, and the work demanding, but we presume the events depicted in The White Lotus are outliers.
Electrician. Salary: $60,040. More than 700,000 Americans install and repair electrical systems. Job growth looks solid, and top electricians earn six figures.
Millwright. Salary: $60,330. The millwright dates to Greek antiquity. These are the workers who install, dismantle and move machinery and heavy equipment. More than 40,000 millwrights toil nationwide, and job growth is steady.
Commercial diver. Salary: $60,360. Again, not a job for everybody. Commercial divers work underwater, often in scuba gear, to inspect, repair, remove and install equipment and structures. The highest-paid divers pull down more than $160,000, according to the labor bureau. Proficiency with sledgehammers and explosives is a plus.
Flight attendant. Salary: $61,640. More than 100,000 Americans tend to the nation’s airline passengers, and job growth is strong. Downsides include long shifts, bumpy air and unruly passengers.
Boilermaker. Salary: $64,290. These are the folks who install and maintain boilers and other large vessels holding liquids or gases, according to the labor bureau. It’s good pay but demanding work, and the field is in decline.
Police officer. Salary: $66,020. More than 800,000 Americans work as police officers and detectives. Some law enforcement agencies require a college degree, but most do not. The labor bureau warns the work “can be physically demanding, stressful, and dangerous,” with “some of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations.”
Athlete. Salary: $77,300. Let us repeat: That figure is a median, the midpoint in a long list of numbers and names, including LeBron James. More than 15,000 American play sports for pay, and the labor bureau expects robust job growth. The position may entail outdoor work and irregular hours, including evenings, weekends and holidays. Must have athletic talent.
Subway or streetcar operator. Salary: $81,180. More than 10,000 Americans earn a living driving these public conveyances, and more will be needed. Job duties may include handling fares and repelling hijackers.
Elevator or escalator installer and repairer. Salary: $97,860. Job growth is slow, but pay is good. More than 20,000 Americans install, maintain and repair the nation’s elevators, escalators and moving walkways. Claustrophobics should consider other fields.
Commercial pilot. Salary: $99,640. That a basic pilot job requires only a high school diploma may come as good news or bad, depending on one’s perspective. More than 40,000 crisscross the nation’s skies, and job growth looks good. This category does not include airline pilots, who earn a lot more but typically hold a bachelor’s degree.
Nuclear power reactor operator. Salary: $104,260. Nearly 5,000 Americans work as nuclear power-plant operators. Salaries are high, and the best-paid operators earn upwards of $130,000. Must tolerate occasional Homer Simpson jokes.
Makeup artist. Salary: $134,750. Here, at last, is a job that pays $130,000 and does not require a college degree. Alas, only 2,000 positions exist, primarily in California and New York. Requires an artistic personality and a working knowledge of wigs.
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