Here are the 11 highest-paying jobs you can get without a college degree
If you are a high school graduate without higher education, your median earnings are about $20,000 a year less than someone with a college degree, according to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. But if you look in the right places, there are actually plenty of jobs with above-average earning potential that you can get without a bachelor's.
When Mic looked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics' most recent data, from 2015, there were 193 jobs (out of 575 total entries) that don't require a degree.
Of those, five pay upwards of $75,000 a year in median salary, and 11 pay more than $60,000.
Notably, four of the top 11 positions listed here have to do with electricity — from operating the plant to working the lines.
Here are the top jobs you can get without a degree.
Median annual pay: $60,120
Number of people with this job in the U.S. in 2014: 17,400
Projected growth (2014 to 2024): 9%
Unless you have family in the industry or you're a Big 10 sports fan and have come across the Purdue Boilermakers of West Lafayette, few folks can say exactly what a boilermaker does. Boilermakers make, install and fix boilers and other very large containers for liquids or gases. A high school diploma or equivalent is usually needed and welding experience is a plus. Usually boilermakers learn their craft through a four- or five-year apprenticeship program.
What sounds old-fashioned is actually an expanding industry because of the need to keep an ever-expanding array of boilers up and running. But keep an eye on it: The need for boilermakers is tied to the use of coal. If natural gas use should increase, there will be less demand for boilermakers.
10. Claims adjusters, examiners and investigators
Median annual pay: $62,980
Number of people with this job in the U.S. in 2014: 299,700
Projected growth (2014 to 2024): 3%
When someone has an insurance claim, these folks adjust, examine and investigate it. A high school degree or equivalent is typically needed, although some companies require a bachelor's degree or certificate.
This industry is expected to grow at a slightly slower pace than the average. If there is to be growth, it will most likely come from the health insurance industry since, currently, all Americans are expected to have insurance, which increases the need for adjusters, examiners and investigators to deal with the increased number of claims.
9. Farmers, ranchers and agricultural managers
Median annual pay: $64,170
Number of people with this job in the U.S. in 2014: 929,800
Projected growth (2014 to 2024): -2%
The U.S. has more farmers and ranchers than any other job on this list and their work is tried and true. Although the industry has changed from family farming to more industrialized farming, working farmers and ranchers can work the land without an advanced degree.
Farmers usually have a high school degree or equivalent and gain most of their experience on the job. The push toward industrialized farming means that automation — producing more food on bigger amounts of land with fewer people — will lead to a decline in this industry over the next decade.
8. Electrical power line installers and repairers
Median annual pay: $66,450
Number of people with this job in the U.S. in 2014: 118,600
Projected growth (2014 to 2024): 11%
Scaling power lines or transformers or riding up above the street in bucket-trucks, these workers do the hands-on work of installing, maintaining and repairing our power lines. A high school diploma or equivalent is usually needed and many installers get technical instruction and long-term on-the-job training, perhaps even through an apprenticeship. With electricity and heights, the job's dangers are apparent.
This industry is expected to see faster than average growth, because of the growing population and outward expansion of cities.
7. Gaming managers
Median annual pay: $68,380
Number of people with this job in the U.S. in 2014: 3,800
Projected growth (2014 to 2024): -1%
Gaming managers direct and oversee the gambling operations at casinos, racetracks or other places where bets are placed. A high school diploma or equivalent is typically needed, and college degree requirements vary by casino. Gaming managers usually have worked their way up gaining training along the way. As dealers, they may have gotten on-the-job training or gone to "gaming school" in which you are trained in how games like blackjack or craps work, how to run the games and what the state and local regulations are.
This industry is expected to have little or no growth, because while some areas may add gaming, other areas might become oversaturated and start pulling back. The opportunities for gaming mangers will be slightly less prevalent in the next decade because of that fluctuation.
6. Power plant operators
Median annual pay: $71,940
Number of people with this job in the U.S. in 2014: 41,100
Projected growth (2014 to 2024): -7%
Power plant operators run the machinery that generates electricity. Like other power-generating jobs in this list, plant operators need a high school degree or equivalent and receive significant training that is a mix of classroom and hands-on work.
Non-nuclear plant operators can be licensed by state licensing boards, but it varies by state. Of the three power-generation positions in this list, this job takes the biggest hit in terms of its growth: It is expected to shrink by 7% in the next decade because of increased energy efficiency and alternative energy sources.
5. Commercial pilots
Median annual pay: $76,150
Number of people with this job in the U.S. in 2014: 43,500
Projected growth (2014 to 2024): 10%
Usually commercial pilots only need a high school diploma or equivalent to make unscheduled flights to take aerial pictures, tourist trips, or to transport people or cargo for private companies. (Pilots for the major airlines usually have a college degree and make a little more: $117,290, which landed airline pilots on Mic's highest-paying jobs in the country list).
In addition, all pilots must have a commercial pilot's license from the Federal Aviation Administration. This kind of advanced training gives greater privileges to the commercial pilot's license. Certain employers may require it. There are some incredible occupational hazards that are part of being a pilot, but for the education needed, it can take you far.
4. Detectives and criminal investigators
Median annual pay: $77,210
Number of people with this job in the U.S. in 2014: 116,700
Projected growth (2014 to 2024): -1%
The gumshoe, private eye, sleuth — countless depictions from books and movies make this seem like a glamorous job for those whose tastes run to the noir. But the job is evidence-driven, detail-oriented and can be dangerous.
Detectives typically start their careers as police officers and are then promoted to detective. In addition to a high school degree or equivalent, usually detectives need to graduate from their agency's training academy and then complete their on-the-job training. This field is expected to contract over the next decade because, while safety is important, the resources dedicated to it are expected to fluctuate depending on location determined by local and state budgets.
3. Power distributors and dispatchers
Median annual pay: $80,840
Number of people with this job in the U.S. in 2014: 11,400
Projected growth (2014 to 2024): -5%
Also known as systems operators, power distributors and dispatchers control the flow of electricity as it moves from the stations where it is generated to substations and eventually on to users. Stress alert: If there is a major blackout, folks are going to be looking in your direction.
You're in the hot-seat to pick up on and respond to emergencies — like transformer or line failures — that can cause cascading power outages. Positions with access to the power-grid are required to be certified through the North American Electric Reliability Corporation's System Operator Certification Program. Distributors and dispatchers get a lot of on-the-job training, including classroom and hands-on experience. The slowing growth of this industry is caused by technological advances that automate the work and reduce the need for dispatchers or distributors.
2. Elevator installers or repairers
Median annual pay: $80,870
Number of people with this job in the U.S. in 2014: 20,700
Projected growth (2014 to 2024): 13%
Technology moves on, but elevators are still the most efficient way to get us up and down the increasingly tall, increasingly complex buildings we build. Of course included in this category are folks who not only install, fix and maintain elevators, but also escalators and moving walkways.
A high school diploma or equivalent is required, and if you're strong in math, mechanical drawing and mechanics, all the better. A four-year apprenticeship program with both hourly requirements for training and hands-on (paid!) experience is expected. Certification is available and licensing is required in many states. Growth in building is expected to mean there will be a greater need for elevator installation and maintenance.
1. Nuclear power reactor operators
Median annual pay: $88,560
Number of people with this job in the U.S. in 2014: 7,500
Projected growth (2014 to 2024): -6%
Nuclear power reactor operators earn excellent money controlling nuclear reactors. As part of their job, they determine how much electricity a reactor generates; monitor the reactors, turbines, generators and cooling systems; and will need to respond to disruptions or emergencies. You can insert your Homer Simpson joke here:
But this is a big-time, background-check kind of job.
Operators receive major on-the-job training — both in a classroom and hands-on — and will need to earn a license. The job prospects are on the decline in part because of increased energy efficiency; it also doesn't help that there are not a lot of new job sites: no new plants have opened since the 1990s.
Willing to go back to school?
Check out Mic's list of the 30 highest-paying jobs in the United States — degrees required.