Back To Career News

Top Paying Jobs for People with No College Degrees


In a previous column, I mentioned some top paying jobs for people with no college degrees.  The response was so strong that we are back for round two of the "best career choices with no college degree." Lest any parents out there accuse me of being an incompetent career counselor, keep in mind that neither Microsoft Founder Bill Gates nor Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has a college degree.

Of course, Bill dropped out of Harvard, and Larry out of the University of Illinois and the University of Chicago. If your kid gets into a top university (or two), and then wants to drop out, these two billionaires are evidence your child can still be a financial success.

As reported on, one of the top paying jobs for people with no college degrees is working as an air traffic controller. You are directing which planes can land and take off, so hundreds of lives are in your hands. A college degree is not necessary, but you do need three years of on-the-job work experience and/or four years of college. You also need to pass pre-employment testing, make it through the FAA Academy, and more training. It does pay well; the median salary for an air traffic controller with 13-20 years of experience is $98,300 per year.

How does your salary compare to a "no college degree salary?" Do the math with our salary calculator.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Best Career Choices with No College Degree: Real Estate and Transportation

Like most jobs in sales, you do not need a college degree to become a real estate agent or broker. In this career, you help people buy and sell houses or commercial property as an agent, and list property for sale as a broker. To get a real estate broker license, you need 60 to 90 hours of training (depending on your state) and one to three years of experience as real estate sales agent. After all that training, the median salary for a real estate broker in New York is $77, 582.

The downside of real estate is the ease of entry: there is a lot of competition. While top agents and brokers do very well, there is a tremendous amount of turn over in the field. A simple study of PayScale data showed that, of people who were real estate agents five years ago, 75 percent were no longer in the real estate field at all.

If you’re good at reading maps and supervising people, a career as a transportation manager might be for you. Basically, you are working with truckers and trucking companies. Usually people get this gig by first working as a truck driver, and then working in transportation sales. Over half of transportation managers reportedly have some college, but less than twenty-five percent finish their degree: must be the call of the road! The median salary for a transportation manager in Illinois is $65,837. 

Best Jobs No College Degree Required: Power and Games

If Homer Simpson can get a job as a nuclear power reactor operator, so can you, without a college degree. Your job is to operate equipment at a nuclear reactor, without triggering a meltdown. To operate a nuclear power reactor does require training by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This includes classroom time and learning on the job. Finally, you have to obtain your license by passing an annual exam. If you make the grade, the median salary for a nuclear power reactor operator is $80,510.

For those who like the thrills and chills of working in a casino, they might want to check into working as a gaming manager. These folks make sure that patrons are not cheating, or winning too much. They manage the everyday responsibilities of a casino. To get this title, you have to work your way up from card dealer or other casino floor jobs.

There are risks of working in gaming; you can get jail time, if you are tempted by the dark side to cheat the casinos. Is it worth the gamble? The median salary for a gaming manager in Las Vegas is $76,700.

No College Degree for Law Enforcement

Do you fancy yourself as a police detective? It may surprise readers to learn that one can gather evidence and solve crimes without a college degree. However, you do have to pay your dues out in the field as a police officer, and then be promoted to detective – following a probationary period of six months to three years – depending on the state/city. The median salary for a police detective in Chicago is $72,368.

Law enforcement is a hot here in Seattle, with a shortage of officers leading to pay boosts and other incentives.

Finally, if you like a career with plenty of ups and downs, consider being an elevator repairer. In this position, you will install and maintain elevators and escalators. Usually a budding elevator repairer will apply through the local chapter of the union – International Union of Elevator Constructors. You have to be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma (or GED), pass an aptitude test and not be afraid of heights!

Do I really recommend a skipping college? Yes and no. For fun, I often spend my weekends doing work that does not require a college degree: car repair – I installed a new radiator last week – and home improvements. This is satisfying work, with visible progress and no meetings

However, it is easier to make a middle class income with a college degree than without. College is also a great place to find a future doctor to marry, like I did.

Is your salary on the way up, or heading to the basement? The PayScale Salary Calculator is a quick and easy way to compare positions. When you want powerful salary data and comparisons customized for your exact position, be sure to build a complete profile by taking PayScale’s full salary survey


Dr. Al Lee

Leave a Reply

Notify of
What Am I Worth?

What your skills are worth in the job market is constantly changing.