What Can You Do If You Don’t Graduate from College?

By Staff

College certainly isn’t for everyone. While earning a degree can improve your earning potential, the skyrocketing costs and time commitment can easily deter you from attending school. Others may choose not to go to college for any number of other reasons, like family obligations or just wanting to go to work and start collecting a full-time paycheck.

You can still find a good job without a college degree. According to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, 30% of high school graduates make better money than college grads. It’s just a matter of picking the right career field.

Looking at the best jobs you can get without a college degree, salary and job growth are probably the most important factors. Kiplinger’s started with the more than 300 professions that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies as requiring only a high-school diploma or post-secondary non-degree (typically awarded by a trade school or vocational training program). Then they trimmed the list by filtering for jobs with annual salaries well over the national median of $41,444 and projected long-term growth rates above the average of 14%.

Check out these well-paying jobs you can land without a college degree.

Manufacturing Sales Reps

Median salary: $52,440 (U.S. median: $41,444) Current workforce: 1,430,000 Projected job growth, 2010-2020: 16% (Average: 14%)

Projected new jobs by 2020: 223,400

Wholesale and manufacturing sales reps who specialize in non-technical products make 27% more than the typical full-time worker – a far cry from your local Avon lady or Tupperware party-peddler. Unlike those salespeople, wholesale reps market directly to businesses and government agencies. The pay is good, the opportunities numerous and, for most employers, a high school diploma is enough to land a job or a spot in a one-year paid training program. The median salary for sales reps in technical and scientific fields is a heftier $73,710, but those jobs usually require an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

Telecommunications Equipment Installers

Median salary: $54,710 Current workforce: 194,900 Projected job growth, 2010-2020: 15%

Projected new jobs by 2020: 28,400

Software engineers and computer scientists aren’t the only people who benefited from the Internet boom. Thanks to high demand for high-tech services, telecommunications installers also see growing opportunities and salaries 32% higher than the national median. Installers usually work for telecom or building companies, setting up routers, switchboards and telecom lines in businesses and private homes. While the work can get technical, most installers don’t need a college degree–trade school or a certificate program will suffice.

Insurance Sales Agents

Median salary: $46,770 Current workforce: 411,500 Projected job growth, 2010-2020: 22%

Projected new jobs by 2020: 90,200

While few agents are as bubbly as “Flo,” the retro salesgirl in Progressive ads, job prospects in the insurance industry justify a little giddiness. Typical insurance agents pull in salaries about 13% above the national median. Analysts expect the industry to add 90,000 jobs in the next decade. And as an added bonus, insurance sales requires little formal education. Most agents hold a high-school diploma supplemented by some on-the-job training, as well as a license in the state where they work.

Construction and Building Inspectors

Median salary: $52,360 Current workforce: 102,400 Projected job growth, 2010-2020: 18%

Projected new jobs by 2020: 18,400

Of all the construction trades available to job-seekers without college degrees, building inspection is definitely the best-paid way to go. Inspectors typically work for local government or private firms, reviewing plans, monitoring construction sites and checking building codes for upwards of $52,000 a year. While there are no formal educational requirements, experience is key. Most employers look for extensive knowledge of the construction industry, sometimes verified by a licensing exam.

Plumbers, Pipefitters and Steamfitters

Median salary: $46,660 Current workforce: 419,000 Projected job growth, 2010-2020: 26%

Projected new jobs by 2020: 107,600

Plumbers are in demand almost everywhere in the country–and if you’ve ever had a toilet clog or a sink backup, you know exactly why. The typical plumber makes more than $46,000 a year installing and repairing pipes and appliances, mostly in homes and businesses. Pipefitters and steamfitters specialize in pipe systems that carry chemicals, gases and such. They might work in factories, hospitals, power plants or other buildings that house these systems. Most plumbers and fitters learn their trade though apprenticeships.

Dry Wall Tapers

Median salary: $45,490 Current workforce: 22,900 Projected job growth, 2010-2020: 35%

Projected new jobs by 2020: 8,000

No high-school diploma? No problem. Tapers are the only workers on our list who can look forward to good money and strong job growth without even finishing high school. Tapers work in the construction industry, preparing walls for painting after installers hang them up. Most learn on the job from more experienced workers; no apprenticeship or technical school required. The Labor Department expects contractors to add some 8,000 jobs by the end of the decade, reflecting growth in the construction industry as a whole.


Median salary: $48,250 Current workforce: 577,700 Projected job growth, 2010-2020: 23%

Projected new jobs by 2020: 133,700

The world is more wired than ever before, and both businesses and homeowners have electricians to thank. More gadgets mean more work for these skilled workers, who will see nearly 134,000 new jobs added by 2020. The typical electrician makes more than $48,000 per year with a high school degree and a four-year paid apprenticeship. Major cities promise the most jobs, but even smaller towns need light: Kokomo, Ind., and Bremerton, Wash., have the highest concentration of electricians in the U.S.

Commercial Pilots

Median salary: $67,500 Current workforce: 32,700 Projected job growth, 2010-2020: 21%

Projected new jobs by 2020: 6,900

The average commercial pilot makes $26,000 more than the typical full-time worker and $13,000 more than the average college-educated worker. That’s a considerable disparity in a profession that has traditionally required only a commercial pilot’s license and some hours logged at a local flight school. Times are admittedly changing–many airlines now look for pilots with two- or four-year degrees–but salary and growth prospects remain strong. Opportunities look particularly good around major airline hubs, including Houston, Phoenix, Dallas, Miami and Atlanta.

Brickmasons and Blockmasons

Median salary: $46,930 Current workforce: 89,200 Projected job growth, 2010-2020: 41%

Projected new jobs by 2020: 36,100

The population is booming, and so is the construction of new schools, hospitals and apartment buildings. That’s good news for brick and blockmasons. These craftspeople make rock-solid salaries working for construction contractors, especially in growing urban areas. While few employers require formal education, most masons complete three- to four-year paid apprenticeship programs to learn the trade. Some pick up needed skills informally on the job from more experienced masons.

Pile-Driver Operators

Median salary: $47,860 Current workforce: 4,100 Projected job growth, 2010-2020: 36%

Projected new jobs by 2020: 1,500

With just a high school education and some on-the-job training, pile-driver operators can expect to make 19% more money than the national median. That’s because the job requires some heavy lifting: Operators typically work on skids, barges, cranes or offshore oil rigs, using large machines to drive construction supports into the ground. The Labor Department expects demand to skyrocket over the remainder of this decade, growing at nearly three times the rate of all other occupations. Aspiring operators will have the best chances of finding work along the Gulf Coast, especially in Louisiana, thanks to the concentration of oil rigs and port operations.


Trent managed to earn both a B.A. and an advanced degree with a combination of scholarships, grants, loans and a couple of jobs. He brings this experience, and his paid off student loans to you as the voice of Frugal Scholar. Now, he’s heading back to school and saving for/worrying about college for his own kids, Sam and Sarah.