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Highest Paying Occupations Without a Degree


Based on 2011 median wages reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, these are among the highest paying occupations that don't require a bachelor's or associate degree. For many entry level jobs in these fields, all one needs is a high school diploma and GED. Many employers provide on-the-job training, although some prefer to hire job candidates who have work experience. A few of the jobs listed here are only available to those with experience and many employers require some college coursework. Even if a college degree isn't required, having one may make a job candidate more competitive.

Keep in mind that the median wage listed here is not necessarily what you would earn if you were working in this field. Half of all workers earned below this wage and half earned above it. Earnings vary by employer and will depend on factors including level of experience and training, and location.

When choosing a career, don't rely too heavily on best careers lists like this one. While everyone needs to earn a living, salary isn't the only thing you should consider, and it is not even the most important. Individuals typically have greater satisfaction with their career if they like what they do and if the job is suitable for someone with their interests, values, personality type and aptitudes. Do a self assessment to learn about your traits. Research the occupations you are considering by reading job descriptions and conducting informational interviews with people working in the occupations in which you are most interested.


1. Transportation Managers and Storage and Distribution Managers

Businessman working in car
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Transportation managers are responsible for transportation-related activities within a company or for the entire operation of firms that provide transportation services. Storage and distribution managers direct firms' distribution and storage operations or manage companies that provide these services. Workers in these closely related occupations earned a median annual salary of $80,860 and median hourly wages of $38.87 in 2011. Employers hire workers who have job-related skills and experience.

2. Administrative Services Managers

Administrative services managers coordinate organizations' supportive services such as maintenance, mail distribution, record keeping, budget planning and supply allocation. Job candidates usually need related management and leadership experience. The median annual salary was $79,540 and median hourly wages were $38.24 in 2011.

3. First Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives

First line supervisors of police and detectives oversee the work of their law enforcement colleagues. Working in job titles such as chief, captain, sergeant and lieutenant, they coordinate investigations, keep records, train staff and evaluate their subordinates' performance. While one usually doesn't need more than a high school diploma to become a police officer, which is typically the entry level job in this field, some employers will promote to supervisory positions only those who have taken some college courses or earned a degree. The median annual salary for police supervisors was $77,890 and median hourly wages were $37.45 in 2011.

4. Nuclear Operators

Nuclear operators control the flow of electricity from nuclear power plants. They are also called nuclear power reactor operators. This is a licensed occupation that requires on-the-job and technical training in addition to a high school diploma. To become licensed one must pass a written exam. Nuclear operators earned a median annual salary of $76,590 and median hourly wages of $36.82 in 2011.

5. Elevator Mechanics

In addition to installing, repairing or maintaining elevators, elevator mechanics also work on escalators, chairlifts, dumbwaiters, moving walkways and similar equipment. They are sometimes called elevator installers, repairers or constructors. Training, after graduation from high school, usually consists of completing a four year apprenticeship which may be sponsored by a union or contractor. In 2011, elevator mechanics earned a median annual salary of $75,060 and median hourly wages of $36.09.

6. Detectives and Criminal Investigators

Detectives and criminal investigators, also called special agents, decide whether there are reasons to believe individuals have violated state, local or federal laws. They usually begin their careers as police officers which requires, at the minimum, a high school diploma. Some municipalities will only hire those who have earned a college degree or have at least taken some courses, and many require a degree or coursework for promotion to detective or investigator. In 2011, median annual earnings were $71,770 and median hourly wages were $34.51.

7. Power Distributors and Dispatchers

Power distributors and dispatchers control the flow of electricity from power plants to sub-stations, and finally to consumers. After earning a high school diploma, one receives on-the-job and technical training. Power distributors and dispatchers, in 2011, earned a median annual salary of $70,700 and median hourly earnings of $33.99.

8. First Line Supervisors of Non-Retail Salesworkers

First line supervisors of non-retail salesworkers, also called sales managers, sales leaders and branch managers, manage the activities of sales representatives. While a high school diploma is the minimum requirement, many who work in this occupation have associate or bachelor's degrees. Median earnings were $70,520 annually and $33.91 per hour in 2011.

9. Power Plant Operators

Power plant operators control and maintain equipment that is used to generate electricity. While a high school diploma is the minimum requirement for this occupation, many employers prefer to hire job candidates who have attended college or vocational school. One must undergo formal technical training and on-the-job training once hired. Power plant operators, in 2011, earned a median annual salary of $65,280 and median hourly earnings of $31.38.

10. Fashion Designer

Fashion designers create clothing, jewelry and accessories for consumers, usually specializing in one of these products. Some focus on costume design, creating wardrobes for television shows, movies and theatrical productions. While there aren't any educational requirements for fashion designers other than a high school diploma, a college degree—either an associate or bachelor's—can increase one's chances of getting hired. In 2011, median earnings were $64,690 annually and $31.10 hourly.

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