Here Are the Highest-Paying Jobs That Don’t Require a Bachelor’s Degree

From the moment you exit the birth canal, a nurse practitioner is asking you what you want to be when you grow up. By fifth grade, you’re expected to have a profession ready to cutely submit for the space under your class picture in the yearbook. “Astronaut,” you might write. “Famous person.” By high school, you’re answering rapid-fire career questions at Thanksgiving dinner. Penn State. Early decision. Mechanical Engineering. Minor in Spanish. And by college you maaaaybe want to take it all back, because you took out enough loans to feed a small country and still have to make it through grad school before getting an entry-level gig. 

Well, I’m here to tell you, dear readers, that you don’t have to do any of that. Yeah, I said it, MOM, your child doesn’t need to go to college to be successful. This is a shock to millennial systems everywhere, but it’s the truth we (and our parents) need to face if college feels forced.


You might find it surprising to hear that about two-thirds of jobs in the 2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) do not require a bachelor's or advanced degree. Personal finance site SmartAsset recently took note of this, and decided to investigate in order to create a comprehensive list of the highest-paying jobs that don't require a bachelor’s degree or higher. Using the BLS data, the site ranked jobs by the typical degree needed for entry, then ranked jobs requiring an associate’s degree by the average annual salary.

Here are the highest paying jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree:

10. Gaming Managers
9. Power Distributors and Dispatchers 
8. Radiation Therapists
7. Athletes and Sports Competitors 
6. First-line Supervisors of Police and Detectives 
5. Funeral Service Managers
4. Nuclear Power Reactor Operators
3. Commercial Pilots
2. Transportation, storage, and distribution managers
1. Air Traffic Controllers 

Key findings indicated two things: 1) You still need a lot of practical training to get a job. Sorry, poets. And 2) there’s a lot of money in aviation and law enforcement. Now, let’s unpack this.

Air traffic controllers, coming in on top, have an average annual salary of $120,820. So you get to make $58 an hour and skip college calculus... Unless the application requires an associate's degree, which is admittedly common.

Transportation, storage, and distribution managers earned 15% less than air traffic controllers, coming in at an average of $102,850. In 2018, there were 124,810 of these guys and gals hanging around, making six figures and watching the world’s debt crisis burn. 

Most jobs are attainable if you go through the proper training provided by the employer (i.g. pilots, police officers, funeral managers, etc.). But other jobs in the ranking are a bit harder to score without a lot of practice and passion, like professional athletes and gaming managers at casinos. 

Go be what your fifth grade self wanted you to be -- even if it doesn’t require a college degree. That is, unless it’s not one of these things, then think again about that because life is hard, but definitely take up your passions as a hobby at least, and never, ever lose hope. I love you.

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Ruby Anderson is a News Writer for Thrillist.