The median annual wage for someone with a high school diploma is $37,690, whereas someone with a bachelor's degree earns a median wage of $72,830, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. But if college isn't right for you, you're not locked out of earning a salary that's close to six figures, well above the country's median income.
Several high-paying jobs only require a high school diploma or equivalent.
Keep in mind, though, that no degree doesn't mean no experience necessary: Most of these roles require on-the-job training, like apprenticeships, while others expect that you've taken certain relevant classes or gotten certification.
Before going down any particular path, you may want to explore your options and find out what you actually enjoy, says certified financial planner Jude Boudreaux, a partner at The Planning Center in New Orleans: "There is a lot that you can do [without a bachelor's degree] that I think you may not have realized."
Here are seven high-paying occupations that don't require a college degree, according to BLS data.
Median annual wage: $78,740
To become a commercial pilot, you need relevant certifications plus 1,500 hours of flight time, says Nikhil Varaiya, a finance professor at San Diego State's Fowler College of Business. In some cases, airlines may recruit pilots from the Armed Forces because some members of the military gain relevant training to become commercial pilots during their service.
Median annual wage: $79,480
For this role, your daily routine may involve assembling, installing, or maintaining elevators, escalators, and the occasional chairlift, according to the BLS.
Median annual wage: $79,970
In addition to about five years of work experience and training as a police officer, you may want to consider taking university level criminal justice classes to develop "critical thinking skills, education, and maturity," says Erika Safran, certified financial planner and founder of Safran Wealth Advisors based in New York City. Still, you're not expected to have a bachelor's degree.
Median annual wage: $82,510
You can get a head start in this highly skilled and somewhat risky position, in which you monitor energy flows from power stations, by joining a trade association, according to Boudreaux.
Median annual wage: $87,910
First-line supervisors must have in-depth knowledge of the criminal justice system and be able to manage people in a high-stress environment, says Varaiya.
Median annual wage: $92,460
Transportation managers focus on the movement of merchandise. They usually start out as truck drivers and are responsible ensuring that shipments and supply chains run efficiently and cost-effectively.
Median annual wage: $93,370
This is one of the highest-paying jobs that require only a high school degree or equivalent to enter, but it also comes with a high degree of risk and requires long-term training, says Varaiya.
Overall, says, Boudreaux, "There are trades that pay extremely well, and that's a good path to [take] for some people who do not want to go the college route but still want to have a profession."
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