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11 Excellent Jobs without a Degree You Can Start Right Now

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The prospect of spending decades paying off student loan debt has made many people wary of college. Even if money isn’t an issue, college isn’t for everyone, but a good job is. We found well-paying jobs without a degree.

We’re Not All College Material

Money shouldn’t be a barrier to pursuing a college education. But there is $1.56 trillion in outstanding student loan debt in this country, and we can understand not wanting to add to that. If you do want to go to college, we can show you a lot of ways to do it without student loans.

For the 2019/2020 school year, the average cost for tuition and fees at an in-state, public college is $26,590, while a private college averaged $53,980. After a four year degree, you could be in hock for six figures.

But there are plenty of reasons some people don’t choose a higher education that have nothing to do with money. Some people don’t enjoy school. It doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t enjoy learning, but some don’t enjoy learning in a traditional classroom setting.

College used to be a stepping stone to the middle or upper middle class, but it’s no longer the guarantee it once was. We all know plenty of college graduates working minimum wage jobs.

It’s a big ask of an 18-year-old to chart the path of their life. Lots of us don’t know what we want to do with our lives at that age (some of us never quite figure it out) and spending thousands of dollars on tuition is a pretty expensive way to figure it out.

Some people feel pressured to go to college because everyone around them is doing it. This is a terrible (but common) reason to do lots of things, drink, go to college, get married, buy a house, have a kid. Like your mother used to ask you, “If everyone else was jumping off a bridge, would you do it too?”

College Opens More Doors

A lot of people decide to go to college because they think it will land them with a high-paying job. But being saddled with a ton of debt will significantly limit your opportunities.

Think of a lawyer who goes to a top tier law school and graduates with a few hundred grand in student loan debt. They may want to work in the public sector but working as a public defender isn’t going to pay off that kind of debt. They are going to have to slave away in a big firm for years until that debt is gone.

Maybe you would like to retire early, really early. One of the best ways to do that is to generate passive income. One of the best ways to generate passive income is by owning rental properties.

Saving up money to buy those properties may be delayed if you spend years paying off student loans. By the time you have the money to buy some rental property, it’s long past the date you had hoped to retire by.

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Jobs That Pay Well

We all want to make good money (although that means different things to each of us). And while some of the highest-paying jobs require a college education, a bachelor’s degree is no guarantee. However, a low wage McJob is not the only outcome for those who don’t choose to attend college.

In fact, jobs without a degree often have better benefits than white-collar jobs. Lawyers don’t have a union and most white-collar jobs don’t provide a pension anymore. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the median weekly personal income for Americans in Q3 of 2019 was $919. That averages to ~$47,000 annually.

I Don’t Want a Dirty Job

When I started researching this topic, I figured all of the jobs on the list would be “dirty jobs,” messy, dangerous, and physically demanding. And some of them are. But not all of them.

If you don’t want to ruin your manicure or wrinkle your shirt, there are plenty of jobs here that don’t require hard, dirty, physical labor. Here are 11 of the best jobs without needing a four-year college degree.

1. Electrical Power-Line Installers and Repairers

What They Do: Electrical power-line installers and repairers install, maintain, and repair power lines. The clue is in the name!

Projected Job Growth:  6%

Median Salary: $70,240

Minimum Education Level Required: High school diploma or equivalent

Training: There are vocational programs and apprenticeships available for training that provide plenty of work experience. Certification is not required but can make you a more attractive candidate and increase your salary.

Pros: The projected growth for this job is among the highest on the list, and if you like being outside, this is the job for you.

Cons: The hours can be long and irregular. The job may involve travel. Think of a big disaster like Hurricane Sandy. There aren’t enough people locally to handle the demand, so crews are brought in from other locations. This is also probably not a good job if you fear heights.

2. Claims Adjusters

What They Do: Claims adjusters inspect property damage and interview claimants and witnesses to determine how much an insurance company will pay for lost or damaged property.

Projected Job Growth: 3%

Median Annual Wage: $65,670

Minimum Education Level Required: High school diploma or equivalent.

Training: Some states require a license. In some states, if you are employed by an insurance company, you can work under their license and don’t have to be licensed yourself. Many states require continuing education.

Most new adjusters will work with a more experienced colleague for a period before being allowed to do estimates on their own.

Pros: The job can be rewarding, helping people who have suffered a property loss.

Cons: The work schedule can be erratic and may require travel to disaster-hit areas.

3. Loan Officer

What They Do: A loan officer helps customers with their application for various types of loans including auto, home, and college. They also determine creditworthiness according to the standards of the bank or company they work for.

Projected Job Growth: 8%

Median Annual Wage: $63,040

Minimum Education Level Required: High school diploma or equivalent.

Training: Certification is not required to become a loan officer, but it will make you look more attractive to employers.

Pros: The salary is pretty good, but loan officers can also make post-closing commission.

Cons: The work can be boom or bust. Endless amounts of paperwork.

4. Building Inspector

What They Do: A building inspector makes sure that construction meets local and national building codes and ordinances, zoning laws, and contract specifications.

Projected Job Growth: 8%

Median Annual Wage: $59,700

Minimum Education Level Requirement: High school diploma or equivalent.

Training: Inspectors often learn on the job, but most states and localities require them to be licensed or certified. They also must take continuing education classes to stay up to date on changes to codes, ordinances, and zoning laws.

Pros: You can work independently which means setting your own hours and fees. You can also specialize in an area of inspection like commercial, residential, or plumbing.

Cons: The work environment can be dangerous, walking around partially built construction sites.

Hard hat

5. Electrician

What They Do: Electricians install wiring systems into buildings and maintain, repair, and upgrade existing systems.

Projected Job Growth: 14%

Median Annual Wage: $55,190

Minimum Education Level Required:  High school diploma or equivalent.

Training: There are apprenticeship programs offered by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Electrical Contractors Association, and Independent Electrical Contractors. They combine classroom instruction and on the job training (paid) and takes about four years to finish.

You can also attend a technical school, but then you will need to find an apprenticeship for the on the job portion of your education.

There is usually a location-specific exam that you must pass to become licensed that will test your knowledge of national and local electric and building codes.

Pros: This is another field where you can become self-employed, but you can also join a union that has many benefits (with less independence).

Cons: Electricians may be required to work odd hours. There is continuing education required, and the work environment can be dangerous.

6. Plumber

What They Do: Plumbers install, maintain, and repair water lines, waste disposal systems and associated fixtures and appliances.

Projected Job Growth: 16.7%

Median Annual Wage: $53,910

Minimum Education Level Required: High school diploma or equivalent.

Training: You can train for a career as a plumber at a trade school, community college and on the job. The on the job training is paid. There is usually a period of apprenticeship that lasts from 4-5 years, and there is a minimum of 144 hours of classroom time per year.

Requirements vary by location but two to five years of experience and passing a test on trade knowledge and local codes are usually required before you can get a license that will allow you to work independently.

Pros: You have paid, on the job training. Once you pass the requirements, you can hang out your own shingle which means you can set your own hours and fees.

Cons: You can get emergency calls at all hours, weekends, and holidays. The job can be physically demanding and messy.

7. Industrial Machinery Mechanic

What They Do: Industrial machinery mechanics maintain and repair the machinery that keeps assembly lines running.

Projected Job Growth: 19%

Median Annual Wage: $52,340

Minimum Educational Level Required: High school diploma or equivalent.

Training: Mechanics need at least one year of training which can be done at a technical school or on the job.

Pros: Many of these jobs are unionized which means job security and excellent benefits.

Cons: Mechanics can be required to work a lot of overtime (although that’s not a con when it comes to the paycheck) because every second an assembly line is down, a company is losing money. The job can also be physically taxing.

8. Court Reporter

What They Do: A court reporter transcribes legal proceedings, things like trials, depositions, and hearings word for word.

Projected Job Growth: 2%

Median Annual Wage: $57,517

Minimum Education Level Required: High school diploma or equivalent.

Training: Most states require licensing or certification.

Pros: You can freelance as a court reporter. In many cases, the reporter owns the transcript and can charge for copies of it.

Cons: You have to have a high degree of accuracy. You are sitting in the same position for hours.

9. Real Estate Broker

What They Do: A real estate broker helps people to rent, buy and sell a home or commercial space.

Projected Job Growth: 3%

Median Annual Wage: $78,940

Minimum Education Level Required: High school diploma or equivalent.

Training: To become a broker you first have to gain experience by working as a real estate sales agent. The agents work for brokers. Most states require a license which can be obtained by attending a training course at a state-approved school.

You are required to pass a test before being granted a license.

Pros: If you hate the thought of being stuck in an office all day you will like being a real estate broker. A lot of your work will be done on-site, and a lot of it can be done from home. You will work partly, sometimes entirely on commission and that can mean tens of thousands (or more) when you close a big deal.

Cons: You are dealing with people’s life savings in many cases, and even a small error can cost your clients thousands of dollars. The hours are irregular, so this is not a Monday-Friday 9-5 job. The industry is boom or bust.

10. Carpenter

What They Do: Carpenters build, maintain, and repair buildings. The job can encompass many things from building an entire house to installing kitchen cabinets.

Projected Job Growth: 6%

Median Annual Wage: $55,686

Minimum Educational Level Required: High school diploma or equivalent.

Training: Carpenters train through an apprenticeship. The program lasts 3-4 years and combines on the job training and classroom instruction. There are also technical schools that offer carpentry training programs.

Pros: You can work independently, and you have a lot of choices for specialization including home or commercial construction, or finish and trim carpentry.

Cons: The training period to become a carpenter is a long one, and the work sites can be dangerous. The work can also be seasonal depending on the climate you live in.

Person cutting wood with a bandsaw

11. Appliance Repairer

What They Do: An appliance repairer maintains and repairs various household items.

Projected Job Growth: 21%

Median Annual Wage: $45,523

Minimum Education Level Required: High school diploma or equivalent.

Training: Vocational schools offer training in appliance repair, and there are certification programs. Most employers provide on the job training, pairing a new employee with an experienced one.

Pros: You can start your own business. You can specialize in small appliance repair for things like televisions and vacuum cleaners or larger appliances like washing machines and refrigerators.

Cons: You may be on call for emergency repairs. Small appliance repair is not as lucrative as it once was. Many people are not going to pay to have a toaster repaired because it’s so cheap to buy a new one.

Don’t Rule College Out Entirely

This list represents jobs that will hire for at least entry-level positions with just a high school diploma or GED. But in nearly all of them, getting some additional education can help you advance and make more money.

Many colleges offer Associate’s Degrees in nearly all the jobs on this list. It generally takes two years to get an Associate’s Degree, but it may take longer if you are working full time. One of the benefits of working while attending college is that your employer may pay for all or part of your education.

There are also certification programs available in many of these fields and gaining certification can improve your career and again. Your employer may even pay for it.

And if you decide one day you want to get a college degree, you can. There is no age limit to become a college student and being an older student has advantages. You will have a better sense of what you want to do than you did when you were younger because you’ve been working.

Because you’ve been working and earning money, you will take out less money in student loans or none at all. Your employer may also be willing to pay for all or part of your education.

College is great in many ways, but it’s not the only career path available in the United States.

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Candice Elliott - Senior Editor Candice Elliott is a substantial contributor to Listen Money Matters. She has been a personal finance writer since 2013 and has written extensively on student loan debt, investing, and credit. She has successfully navigated these areas in her own life and knows how to help others do the same. Candice has answered thousands of questions from the LMM community and spent countless hours doing research for hundreds of personal finance articles. She happily calls New Orleans, Louisiana home-the most fun city in the world.
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