15 Lucrative Jobs Making Over $100K Without a College Degree 

Sam Mire

jobs

The tide has turned on higher education. Student debt is the financial albatross that dominates TikTok and Wall Street Journal headlines alike, and the idea of working nine-to-five cubicle jobs is just not very…Millennial. 

Generation Z could embody a backlash against the established norm, with some calling them the “toolbelt generation.” Many young bucks seem to recognize that the hard skills learned in trade school can provide professional fulfillment and financial freedom without much debt, if any. 

As disruptive technologies change the nature of work and younger people become increasingly disillusioned by diluted college degrees, they might turn to these jobs for a steadier, hard-earned living.

1. Power Distributor

Power Distributor
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Do you like power? You don’t have to be President of the United States to make a solid salary while wielding influential power. 

Power distributors oversee and regulate electricity control, ensuring that homes and businesses receive their capacity without overtaxing the grid. Overseeing generating stations, substations, and users is a complex job with an average wage of more than $105,000.

2.  Web Developer

web developer
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Generations entering college will have grown up with iPads in their cribs and laptops instead of Hardy Boys books. Already versed in the web language, these would-be English majors should consider a career in web development.

The “most likely range” for a web developer’s salary is $72,000 to $132,000. Today’s developer will need to contend with artificial intelligence, and those who can leverage emerging tech may even boost their salaries. 

3. Commercial Pilot

pilot
credit: depositphotos

The 2023 median pay for airline and commercial pilots was $171,210. To fly, you’ll need more than your Flight Simulator experience, as a private pilot certificate is the first step. You’ll also need an instrument rating, accrue flight hours, pass exams, and pay about $20,000 for your license. 

After that, though, you’re golden. Plus, if you pull off a Sully Sullenberger, you won’t ever have to pay for drinks again. 

4. Database Manager

Data Analyst
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Database manager is one of those jobs that most college graduates have probably never heard of. Short supply might explain the median annual salary of more than $155,000. 

You may be able to earn this position with strategic certifications and work experience in the IT sector. If you have a strong mind for security, systems, and tech, consider a database manager career option.

5. Underwater Welder

Cave diving, Maldives
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Few jobs sound as cool as “underwater welder.” That’s before you hear that they make an average of $97,000 per year, according to one source. While other statistics peg underwater welders’ salaries at a lower rung, experience, and the right opportunities could put you over six figures annually.

A high school diploma, welding certificate, physical exam, and graduation from diving and welding school are all you’ll need to get welding…underwater.

6. Air Traffic Controller

Air Traffic Controller
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Are you adept at loading suitcases into vehicles or crafting complex trip itineraries? You may have the prerequisites to become a capable air traffic controller, a profession with a median salary of $137,380 annually.

This is a complex, high-stakes job, and failure has catastrophic consequences. However, if you embrace a challenge, seek fulfillment, and have sufficient work experience (or some education), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is hiring.

7. Train Engineer

Train Engineer.
Credit: Depositphotos

When we hear “engineer,” schools like Georgia Tech, Purdue, and even MIT come to mind. While many engineering positions require a four-year degree, locomotive engineers merely need a high school diploma and a certificate from an engineer training program.

While the average salary for train engineers is around $75,000, the higher end of the pay scale reaches six figures. That’s worth at least one tug on the train horn.

8. Technology Sales Manager

sales manager
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The phrase “technology sales” is broad, so being a “manager” of technology sales could mean a wide variety of things. Naturally, salaries vary. 

Those who sell hardware (like computers) and software deal in wares that generally have a substantial price tag. The product's value and the likelihood that one will be selling in bulk helps explain why tech sales managers make more than $96,000 per year.

9. Construction Manager

Credit: Depositphotos

“Working construction” isn’t the last-ditch career path it was once billed as. Always an honorable profession, construction workers who display the requisite ambition and managerial acumen can make a healthy living.

On average, construction managers earn more than $101,000 per year. With the right employer securing the right contracts, the earning ceiling is far higher.

10. Elevator and Escalator Installer/Repairman

People in elevator
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The elevator won’t be the only thing going up for those who embark on a career path with Otis or its competitors. Your earning power may also rise precipitously, as the average annual pay for elevator and escalator technicians is more than $102,000.

Considering the hazards of freefalls and multi-hour entrapments in stuck elevators, this is truly a high-value, high-stakes gig. Fulfillment might be a nice touch to go with the handsome salary.

11. Sommelier

Sommelier_IgorTishenko
credits: IgorTishenko/depositphotos

Why doesn’t it dawn on us in eleventh-grade literature class that a sommelier is easily a top-five career choice? Perhaps our limited capacity to appreciate the finer things in life at the age of 16 is to blame, and it’s a real shame. All you have to do is pass four tests before becoming a master sommelier, though we’re not saying it will be easy.

While the median salary for a vino aficionado is around $64,000, the upper-echelon sums can make six figures. Presumably, trips to Tuscany and Croatia can be expensed.

12. Plumber

Plumber
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We move from wine to human waste. Don’t say we didn’t give you options! 

To be transparent, the range of plumber salaries varies dramatically depending on your experience, geographic location, local demand, and other factors. That said, a master plumber can make well over $100,000, especially if they are willing to say yes to the dirtiest of jobs.

13. Marketing Manager

Man working in Laptop
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A marketing manager is one of those vague titles that might prompt you to ask: Marketing what? 

It does not matter what you’re selling, though some types of marketing are more lucrative than others. Being in charge of branding a product or service to a customer base or clientele speaks to your importance, which is why marketing managers earn around $120,000 on average.

14. Information Security Analyst

Business Analyst
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Not only does being an information security analyst tend to pay well, but it also sounds important. People will assume you work for the Central Intelligence Agency if you take on this job title, which is an added bonus.

Not that you’ll need a bonus. The average salary for this position is $112,000, and you may be able to start with a few certifications and relevant experience.  

15. Professional Sports Referee

Soccer Referee
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Calling those who embrace the long shot! Fans of the underdog, we have the gig for you! Does anyone have another sports reference here? I’m out.

While countless hopefuls toil their earning years away at local YMCAs, a professional NFL referee makes a reported $205,000 per season as of 2023. That is serious money because refereeing is a part-time job (nominally, at least). With a nationwide referee shortage, maybe reffing pro ball is not the longshot we assumed.

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