The highest-paying jobs without degrees don’t exist.
Or at least that’s what your family or friends might tell you — for good reason. After all, we’ve been taught that a university degree is worth it, especially as some can help us land jobs with salaries up to US$100,000 a year right out of uni.
In the US, a bachelor’s degree can open the doors to various well-paying jobs, with the average starting salary for a fresh graduate around US$47,349 per year.
But what if it’s impossible to further your education, let alone study abroad? Or you have all the means to go to university and a different country, but don’t like the idea of spending at least three years on learning theory?
The good news is that you can still secure your career and earn a high, stable income, even as much as six-figure salary, without obtaining a traditional degree.
Been there, done that: Successful people with the highest paying jobs without degrees
While completing a university education certainly has some perks, Karl Sandor, Chief Marketing Officer at award-winning marketing agency The Growth Guys, told Forbes that “hard skills grow obsolete every 18 months, while agility, testing, and empathy drive results.”
“A degree can’t teach you to keep pace with a perpetually evolving landscape.”
Take Daniel Woodroof, for example.
The co-founder of Pandan Social — a full-service digital marketing agency consisting of strategists, creatives, and analysts — has found his version of success despite only being a high school graduate.
Focusing on student influencer marketing, the agency’s counterpart Pandan Influencer, has provided an opportunity for university students to have a side hustle and use their social profiles to earn a side income.
“We worked with Tinder — a project that involved over 100 students and five cities in Indonesia. We collaborated with Taco Bell and Big Pay in Malaysia. We finished a campaign for ONE Championship,” Woodroof explains.
Outside work, the former professional racing driver is still deeply connected to his passion for racing through Stratos Motorsports.
Woodroof coaches drivers of all ages to race go-karts, cars, and rally cars at Stratos Racing School.
But is he norm or the exception? Can anyone achieve some of today’s highest paying jobs without degrees?
Is university worth it? The truth about not going to university
While it’s possible to secure a job with a high, stable income even without a bachelor’s degree, many of the roles on our list will require you to replace the long years of obtaining a degree with an alternate, and usually shorter, route of studying while working.
These can include:
- Working right after you complete your secondary education
- Completing a certification relevant to a specific role
- Taking a vocational course
Any of these options give you experience — which will help you either land a job or start your own business.
Research by George D. Kuh, Founding Director, Senior Scholar and Co-principal Investigator at the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment, suggests that any work experience you’ve acquired throughout your studies can be good since it “helps students see firsthand the practical value of their classroom learning by applying it in real-life settings — which, additionally, often helps to clarify their career aspirations.”
“… working during college is related to acquiring such employer-preferred skills such as teamwork and time management,” he adds.
These are timeless skills that are in demand by employers.
On the other hand, especially if you’re working in the tech space, a degree you obtained 15 or 20 years ago may be irrelevant now.
Through salary research sites like Glassdoor and Salary.com, we’ve compiled the necessary data to determine the highest-paying jobs without degrees today.
10 highest paying jobs without degrees that will change how you view success
- Average earning potential: There is no limit to your earnings as an entrepreneur.
An entrepreneur is a person who creates and grows a business through their creative ideas.
This role requires extensive planning, grit, research, and tenacity.
While a business degree can be useful when running a business, it’s not the only formula to succeed.
Ashvin Praven co-founded a content-driven social-media agency named Whacked while pursuing his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Sheffield.
Even with a low start-up capital, it’s possible to make a high income, fetching eye-watering salaries from US$60,000 to as much as US$500,000 in some instances.
2. Life coach
- Average earning potential: US$60,000 per year
Generally, coaching is a profession that isn’t strictly regulated, while at the same time promising potentially uncapped earning potential.
It’s a viable choice for those who desire to make a career pivot without needing to return to university and complete a full-length degree.
Accredited coaching certifications, such as those accredited through the widely recognised International Coaching Federation, can also be obtained online to increase your expertise and help you stand out in the market.
3. Real estate agent
- Average earning potential: US$197,304 per year
In the US, real estate agents are required to complete pre-license training and pass the real estate license exam to obtain their state license.
In the UK, you can start as a trainee sales negotiator and learn on the job. You could also start as an administrator in an estate agent or lettings company and work your way up.
Some ways to increase your earning potential in this role include setting realistic expectations, building a solid network, and deciding on your niche (commercial, luxury homes, etc).
4. Sales director
- Average earning potential: US$195,669
An MBA has proved valuable in advancing one career’s career and salary.
When examining the significant impact of earning an MBA on women’s salaries and positions within their respective industries and organisations, the Forté Foundation found that:
- Women with MBAs see pay gains of 55-65% of their pre-MBA salary within five years of graduation.
- On average, companies with female board directors experience a 53% higher return on equity.
- 85% of MBA graduates attribute their MBA to advancing their careers.
That said, it’s certainly possible to become a Sales Director even without obtaining a business degree.
You can start as an entry-level sales representative, move up to account manager or account executive, and gradually gain more experience as you hit record sales targets.
Over time, you could be in the run for a promotion.
5. Commerical pilot
- Average earning potential: US$127,846 per year
Unlike airline pilots, commercial pilots can operate in their roles without a degree if they pass the necessary licenses and certifications, such as completing a commercial pilot course, flight training, and passing the Federal Aviation Administration test.
On top of a chance to secure a high, stable income, there’s also the added opportunity to live your dreams of travelling the world without needing a full-length degree.
6. Supply Chain Manager
- Average earning potential: US$108,141 per year
Supply chain or logistics managers have never been in greater demand than after the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the supply chain industry expands, it offers you great potential to progress in your career.
While studying for a degree in supply chain management can help you learn more about the industry, you can start working at an entry-level as a supply chain administrator.
As you work your way up management, consider completing professional development courses from the global leader in supply chain management, the Association for Supply Chain Management.
7. Software developer
- Average earning potential: US$106,098 per year
There is no harm in graduating with a bachelor’s in computer science, but it’s possible to land a role in software development by attending boot camps, learning in-demand programming languages, obtaining certifications, and staying updated with the latest industry trends while developing a portfolio of personal projects.
Malaysian-born Rachel How did just that.
After joining a 24-hour hackathon, where her team won as part of the Top 10 participants, How received her first UI/UX design job offer.
Today, she’s a Senior Product Designer and solopreneur. The Malaysian also shared how she built eight income streams in six months.
8. Project or programme manager
Project management is a versatile and rewarding field, spanning across industries and sectors.
Due to its hands-on nature, it offers fantastic exposure to various aspects of business operations and provides an excellent foundation to progress into project director, portfolio manager, and operations director roles.
Earning potential for technical project managers is significantly greater, fetching as much as US$158,512 per year.
9. Police officer
- Average earning potential: US$62,865 per year
Entry requirements to work in the police force vary depending on the country you live in, but the only requirement in the US and UK is a high school diploma since you’ll receive specialised training through a police academy or apprenticeship route.
It’s also worth noting that policing encompasses more than the officer who conducts patrols on streets and public areas — you can work your way up and explore other career paths, such as senior police officer, detective, investigator, and many more.
10. Executive assistant
- Average earning potential: US$60,639 per year
An executive assistant supports chief executives within an organisation with daily tasks, streamlining their correspondence and acting as a key point of contact for stakeholders.
This requires a high level of organisational skills, clear business communication, and proficiency with Microsoft Office.
For this role, you could start working as an office manager, personal assistant, or other administrative personnel.
Picking up certificates to improve your business, project administration, and communication skills as you go along can help you go a long way in your career as an executive assistant.