Careers for college dropouts and non-college graduates

Are you looking for a rewarding, high-paying career but don’t want to spend four or more years in college?

Consider taking courses at a trade school.

Vocational education will give you the skills you need without having to spend years in a traditional college. Without spending all of that time going to a conventional college, you will also be saving money.

Choosing an online college is another way to save even more cash!

So, take a look below where we have listed twenty great career options for non-college graduates. Careers are listed by median annual income, as per data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

High Paying Career Options for Non-College Graduates

Computer Programmer

Median Annual Income: $79,840

Employment Outlook: Expected to decrease 7%

Computer Programmers spend their time writing and testing code that allows computer applications to run properly. Much of this code is written in computer languages such as C++, Java, Python, Ruby PHP and more. There may be times when you are troubleshooting code to find errors that may have caused a glitch in a certain program. Once you locate the error, you will be required to fix it by correctly adding the necessary code. Other job duties may include building computer-assisted software engineering (CASE) tools, in order to automate some of the code writing.

Required Education: Many employers like to have their computer programmers have at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science or information systems. However, there are schools, such as Neumont, that allows you to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in as little as three years. In this course, you will attend school five days a week, year-round, until graduation. You will learn programming skills, development in Java and more in this course.

Network and Computer Systems Administrator

Median Annual Income: $79,700

Employment Outlook: Expected to increase 6% – about average

In a career as a network and computer systems administrator, your basic job is to make sure everything is up and running and running smoothly, on your company’s network. Chances are, this network is the hub of your company’s operations. Each employee will be working on the network in order to get their job done, so downtime could be costly. In addition, you may also be required to install local area networks, known as LANs, as well as wide area networks, known as WANs. Moreover, you may be in charge of running the intranet and data communication systems as well as overseeing all software and computer upgrades and needs.

Required Education: In order to work as a computer systems administrator you will need to have a degree, preferably in network administration. If you choose a course, you can complete your associate’s degree in less than 21 months. In this course, you will learn how to troubleshoot systems, problem-solving and analyzing data. You will also gain skills in technical support, firewalls, UNIX, Cisco, and LINUX.

Film and Video Editor

Median Annual Income: $62,760

Employment Outlook: Expected to increase 18% – quicker than average

As a film and video editor, your main job is to cut and polish final films so they are ready for the public audience. However, before this, you will need to learn the film script as well as understand the storyline. You will then begin working with the film stars, producers, and directors in order to make sure you understand the goals of the film. During taping you will spend time examining clips, making sure the story is brought together correctly. You will edit any pieces that have errors, cut pieces that may run long, and add in sound or voices where needed.

Required Education: In order to become a film and video editor, you must have the proper education. While some larger film companies prefer their employees have a formal college education, many others are looking for you to have a certificate in Film. Still, other companies will provide you with training and an internship. If you are considering this career, look into a certificate course, such as the one that Lights, Film, School teaches.

Power Line Installer and Repairer

Median Annual Income: $62,650

Employment Outlook: Expected to increase 8% – about average

As a power line installer and repairer, you will spend your days in the air, on power poles, installing power lines. While that may seem simple enough, remember, you will be working with high voltage wires. For your safety and that of your crew, you must learn how to cut the power and de-energize these lines. Additionally, you will set utility poles, install cutouts, switches, and cross-arms. You may also be fixing circuit systems that have crashed, as well as helping to install transformers and more.

Required Education: Becoming a line installer is one of those jobs that pay well, without a  college degree. However, because you will be handling live, high-voltage cables, you will need some education, such as attending Northwest Lineman College. However, there are many companies that offer apprenticeships, which is on-the-job training. Keep in mind that an apprenticeship could last as much as 5 years.

Aircraft Mechanic and Service Technician

Median Annual Income: $61,170

Employment Outlook: Expected to increase 5% – about average

Becoming an aircraft mechanic is a wise career decision for those who don’t like to be stuck in an office all day. In this job, you will work on several parts of the aircraft, which may include engines, pneumatic systems, or hydraulic systems. You will be responsible for overhauling engines, as well as repairing them. Additionally, you will be required to run diagnostic tests on malfunctioning engines and systems as well as make needed repairs. As an aircraft service technician, you may work in a variety of industries such as support for air transportation, sightseeing, aerospace parts, or scenic transportation. The top states that hire aircraft mechanics include Texas, Florida, California, and Georgia. Although, almost all of the states have some type of career path for service technicians.

Required Education: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) states that you must complete 1900 hours of training. Generally, this means roughly 2 years of schooling. However, at the National Aviation Academy, you can complete the program in just 14 months. This school offers both day and night courses to fit your schedule and also offers lifetime career services to all students. In this course, you will learn about the workings of jet engines and systems, you will also learn about the computers that allow the aircraft to fly. Additionally, you will learn about electrical systems as well as advanced diagnostic testing.

Conservationist Scientist and Forester

Median Annual Income: $60,610

Employment Outlook: Expected to increase 6% – about average

A career as a conservationist scientist and forester will allow you to work in many different places, such as forests, national parks, rangelands, and more. The best jobs for this position are with the federal and state governments. However, you can also find work on private lands and social advocacy. You will be involved in several different activities which are geared towards day-to-day management of protected areas, overseeing ecological restoration and more. You may find yourself teaching small groups of kids or hikers about how to keep the lands safe and protected, or you may be on the other end of the spectrum, working for a timber company.

Required Education: Many jobs as a conservationist scientist require a bachelor’s degree in forestry. However, there are other schooling options available. Penn Foster offers a complete forestry and wildlife conservation program. Because this program is self-paced, you can study at your convenience. You can finish this course in just four months, but you are also allowed more time if you need it.

Radiologic and MRI Technologist

Median Annual Income: $58,960

Employment Outlook: Expected to increase 13% – quicker than average

At a median income of $58,960 per year, becoming a radiologic and MRI tech is a good college certificate that pays well. In this profession, you will perform diagnostic testing on patients, such as x-rays and MRIs, looking for broken bones, signs of disease and more. You will be working directly with patients, so a good bedside manner is important. In this career, you may work in hospitals, clinics or a doctor’s office. Your hours may vary, depending on where you choose to work and what hours that company is open.

Required Education: With this career being in the healthcare industry, you will need to be certified. Many schools offer you the chance to earn your bachelor’s degree in radiology. However, you can complete a certificate program, such as the one taught at the University of Las Vegas, which will allow you to get an education and get into an entry-level career.

Respiratory Therapist

Median Annual Income: $58,670

Employment Outlook: Expected to increase 23% – much quicker than average

Choosing to become a respiratory therapist has many advantages, including being a short-term college degree. In this field, you will provide care to people who have breathing or lung and heart issues. You will assess patients, provide the best treatment options and explain to the patient what is going on in their body. You will treat people of all ages from infants to geriatrics. You may also have to provide emergency care for patients who are having a heart attack or drowning.

Required Education: Because this is the medical field, you will have to have a formal education. However, you can earn that degree in as little as 18 months at Southeast Community College.  You will learn all about heart and lung diseases, how to provide an accurate evaluation of patients and you will visit several care facilities during the course. Once you have graduated, you are ready to take the National Board of Respiratory Exams and you will be able to apply for your state license.

Occupational Therapy Assistant and Aide

Median Annual Income: $56,070

Employment Outlook: Expected to increase 28% – much quicker than average

As an occupational therapy assistant or aide, your job is to provide any needed support to the occupational therapist. This may include setting up tables or courses for patients to use during their therapy sessions. You may also help by answering phone calls and adding notes to charts. Additionally, you may show patients how to do a specific task. You may help family members adapt and learn to live with a loved one who has a disability as well. In this position, you must have patience and caring nature in order for your clients to feel important.

Required Education: Becoming an occupational therapy assistant requires a short college degree. You can earn that certificate in as little as 20 months at Concorde Career College. In this program, you will learn how to help people with illnesses or those who have had accidents to live an improved lifestyle. You will work directly with patients and occupational therapists in this career.

Pile Driver Operator

Median Annual Income: $55,070

Employment Outlook: Expected to increase by 17% – much quicker than average

Pile driver operators will find employment in an assortment of different areas, which include: utility system construction, specialty trade construction, highway and street construction as well as civil engineering construction and more. This is a high-paying job in California, with no college degree. Other states that offer a high number of jobs for pile-driver operators are Louisiana, Texas and Massachusetts. In this career, you will be responsible for placing deep-set frames into the ground to build retaining walls and foundations.

Required Education: As of now, there are no specific government-required courses to become a pile driver operator. However, choosing to take courses in math and auto mechanics may provide you a boost when job hunting. You may also want to consider taking a construction course, such as the one offered at Gateway Community College. Becoming a pile driver operator is a good career option for non-college graduates.

Funeral Services Manager

Median Annual Income: $54,830

Employment Outlook: Expected to increase 5% – about average

You may never have considered becoming a funeral services manager; however, it is a good-paying job with little college required. In this position you will help people who have just lost a loved one, prepare final arrangements. You may help the family write an appropriate obituary, help them to choose a casket as well as music selections and flowers for the service. In this career, you must have a lot of empathy for others and have a flexible schedule, including nights, holidays and weekends.

Required Education: To become a funeral services manager you must attend a school in which you will learn techniques for embalming bodies, how to do hair, makeup and how to reconstruct a body that is disfigured, due to illness, trauma or an autopsy. You will also learn a bit of psychology, in order to help the grieving family. You will also need to complete an apprenticeship in a funeral home. Each state has its own requirements for funeral directors. Consider a school such as Lincoln College of New England, where you will learn the basics and have the opportunity to continue on and receive a bachelor’s degree.

Rotary Drill Operator

Median Annual Income: $54,430

Employment Outlook: Expected to increase by 2% -.less than average

Rotary drill operators are needed in a variety of different fields which include: mining, oil and gas, petroleum, mining, commercial sales and more. In this career, you will make sure the equipment is in pristine working condition, keep accurate drilling records and more. Your main duty will be to locate and remove oils and gases from under the ground. You will also be responsible for locating and recovering lost drill bits. In this career, you can work in metal ore mining, utility system construction, as well as supporting mining activities.

Required Education: Currently there are no specific standards that require a college education to become a rotary drill operator. However, by taking courses in oil and energy, you may increase your desirability to potential employers. Consider a course such as the one Thunderbird Global Management offers. This is an excellent career, without college for you to consider.

Computer Numerically Controlled Machine Tool Programmer, Metal and Plastic

Median Annual Income: $53,560
Employment Outlook: Expected to increase 15% – quicker than average

Computer numerically controlled machine tool programmer also referred to as “CNC,” is a good job that requires no college. In this position, you will be required to create computer programs that control the machining of plastic and metal parts. You may also be involved in creating programs that run other tools and equipment for creating these parts. This career allows you to work in a variety of fields which include metalworking, aerospace parts, structural metals, screw and bolt manufacturing and more.

Required Education: While this is technically another cool career without college, you will need some formal schooling. There are employers who do offer paid training, but most would like to see you have experience with computer-aided drafting programs, be good at math and have a general knowledge of tools and machines. However, if you choose to attend a vocational school, such as Machining Training Simulation, you can earn a certificate in CNC, which you can use as leverage when applying for jobs.


Median Annual Income: $52,440

Employment Outlook: Expected to increase by 16% – quicker than average

A millwright is a person who is responsible for installing, dismantling, repairing and moving machines at construction sites, factories, or plants. Because of the environment and nature of the work, many millwrights experience minor bruises, muscle strains or cuts from time to time. As a millwright, you must be highly skilled in understanding how to read technical plans when putting these machines together. In this occupation, you could be employed in several different industries, such as sawmills, plywood manufacturing, steel mills, industrial machinery and more.

Required Education: There are several ways in which you can become a millwright. You can find a company that offers apprenticeship programs, where you will receive on-the-job training. Most employers who offer these programs are looking for individuals who possess excellent coordination and manual dexterity, as well as strength and excellent stamina. However, you can also choose to receive an education through a vocational school such as Penn Foster. This school allows you to study at your convenience, in your home, which is an excellent option for college dropouts.

Wind Turbine Tech

Median Annual Income: $52,260

Employment Outlook: Expected to increase 96% – much quicker than average

As a wind turbine tech, you will spend your days installing and maintaining wind turbines. You may also be responsible for repairing these devices. Much of the work is done in an office, monitoring the turbines. However, there will be times when you will need to travel directly to the units, in order to work on them. Most wind turbines are located on “farms” which are generally located away from cities and neighborhoods. Once at the turbine, you may have to climb to the top, in order to fix problems.

Required Education: While there is not a nationwide certification for wind turbine techs, it is important that you have some education. Many companies will hire you with a high school diploma. However, these companies like to see that you excel in troubleshooting and are accurate when making repairs. There are some colleges that offer education in wind and energy, as well as a few vocational schools such as Airstreams, that provide similar wind energy education. This is an excellent college certificate program that pays well.

Crane Operator

Median Annual Income: $52,170

Employment Outlook: Expected to increase 6% – about average

Crane operators help to erect tall buildings and towers. You will use a boom and cable system to lift objects and place them where they need to be located. The size and type of crane you use will depend on the job you are doing. Dexterity is important in this career, as you will use various levers, foot pedals and/or wheels to move objects. Some of the industries that need crane operators include iron and steel mills, wholesale merchants, building constructors and more.

Required Education: Currently there are no specific educational requirements to become a crane operator. While many companies offer on-the-job training, there are a few schools that offer some crane operator training. Associated Training Services offers several different types of courses that are beneficial for crane operators.


Median Annual Income: $51,450

Employment Outlook: Expected to increase 16% – much quicker than average

As a plumber, you will spend your time locating leaking pipes, fixing those leaks, or replacing old or damaged piping. You may also be the person who installs water supply lines in new residential or commercial buildings. Other duties may include installing waste disposal systems, showers, toilets, dishwashers, etc. Many times when you are working with water lines, you will be in tight spaces. This career is physically demanding, as you may have to crawl under homes or businesses, carry heavy loads and put your body into unnatural positions for water line installation.

Required Education: As a plumber, having a good education is essential. Many companies will hire those just out of high school, on an apprenticeship basis, where you will gain knowledge by working. However, there are several schools that offer formal training as well. Penn Foster even offers a home study program for plumbers. In this course, you will learn how to troubleshoot plumbing for kitchen appliances, learn how to install and test plumbing systems, as well as learn how to maintain water heaters. You can study this course at your own pace, in your own home.

Industrial Machinery Mechanic

Median Annual Income: $50,040

Employment Outlook: Expected to increase 7% – about average

Industrial machinery mechanics maintain, repair and install machinery in refineries. This may include packaging equipment machines, conveying systems and more. In order to do this job, you must be good at troubleshooting, as well as fixing these large machines. In this career, you will find employment in motor vehicle parts manufacturing, pipeline transportation, iron and steel mills, rail transportation and more. Due to the nature of this career, you will be required to wear a hard hat as well as eye and ear protection.

Required Education: While this is one of those high-paying jobs that doesn’t require a college degree, getting an education will help you to further your career. Many industrial machinery mechanics receive on-the-job training. However, you can receive formal education from places such as San Joaquin Valley College. Formal education may help you achieve a better starting wage and gives you a boost up the ladder of success.

Locksmith and Safe Repairer

Median Annual Income: $40,420

Employment Outlook: Expected to increase 10% – a bit more than average

Becoming a locksmith could be the key to unlocking your future. In this career, you will change locks, make keys, repair or open locks and install or repair safes. The top industries in which you may work include investigation and security, colleges and universities, elementary schools, medical offices, and hospitals. The states that have the most employment opportunities for locksmiths include Texas, California, Florida and New York. Although, you will be able to secure a job in just about any location you prefer.

Required Education: Becoming a locksmith is an excellent idea for those who are searching for quick college degrees. You can complete a home study course from Ashworth College in just about four months. During your studies, you will learn how to work with both electric and manual locks. Additionally, your training will include residential, business and vehicle lock systems. Once you graduate, you are eligible to take the Associated Locksmiths of America Fundamentals Locksmith Exam.

Solar Photovoltaic Installer

Median Annual Income: $39,240

Employment Outlook: Expected to increase 105% – astoundingly quicker than average

A career as a solar photovoltaic installer is a wise decision. The estimate is there will be an abundance of job openings over the next few years. Your main job as a PV installer will be to install, repair and maintain solar panels. Generally, these panels are located on the tops of buildings or offices. You will spend the majority of your time outside, installing these devices. However, you will also have to work in crawl spaces in order to connect panels to power. You will spend a lot of time on the road, going to and from different job sites.

Required Education: Most companies that hire solar photovoltaic installers provide on-the-job training through an apprenticeship. However, there are also several schools that offer training for a solar career. Consider Solar Energy International, where you can earn an SEI Solar Professionals Certificate. In this course, you will learn residential and commercial design and application.