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Top 10 Jobs Without a College Degree

by Thomas Metcalf, studioD

While a college education is generally the stepping stone to a higher paying job, there are drawbacks. College loans can take a chunk out of your disposable income, and there are many stories about college grads who do not find work in their field. If you are not sure about college, consider these career fields which require no more than a high school education.

Plumbers, Pipe Fitters, Steamfitters

The world will always need plumbers to install and repair pipes and fixtures. While plumbers work mostly with house plumbing, pipe fitters and steamfitters install pipe systems in industrial buildings. With a median salary of $46,660 in 2010, the field is expected to grow by 26 percent through 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Most people learn the trade through apprenticeships.

Drywall Tapers

With the housing industry coming back after the 2007 to 2009 recession, drywall tapers will be in demand. A taper is the person who smooths the drywall seams and prepares the wall for painting. Average pay was $45,490 per year in 2010, according to the BLS, and you do not even need a high school diploma for this job. Demand for tapers will be strong with a 36 percent growth through 2020.

Manufacturer's Representatives

Without salespeople nothing gets sold. Manufacturer's reps sell a wide range of products working as independent sales agents. You may need a technical education to sell some products, but a high school diploma is fine for most. Average annual pay in 2010 was $52,440 and the field is expanding, according to the BLS.

Fashion Designers

Fashion designers' incomes vary widely depending on their location and industry recognition. While formal training is becoming more common, many learn the business working as an assistant or an apprentice. Pay is good, averaging $64,530 per year in 2010, according to the BLS. If you have prior related experience, in merchandising, for example, that can help your career take off.

Line Installers

Line installers find employment with utilities and construction companies. If you like working outside and heights do not bother you, you may enjoy installing cables, phone lines and electrical lines. Training for the job is typically through an apprenticeship and you can look forward to a good salary which the BLS said averaged $54,290 annually in 2010.


Whether it is wiring a new building or repairing and replacing old wiring, electricians earned an average annual salary of $48,250 in 2010, according to the BLS. You can start with a high school diploma and a paid apprenticeship and expect 23 percent growth in the field through 2020.

Pile Driver Operators

Pile driver operators are the workers who drive the supports for buildings, retaining walls and other structures into the ground. Sometimes they work offshore to secure oil rigs to the ocean floor. Pay is good – $47,860 in 2010 – and an expected 36 percent growth rate through 2020 makes the career field secure.

Detectives and Criminal Investigators

Most detectives and criminal investigators start their careers as police officers. With a high school diploma and police training, detectives investigate everything from cheating spouses to missing persons. The work is stressful and sometimes dangerous, but highly rewarding with an average annual salary of $74,300 in 2010, according to the BLS.


If you have an eye for beauty and are good with people this being a hairdresser may be for you. Demand is strong and will likely improve as aging baby boomers need color and pampering. Hours are flexible and 40 percent are self-employed, setting their own hours and rates. Annual pay averaged $22.500 in 2010 and was supplemented with tips.


Bartenders check IDs, mix drinks, maintain inventories, listen to people's problems and call taxis for those to impaired to drive. Attend bartending courses to learn how to mix drinks and handle customers. Pay is low, averaging $18,680 in 2010, but if you are personable, you can earn a big part of your income through tips.

About the Author

Thomas Metcalf has worked as an economist, stockbroker and technology salesman. A writer since 1997, he has written a monthly column for "Life Association News," authored several books and contributed to national publications such as the History Channel's "HISTORY Magazine." Metcalf holds a master's degree in economics from Tufts University.

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