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With the high cost of college these days, many young people are thinking about skipping the degree (and the loans) to go to a trade school or even head straight into the workforce. But what are your options for work if you haven’t got a high school diploma? Are there any good, career-worthy jobs out there?

Earning a college degree isn’t the only way to secure your future. However, it can be more challenging to find satisfying, well-paid work that you could see yourself doing long-term without any advanced training or a diploma.

In general, college graduates have a lot more earning potential than those with a high school diploma, who earn about $37,024 per year. Even accounting for the student loan debt, most college graduates come out ahead over time in overall earnings. But that doesn’t mean that you have to have a bachelor’s or even an associate’s degree to earn a good living.

It’s important to note that for almost any significant job that offers you security, good pay, and interesting work, you will at least need a high school diploma. A GED is also a good option for those who want to take their career to the next level but may need to catch up on the basics.

But if you want to build a solid long-term career and you don’t currently have a diploma, you’re not completely out of luck. There are some great career paths that can pay well enough for you to enjoy a good quality of life. Before we dive in, though, there’s one other thing you should know: even if you don’t need a degree for these jobs, you may need to complete additional training, certifications, or apprenticeships to advance.

Here are 7 careers to consider if you’re looking for work without a high school diploma.

1. Elevator Installer and Repairer

Ever gotten stuck in an elevator? It’s a quick way to make friends—or find a job. With all the high-rises popping up in major cities all over the country, elevators have become practically essential to everyday life. When they break down, it’s key to ensure that they’re quickly back up and running and that they maintain a high level of safety standards.

You may never have considered getting into the elevator repair and installation business, but it’s a solid career path that pays an average of $79,780 per year. Plus, now that no one wants to live in a walk-up apartment and business developers are turning to vertical space in cramped cities, companies need their employees to be able to quickly access offices on high floors. Because of this, the profession is growing quickly.

So what’s it like to be an elevator servicing professional? First, you’ll need to be comfortable working in dark, tight spaces and with heights. You’ll also need to be prepared to be on call for important jobs. You don’t need any formal education to work on elevators, but you will need to complete an apprenticeship and become licensed in most states.  

2. Detective

Are you good at noticing small details? Are you fascinated by true crime and the work detectives do? If you’re persistent and good at gathering facts and good at poring over a large amount of information, then you may have what it takes to be a detective.

Detective work isn’t particularly glamorous. It can be frustrating to track down dead-end leads after dead-end lead, interview people endlessly, and sift through piles of phone records. But it can also be a very satisfying career that allows you to really help your community.

It’s important to note is that becoming a police officer or detective does often require a high school diploma. But if you go through the police academy and on-the-job training, you might be able to work your way up the ladder without much formal education. Another option? Private investigator.

3. Data Analyst

Data analysts, as you might imagine, collect and work with data. They try to find the answers to specific questions using large datasets and communicate that information to organizational leaders in order to aid in strategy, daily operations, and other applications.  

Now that the data is quickly becoming one of the world’s most precious commodities, there’s a growing need for professionals who know how to work with data analytics tools. While you might be surprised to learn that you don’t necessarily need a college degree or even a diploma to succeed in the field of data analytics, what really matters in these jobs is your skills and ability to adapt quickly, rather than formal education.

To become a data analyst without a degree, you’ll need to do some serious self-teaching. Learning programming skills, math, machine learning concepts, SQL, and software skills are the key. You’ll also need to build an impressive portfolio that you can show to employers in order to compete with candidates who have college degrees.

4. Airline Pilot

Would you like to fly high above the world, earning a competitive salary and respect along the way? Then becoming an airline pilot might be the career for you.

As a pilot, you don’t need a degree or even a diploma. As long as you can learn to safely fly a plane and get from point A to point B while following all regulations and keeping passengers safe, you can earn a very good living and enjoy a satisfying career that will allow you to see the world.

To become a commercial pilot, your first step is to earn a private pilot certificate. You’ll learn in a small plane and get the basics of piloting an aircraft. From there, you’ll need to earn a series of other ratings and certificates in order to pilot a large jet.

It’s not easy, but once you have all the necessary certifications and 1,500 hours of flight time, you’ll be eligible for hire. Some airlines even operate cadet programs for people who want to become pilots.

5. Power Plant Distributor and Dispatcher

In the United States, we use a lot of power. Distributors and dispatchers at power plants ensure that power is flowing to buildings in their service area. While this career path is declining somewhat, due to alternative energy solutions and other factors, there are still good opportunities in the field.

While some power plant jobs do require a high school diploma, you may be able to get enough on-the-job training to work your way up. Because there are few training programs for this kind of work, much of it is done after a person has already been hired, making this job a good pick for someone without a degree.

6. Nuclear Power Operator

Nuclear power operators have the responsibility of overseeing the facilities that produce nuclear material for utilities. Reactor operators can earn around $83,000 per year, and shifts are needed 24 hours per day.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: working as a nuclear power operator has the potential to be quite dangerous. Accidents at power plants all over the world and the long-term effects of radiation exposure are valid reasons for avoiding work in a nuclear plant. But if you’re willing to accept the risk, then it can be a good option.

You may need a high school diploma or GED to work in a nuclear power plant. You will also need to become certified, which you can work toward while training under more experienced operators.

7. Postmaster/ Mail Superintendent

Employees of the U.S. Postal Service can work their way up over time to eventually oversee a branch of the post office. This position is known as a Postmaster. If you’re interested in following this career path, then you’ll need to be prepared to serve in some lower-level roles before you move up.

The USPS hiring requirements are pretty basic. You must be 18, be able to pass a drug and background check, and be a citizen or permanent resident. You may also need to pass an exam and have a valid driver’s license in good standing.

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Finding the Right Career for You

As you can see, it is possible to find interesting jobs, even without a degree. With that said, earning a high school diploma or GED, attending a trade school, or getting into a certification program could make life much easier.

When it comes to choosing your career, it’s important to think about what you really want out of life. Don’t just settle for a low-level job—find something you like that you can continue doing for years to come.

Remember, a career is very different from a job. If you’re willing to adapt and learn, then you don’t need an expensive degree to earn a good living!



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