By Kaitlin Dewey, Kiplinger.com
College isn't for everyone. Sure, earning a degree will improve your income potential, but skyrocketing tuition costs are a deterrent for some. Others choose not to continue their schooling for a host of reasons, from family obligations to a desire to start collecting a full-time paycheck.
You can still find a good job without a college degree. According to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, 44 percent of high school graduates make better money than college grads. It's just a matter of picking the right career field. To identify the 10 best jobs you can get without a college degree, we focused on two critical factors: salary and job growth. We started with the more than 300 professions that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies as requiring only a high-school diploma or post-secondary non-degree (typically awarded by a trade school or vocational training program). We trimmed the list by filtering for jobs with annual salaries well over the national median of $41,444 and projected long-term growth rates above the average of 14 percent.
Check out these 10 great jobs you can land without a college degree.
10. Manufacturing Sales Reps
- Median salary: $52,440 (U.S. median: $41,444)
- Current workforce: 1,430,000
- Projected job growth, 2010-2020: 16% (Average: 14%)
- Projected new jobs by 2020: 223,400
Wholesale and manufacturing sales reps who specialize in non-technical products make 27 percent more than the typical full-time worker -- a far cry from your local Avon lady or Tupperware party-peddler. Unlike those salespeople, wholesale reps market directly to businesses and government agencies. The pay is good, the opportunities numerous and, for most employers, a high school diploma is enough to land a job or a spot in a one-year paid training program. The median salary for sales reps in technical and scientific fields is a heftier $73,710, but those jobs usually require an associate's or bachelor's degree.
9. Telecommunications Equipment Installers
- Median salary: $54,710
- Current workforce: 194,900
- Projected job growth, 2010-2020: 15%
- Projected new jobs by 2020: 28,400
Software engineers and computer scientists aren't the only people who benefited from the Internet boom. Thanks to high demand for high-tech services, telecommunications installers also see growing opportunities and salaries 32 percent higher than the national median. Installers usually work for telecom or building companies, setting up routers, switchboards and telecom lines in businesses and private homes. While the work can get technical, most installers don't need a college degree -- trade school or a certificate program will suffice.
8. Insurance Sales Agents
- Median salary: $46,770
- Current workforce: 411,500
- Projected job growth, 2010-2020: 22%
- Projected new jobs by 2020: 90,200
While few agents are as bubbly as "Flo," the retro salesgirl in Progressive ads, job prospects in the insurance industry justify a little giddiness. Typical insurance agents pull in salaries about 13 percent above the national median. Analysts expect the industry to add 90,000 jobs in the next decade. And as an added bonus, insurance sales requires little formal education. Most agents hold a high-school diploma supplemented by some on-the-job training, as well as a license in the state where they work.
7. Construction & Building Inspectors
- Median salary: $52,360
- Current workforce: 102,400
- Projected job growth, 2010-2020: 18%
- Projected new jobs by 2020: 18,400
Of all the construction trades available to job-seekers without college degrees, building inspection is definitely the best-paid way to go. Inspectors typically work for local government or private firms, reviewing plans, monitoring construction sites and checking building codes for upwards of $52,000 a year. While there are no formal educational requirements, experience is key. Most employers look for extensive knowledge of the construction industry, sometimes verified by a licensing exam.
6. Plumbers, Pipefitters, & Steamfitters
- Median salary: $46,660
- Current workforce: 419,000
- Projected job growth, 2010-2020: 26%
- Projected new jobs by 2020: 107,600
Plumbers are in demand almost everywhere in the country -- and if you've ever had a toilet clog or a sink backup, you know exactly why. The typical plumber makes more than $46,000 a year installing and repairing pipes and appliances, mostly in homes and businesses. Pipefitters and steamfitters specialize in pipe systems that carry chemicals, gases and such. They might work in factories, hospitals, power plants or other buildings that house these systems. Most plumbers and fitters learn their trade though apprenticeships.
5. Dry Wall Tapers
- Median salary: $45,490
- Current workforce: 22,900
- Projected job growth, 2010-2020: 35%
- Projected new jobs by 2020: 8,000
No high-school diploma? No problem. Tapers are the only workers on our list who can look forward to good money and strong job growth without even finishing high school. Tapers work in the construction industry, preparing walls for painting after installers hang them up. Most learn on the job from more experienced workers; no apprenticeship or technical school required. The Labor Department expects contractors to add some 8,000 jobs by the end of the decade, reflecting growth in the construction industry as a whole.
- Median salary: $48,250
- Current workforce: 577,700
- Projected job growth, 2010-2020: 23%
- Projected new jobs by 2020: 133,700
The world is more wired than ever before, and both businesses and homeowners have electricians to thank. More gadgets mean more work for these skilled workers, who will see nearly 134,000 new jobs added by 2020. The typical electrician makes more than $48,000 per year with a high school degree and a four-year paid apprenticeship. Major cities promise the most jobs, but even smaller towns need light: Kokomo, Ind., and Bremerton, Wash., have the highest concentration of electricians in the U.S.
3. Commercial Pilots
- Median salary: $67,500
- Current workforce: 32,700
- Projected job growth, 2010-2020: 21%
- Projected new jobs by 2020: 6,900
The average commercial pilot makes $26,000 more than the typical full-time worker and $13,000 more than the average college-educated worker. That's a considerable disparity in a profession that has traditionally required only a commercial pilot's license and some hours logged at a local flight school. Times are admittedly changing -- many airlines now look for pilots with two- or four-year degrees -- but salary and growth prospects remain strong. Opportunities look particularly good around major airline hubs, including Houston, Phoenix, Dallas, Miami and Atlanta.
2. Brickmasons & Blockmasons
- Median salary: $46,930
- Current workforce: 89,200
- Projected job growth, 2010-2020: 41%
- Projected new jobs by 2020: 36,100
The population is booming, and so is the construction of new schools, hospitals and apartment buildings. That's good news for masons. These craftspeople make rock-solid salaries working for construction contractors, especially in growing urban areas. While few employers require formal education, most masons complete three- to four-year paid apprenticeship programs to learn the trade. Some pick up needed skills informally on the job from more experienced masons.
1. Pile-Driver Operators
- Median salary: $47,860
- Current workforce: 4,100
- Projected job growth, 2010-2020: 36%
- Projected new jobs by 2020: 1,500
With just a high school education and some on-the-job training, pile-driver operators can expect to make 19% more money than the national median. That's because the job requires some heavy lifting: Operators typically work on skids, barges, cranes or offshore oil rigs, using large machines to drive construction supports into the ground. The Labor Department expects demand to skyrocket over the remainder of this decade, growing at nearly three times the rate of all other occupations. Aspiring operators will have the best chances of finding work along the Gulf Coast, especially in Louisiana, thanks to the concentration of oil rigs and port operations.
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