Going to a traditional four-year college isn’t the only path to a successful career. In fact, there are many well-paying jobs available for those without a bachelor’s degree, and average earnings for this demographic hover around $49,206. With that said, some of these jobs may require certifications or relevant experience. Keeping this in mind, SmartAsset examined data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to identify fast-growing careers that don’t require a bachelor’s degree.
For this study, we compared BLS data from 410 professions across seven metrics on topics such as one- and five-year income and employment growth, as well as 10-year projected employment growth. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together, read the Data and Methodology section below.
This is SmartAsset’s second study on the best jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree. Check out the 2022 edition here.
- Jobs without a bachelor’s degree can pay up to $127,920. Air traffic controllers offer an average six-figure salary of $127,920. This is more than 83% higher than the median household income of $69,717. While a job as an air traffic controller will give you the highest salary, it ranked outside of the top 100 overall.
- Athletes rank first after a change in NCAA rules. In 2021, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) changed its rules to allow college athletes to receive endorsement deals and contracts through brands. This may provide fresh opportunities to earn income for participants in this profession, which ranked No. 1 in our study.
- Commercial pilots are still in high demand. For the second year in a row, commercial pilots claim the second-highest rank in our study. They are paid well but require certification and several hundred successful flight hours before hire. An ongoing pilot shortage can make this profession even more in demand in the future.
1. Athletes and Sports Competitors
This occupation claims the top spot in our 2023 study. According to the BLS, athletes and sports competitors are projected to experience 35.7% job growth over the next 10 years. In terms of salary, they averaged $116,930 annually and ranked No. 2 for earnings growth over the past year (23.42%).
2. Commercial Pilots
Typically, commercial pilots operate in the private sector, rendering their services to private aircraft owners, including small personal planes, jets and helicopters. Commercial pilots can take home an average of $115,080 annually, which has increased by 33.41% over the five years between 2016 and 2021 (ranking at No. 8 in our study).
3. Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
Diagnostic medical sonographers produce sonograms or ultrasounds of patients for physicians. The BLS reports that these workers can earn $80,680 annually on average. This occupation is forecasted to grow by 14.7% in the coming years.
4. Food Service Managers
According to the BLS, potential food service managers can currently earn an average salary of $63,970, up 4.87% between 2020 and 2021. In terms of job growth, there has been an increase of 4.57% in the five years between 2016 and 2021, and that figure is set to more than double by 2031.
5. Lodging Managers
Lodging managers handle a variety of tasks specific to customer satisfaction and business efficiency, including supervising staff such as housekeepers, room attendants and front-office staff. The average annual salary is $67,770 and brings with it an expected 10-year job growth expectation of 18%.
6. Dental Hygienists
Dental hygienists do not need a bachelor’s degree. In fact, an associate’s degree can open the doors to this field. The average salary stands at $81,360 (fourth-highest in our top 10). Over the coming years, this occupation is forecasted to grow by 8.9%.
7. Real Estate Brokers
Real estate brokers facilitate the sales and purchases of homes and other types of properties. While building up a portfolio and clientele can be challenging, those who find their footing in this career can average $86,490 annually. And the BLS projects 7,100 jobs will become available by 2031.
8. Hearing Aid Specialists
Hearing aid specialists are trained to detect and assess hearing impairments and find a solution that works best for each patient’s needs. The average annual salary is just under $60,000, with a one-year earning growth of 9.76% and a one-year job growth of 38.87% between 2016 and 2021.
9. Floor Layers, Except Carpet, Wood and Hard Tiles
This occupation may not require a bachelor’s degree, but it does rely on skills and the tools of its craft. For those looking to enter the field, the annual salary is $53,880 – up 27.17% over the five years between 2016 and 2021. Employment numbers have also increased by 76.98% (ranking No. 3 in our study) over the same time period.
10. Solar Photovoltaic Installers
Solar photovoltaic installers are also known as PV installers. Their average salary is $50,710. Employment for this occupation has grown by more than 85% over the five years between 2016 and 2021. Additionally, employment numbers for PV installers are expected to grow by 27.2% by 2031, which ranks No. 7 in our study for this metric.
Data and Methodology
To find the best jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, SmartAsset looked at occupation data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We sorted occupations by the typical degree needed for entry, filtering out any occupation with “all other” or “miscellaneous” in the title due to lack of specificity. We compared the remaining 410 occupations across seven metrics:
- Average annual salary. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics and is for May 2021.
- One-year percentage change in earnings. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics and is for May 2020 and May 2021.
- Five-year percentage change in earnings. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics and is for May 2016 and May 2021.
- One-year percentage change in employment. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics and is for May 2020 and May 2021.
- Five-year percentage change in employment. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics and is for May 2016 and May 2021.
- 10-year expected percentage growth in employment. This is the projected percentage change in the number of people employed in an occupation from 2021 to 2031. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2021 Employment Projections.
- 10-year expected growth in the number of workers. This is the projected gross change in the number of people employed in an occupation from 2021 to 2031. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2021 Employment Projections.
We ranked each job in each metric, double-weighting average annual salary and half-weighting four metrics: one-year percentage change in earnings, the five-year percentage change in earnings, the one-year percentage change in employment, and five-year percentage change in employment. All other metrics were single-weighted. We then found each occupation’s average ranking and used that to determine a final score. The occupation with the best average ranking places first in our study while the occupation with the worst average ranking places last.
Financial Planning Tips
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