The 15 highest paying jobs that don’t require an advanced degree

Increased educational attainment certainly has its perks in the workplace. In the U.S., advanced-degree holders tend to command higher salaries and enjoy lower unemployment rates than those with less education, according to a new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In 2017, for example, full-time employees with an advanced degree (master’s, professional, or doctoral) earned 25% more than those with only a bachelor’s degree, and 106% more than those with just a high school diploma. Similarly, employees who stopped their formal education after high school had a 4.6% unemployment rate in 2017, compared with 2.5% for bachelor’s degree-holders and 2.0% for advanced-degree holders over the same time period.

That said, investing in education beyond college doesn’t necessarily guarantee these benefits for every individual. In part, this is because the return on investment for advanced degrees varies widely by occupation. At the upper end of the spectrum, those who pursue careers in medicine (e.g. physicians, surgeons, and orthodontists) often bring in over $200,000 per year. On the other hand, the median annual wage for mental health counselors — an occupation requiring both a master’s degree and extensive internship experience — was just $42,840 in 2016.

With this in mind, researchers at Credit Sesame wanted to see which occupations not requiring advanced degrees have the highest wages. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Credit Sesame found that there are many bachelor’s degree-level jobs that pay far above the approximate $76,000 average for advanced-degree holders. Here are the highest paying jobs that don’t require an advanced degree.


For each occupation, data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Projections Report, accessed on March 28, 2018. The data included is for 2016, the most recent available. “10-year projected employment growth” is for 2016-2026. “Typical prior work experience” is defined by the BLS as “work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for other, more formal types of training or education.” The final list only includes occupations in which the “typical education needed for entry” is a bachelor’s degree or lower. Occupations requiring master’s, doctoral, or professional degrees are not included. Occupations are ordered by median annual wage.

Aggregate earnings and unemployment statistics by educational attainment were computed using the Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey, accessed on March 28, 2018. The data included is for people age 25 and over. Earnings are for full-time wage and salary workers only. Median annual earnings referenced in the article and shown in the graph Earnings by Educational Attainment for Full-time Employees were calculated by multiplying median weekly earnings by 52 weeks per year.

Photo Credit: Brownstock / Alamy Stock Photo

15. Public relations and fundraising managers

    Photo Credit: Cultura Creative (RF) / Alamy Stock Photo

    14. Aerospace engineers

      Photo Credit: MBI / Alamy Stock Photo

      13. Purchasing managers

        Photo Credit: Alexander Vedmed / Alamy Stock Photo

        12. Computer hardware engineers

          Photo Credit: DCPhoto / Alamy Stock Photo

          11. Compensation and benefits managers

            Photo Credit: Dmitriy Shironosov / Alamy Stock Photo

            10. Sales managers

              Photo Credit: Cultura Creative / Alamy Stock Photo

              9. Natural sciences managers

                Photo Credit: Cultura Creative / Alamy Stock Photo

                8. Financial managers

                  Photo Credit: Fredrick Kippe / Alamy Stock Photo

                  7. Air traffic controllers

                    Photo Credit: Hero Images Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo

                    6. Airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers

                      Photo Credit: Yuliya Ermakova / Alamy Stock Photo

                      5. Petroleum engineers

                        Photo Credit: Dmitriy Shironosov / Alamy Stock Photo

                        4. Marketing managers

                          Photo Credit: Blend Images / Alamy Stock Photo

                          3. Architectural and engineering managers

                            Photo Credit: Andor Bujdoso / Alamy Stock Photo

                            2. Computer and information systems managers

                              Photo Credit: PhotoAlto / Alamy Stock Photo

                              1. Chief executives