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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.

Methodology

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.


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15. Public relations and fundraising managers

  • Median annual wage: $107,320
  • Total employment: 73,500
  • 10-year projected employment growth: 10.4%
  • Typical prior work experience: 5 years or more
  • Job description: Plan, direct, or coordinate activities designed to create or maintain a favorable public image or raise issue awareness for their organization or client; or if engaged in fundraising, plan, direct, or coordinate activities to solicit and maintain funds for special projects or nonprofit organizations.


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14. Aerospace engineers

  • Median annual wage: $109,650
  • Total employment: 69,600
  • 10-year projected employment growth: 6.1%
  • Typical prior work experience: None
  • Job description: Perform engineering duties in designing, constructing, and testing aircraft, missiles, and spacecraft. May conduct basic and applied research to evaluate adaptability of materials and equipment to aircraft design and manufacture. May recommend improvements in testing equipment and techniques.


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13. Purchasing managers

  • Median annual wage: $111,590
  • Total employment: 73,900
  • 10-year projected employment growth: 5.5%
  • Typical prior work experience: 5 years or more
  • Job description: Plan, direct, or coordinate the activities of buyers, purchasing officers, and related workers involved in purchasing materials, products, and services. Includes wholesale or retail trade merchandising managers and procurement managers.


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12. Computer hardware engineers

  • Median annual wage: $115,080
  • Total employment: 73,600
  • 10-year projected employment growth: 5.5%
  • Typical prior work experience: None
  • Job description: Research, design, develop, or test computer or computer-related equipment for commercial, industrial, military, or scientific use. May supervise the manufacturing and installation of computer or computer-related equipment and components.


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11. Compensation and benefits managers

  • Median annual wage: $116,240
  • Total employment: 15,800
  • 10-year projected employment growth: 5.0%
  • Typical prior work experience: 5 years or more
  • Job description: Plan, direct, or coordinate compensation and benefits activities of an organization.


Photo Credit: Dmitriy Shironosov / Alamy Stock Photo

10. Sales managers

  • Median annual wage: $117,960
  • Total employment: 385,500
  • 10-year projected employment growth: 7.5%
  • Typical prior work experience: Less than 5 years
  • Job description: Plan, direct, or coordinate the actual distribution or movement of a product or service to the customer. Coordinate sales distribution by establishing sales territories, quotas, and goals and establish training programs for sales representatives. Analyze sales statistics gathered by staff to determine sales potential and inventory requirements and monitor the preferences of customers.


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9. Natural sciences managers

  • Median annual wage: $119,850
  • Total employment: 56,700
  • 10-year projected employment growth: 9.9%
  • Typical prior work experience: 5 years or more
  • Job description: Plan, direct, or coordinate activities in such fields as life sciences, physical sciences, mathematics, statistics, and research and development in these fields.


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8. Financial managers

  • Median annual wage: $121,750
  • Total employment: 580,400
  • 10-year projected employment growth: 18.7%
  • Typical prior work experience: 5 years or more
  • Job description: Plan, direct, or coordinate accounting, investing, banking, insurance, securities, and other financial activities of a branch, office, or department of an establishment.


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7. Air traffic controllers

  • Median annual wage: $122,410
  • Total employment: 24,900
  • 10-year projected employment growth: 3.5%
  • Typical prior work experience: None
  • Job description: Control air traffic on and within vicinity of airport and movement of air traffic between altitude sectors and control centers according to established procedures and policies. Authorize, regulate, and control commercial airline flights according to government or company regulations to expedite and ensure flight safety.


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6. Airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers

  • Median annual wage: $127,820
  • Total employment: 84,000
  • 10-year projected employment growth: 3.4%
  • Typical prior work experience: Less than 5 years
  • Job description: Pilot and navigate the flight of fixed-wing, multi-engine aircraft, usually on scheduled air carrier routes, for the transport of passengers and cargo. Requires Federal Air Transport certificate and rating for specific aircraft type used. Includes regional, National, and international airline pilots and flight instructors of airline pilots.


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5. Petroleum engineers

  • Median annual wage: $128,230
  • Total employment: 33,700
  • 10-year projected employment growth: 15.2%
  • Typical prior work experience: None
  • Job description: Devise methods to improve oil and gas extraction and production and determine the need for new or modified tool designs. Oversee drilling and offer technical advice.


Photo Credit: Dmitriy Shironosov / Alamy Stock Photo

4. Marketing managers

  • Median annual wage: $131,180
  • Total employment: 218,300
  • 10-year projected employment growth: 10.1%
  • Typical prior work experience: 5 years or more
  • Job description: Plan, direct, or coordinate marketing policies and programs, such as determining the demand for products and services offered by a firm and its competitors, and identify potential customers. Develop pricing strategies with the goal of maximizing the firm’s profits or share of the market while ensuring the firm’s customers are satisfied. Oversee product development or monitor trends that indicate the need for new products and services.


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3. Architectural and engineering managers

  • Median annual wage: $134,730
  • Total employment: 180,100
  • 10-year projected employment growth: 5.5%
  • Typical prior work experience: 5 years or more
  • Job description: Plan, direct, or coordinate activities in such fields as architecture and engineering or research and development in these fields.


Photo Credit: Andor Bujdoso / Alamy Stock Photo

2. Computer and information systems managers

  • Median annual wage: $135,800
  • Total employment: 367,600
  • 10-year projected employment growth: 12.0%
  • Typical prior work experience: 5 years or more
  • Job description: Plan, direct, or coordinate activities in such fields as electronic data processing, information systems, systems analysis, and computer programming.


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1. Chief executives

  • Median annual wage: $181,210
  • Total employment: 308,900
  • 10-year projected employment growth: -3.9%
  • Typical prior work experience: 5 years or more
  • Job description: Determine and formulate policies and provide overall direction of companies or private and public sector organizations within guidelines set up by a board of directors or similar governing body. Plan, direct, or coordinate operational activities at the highest level of management with the help of subordinate executives and staff managers.