For decades, the general school of thought has been that in order to land a secure, high-paying role, you needed a college degree. But things are changing. Many organizations are realizing that a four-year degree is not a prerequisite for talent or success—and that in order to attract top candidates and build the best, most inclusive teams, they need to change the way they think about their degree requirements.
“Companies are recognizing that a college degree is unnecessary to achieve success—at least in most roles,” says career coach Kyle Elliot. “Moreover, there are systemic barriers to accessing and participating in higher education. Removing college degree requirements is an opportunity for companies to fiercely demonstrate their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
There are a number of challenges discouraging would-be students from pursuing traditional degrees—starting with the hefty price tag. “The four-year-degree bubble is starting to wither,” says career alignment coach Aly Brine, as the costs rise and the return on investment isn’t as obvious.
These changing views and trends have created a job market where there are a variety of high-paying opportunities available—no college degree required. So the question is: What are some of the highest-paying roles that don’t require a traditional college degree? We’ve compiled a list for you—along with advice about how you can get your foot in the door and land one of these coveted roles for yourself.
What’s Considered High Pay? And What Does “No Degree Required” Actually Mean?
First things first, let’s quickly cover how we’re defining “high-paying.” For the purposes of this list, we’re defining a high-paying role as one where the average income potential (according to data from salary and compensation resource Payscale) is above the median household income in the United States—which was $68,703 in 2019. In some cases, the actual salaries for these positions may be even higher, depending on where you live.
It’s also important to note that hiring requirements are at the discretion of individual employers and hiring managers—so while it’s increasingly possible to land one of the jobs on this list without a college degree, you may run into individual companies in your job search that insist applicants hold a degree in order to be considered for the role.
1. Software Developer
Average salary: $71,752
Salary range: $50,000 - $105,000
Average bonus: $3,994
Average profit sharing: $2,553
Total average income potential: $78,299
Software developers (also called software engineers) are the brains behind the software that people use every day. Software developers are problem-solvers; they’re responsible for determining the best way to meet the end user’s needs—and then designing, testing, and developing software that delivers on that strategy. While software developers used to need a degree in computer science, today, most companies will hire software developers without a degree—as long as they have the coding chops to get the job done. In order to land a job as a software developer, you’ll need to know how to write code—and be able to prove it in a technical interview.
2. Network Engineer
Average salary: $74,286
Salary range: $50,000 - $107,000
Average bonus: $4,696
Average profit sharing: $2,913
Total average income potential: $81,895
Network engineers are responsible for planning, designing, building, and managing a company’s computer networks. They manage a variety of IT-related tasks, including supervising network security and performance, maintaining computer hardware and software, installing necessary equipment (like VPNs, routers, and proxy services), and staying up-to-date on ways to improve and optimize the network. Network engineers have an important and tech-heavy job, so while they may not need a traditional degree, they do need to have a deep knowledge and understanding of computer science—and, more specifically, computer networks.
3. E-commerce Manager
Average salary: $64,142
Salary range: $40,000 - $96,000
Average bonus: $4,943
Average commission: $9,933
Average profit sharing: $2,500
Total average income potential: $81,518
Today, more people than ever do their shopping online—and, as such, more companies are looking for e-commerce managers to oversee their online sales. E-commerce managers are responsible for a company’s entire online sales strategy, from building out the promotional calendar to running digital advertising campaigns to optimizing the website to drive sales and conversions. Depending on the size of the company, e-commerce managers may also oversee a team of creatives (like copywriters and graphic designers) and junior e-commerce coordinators. While many e-commerce manager positions don’t require a degree, this role is extremely results-driven—so in order to land the job, you’ll need to prove you can successfully grow and build e-commerce brands (experience you could gain in a marketing role, for example).
4. Real Estate Agent
Average salary: $48,582
Salary range: $24,000 - $103,000
Average bonus: $5,128
Average commission: $34,392
Average profit sharing: $6,650
Total average income potential: $94,752
Real estate agents are responsible for facilitating the sale and/or purchase of properties. Being a real estate agent offers a lot of flexibility; agents can focus on residential or commercial properties, they can represent buyers or sellers, or pick some combination of these. There’s also a lot of variability in the role; on any given day, agents might host an open house, take buyers on tours of properties, negotiate a home sale, or manage a closing (and all the paperwork that goes with it). Agents don’t need a degree, but they do need to get their real estate license in order to officially represent buyers or sellers and to close real estate transactions—so if you decide to pursue real estate as a career, be prepared to invest in an accredited real estate course and pass the licensing exam before getting started.
5. Software Sales Representative
Average salary: $51,730
Salary range: $34,000 - $94,000
Average bonus: $10,213
Average commission: $22,000
Average profit sharing: $5,000
Total average income potential: $88,943
Software sales reps work for technology companies and are responsible for selling the company’s software to their target customers—whether those customers are other businesses, professionals, and/or consumers. Typically, software sales rep positions are a combination of both inside sales (like cold calling potential clients to schedule sales demos) and outside sales (like presenting those sales demos to the client in person and closing the deal). Sales roles typically don’t need a college degree, but because you’re selling software (which can be complex), most companies will want you to have some experience in tech—or, at the very least, be tech-savvy enough to understand, explain, and sell their software.
6. Digital Marketing and SEO Manager
Average salary: $66,481
Salary range: $45,000 - $98,000
Average bonus: $4,972
Average commission: $8,000
Average profit sharing: $2,978
Total average income potential: $82,431
Digital marketing and SEO (or search engine optimization) managers are responsible for increasing a brand’s visibility online. They’re typically well-versed in a variety of online marketing strategies, including SEO as well as lead generation, inbound marketing, and digital advertising. Opportunities for digital marketing and SEO managers exist both in house at a huge variety of organizations (from major corporations to startups to nonprofits) and at agencies (where they would manage online marketing for external client accounts). And while you don’t need a college degree to land this role, you do need to have a track record of successfully developing and implementing a variety of digital marketing campaigns—along with the ability and desire to stay up-to-date on and adapt to the always evolving digital marketing best practices.
7. Senior Executive Assistant
Average salary: $69,067
Salary range: $50,000 - $94,000
Average bonus: $4,126
Average profit sharing: $4,913
Total average income potential: $78,106
A senior executive assistant is an executive’s right-hand person. Senior EAs are responsible for supporting their executive in a variety of ways, including calendar management, booking travel, planning events, and managing special projects (both professional and personal). To succeed as an executive assistant, you’ll need to be extremely organized and able to juggle multiple priorities at once. A few things to keep in mind: While many EA positions don’t require a college degree, some executives consider a four-year degree a non-negotiable (particularly in more traditional industries, like finance). Also, while a career as an EA does offer a high income potential, it takes some time to work your way up to a senior level—so be prepared for a lower salary when you’re just getting your foot in the door.
Expert Tips For Landing a High-Paying Job Without a Degree
Clearly, there are a variety of high-paying roles that don’t require a college degree. But what can you do to set yourself apart and land one of these jobs for yourself?
Explore Alternative Educational Opportunities
Just because a job doesn’t require a college degree doesn’t mean the company doesn’t value education. If you want to stand out as a competitive candidate, you need to showcase your commitment to learning as much as you can about the industry, role, and job responsibilities.
Luckily, “there are ways besides college to demonstrate your commitment to continuing education,” Elliott says. “Recognize the power of massive open online courses (MOOCs),” he says. “Organizations such as edX, Coursera, and Udemy offer high-quality courses for little to no cost.”
You can also look at more structured or long-term certification programs that will better qualify you for the job you’re after (so, for example, if you want to get into software development, you might consider enrolling in a coding bootcamp to improve your skills).
Tailor Your Resume to the Specific Job You’re Applying For
While attitudes are definitely shifting, not having a college degree can still put you at a disadvantage when applying for certain roles. So when you don’t have a college degree, it’s even more important to showcase on your resume how and why you’re the perfect fit for the role.
“Your role as a job seeker is to communicate how your experience, knowledge, skills, and passion are in alignment with the company and position you are applying for,” says Elliot.
Before applying for any job, you want to tailor your resume. Use the job posting to see exactly what the employer is looking for—and then adjust your resume accordingly. “Consider printing out the job posting, then checking off each requirement as you add it to your resume,” Elliot says.
Read More: What It Really Means to “Tailor Your Resume”
Go After Internal Opportunities
If you already have a job, your current organization could be a great place to explore stepping into a higher-paying opportunity.
“If you’ve already got your foot in the door and want to broaden your skills, consider asking your leadership about temporary assignment opportunities,” Brine says. “Not only do temp assignments help you learn new skills, but many companies utilize this practice as a trial run.”
Exploring internal opportunities can also help you snag positions that might prove harder to land at other companies. “If you were a cold application, [the hiring manager] might not necessarily have hired you based off your resume alone,” Brine says. But because your current company already knows your work ethic, commitment, and potential, they may be more willing to be flexible on certain job requirements—like having a four-year degree—or to take a chance and train you for another position.