Jobs That Pay Well… No College Necessary!

by Christian Kaylor and Erik Knoder

August 1, 2018

Generally speaking, high-wage jobs typically require a four-year college degree or more. Statistics bear this out. The typical Oregon worker with just a high school diploma earned $27,139 per year from 2012 through 2016, while the typical worker with a bachelor's degree earned $44,881.

Looking past the generalizations, there are some jobs that pay high wages, without requiring a bachelor’s degree. Among the 800-plus occupations that the Oregon Employment Department tracks, at least 163 of them do not require a four-year college degree and they paid more than $50,000 per year to typical full-time workers. That's significantly more income than the median Oregon salary of $39,707 per year in 2018.

These occupations employ around 270,000 Oregonians and are generally grouped into occupational categories. These jobs may not require a college degree, but that doesn't mean that they are easy jobs to get. To learn more about any of the jobs mentioned here, including average pay and typical training requirements, check out our occupation information tool at

Managers and Supervisors

About 21,000 Oregonians work in a management or supervisory occupation that doesn't require a college degree. For these positions, the requirement is typically years of specific industry experience leading to supervising line workers. Food service managers earn about $52,000 annually. Construction managers top this list, earning about $98,000 per year. Agricultural, funeral service, and property managers make an average annual salary between $63,000 and $74,000 per year.

Business and Finance

There are just four occupations that qualify in this category: claims adjusters, insurance appraisers, real estate appraisers, and tax preparers. They employed about 6,000 Oregonians in 2017 and paid about $60,000 to $74,000 per year. These occupations can require certification.

Computer Occupations

Some computer occupations pay well and don’t require degrees. This article on the computer systems design industry explains that experience and a portfolio of work is often more important than college training. Occupations in this group pay from $53,000 to $81,000 per year and employed more than 15,000 Oregonians in 2017.

Architecture, Engineering, and Science Occupations

Perhaps surprisingly, there are 14 occupations in this category that don’t require four-year degrees. The catch is that most of them do require postsecondary training or an associate degree. Most of these occupations are in drafting or working as technicians who work under the guidance of engineers or scientists. This group accounted for about 9,900 jobs and often paid $50,000 to $65,000 per year.

Legal Occupations

Four legal support occupations made the grade in this category: paralegals, court reporters, title examiners, and other legal support workers. These jobs employed 5,000 people and paid from $54,000 per year for paralegals to $65,000 per year for title examiners.

Arts and Media Occupations

This varied category includes artists, interior designers, professional athletes, and camera operators. Although a diverse group, these occupations employed only 2,700 Oregonians in 2017. While some artists may be starving, the occupations in this group paid median wages from $52,000 (choreographers) to $130,000 (professional athletes). The latter median wage was the highest single wage for any occupation in this overall group.

Healthcare Occupations

Although many healthcare occupations, such as physicians, are well-known for requiring advanced degrees, there are a variety of others that are accessible with only an associate degree or certification. These include technician jobs such as cardiovascular technicians and magnetic resonance imaging technologists. It also includes therapists such as radiation and massage therapists. About 22,000 Oregonians worked in these occupations in 2017 and were paid median salaries ranging from about $51,000 per year for other health technologists to $105,000 per year for radiation therapists.

Public Safety

About 18,000 workers are employed in a field related to public safety that typically pays between $50,000 and $100,000 per year. These occupations include: firefighters, private detectives, police officers, and correctional officers. The higher end of the wage scale is occupied by supervisors of correctional officers and police, detectives, and transit and railroad police. There are often test and background checks for these occupations.

Sales and Office Occupations

There are 13 sales and office occupations that typically pay $50,000 to $68,000 per year and they employed nearly 82,000 workers in 2017. Some of the specialized sales occupations for products such as wholesale electronics and real estate are well known as careers that don’t require much formal education but can pay very well. They often do require licensing or technical training, but these are occupations where the correct personality and strong work ethic are often more important to success.

Construction Trades

Construction jobs are probably the category people think of first when searching for well-paying occupations that don’t require college. There are at least 22 occupations employing 39,000 people in the construction trades that pay a median wage of more than $50,000 per year. These occupations include: electricians ($70,000 per year), plumbers ($75,000 per year), and building inspectors ($71,000 per year). The highest-paying occupation was explosives workers, who made $103,000 per year on average – which is a lot of bucks for the bang. For these occupations, a lengthy apprenticeship and state certification is typically a requirement for employment.

Mechanics, Installers, and Repairers

Almost 29,000 Oregonians work in positions related to mechanical installation and repair that don’t require a four-year degree. The most common occupation, aside from supervisors, in this category, industrial machinery mechanics, paid an average of $57,000 per year. Like every job described in this article, a college degree is not necessary for this job, however many community colleges offer certification programs that may help job applicants appeal to employers. Other occupations include electrical power-line installers and repairers ($91,000 per year) and telecom equipment installers and repairers ($59,000 per year).


Several manufacturing and power plant jobs pay well above average without requiring a college degree. However, for many of these jobs, a technical college may significantly help with training, apprenticeship and job placement. These positions include: tool and die makers ($61,000 per year), CNC machine programmers ($61,000 per year), and lathe operators ($55,000 per year). Power distributors and dispatchers had the highest median salary in this category at $98,000 per year. This category provided about 29,000 jobs in these high-paying occupations.


When it comes to moving packages, or people, there are at least 6,000 jobs in occupations that pay above average wages. Air traffic controllers enjoyed an average wage of about $105,000 per year, and ships’ captains and pilots had a median wage of $101,000 per year. Other occupations include: commercial pilots (except airline pilots), railroad conductors and yardmasters, transportation inspectors and crane operators. These occupations pay about $60,000 per year on average. None of them require a four-year college degree, but, extensive training and certification and/or licensing are required for many of these occupations. Many community colleges offer classes to get you started.

Fast-Growing Occupations

Aside from wages, it is important to consider opportunities when deciding on a career path. Some high-paying occupations, such as paper machine setters, are in declining or slow-growing industries. The Oregon Employment Department produces estimates for the number of future job openings for hundreds of occupations and for different areas around the state. Two of the faster-growing categories are healthcare support occupations and computer and mathematical occupations. The former category is expected to grow by about 21 percent from 2017 to 2027 and the latter to grow by 19 percent over the same period. In contrast, production and office occupations are each expected to grow by around 6 percent of that time.


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