A college degree is no guarantee of a high-paying job, but it can certainly help, as can trade skills that enable you to jump into into a field like plumbing or electrical. But what can you do if you have a high school (or equivalent) degree and no specific skills, experience, or certifications? How can you make a decent living without having to hit pause on your life and borrow a mess of money to go back to school or gain a lot of unpaid experience?
You do have options—here are eight decently-paying jobs you can conceivably get today, with only a high school degree to your name.
If you have basic clerical and computer skills, you can find work as an administrative assistant, which pays an average of more than $62,000 a year—but note that some employers will require a college degree for this sort of position, especially on the higher end of the pay scale. The main qualification for these jobs is being highly organized and detail-oriented. There’s a lot of typing, filing, scheduling, and travel arrangements involved, and you’ll need to be comfortable speaking to people on the phone and in person.
Sales isn’t for everyone, and it’s not an easy job in many ways. But it can be a lucrative job, depending on your personality and the field you get into. The median income for a sales representative in the U.S. is about $60,710. If you don’t have a background in sales, you can target “no experience” sales jobs, which may not be at the high end of the income range initially. But these sorts of sales jobs will allow you to get experience and hone your skills, leading to better opportunities in the future, and many do not require a degree.
Real estate agent
Your average real estate agent makes an average of $50,000 to close to $100,000 a year. Each state has its own requirements for becoming a licensed real estate agent, so you’ll have to do some research, but in general all you need is a high school diploma or GED and the ability to take pre-licensing courses and pass an exam. There are costs involved: The courses typically cost a few hundred dollars and can take anywhere from 60 to more than 100 hours to complete, the exam will also cost a few hundred bucks, and activating your license costs another few hundred. But if you have the time and cash, this career is open to you. (Whether now is a great time to become a real estate agent is another matter entirely.)
Many flight attendant positions ask only that you have a high school diploma (some airlines do require a college degree, but not all), and pay a median salary just over $60,000. You can apply for a flight attendant position without any relevant experience or certifications, but you will need to complete some basic training after becoming an applicant. There are specific flight attendant training programs you can attend, and you’ll need to be certified by the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA), though this is sometimes “baked in” to your training period with an airline.
It’s a wildly dangerous job, but it pays pretty decently, with an average salary of just over $50,000. While some fire departments require college degrees, many still only require a high school diploma or the equivalent. The main requirement for the job is physical fitness—most firefighter physical exams are pretty tough. You may need to get your emergency medical technician (EMT) certification as well. You’ll definitely need to get your Firefighter 1 certification, which you can do by attending a fire academy or finding a local program—for example, at a community college.
There’s a national shortage of bus drivers, which means many companies are offering sweet bonuses on top of an average salary of about $50,000 a year. All you need is a high school diploma or GED, a clean driving record, and a Class-C commercial driver’s license (CDL). Getting your CDL requires a training course, but some companies are so desperate for drivers they will include CDL training in your employment, typically requiring that you commit to a certain length of employment with them (usually one year) as a tradeoff.
Another potentially dangerous job, and certainly not for everyone, but not only do police officers get paid pretty well (a median salary of over $64,000), they also generally enjoy strong benefits, including robust retirement packages. While there’s an ongoing debate surrounding the educational requirements for police officers, many police departments require only a high school education. If you have that, it’s possible you can take a law enforcement entrance exam and attend a local police academy program. Upon graduation, you can begin your new career.
The United States Post Office employs more than half a million people, and the median pay is just over $50,000 (though many postal jobs start much lower and only get that high after you’ve worked a few years). They offer a pretty good benefits package, too. The jobs range from clerks working with customers; to mail carriers who, uh, carry the mail; to sorters, machine operators, and administrative positions. Many of these jobs only require you to have completed a high school education and pass an exam.