If you’re among the 10% of American adults that didn’t complete high school, you may feel like financial independence is for someone else.
But that simply isn’t true. Self-reliance and prosperity are still within your reach.
In this article, we’ll explore a variety of jobs that don’t require a high school diploma — including several high-paying options that you might not have considered.
Tip: Focus on Building Career Capital
You don’t necessarily need a diploma, but you do need skills and a plan.
To create a financial plan, you first have to think about the big picture. That’s often easier said than done. It’s pretty hard to think about who you’ll be five years from now when you have bills to pay and bacon to bring home today.
But by focusing only on what you can earn right now, you may be pigeonholing yourself into a low-earning or low-demand skill set. And that will cost you big bucks in the coming years.
Instead, select opportunities that allow you to build career capital — the skills and experience that will grow your income in the future.
When evaluating whether a job or opportunity will build career capital, look for any of these three things:
- A foothold into an industry with upward opportunity.
- The flexibility to pursue higher education or training.
- Skills or experiences that are in high demand and that you can leverage in other jobs.
The more of these a job has, the better.
For instance, a dental receptionist job may have decent pay and not require a diploma, but there isn’t a clear path out of that job and on to better things. Plus, it’s 9 to 5, which doesn’t allow much time for other pursuits.
The skills you develop in that job may lead you to another receptionist position, but they are unlikely to lead to much else.
In contrast, a position as a roustabout apprentice on an oil rig will get you an in with a very profitable industry. You’ll acquire safety training and skills using various pieces of heavy equipment, which will likely lead to greater responsibility (and pay) on the rig — or allow you to transfer to other construction jobs.
Focus on the job and lifestyle you’d like to have, then work backward to plot out what steps will take you there.
This journey isn’t necessarily a linear one. You may gather skills from a few different jobs to get some depth to your resume and meet all the qualifications for your dream position. You may take on a few side hustles while you pursue more training or education.
Whatever the career path looks like for you, begin with the end in mind. Consider what you want to spend your hours and days doing, and make moves to create that life for yourself.
The perks of freelancing are many, including that you get to work when you want, doing what you want, for the people you want.
All you need is a laptop, wi-fi and a way to receive payment, and you’re good to go.
This is a good fit when you don’t have a high school diploma because most clients care far more about your portfolio than your formal education. They just want the work done well at a good price.
Depending on what freelance job you choose to pursue, this might mean creating samples specifically to use for applications, or taking on a few projects for free or nearly-free.
Learn more: How to create a freelance portfolio from scratch.
But once you get that first client, your ability to deliver solid results will be all that matters, and your work will dictate your income (rather than your educational credentials).
Why we ranked it #1: Freelance writing is a relatively easy field to break into. The first job will be the hardest to land, and it likely won’t pay much. But after a few happy clients, you’ll be able to prove your merit and raise your rates.
It also has a super high upside, particularly for highly-demanding or technical subjects like computers, finance or any other specialized niche.
You don’t necessarily need to be an expert in these subjects to write about them (though experience helps) — you just need to be good at research.
Earning potential: Entry-level freelance writers can expect to start out making minimum wage (or less). It’s not uncommon for low-level writing gigs to start at $5 for a 300-500 word article on freelancing sites like Fiverr and Upwork. But you won’t stay at those rates for long.
Once you get a few positive client reviews, you can charge more.
One survey notes that a third of beginning freelance writers made between $21 and $40 hourly. Experienced writers in lucrative niches can make over $100 per hour.
Your lack of diploma won’t even come up in a freelance writing career if you have great writing skills and stellar samples in your portfolio. Most clients care more about what you can do for them than degrees or diplomas.
Learn how to get started: Freelance writing jobs for beginners + the best sites and strategies for getting hired.
Recommended resource: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamont, which the Seattle Times called “side-splittingly funny, patiently wise and alternately cranky and kind — a reveille to get off our duffs and start writing now, while we still can.”
Why we ranked it #2: With a good eye for spelling and grammar, proofreading is less skill-intense than writing.
That’s because correcting errors in writing is a little easier than creating good writing of your own. If you have a good command of grammar and an eagle eye for spotting errors, proofreading may be a good fit for you.
Of course, that lower skill threshold is reflected in the earning potential. The pay ceiling for proofreaders is not as high as it is for writing.
However, by adding other skills, you can boost the career capital of a proofreader position.
For example, if you can add structural and substantive editing to your skillset — where you help your clients improve things like plot, style and tone — you will expand both your market and your earning ability.
Adding technological skills like SEO, WordPress knowledge, and CMS systems can lead to other high-demand positions, such as a website content manager.
Earning potential: Beginners can expect to make around $15 an hour proofreading, and possibly more if they’ve taken a course or have a certification. This can grow to $50 per hour for experienced proofreaders.
Learn how to get started: How to become a proofreader and make $40 per hour from home.
Recommended resource: Proofread Anywhere’s free webinar.
#3. Virtual Assistant
Why we ranked it #3: Thanks to remote work technologies like Slack and Zoom, virtual assisting has exploded in popularity in recent years. Virtual assistants perform many of the same functions as a secretary or executive assistant, only they work remotely, often for multiple clients rather than one boss.
VAs have solid earning potential, and clients range from solo bloggers to Fortune 500 companies.
VAs need a wider skillset than writers and proofreaders. They often carry out tasks like bookkeeping, appointment scheduling, managing emails, doing data entry and many, many more.
Because the concept of virtual assisting is so new, there is not a clear job description for a VA. For those without a diploma, landing a job as a VA is just a matter of finding a client who requires the skills you have.
The best VAs are those who have a variety of skills, are quick to learn, and are willing to take on multiple roles — which will in turn give them more career capital and skills to boost their earnings and future opportunities.
Earning potential: If you’re starting out, you can expect to make about $15 an hour as a virtual assistant, and up to $20 with a few years of experience. The pay also varies widely by location, and since you’re a virtual employee, you can boost your rates by taking on clients in higher-paying locales.
Learn how to get started: Virtual assistant training – the skills you need (and how to build them).
Recommended resource: Virtual Assistant Internship’s free webinar.
#4. Graphic Designer
Why we ranked it #4: Graphic designers have extremely high earning potential — provided you have strong skills and a fantastic portfolio. Both take time to build.
As with freelance writing, graphic design clients won’t ask about your high school diploma; they’ll want to see your portfolio. If it’s filled with beautiful layouts, graphics and logos, your educational credentials won’t even come up.
Earning potential: The median pay for a graphic designer was $25 per hour in 2019. Freelancers usually command a higher pay rate ($35 an hour) because they cover costs that in-house companies normally would (insurance, internet, electricity, etc.). Experienced graphic designers charge as high as $150-$300 per hour!
Learn how to get started: Check out our guide to getting started as a freelance graphic designer.
Recommended resource: The best place to get hired as a freelance designer is on Upwork, and we wrote a detailed guide to getting your first job on the site.
These are just a few of the different freelance job opportunities — many of which are open to those without a high school diploma.
Here are a few resources that can help you learn more:
- 30+ legit online jobs that pay $50,000 per year or more
- 25 easy side income ideas that can generate $10,000+ per month
- FlexJobs review: learn about the best site for finding remote work
Gig Economy Jobs
Despite some outlying examples, gig economy jobs probably won’t make you rich.
But for many people, gigs like delivering food and walking dogs can provide the extra cash each month to pay off debt, have some fun without busting your budget, or keep you afloat while pursuing more education.
And that’s especially true for those who didn’t finish high school, because these jobs often pay more when earnings are calculated on a per-hour basis than their equivalent non-gig counterparts.
Plus, their high degree of flexibility gives you the power to do things like study for your GED, take a certification course and even apply for other jobs — all things that are hard to do when your schedule is dictated by your supervisor.
Plus, if changing 9 to 5 jobs isn’t in the cards for you at the moment, you can create some additional wiggle room in your budget by picking up a gig-based side hustle.
Check out this list of our favorites.
#1. Food Courier
Why we ranked it #1: Thanks to companies like Postmates and DoorDash, your options for delivery jobs have expanded far beyond pizza.
Doing Starbucks drink runs and delivering takeout can make you a pretty penny, even when you don’t have a car (as most companies let you deliver via bike, scooter, motorcycle or even on foot).
Just about anyone can be a food courier, regardless of education. Food courier gigs are especially great since your main working hours are during breakfast, lunch and dinner, leaving you with the rest of the day free to study or work another job.
Earning potential: Most courier gigs pay by the job, so your hourly wage is determined by the size of the order, any tips you receive, and the proximity of orders on your route. Food couriers report average salaries between $10 and $20 per hour.
Where to get started: Not sure which food delivery company is right for you? Check out our rundown of the top 10 food delivery services.
#2. Uber/Lyft Driver
Why we ranked it #2: This job is limited to car owners with four-door vehicles that are less than 15 years old.
If you have a car that meets those specifications, driving for Uber or Lyft is a flexible job with a low barrier to entry — no diploma is necessary. You can work as many or as few hours as you like, whenever you have time.
Boost your income by driving at peak hours, like after sporting events or on rainy weekend nights. Both companies offer surge pricing during these times, which is a huge boon to drivers.
Earning potential: Estimates for ridesharing salaries are all over the map. This is largely due to variations in location (e.g., metropolitan city vs. outlying area) as well as surge pricing.
Full-time drivers can make around $31,000 per year, but expenses like car payments, insurance, and gas are the driver’s responsibility.
#3. Package Delivery
Why we ranked it #3: Food isn’t the only thing that needs delivering. Couriers are needed in many cities to run packages or other items to their destinations.
Amazon Flex is the major player in this space. Drivers pick up “blocks” (or shifts), and deliver packages in that particular time frame on a specific route. Because you get to choose your blocks, you can fit them in around your work or school schedule.
While this is a great gig economy job with a lot of opportunity (thanks to a rise in e-commerce), right now it’s only an option in major U.S. cities. If you happen to have Amazon Flex near you, it’s a great way to make extra money.
Earning potential: This depends quite a bit on a number of factors: how geographically dense the deliveries are, how many packages are in your block, the size of your vehicle (which affects how many packages you can take at a time), traffic, tips, and how quickly you complete your route.
Where to get started: Sign up as an Amazon Flex driver.
#4. Grocery Shopper
Why we ranked it #4: Grocery shopping is a chore many would love to avoid, but if you’re going to grocery shop, you might as well get paid for it.
Companies like Instacart and Shipt are growing exponentially as many people willing to pay for the convenience and reduced germ contact of grocery shopping and delivery service.
As a grocery shopper, you get everything on the customer’s grocery list in the store for their order. You can also sign up to deliver the groceries for additional pay. To be a shopper, you must be able to lift 30 pounds or more and have a reliable car and a smartphone.
Earning potential: Instacart guarantees at least $10 per hour, though with a good batch of orders, thorough knowledge of the store and/or a good tip, the hourly wage can exceed that.
The jobs website Indeed reports that Shipt shoppers make an average of $13 per hour.
#5. Pet Walker/Sitter
Why we ranked it #5: Becoming a dog walker/pet sitter on a site like Rover or Wag makes an ideal gig for dog and cat lovers. You get to play with fur babies and get paid for it.
Pet parents can peruse your profile in an app and choose the pet sitter they’d like to take care of their animal, so take the time to make a standout profile that highlights any experience with animals you have.
Your experience with animals (even if it’s just house sitting for pets or caring for your own dog/cat) is much more important to pet parents than a high school education.
Earning potential: While this is a great way to make a few extra bucks in exchange for exercise and puppy snuggles, you’ll have a difficult time getting enough work to scale this into a full-time job.
To make $800 a month (after Rover or Wag takes their cut), you’d have to sit 40 dogs/cats per month. That’s one animal per night, with no breaks!
The main advantage of pet sitting is that it molds to fit almost any school, study or work schedule.
When you’re the boss, you get to determine the educational requirements. No diploma? No problem. In today’s environment, all you need is a website to start earning a decent living. The world wide web is your oyster.
#1. Start a Blog
Why we ranked it #1: A blog is more of a business than a side hustle. Blogging does require you to put the time in on the front-end to gain a following and become established in search engines, but it’s a fantastic way to build skills with fabulous career capital.
By starting a blog, you’ll learn skills that are highly sought-after in the digital world: SEO, social media management, content management, writing, editing, WordPress, HTML and digital marketing, to name a few.
Any or all of these can catapult your career into a number of different directions, whether you work for yourself creating profitable websites or help run a site for someone else.
Earning potential: If you need to make a quick buck, this isn’t the job for you. Most bloggers don’t make much money until a year or two in. It involves a hefty investment of time to get a blog going, but the upside is virtually unlimited. It’s not unheard of for top bloggers to make six figures — per month.
Where to get started: Read our guide on how to start a blog and make money.
#2. Start an E-Commerce Site
Why we ranked it #2: You can create your own site and pick what products you sell, or sell with already established sites. If you sell on your own site, all your earnings are yours to keep, but it’s pretty difficult to compete with the marketing and global mindshare of major e-commerce sites like eBay and Amazon — even with the sellers’ fees involved.
This is great for anyone with the storage space to house inventory, as well as the upfront capital to purchase it.
If you don’t have those things, you can still set up an e-commerce store based on the dropshipping model, where you never actually touch the products you’re selling.
Earning potential: The upside here is huge. Many people (even teenagers) make full-time salaries with e-commerce, though if you sell as a third-party on a site like Amazon, be prepared for the company to take its cut — which can come close to 20%.
Where to get started: Read our guide on how to make money on Amazon.
Highest Paying Jobs Without a High School Diploma
You do have several options to make a decent living in a traditional job without a high school diploma, but they may be less than glamorous. Here are several options that offer relatively high salaries and require no education to start.
#1. Continuous Mining Machine Operator
Median salary: Average continuous mining machine operators make around $54,000 per year, with the highest operators in the field making around $77,000.
The employment growth for mining machine operators is stagnant (no growth, no contraction).
These jobs are much more widespread than shuttle car operators, which is the best-paying job according to the chart above. Mining machine operators are needed throughout the Rocky, Ozark and Appalachian mountain states.
Resources: Having a CDL, OSHA safety training, or a course on construction or other heavy equipment is helpful for getting a job as a continuous mining machine operator.
#2. Rotary Drill Operator
Median salary: The median annual salary for rotary drill operators is $57,070, but workers in more remote locations (like Alaska) or those with a high cost of living (like California) can make over $90,000 per year.
The forecast for these positions is good, with growth expected to be 25% from 2016 to 2026.
Resources: It’s typical for an employee to start as an assistant or roustabout, then work up to a derrick operator, then a driller after a year or more of on-the-job training. Courses like these can help you land a job or accelerate your move through the ranks. If you want to go further, you can move to an off-shore job where the pay is higher and the hours shorter.
#3. Drywall Tapers
Median salary: Drywall tapers seal joints between plasterboards to make a smooth continuous wall. Though it can be a messy job, drywall tapers take home around $59,070 per year once they have work experience.
No license or training is required to start, but prior experience installing drywall or working with tools is always a plus. A drywall taper is a great job for high school students during the summer, those looking to start a career, or those pursuing other education at night or online.
After a few years as a drywall taper, you will have the skills, experience and industry connections to create your own company, should you choose.
Resources: Many drywall tapers get on-the-job training, but the Carpenters’ Union does offer training courses in drywall finishing and other construction subjects.
#4. Service Unit Operators for Oil, Gas and Mining
Median salary: Service unit operators work in a variety of industries to clear obstructions from wells and ensure that the oil or gas is flowing properly. They can also work in the mining and commercial fishing industries. The median annual wage for this position is $52,780.
Resources: You don’t need any prior experience to start (though it’s helpful), but plan on 1 to 12 months of on-the-job training. Service unit operators are also known as service rig operators, pulling unit operators or wireline operators.
#5. Truck Driver
Median salary: While there is a long-term risk of losing your job to automation in the truck driving industry, there are stellar gains to be had in the short term.
In response to increased online shopping and a truck driver shortage, many companies are offering increased salaries and sign-on bonuses. This is ideal for non-graduates, as many companies only care about your driving experience and CDL and do not have an education or degree requirement.
While the BLS reports average driver pay of $45,260 per year, job seekers in 2021 and beyond may have even better prospects.
Resources: Drivers have the option of driving for a company (in which case the only thing you need to bring to the table is a clean driving record and a CDL) or becoming owner-operators, in which they own and maintain their own truck.
Sysco, Wal-Mart, and GP Transco offer some of the highest salaries in the industry.
Other Job Options
Still haven’t found an option you like? Here are a few more traditional options for those who haven’t completed high school.
We’ve focused the list on those that provide career capital, allowing you to build your skills into a higher salary and future opportunities.
Why we ranked it #1: There are no formal educational requirements for sales jobs, and almost every business relies on sales in some fashion.
A thick skin, the ability to connect with people, and a willingness to learn are the main prerequisites to sales.
If you really want to kick-start a sales career, study up on sales books like To Sell is Human by Daniel H. Pink.
You may be able to get hired based on your interview, even if your resume is thin. You can also work up to sales from an entry-level job, like from an auto service technician to car sales.
Bear in mind that sales doesn’t have to mean making cold calls and knocking on doors. There are plenty of sales jobs where the customer comes to you, like auto, software and technology.
Earning Potential: If you’re a commission-based salesperson, the upside is nearly unlimited. It might be a slow start while you learn the ropes, but once you learn your product and your market, your income can grow quickly.
The average salary of a salesperson varies widely based on the industry and commission structure of the position. Retail salespeople, for example, make an average of just $25,440 per year, while sales engineers make $103,900.
#2. Construction Worker
Why we ranked it #2: Construction workers of all stripes have solid earning potential. These positions offer the career capital to hone your skills to create a niche and up your income. The skills you learn as a carpenter can also give you a springboard to create your own business or get your own jobs on the side.
The seasonality of construction jobs makes them ideal for those pursuing education or training during the winter months.
#3. Home Health Aide
Why we ranked it #3: The need for home health aides is stable and growing (34% in the next 10 years).
While it might not offer a great salary, becoming a home health aide is a foot in the door of the medical field. After a few years of experience and additional education, home health aides can go on to become LPNs, RNs, ultrasound techs and other medical professionals.
Median salary: While home health aide jobs are plentiful, the entry-level pay is low. Home health aides make a median annual salary of only $25,280. There are few opportunities to advance in the profession without further education.
#4. Solar Panel Installer
Why we ranked it #4: Unlike trucking, oil, gas and many other shrinking industries, solar energy is booming. Solar panel installer positions are slated for 51% job growth in the next nine years. Due to the high industry demand, there are often overtime hours available.
While it’s not required, taking a course from a technical or community college in solar panel installation is helpful in getting a job.
Earning potential: The median income for this position is $44,890 annually or about $22 per hour. Since the jobs are regionally based, employers often pay per diem expenses to cover hotels and food.
#5. Security Guard
Why we ranked it #5: While it’s not a terribly exciting job in and of itself, the skills you use as a security guard (weapons training) as well as the experience (de-escalating stressful situations, enforcing regulations) can lead to positions with more responsibility and trust. This can be a first step on a career path to law enforcement, corrections, military or a similar career.
Earning potential: The pay for security guards is less than stellar ($29,710 annually), and it can be a dangerous and/or boring job. Security guards at casinos (known as gaming surveillance officers) enjoy slightly better pay at $34,190 annually.
#6. Massage Therapist
Why we ranked it #6: While some massage therapists work for franchises, doctors’ offices or hotels, most are in private practices. So the job comes with flexible hours. You can also choose to offer massages from an office, your home, or travel to clients’ homes.
It’s worth noting that about half of U.S. states require a high school diploma or GED for certification in massage therapy.
Earning potential: The median pay for massage therapists is $42,820 per year. Even though massages cost the customer around $75 per hour, as business owners, massage therapists pay for oils, a massage table, rental space, and overhead to conduct their business.
#7. Air Traffic Controller
Why we ranked it #7: It has the highest base salary of any option on this list, but it’s highly competitive and will be difficult to land (pun completely intended) without at least an associate degree or applicable aviation experience.
Strictly speaking, however, a high school diploma is not required.
Earning potential: This job requires intense, long-term, on-the-job training as well as intense concentration throughout the shift. After all, there is zero margin for error.
Air traffic control specialists are compensated well for this, though. They earn a whopping $122,990 per year!
Correcting the Record
When writing this article, we conducted extensive research to identify the best possible jobs for people without high school degrees.
As part of this research, we read dozens of similar articles on the topic.
And one thing we found was that many publications list jobs that do, in fact, require a diploma and/or the attainment of an even higher education level.
Here is a list of the ones we identified, along with a brief note:
- Cosmetologist: All cosmetology programs require a high school diploma or GED.
- Dental assistant: All states require certification to work as a dental assistant. In most cases, that comes from the Dental Assisting National Board, which requires a high school diploma or GED in order to sit for the certification exam. While the specific rules for your state may differ, our research suggests that it is nearly impossible to work in this job without having completed high school.
- Dental hygienist: According to the American Dental Association, working as a dental hygienist requires the completion of a two-year degree (i.e., an associate degree) at a community college or technical school.
- Distribution manager: While there is no formal educational requirement for this position — thus meaning that it may be technically possible to get hired without a diploma — our research indicates that most employers are seeking a candidate with a bachelor’s degree.
- Electrician: Requires certification from a technical program, and a high school diploma or GED is required to enroll. Additionally, the occupation requires practical working knowledge of at least Algebra 1.
- Radiation therapist: All radiation therapists must complete an accredited certification program, and this is usually done as part of a four-year college degree.
- Real estate broker: All 50 states require real estate brokers to be high school graduates or have a GED.
These are a few common questions about this topic. If you’re wondering about somehting that we didn’t cover in this article, please leave a comment below — we’ll do the research and add the answer to this section!
In most cases, a high school diploma is required to join the military. However, you may be able to join the National Guard, which has programs to help recruits complete their GED.
Most trade, vocational and tech schools require a high school diploma or a GED — and you should approach those that don’t with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Those schools tend to be expensive, for-profit institutions with poor reputations, and you might be better off investing your time and resources in earning your GED and then applying to a better program.
For the more traditional jobs on this list, employers will often participate in career fairs — although more and more of those are occurring online. Here are some tips for succeeding at virtual job fairs.
Jobs Without a High School Diploma: Wrap-Up
If you missed out on getting your high school diploma, your financial ship hasn’t sailed. There are plenty of career pathways that will enable you to get a high paying job even without a high school degree.
If you’re on the job hunt, don’t just look for the next open position and call it done. Even if you have to take what you can get for now, you can move closer to your ideal future by building career capital.
The more experience, skills and training you can get (whether that’s on the job or from a course), the greater your earning potential will be.