High School to High Earner: Here Are the Top Jobs for High School Grads

Almost 30% of the US population doesn’t have a college degree. Where and how do they succeed?

Jun. 11th, 2024
High School to High Earner: Here Are the Top Jobs for High School Grads
  • Job postings with high school degree requirements list salaries of $49K per year on average, compared to $88K per year for job postings with post-secondary degree requirements.

  • Sales, trade, and medical roles offer the highest salaries for high school graduates, typically $10K to 20K higher than average. Postings that have military or nursing skill requirements also command relatively high salaries.

  • Midwestern and Southern states present the most opportunities for high school graduates in terms of both the number of job openings and salary, while coastal states offer fewer opportunities and lower salaries.

As the school year comes to a close, millions of high school students are preparing to start the next phase of their lives. While some head off to college, others are entering the workforce directly. 28% of people in the US aged 25 or older do not have a college degree, according to the 2022 Current Population Survey. With costs of post-secondary education rising, this week we explore jobs that offer viable career paths without the need for a college degree and the financial burden of tuition and student loans.

Many essential roles require only a high school diploma, making them accessible options for job seekers. Analyzing Revelio Labs’ workforce data on job postings, we find that more than 20% of active US job openings are open to candidates with only a high school degree. 19% of active US postings, on the other hand, require a post-secondary degree (Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, or doctoral), while 60% do not explicitly state an educational requirement.

Focusing on job postings that do list an education requirement, how do the salaries listed on postings for high school graduates compare to those that require a college education? We find that jobs in the former category offer an average salary of $48.8K per year, compared to $88.8K per year for jobs in the latter. Thus, there is still a significant college premium in the job market.

Job postings for high school grads offer an average salary of $49K

However, some jobs for high school graduates command higher salaries than others. Our data show that sales, trade, and medical support roles offer the highest pay. That these positions offer higher pay may not be surprising: Sales roles may depend more on communication and negotiation skills, which can be learned outside the classroom, while trade and medical roles may rely more on certifications and provide opportunities for on-the-job training.

Sales, trade, and medical roles offer the highest pay for HS grads

We also investigate which skills are the most in-demand for high school graduates and the returns to each. Looking at the most frequently mentioned skills in job postings for high school grads, we find that technical skills such as Microsoft Office and tech support; healthcare-related skills such as nursing, CPR, and First Aid; and service skills such as customer service, food safety, and cash handling top the list. However, these skills may not be valued equally by potential employers.

Interestingly, of the top 15 most frequently mentioned skills, military experience seems to command the highest returns: Job postings requiring military skills pay on average $60.7K, more than 20% higher than the average salary listed on other postings for high school grads. This shows that the military may provide a stable and relatively well-paying career without the need for a post-secondary degree. Nursing skills are also highly valued, in line with healthcare jobs paying relatively higher. As the population ages and healthcare needs increase, medical support roles may prove to be an in-demand career path for high school graduates.

Military and nursing skills are most valuable for HS grads

Finally, we examine which states provide the best opportunities for high school graduates. We measure “opportunity” in two ways: first, by the share of job openings (out of all job postings that list an education requirement) that require only a high school degree, and second, by comparing salary listed on these postings to those requiring post-secondary degrees.

The Midwest and South provide the most opportunity for HS grads

States towards the top right of the figure do better than the median on both measures, thus providing good opportunities for high school graduates. States on the lower left of the figure, however, do worse than the median on both. Midwestern and Southern states, including Wyoming, North Dakota, and Louisiana, seem to provide the best career opportunities for high school grads, with more than 55% of job postings only requiring a high school diploma, and with salary much closer those requiring college degrees (at least 55% of college graduates’ salaries). Coastal states with a high cost of living, such as California, Washington, and New York, on the other hand, provide fewer and less lucrative options for high school graduates. Thus, for job seekers with only a high school diploma, field and location may play an important role in selecting a well-paid career path with opportunities for growth.


Stephanie Hao


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