How To Find Job Options for High School Graduates

Student talking with teacher in the library
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As college costs continue to outstrip real wage growth, many students are considering alternatives to a four-year college education. In fact, a survey from ECMC Group showed that only 48% of high school students are planning to pursue a bachelor's degree after graduation.

But that doesn’t mean that high school graduates know what to do instead of attending a four-year college or university. Over 60% of students responding to another ECMC Group survey said that they wished their high schools provided more information about the alternatives to a bachelor’s degree.

If you’re pondering your job options after high school, your first step should be to gather as much information as possible—including associate degrees, certifications, and jobs that are open to high school graduates without postsecondary education. 

Key Takeaways

  • There are jobs available for high school graduates that don’t require college or other post-secondary education.
  • Researching job options will help you explore opportunities that are a good fit for your career interests and goals.
  • Searching for jobs that don’t require a college degree or experience will help expedite your job search.

5 Well-Paying Jobs for High School Graduates

In general, college graduates earn more than workers without a degree. However, there are jobs out there that offer good pay and a solid occupational outlook—no degree required. 

Although you can get started in these jobs without postsecondary education, you may need to participate in an apprenticeship or acquire licensure or certification in order to advance your career. 

Transportation, Storage, and Distribution Manager

The supply chain doesn’t manage itself. These workers coordinate the shipping and distribution of goods at all points in the supply chain, from the factory to the warehouse to store shelves. 

  • Median Annual Salary: $96,390
  • Projected Job Growth 2020-30: 8%

Commercial Pilot

If you love to fly—and you’re willing to get the appropriate license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)—you might be interested in a job as a commercial pilot. These pilots can be tour pilots, fly cargo planes, or become flight instructors, among many other jobs. However, to work as an airline pilot, you would need additional licensure (and probably a bachelor's degree). 

  • Median Annual Salary: $93,300
  • Projected Job Growth 2020-30: 11%

Elevator Installer and Repairer

Elevator and escalator installers and repairers keep mechanical lifts and walkways operational. This job requires mechanical aptitude and problem-solving skills—but not a four-year degree. Training typically includes an apprenticeship, on-the-job instruction, and an occupational license. 

  • Median Annual Salary: $88,540
  • Projected Job Growth 2020-30: 6%

Detective/Criminal Investigators 

Although some departments may require some college or a college degree, others will consider applicants with a high school diploma. Detectives start their careers as police officers by attending their department or agency’s training academy. 

  • Median Annual Salary: $86,940
  • Projected Job Growth 2020-30: 3%

Petroleum Pump System Operator

In this job, workers operate the pumping systems that move petroleum through a refinery. This requires mechanical and problem-solving skills, as well as the ability to notice details in a loud and busy environment.  

  • Median Annual Salary: $78,840
  • Projected Job Growth 2020-30: 6%

How To Find Jobs for High School Graduates

Not sure where to start your job search? These options can help you find a career path that fits your interests and talents. 

Talk to Your Guidance Counselor

If you’re not bound for college, you might think that your high school guidance office has little to offer you—but nothing could be further from the truth. Your guidance counselor will have leads on apprenticeships, internships, training programs, and other ways to upskill yourself without embarking on a four-year degree. They will also have contacts at local employers and tips on how to polish your resume, cover letter, and job application. 

Research Jobs That Don’t Require a Degree

Not interested in any of the jobs we’ve talked about so far? The good news is that they’re far from the only careers open to high school graduates. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook tracks data on hundreds of jobs in occupational groups ranging from arts to transportation. To find jobs that require only a high school diploma:

  • Go to the handbook’s homepage
  • Navigate to the “Select Occupations By” box
  • Select “High School Diploma or Equivalent” in the “Entry-Level Education” dropdown

Also research companies with on-the-job training programs that provide entry-level candidates with the skills they need for the role.

 Find Local Training Programs 

The U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration manages training programs for workers of all ages. To find programs near you, call their toll-free helpline at 1-877-US2-JOBS or use their online tool to find an American Jobs Center in your area.

CareerOneStop, a jobs portal run by the U.S. Department of Labor, offers a free guide for high school students and recent graduates who want to explore their career options. 

How To Apply for Jobs for High School Graduates

When you’re applying for jobs, here are a few important things to remember. 

Search for Jobs That Don’t Require a Degree

When you’re searching job sites, use search terms such as “high school diploma, high school degree, high school or equivalent, and no experience required” to find jobs that don’t require advanced education.

Follow Instructions

Especially if you’re applying online, it’s essential to follow the instructions in the job listing. Pay attention to requirements like file format—they may want your resume in a PDF or a Word document, for example. Don’t forget to include required documents like cover letters or references. Failure to do so may result in your losing out on a job opportunity. 

Customize Your Cover Letter

Just including a cover letter isn’t enough. Make sure you customize your cover letter for every job opportunity. Remember that hiring managers want candidates who are excited about this specific job, not just any job. 

Include Keywords

Scan the job listing and find the keywords that describe the skills, experience, and qualifications required for the job. Use these keywords in your resume, cover letter, and job application. 

Prepare for Job Interviews

Research the company and the job. Practice answering interview questions. Choose an interview outfit that’s appropriate for the role and the organization. 

Ask for Help 

Need someone to proofread your resume, help you practice interviewing, or get your job application in front of the right person? Ask your network for help. Your friends and family can be invaluable resources when you’re job searching.

Article Sources

  1. ECMC Group. "Four-Year College Has Lost Its Luster Among Teens; Less Than Half Considering a Four-Year Degree or Believe One Is Necessary for Success." Accessed Dec. 16, 2021.

  2. Cision PR Newswire. “Today's Teens Questioning the Status Quo When It Comes to College.” Accessed Dec. 16, 2021.

  3. CareerOneStop. “Transportation, Storage, and Distribution Managers.” Accessed Dec. 16, 2021.

  4. CareerOneStop. “Commercial Pilots.” Accessed Dec. 16,  2021.

  5. CareerOneStop. “Elevator Installer.” Accessed Dec. 16, 2021.

  6. CareerOneStop. “Detectives and Criminal Investigators.” Accessed Dec. 16, 2021.

  7. CareerOneStop. “Petroleum Pump System Operators, Refinery Operators, and Gaugers.” Accessed Dec. 16, 2021.