About 1.2 million students in the US drop out of high school every year — that’s about 7,000 students a day. In the EU, meanwhile, the average share of early school leavers aged 18–24 was 9.9% in 2020.
As there’s a certain stigma associated with dropping out of high school, many employers prefer to employ school leavers over dropouts.
However, that’s not to say that there aren’t any job opportunities available. On the contrary, there are plenty, and they could lead to a very successful career.
Here are the top 15 jobs for high school dropouts.
1. Construction manager
Average annual salary: $79,520
Construction managers plan, coordinate and manage the budget of projects, supervising workers from start to finish. They coordinate projects with architects and contractors and assist with the preliminary planning.
As a high school dropout, you’ll need to join an apprenticeship to get your foot in the door and learn the trade while working on the job.
To succeed in this career, you’ll start off as a construction worker and rise through the ranks. Taking up leadership and management courses, meanwhile, increases your chances of securing a managerial position.
Average annual salary: $44,050
In the automotive industry, you can work as an automotive service technician or mechanic repairing cars and light trucks. As the work involves the use of technology, you may have to learn computer skills on the job or take classes elsewhere. But with time and experience, you’ll be able to gain the skills you need to work on bigger vehicles and solve more complex issues and, therefore, earn yourself a higher salary.
This lucrative career is one that’s in high demand across the world, meaning that mechanics can earn a high salary if they learn the profession well.
3. Sales representative
Average annual salary: $45,570
Wholesalers and manufacturers looking to employ sales representatives often focus on individuals who can meet targets rather than on educational qualifications. The job pays well, and you can grow your earnings through commissions. If you enjoy interacting with people and have strong communication skills, you should consider a career as a sales representative.
If you succeed in this career path, you can work your way through the ranks by becoming a supervisor and then a store or area manager, leading your own team of sales representatives.
4. Food service manager
Average annual salary: $56,590
In the food service industry, restaurant managers earn decent pay. Fortunately, you don’t need a high school diploma to get a management job in the industry. Previous experience in food service and a keen understanding of the day-to-day running of the business will help you score a job. However, the position involves long hours and late nights, sometimes requiring you to work through weekends.
To succeed in this role, you need great leadership skills, and you should be able to communicate clearly and earn the respect of your team. You will also need to commit to working on your days off to ensure your numbers are in order.
5. Administrative assistant
Average annual salary: $40,990
Job opportunities for secretaries and administrative assistants rarely require you to present your high school diploma. However, you will face stiff competition from individuals who do have a high school or college qualification.
Your presentation during the interview and experience in a similar job will give you an edge. The role also offers lucrative prospects you can explore to grow your career into a senior administrative position.
Average annual salary: Variable
Becoming a successful entrepreneur really depends on your skills and work ethic, not your educational qualifications. If you have an idea you believe in, and you can develop it into a business, you’ll be able to create employment for yourself and others around you.
You won’t be the only high school dropout to become a successful entrepreneur, either. Just look at Richard Branson who dropped out of school and went on to become the founder of Virgin Group (and a billionaire along the way).
You might want to consider improving your business management skills by taking management courses and seminars, however, if you’re serious about succeeding as an entrepreneur. You should also study the practices of other successful entrepreneurs as this will help you grow.
7. Home health aide
Average annual salary: $27,080
As a home health aide, you’ll be responsible for helping people with disabilities or suffering from chronic illness or cognitive impairments with personal necessities like dressing, bathing and hygiene needs. You’ll work in a variety of settings, including the patients’ homes, group homes and day services programs.
8. Floral designer
Average annual salary: $29,140
If you have an eye for detail and a love for flowers, then this could be an ideal career option for you.
Floral designers, or florists, create decorative displays, bouquets and other floral arrangements for individual customers, venues and events.
This is a career that provides on-the-job training, so you’ll be able to attain knowledge and experience working alongside a seasoned florist who can show you the ropes of the profession.
Average annual salary: $56,900
As an electrician, you’ll be responsible for installing, maintaining and repairing electrical power, communications, lighting and control systems in a variety of settings, including homes, businesses and factories.
Important qualities for this role include business skills, physical stamina, troubleshooting skills, physical strength, critical thinking skills, color vision and customer service skills.
Average annual salary: $47,040
Another option as a high school dropout is becoming a machinist, or a tool or die maker. You’ll be responsible for setting up and operating a variety of computer-controlled and mechanically controlled machine tools in order to produce a variety of precision metal parts, instruments and tools.
Skills that are critical for this profession include physical stamina and manual dexterity. You should also possess strong analytical, mechanical and technical skills, as well as have a head for mathematics.
11. Pool technician
Average annual salary: $38,400
Pool techs maintain swimming pools, spas and other water facilities by testing the water’s pH and chlorine levels and treating it with chemicals. They also fix any cracks and leaks and may service cleaning pool equipment.
While a high school diploma may be a prerequisite in some cases, this is a profession that offers on-the-job training and which you can gain experience in by job shadowing and interning for a company that provides these services. You could also pursue qualifications and certifications, such as Certified Pool & Spa Service Technician offered by the Pool and Hot Tub Alliance (PHTA), to give yourself a head start, although it’s not required to pursue a career as a pool tech.
12. Security guard
Average annual salary: $34,270
Security guards undergo rigorous training and, in some cases, may be required to obtain a security guard license before they can qualify for a job. You must also be over 18 to be considered for regular gigs such as building surveillance, while for casino security you will need to be over 21 in most states. That said, this is a career that includes on-the-job training, and which is worth considering as a high school dropout.
Average annual salary: $31,240
Are you interested in everything beauty? Cosmetology might a fitting career option for you; as a cosmetologist, you will style clients’ hair, provide manicure and pedicures, create makeup looks and perform skin treatments.
In most states, you can enroll in a cosmetology school at 16. While in some cases you will be required to have completed high school, there are vocational programs available which will allow you to undertake training as an aspiring cosmetologist.
14. Professional driver
Average annual salary: $45,260
Professional drivers may drive limousines, vans and luxury cars to transport passengers to a designated location. The most important requirements to be considered for this role is to have a valid driving license and a clean record, though prerequisites may vary across different states, and some may require additional certifications.
What’s great about this career option is that you may also choose to be self-employed, working as an Uber or Lyft driver, for examplem and you may eventually choose to work for a private company or start your own!
15. Graphic designer
Average annual salary: $47,330
While most companies usually have educational requirements for full-time staff, freelance professionals do not face these constrictions. So, if you’re a talented designer, then you could easily find employment through online freelancing platforms such as Fiverr and Upwork. You could also consider other niches as a designer such as web design and UX/UI design.
Completing a few courses as well as creating a portfolio of your best work will vouch for your skills and help you land more gigs. The same applies for other digital professionals such as programmers, copywriters and SEO specialists, all of which can freelance their skills and find employment in a myriad of companies.
Leaving school before you obtain your diploma is not the end of the world; you can still pursue fulfilling careers in different fields and earn a decent living. The important thing you need to remember is to never give up.
Originally published on 13 January 2015. Updated by Melina Theodorou.