Where once a bachelor’s degree was essential to landing a top job, that short line on our resumes is no longer so powerful.

In the past, a diploma opened many doors. Today, it mainly opens the door to the therapist’s office, with 54% of Americans having experienced mental health issues related to student debt. The skyrocketing cost of higher education is to blame, having increased by 5x over the past 70 years. More trouble than it's worth, it’s not surprising that 60% of Americans aged 25 or older don’t have a bachelor’s degree.

Though many still believe that a degree offers a competitive edge in the job market, the financial and mental drain of higher education is driving people to look elsewhere. Fortunately, today there are more options than ever before, many offering that elusive six-figure salary that were once exclusively reserved for those with a lengthy academic history.

To identify the top jobs that don’t require a college degree, ELVTR analyzed 2,000 vacancies across the top industries on LinkedIn. For those hoping to elevate their earnings (without the burden of student debt), here are five high-paying roles to consider.

Top 5 high-paying jobs that don’t require a degree (and a lifetime of student debt)

1. Game Designer

Last year, the United States’ video game market reached an estimated $90.1bn. It was a new high score for the industry and one that will undoubtedly prompt further investment in talent. Game designers are the creative minds that create the rules, characters, settings, stories and props behind our favorite games, and write the code that transfers concepts to our screens. Their expertize doesn’t come cheap ⁠— and yet many game designers have never stepped foot in a college class.

Vacancies that don’t require a degree: 78%
Requirements: Employers desire an understanding of monetization, project experience, and a clear vision of what makes a game fun and engaging.
Average base salary, Glassdoor: $80,667 (49% higher than the median US income in 2022)
Alternative education:

  • UI/UX for gaming course by Join Ariel Mallo, Principal UI Artist at Frontier Developments
  • UX/UI for gaming course by Ivy Sang, UX/UI Partner Lead from Bungie and Electronic Arts

2. QA engineers

For every developer, businesses also need a QA tester. They stress test software functionality and usability, find bugs and provide feedback to guarantee customer expectations are met — and often, they earn just as much as the developers they work alongside (but without the sky-high tuition loan repayments). As businesses across all industries invest big on software, the demand for QA engineers is expected to continually grow by 25% in the next decade.

Vacancies that don’t require a degree: 74%
Requirements: Employers desire analytical skills, attention to detail, an understanding of QA methodology, proficiency in test management software, and programming knowledge.
Average base salary, Glassdoor: $73,167 (35% higher than the median US income in 2022)

3. UX/UI designer

Remember back in the ‘90s when even the most professional of websites looked like they had been thrown together in five minutes by a complete novice? Today, there are approximately two billion sites in existence and for the most part they look good and function well. We have our highly skilled (yet often not college educated) UI/UX designers to thank. Working closely with marketing and design teams, UI/UX designers ensure users receive a seamless experience across today’s wide breadth of digital channels ⁠— a highly-desired skill set that ranks among the top five most in-demand according to LinkedIn.

Vacancies that don’t require a degree: 54%
Requirements: Employers desire design project experience, knowledge of wireframe tools, up-to-date knowledge of design software, team spirit, and good time-management skills. A bachelor’s degree is unessential for candidates with relevant experience.
Average base salary, Glassdoor: $74,722 (38% higher than the median US income in 2022)
Alternative education:

4. Mobile developer

With more than half of global web traffic now coming from mobile devices, the mobile app market is set to explode in the coming years, with IDC predicting there will be billions to choose from by 2030. Undoubtedly, demand will grow for mobile developers that can design, test, release and support apps for platforms such as Google’s Android, Apple’s iOS and Microsoft’s Windows. Globally, demand for mobile app developers is predicted to increase by 24% by 2026. With 87% of US companies experiencing or expecting a software development shortage, according to McKinsey, it's likely the mobile market will fare the same ⁠— and those that offer supply will be handsomely rewarded.

Vacancies that don’t require a degree: 51%
Requirements: Employers desire a bachelor’s degree in computer science/engineering, but equivalent work experience is sufficient for most positions.
Average base salary, Glassdoor: $74,384 (37% higher than the median US income in 2022)

5. DevOps engineer

With all these tech roles businesses are hiring for, they need somebody to keep an eye on the infrastructure. A DevOps engineer is tasked with managing their employer’s IT ecosystem by working with developers to deploy and manage code, and with operations staff to keep everything running smoothly. The profession didn’t exist just a few decades ago, yet 83% of IT decision-makers are now reportedly implementing DevOps to unlock higher business value. Most roles do require a diploma, yet as demand surges, many businesses are relaxing their requirements to avoid missing out on talent. If you can do the job, you can do the job.

Vacancies that don’t require a degree: 45%
Requirements: Employers desire experience with traditional DevOps toolsets such as Azure & AWS Cloud Services, SQL & NoSQL databases; integration and API; and an analytical and problem-solving mindset.
Average base salary, Glassdoor: $100,679 (85% higher than the median US income in 2022)


To create this study, ELVTR researchers examined 2,000 vacancies posted in December 2022 on LinkedIn in the most popular and in-demand fields (software development, design, marketing, HR and education).

Sources of data:

  1. LinkedIn job search
  2. Glassdoor (average salaries)

Detailed findings

Job Vacancies that don't need a degree Average salary
Game Designer 78% $80,667
QA Tester 74% $73,167
UX/UI designer 54% $74,722
Mobile developer 51% $74,384
DevOps 45% $100,679
Instructional design specialist 40% $72,908
VR&AR Designer 39% $88,520
HR Analyst 37% $68,002
Web developer 35% $77,645
DEI manager (diversity and inclusion manager) 35% $80,207
Art director 34% $66,936
Copywriter 33% $55,388
SEO manager 32% $78,738
UX manager/Service Designer 28% $67,557
Operations manager 24% $62,851
Marketing manager 22% $76,390
Product Manager 13% $102,220
Brand manager 11% $79,070
Project manager 11% $72,046
HR professional/specialist/manager 9% $61,029