Not all jobs require a college degree, but a vast majority of them do call for a high school diploma. If you don’t have that, it can feel like every job is out of your reach. Don’t despair! High school dropouts still have options.
Rather than focus on what you don’t have, you can build your resume around what you do have – skills, experience, etc. You can also try taking an online class to improve your skills, or to learn basic math or computer skills.
High school dropouts are defined as individuals, ages 16 to 24, who are not currently enrolled in school, not being homeschooled, and did not complete high school or obtain a General Equivalency Diploma (GED). If that describes you, you might be interested to know that you’re not the only one in this situation.
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education “Grad Nation” report released in 2019, the national average high school graduation rate is 84.6 percent. Believe it or not, about 1.2 million U.S. students drop out of high school every year – that’s about 7,000 students a day.
Arizona and New Mexico have the lowest average graduation rates at 72 percent. Oregon, which used to have the worst high school graduation rate of all, is now up to 77 percent after having previously been the lowest of any state in the country at 68.7 percent.
If you can be included in these statistics, don’t feel bad. Dropping out of high school doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lazy or dumb. Many students have good reasons for dropping out. For example, you may have to get a job to help support the family, or take care of your sick grandmother, or perhaps you’re being bullied. Kate Winslet was bullied in high school and dropped out at the age of 16.
Graduation rates tend to be overemphasized as a barometer for future success, anyway. Just because one drops out of high school doesn’t mean they can’t be a productive member of society. Not all dropouts will become juvenile delinquents or end up cycling in and out of the prison system. They may be smart students who simply didn’t find school engaging enough.
Simon Cowell dropped out of high school at age 16 and got a job in the mailroom at the British record company EMI Group. Six years later he started his own record label. Today, Cowell is a well-known talent judge on shows like “American Idol,” “Britain’s Got Talent,” and “The X Factor.”
“Twilight” star Kristen Stewart wasn’t a fan of high school. After deciding that her teachers “failed her,” Stewart dropped out and later completed homeschooling and received her GED. Lindsay Lohan attended high school until she was a junior, and she later completed her high school equivalency through homeschooling.
Maybe you want to jump at the chance to pursue an acting or music career, like Daniel Radcliffe and Avril Lavigne did when they dropped out of high school. Or maybe you have your sights set on entrepreneurial pursuits. Famous high school dropouts include billionaire businessman Richard Branson and Tumblr founder David Karp.
Nevertheless, there’s still a certain stigma associated with dropping out of high school, and many employers prefer to employ high school graduates over dropouts. Consequently, high school dropouts are more likely to end up stuck in low-wage, low-status jobs. Lacking a high school diploma, these individuals are also more likely than graduates to have trouble finding work during hard times and thus spend their lives periodically unemployed, on government assistance.
However, that’s not to say there aren’t any job opportunities for high school dropouts. On the contrary, even outside of the entertainment business there are jobs available that could lead to a lifelong and very successful career. Many of these jobs are in demand and most of them don’t require any previous experience. Developing the required skills usually take place on the job or through apprenticeships.
Here are the top 10 jobs for high school dropouts; i.e. anyone without a high school diploma or GED. Average wage data and job outlook was gathered from the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Average wage: $21,440 per year
Most hotel housekeeping jobs don’t require any formal education, not even a high school diploma. Beginning housekeepers typically learn by assisting an experienced housekeeper through on-the-job training. This includes learning effective cleaning techniques, choosing the correct cleaning agents, operating vacuums and floor buffers, etc. Housekeepers just need the physical stamina to be on their feet for most of the day, pushing a vacuum, changing linens, cleaning and dusting. They also must be willing to perform many unpleasant tasks including emptying trash cans, cleaning toilets, wiping up spills and other messes. Self-employed housekeepers will often start out as house cleaners or maids at a company in order to gain experience in the field.
2. Food Service Worker
Average wage: $21,750 per year
Fast food restaurants hire high school students as cooks, servers, and counter attendants so obviously no diploma is required. However, the position may involve early mornings or late nights, sometimes requiring you to work weekends and holidays. If you’re willing to put in your time in the trenches as an entry-level employee, getting on the managerial track is a solid opportunity for your future. Work your way up in the food service industry, where restaurant managers earn decent pay. To succeed in this role, you will need a keen understanding of the day-to-day running of the business, and you should be able to communicate clearly and have good customer service skills, earning the respect of your team. Employment of food service workers is projected to grow 14 percent by 2026, faster than the average for all occupations.
3. Store Clerk
Average wage: $22,131 per year
Becoming a store clerk does not require a high school diploma or equivalent; often, store clerks are teenage employees who are still students and working part-time. A clerk is an entry level retail sales person who typically works under the tutelage of a store manager or assistant store manager. Applicants should be prepared for on-the-job training to become familiar with their employer’s products and procedures. This role may lead to a career in retail sales.
4. Home Health Aide
Average wage: $24,060 per year
Home health care aides are not required to have a college degree or high school diploma. Home health and personal care aides are responsible for visiting patients and providing assistance with daily activities like dressing, feeding, bathing, taking medicine, and mobility. You will be responsible for helping people with disabilities or suffering from chronic illness or cognitive impairment. You may work in a variety of settings including patients’ homes, group homes, nursing homes, and adult daycare programs. It is not an easy or glamorous job and it requires patience, physical stamina, integrity and excellent interpersonal skills. This job is ideal for those who want to make a difference in people’s lives, and it can be a great way to get into the booming healthcare industry if you have a good bedside manner. Employment of home health personal care aides is projected to grow 40 percent by 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. As the baby-boom population ages and the elderly population grows, the demand for the services of home health aides and personal care aides will continue to increase.
5. Construction Worker
Average wage: $34,810 per year
There are usually no specific educational requirements for entry level construction helpers or laborers, although construction workers with more education and training have the best job opportunities. To develop your trade skills, we encourage you to seek on-site training through part-time or summer employment. As a high school dropout, you’ll need to join an apprenticeship to get your foot in the door and home your skills under the guidance of experienced workers. If you like working with your hands and can do heavy lifting, construction can be a good career path with a lot of growth opportunity. However, it can be a physically demanding job working at great heights or outdoors in all weather conditions. Construction workers may work for towns and cities, or private companies/contractors doing project-based labor. There are many specialties to choose from including carpentry, masonry, roofing and painting. Employment of construction workers is projected to grow 12 percent by 2026, faster than the average for all occupations.
6. Automotive Service Technician/Mechanic
Average wage: $39,550 per year
You can become an ASE mechanic in several ways, even if you don’t have a high school diploma. A mechanic’s job is a hands-on one that is best learned on site. In the automotive industry, you can work as an automotive service technician or mechanic repairing cars and 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 more vehicles and solve more complex issues and, therefore, earn yourself a higher salary. This career is one that’s in high demand, meaning that mechanics can earn a high salary if they learn the profession well.
7. Heavy Truck Driver
Average wage: $43,680 per year
Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers transport goods from one location to another. Many are long-haul drivers who may be away from home for days or weeks at a time. Technically, no formal education is required to become a truck driver. The most important requirement is a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) with demonstrable driving skills and a clean driving record. While a high school diploma is not required to enroll in a training program to get your CDL, some trucking companies do require that you have a diploma or GED in order to work there. There is currently a high demand for truck drivers and employment is predicted to grow about 5% by 2024.
8. Diesel Service Technician/Mechanic
Average wage: $46,360 per year
If you enjoy fixing cars or trucks, you might want to consider becoming a diesel service technician which pays a little more. Your work will involve inspecting, repairing and overhauling buses and trucks, or maintaining and repairing any type of diesel engine. Mechanical and troubleshooting skills, as well as physical strength and dexterity, are essential to succeed in this role. You’ll also need to be able to think on your feet and work well under pressure, in all types of weather.
9. Sales Representative
Average wage: $60,340 per year
Educational requirements vary for sales representatives and depend on the type of products sold. Companies 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 an area manager, leading your own team of sales representatives.
Average wage: Variable
Anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit can start a business, and this applies to high school dropouts as well. Becoming a successful entrepreneur really depends on your skills and work ethic, not your educational qualifications. What do you like to do? What skills do you already have? If you have a hobby that can be monetized, or an idea that you can develop into a business, you’ll be able to create employment for yourself and others around you. If you have your own business, you make the rules and no one can tell you what to do or require you to present a diploma. You might want to consider taking business management courses, however, if you’re serious about succeeding as an entrepreneur. You should also study the practices of other successful entrepreneurs.
Leaving school before you graduate is not the end of the world; you can still pursue a fulfilling career and earn a decent living. So if you don’t have a high school diploma, don’t get discouraged. You have options—you just need to make sure you’re looking for the best opportunities that match your personality type, your skills, and your goals.
And finally, if you didn’t graduate from high school, you can get a GED. Obtaining a GED is not difficult, and it will qualify you for jobs that require a high school diploma or equivalent, which will greatly increase your options. Even while working, you can study for the GED test and improve your chances of getting ahead. It will also be useful if you decide to take college classes at a later date. Try studying for the GED, here is the link: GED.com
Are you a high school dropout? What career path did you choose to follow? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below!