High school isn't for everyone, as the kids currently slogging through physics and calculus could probably tell you. Leaving school without obtaining a high school diploma or GED (the equivalent of a diploma) isn't the end of the world, although finding jobs without GEDs is a worry that plagues many would-be workers in this country. Having a satisfying and productive career is absolutely possible for candidates who haven't met this educational requirement – you just have to know where to look.
Can I Still Get a Job If I Dropped Out of High School?
Absolutely! Lacking a high school diploma is not a barrier to working. It's true that not finishing high school will disqualify candidates from most high-paying jobs, but workers still have options. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 27.7 percent of American jobs had no education requirement, as of May 2016. (By comparison, 35.8 percent of jobs required a high school diploma or equivalent, and 21.3 percent required a bachelor's degree.)
The BLS also provides data about forecasted trends. It predicted that between 2014 and 2024, the number of jobs that had no education requirement would rise by 6.9 percent. That's a slower rate of growth than is predicted for occupations that do have education requirements. Jobs that require a master's degree or doctorate degree have the highest predicted rates of growth at 13.8 percent and 12.2 percent, respectively.
What Jobs Do Not Require a High School Diploma?
Sure, there are a lot of jobs that don't require a high school diploma, but as you might expect, they tend to rely largely on physical or manual labor. Without a formal education, it's unlikely to be hired for an office or medical job, or anything that requires a lot of intellectual labor.
That's not because lacking a high school diploma means you're not smart enough or capable enough to do jobs that require high-level thinking. But there are enough candidates out there who do have diplomas and college degrees that hiring managers can afford to make that a requirement for "mental" jobs. Focusing your search on jobs that require primarily physical labor or that are centered around soft skills (like teamwork and customer service) is a good strategy for someone who is job hunting without a diploma.
Working as a Warehouse or Stock Associate
It's not glamorous work, but working in a warehouse is one opportunity that's often open to candidates without high school diplomas. Expect to load and unload trucks, pack and unpack shipments, fill orders, operate machinery and do other tasks as needed. Similarly, stock associate positions may be open to candidates without diplomas. These employees manage a store's stock. They organize inventory in a storeroom, bring inventory out to put on store shelves, rearrange displays, take unsold stock off shelves and track inventory in computer programs.
Working as a Caregiver
Companies that hire home health aides and other caregivers commonly require candidates to have a high school diploma at minimum, but not all companies make that a requirement. Furthermore, training programs that prepare candidates to be home health aides often accept applicants who don't have any formal education credentials, so it's possible to get certified to work in this profession without completing school.
Another option is to take a more informal route by working directly with families. A friend or neighbor might be willing to hire you to care for an elderly or disabled parent during the day, for example. Babysitting or pet care are other options open to candidates with some experience in these areas.
Working as a Cosmetologist
If you love beauty and have a passion for skin care, hair, nails or makeup, working in these fields could be a great fit for you. Whether or not you can pursue this career depends on the state where you live and the admission criteria of the local cosmetology schools. In some places, schools can accept students who don't have a diploma or GED. (However, some of those schools will require you to work toward your GED while you're training.)
Enrolling in cosmetology school is a necessity if you want to enter this field. Having a natural aptitude for and love of hair or skin care isn't enough – health and safety regulations require these professionals to undergo training before working with clients.
Working as a Skilled Tradesperson
For job seekers who like working with their hands, the skilled trades represent one of the most lucrative career paths. The retirement of the Baby Boomer generation leaves many positions open in fields like plumbing, carpentry, welding and so forth.
Candidates can prepare for a career in one of these trades by enrolling in technical college or trade school, or by starting an apprenticeship program through a local trade group or union. Although you may be able to enroll in one of these programs without a GED, there may be a requirement that you work toward your GED while you're in training.
Working as a Server or Cleaner
A number of service jobs are commonly open to applicants who haven't finished high school. Working as a waiter or bartender is a good fit for people who are caring for kids or pursuing a GED during the day because these jobs often require night and weekend hours. An energetic and physically able worker might be successful as a cleaner, working in private homes as an individual contractor or cleaning offices as an employee of a cleaning service.
Working as an Entrepreneur
There's no hiring process when you become your own boss, which means no educational requirements either. Starting your own business is a risky venture, and you'll want to get advice from financial experts before beginning. Unless you have very specialized knowledge or a lot of experience in a field that customers need, starting a formal business might not be viable. In that case, consider other ways to make money while working for yourself.
Creative pursuits could be viable options for some people. Create handmade crafts or jewelry to sell at local craft shows and online through sellers' marketplaces. Scour flea markets for underpriced items and fix them up to sell for a profit. Become a consultant for a home sales company and sell skincare or makeup products to friends and online. Start a podcast about something that interests you and do all the marketing yourself – if you attract a big enough audience, advertisers might eventually pay to sponsor you. Become a ride-sharing driver or food delivery person, working through one of the popular food delivery apps. If you know how to play an instrument, join a local band or give lessons.
None of these pursuits will turn into a lucrative career overnight, so they're not a good option for anyone who is urgently looking for a paying job. But if you start a self-employed venture now and work at it on nights and weekends, it could eventually grow into a full-time gig.
More Jobs That Don't Require a High School Diploma
When you start your job search, you might be surprised by how many businesses are willing to hire workers who don't have a high school diploma or equivalent. Again, they're not typically high-paying jobs, but they're out there.
Cashier positions are often open to these candidates. You might also find work as a barista or working at a mall kiosk. Butchers don't typically have to meet any formal education criteria. Construction is another viable field for applicants without diplomas. Some crews accept workers with no prior experience, although having that experience is of course a plus.
Truck driving is one of the more lucrative jobs for high school dropouts. Drivers must attend a training program and earn a commercial driver's license (CDL). Admission to these programs sometimes requires a diploma, but not always. It may be possible to take an ability-to-benefit test, which is used to make sure that candidates who lack diplomas have the skills they need to succeed in training programs.
Can You Go to College Without a Diploma or GED?
Maybe. Many universities do require that applicants have diplomas or GEDs in order to be accepted, so an applicant who doesn't meet that criteria won't be able to apply to any school of his choosing. However, there are some schools that accept students in this position. Some community colleges offer certification programs that are open to all students. Four-year colleges sometimes accept these students, and they may be able to earn a high school equivalency degree after completing a certain number of college credits.
Contacting the admissions offices of local schools and explaining your position is one way to get started. A local high school guidance counselor or local college counselor may also be able to suggest schools that take students like you.
How Do I Get a Job Without a High School Diploma or a GED?
It's important to make the most of your network when job hunting without a diploma or GED. Because many people don't have a diploma or GED, there can be a lot of competition for the best-paying jobs that don't require one. If you have a contact with any pull at a company that's hiring, that person might be able to help you get an interview.
It's especially important that your resume is clear, well-organized and free of errors, and that you dress professionally for any interviews. Any time that a job application includes the option to submit a cover letter, do it. A great cover letter might get you an interview that your resume alone wouldn't get you. Keep an eye out for job fairs, which often include a number of employers that are looking to fill positions that don't require a GED.
How Do I Get a Diploma or a GED?
As you consider your career prospects, you might realize that completing high school or obtaining a GED (or equivalent test) is the only way to pursue the high-paying and satisfying jobs that you want. It's not too late! Get started by contacting your state education department. That's the best way to figure out what type of test you need to take. Although the GED test is still used by many states, some states have started using different high school equivalency tests in recent years. (New York, for example, replaced the GED with the Test Assessing Secondary Completion, or TASC, in 2014.)
Taking the test itself is usually fairly simple. A candidate can schedule his or her own exams at a local testing center. The real challenge is in the preparation. The GED test includes multiple sections covering math, science, social studies and reading/writing, which you can complete at different times. Candidates who have been out of high school for a long time may need to spend several months preparing. Your library might offer prep classes. Many companies also offer online GED classes.