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Best jobs that don't require a college degree

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garrett parker // Unsplash

Best jobs that don't require a college degree

From the moment they first set foot on campus, today's high-school students are inundated with messages about the importance of receiving a college education. They hear it from their guidance counselors, teachers, parents, family members, neighbors, coaches—the list goes on and on. While graduation from a four-year college can certainly work wonders for students' future careers, it's not necessary for all fields—something admissions officers and guidance counselors sometimes fail to mention.

To find the best jobs that don't require a college degree, Stacker first consulted the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook to compile a list of all jobs that don't require higher education. All professions that listed a high-school diploma, some college education (without a degree conferred), or no formal education requirements for entry-level positions were considered. Jobs that didn't list any entry-level education requirement were excluded, as were job titles that grouped several positions together. Then, Stacker cross-referenced those jobs against PayScale's list of the most meaningful jobs to discover how fulfilling each job actually is. PayScale compiled its data from the 2.7 million people who took a survey between June 11, 2013, and June 11, 2015, while the Bureau of Labor Statistics last updated its data April 12, 2019.

Though deciding which job is best will always be a subjective question, Stacker tried to quantify it as much as possible by calculating a meaningful job average based on two percentages from PayScale: high satisfaction and high meaning. High satisfaction represents the percentage of PayScale survey respondents with each job who said they were extremely satisfied or fairly satisfied with their job, while high meaning represents the percentage of respondents who answered “yes” or “very much so” to the question “Does your work make the world a better place?” This list was then ranked by a job index, which weights annual pay 50%, job satisfaction 25%, and job meaning 25%, comparing each metric to the maximum recorded value among jobs not requiring a college degree. Any ties were broken by the 2018 median annual wage. Read on to find out which job with a median pay of more than $82,000 cracked the top five, discover which highly technical fields don't require any formal education, and gain inspiration for your next career change or side hustle.

You may also like: 50 jobs expected to shrink the most

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bruce mars // Unsplash

#50. Fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators

- Job index: 67.97
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 58%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 51%
- Median pay: $51,600

Since art is entirely subjective, it doesn't require any formal training—just talent and lots of practice. In fact, many famous artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Frida Kahlo were self-taught.

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rawpixel // Pixabay

#49. Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, technical and scientific products

- Job index: 68.6
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 67%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 38%
- Median pay: $54,500

Though having a college degree listed on your résumé can certainly help you land a job, sales isn't a skill that can really be taught in school: It's something you need to practice and develop on your own. Though many sales representatives interviewed by Payscale were satisfied with their jobs, only 38% thought they were making a difference in the world.

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Sue Sapp // U.S. Air Force

#48. Millwrights

- Job index: 68.98
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 73%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 38%
- Median pay: $52,400

Millwrights might not be in as high demand these days as they were prior to the Industrial Revolution, but nevertheless, the job still exists and doesn't require a college education. However, millwrights must learn a wealth of technical skills through on-the-job training.

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JupiterPatra // Wikimedia Commons

#47. Self-enrichment education teachers

- Job index: 69.02
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 78%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 78%
- Median pay: $31,900

Self-enrichment education teachers aren't high-school teachers, college professors, or even fitness instructors. Rather, these teachers take on subjects like self-improvement and self-help. Since they don't teach in an academic or vocational setting, they aren't required to complete a minimum level of education.

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Jacob Norlund // Flickr

#46. Eligibility interviewers, government programs

- Job index: 69.06
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 68%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 73%
- Median pay: $38,700

Eligibility interviewers determine who qualifies for government benefits like Social Security, unemployment, or welfare. More than 70% of these employees said their jobs were meaningful, likely because they help people every day.

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KOMUnews // Flickr

#45. Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers

- Job index: 69.11
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 67%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 63%
- Median pay: $43,800

Though you don't need a college degree to become an HVAC technician, you do need specialized on-the-job training in how to install these pieces of machinery. For people who enjoy working with their hands and giving great customer service, this can be a highly meaningful career.

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Stealth Communications // Wikimedia Commons

#44. Telecommunications equipment installers and repairers, except line installers

- Job index: 69.44
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 75%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 55%
- Median pay: $44,400

If you've ever built your own home or moved into a new apartment, you have probably called a telecommunications equipment installer to hook up your phone or internet router. Again, though this career is highly technical, it doesn't require a college education.

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Alfred T. Palmer // Wikimedia Commons

#43. Boilermakers

- Job index: 69.8
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 65%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 39%
- Median pay: $56,700

Yet another trade that teaches its workers the skills they need to know through an apprenticeship program, repairing, maintaining, and installing boilers is a highly technical trade that often requires intense physical labor and long hours of travel. While the job is undoubtedly important, these workers don't report a high level of job meaningfulness.

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skeeze // Pixabay

#42. Electricians

- Job index: 70
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 67%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 58%
- Median pay: $47,400

Although most states require electricians to obtain a license, this career doesn't require any college degree. However, some electricians get their start through a technical college or an apprenticeship program.

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PxHere

#41. Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters

- Job index: 70.18
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 62%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 63%
- Median pay: $47,600

These three job titles sound fairly different, but actually, all three refer to technicians who install and repair pipes in homes, businesses, factories, and other buildings. About 63% of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters told PayScale that they found their job fulfilling, likely because their work is so important to the people they serve.

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Reinhard Thrainer // Pixabay

#40. Crane and tower operators

- Job index: 70.66
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 60%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 56%
- Median pay: $52,400

A highly specified and sometimes dangerous job, crane and tower operators occupy an important position on many construction sites, factories, and other industrial operations. More than half of the people in this position who responded to the PayScale survey said they found their work meaningful.

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Walter Siegmund // Wikimedia Commons

#39. Helpers: pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters

- Job index: 70.74
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 64%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 74%
- Median pay: $42,500

Think of these employees as junior plumbers or pipefitters: They do similar work, but at a lower skill level. Although they make less money than their more senior counterparts, employees in these roles reported a higher level of job meaningfulness—perhaps because they were so excited to learn the trade.

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Tekno electro solutions pvt ltd // Wikimedia Commons

#38. Security and fire alarm systems installers

- Job index: 70.9
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 62%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 76%
- Median pay: $42,700

It's fair to say that this job is fairly important: Without security systems or fire alarms, you're much less safe in your own home or place of business. More than three-quarters of these specialized electricians said they found their job fulfilling, perhaps because their work actually keeps people safe.

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fran hogan // Unsplash

#37. Telecommunications line installers and repairers

- Job index: 70.91
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 76%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 59%
- Median pay: $44,300

Unlike the other telecommunications professionals on this list, line installers and repairers work directly on the phone and internet lines. This job comes with some serious risks, as these workers are interacting with high-voltage power lines, often high above the ground on telephone poles. It's also extremely physically demanding—but still, 59% of people in this job found it fulfilling.

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NPS

#36. Recreation workers

- Job index: 71.19
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 76%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 85%
- Median pay: $32,800

You might encounter a recreation worker at a summer camp, rec center, or nature park: These workers design programs that help people get active and engage with their communities. About 85% of recreation workers said their jobs were meaningful, most likely because they get to work with people every day.

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Hush Naidoo // Unsplash

#35. Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses

- Job index: 71.29
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 68%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 78%
- Median pay: $39,700

Although you usually need a bachelor's or associate's degree to become a registered nurse (or RN), you only need to complete a yearlong state education plan and get your license to become a licensed practical or vocational nurse (LPN or LVN).

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Justin Sullivan // Getty Images

#34. Tax preparers

- Job index: 72.23
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 68%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 35%
- Median pay: $60,800

The category of tax preparers doesn't include accountants and auditors, both of whom typically have college educations. Rather, tax preparers help you fill out your tax returns and get them ready to submit to the government. Unsurprisingly, working in taxes doesn't lead to a high degree of job fulfillment—something that anyone who has prepared their own taxes can attest to.

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BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP // Getty Images

#33. Airfield operations specialists

- Job index: 72.66
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 83%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 52%
- Median pay: $47,000

Airfield operations specialists have a very important job: Ensuring that planes take off and land safely by coordinating with air traffic control and on-the-ground personnel. Despite the importance of the job, airfield operations specialists did not find the work very fulfilling.

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Pandu Agus Wismoyo // Unsplash

#32. Aircraft mechanics and service technicians

- Job index: 72.75
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 64%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 65%
- Median pay: $49,600

Similarly, aircraft mechanics and service technicians also have seriously important jobs. Though they sometimes work alongside airfield operations specialists, airfield mechanics found their jobs more meaningful but less satisfying.

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Gregory Hayes // Unsplash

#31. Farm, ranch, and other agricultural managers

- Job index: 72.93
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 72%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 74%
- Median pay: $42,200

If you enjoy spending time outside and caring for animals, a career in agricultural management might be right for you. Despite the relatively low median pay, farm, ranch, and agricultural managers found their jobs both very fulfilling and very satisfying.

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Avel Chuklanov // Unsplash

#30. Actors

- Job index: 73.11
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 76%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 67%
- Median pay: $43,900

While many aspiring actors and actresses attend drama conservatories or four-year colleges to hone their craft, the industry doesn't require any formal training at all. In fact, many celebrities like Jessica Alba, Hilary Swank, and Chris Rock never went to college.

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection // Wikimedia Commons

#29. Police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers

- Job index: 73.49
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 74%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 85%
- Median pay: $37,100

Police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers are the people who answer emergency and non-emergency calls to 911, the fire station, or the police station. Likely because of the intensely important work they do, most people in this job said they found it fulfilling and meaningful.

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secondfromthesun0 // Pixabay

#28. Massage therapists

- Job index: 74.04
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 70%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 83%
- Median pay: $40,600

Although massage therapy doesn't come with any college degree requirements, most massage therapists do have to complete 500-plus hours of training and obtain a license or certification to enter the field. Someone who wants to work in health and wellness and help people every day would likely find this job highly meaningful.

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Victor Freitas // Unsplash

#27. Fitness trainers and aerobics instructors

- Job index: 74.42
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 71%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 85%
- Median pay: $39,800

The training required to become a fitness trainer or instructor varies from specialty to specialty: A boutique yoga studio might want instructors to undergo yoga teacher training, while a CrossFit gym might want a totally different kind of training. Regardless, 85% of trainers and instructors in the field told PayScale that they found the job meaningful.

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Mark Wyatt // U.S. Air Force

#26. Stationary engineers and boiler operators

- Job index: 75.08
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 77%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 58%
- Median pay: $50,500

These engineers and operators work on boilers, engines, and other equipment in residential and industrial buildings. Employees in this job are trained on the job through apprenticeship programs and are usually required to have their high-school diploma.

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Airman 1st Class Jason J. Brown // U.S. Air Force

#25. Surgical technologists

- Job index: 75.46
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 77%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 83%
- Median pay: $39,600

Also known as operating-room technicians, surgical techs help surgeons and nurses prep the operating room for procedures and assist during surgeries. A small number of states to regulate these jobs, but most just require some secondary education but not necessarily a bachelor's degree.

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Drew Angerer // Getty Images

#24. Police and sheriff's patrol officers

- Job index: 75.84
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 65%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 81%
- Median pay: $46,400

Believe it or not, you don't need to obtain a college degree to become a police or sheriff's patrol officer. These officers work at patrolling, directing traffic, issuing traffic summons, investigating accidents, and more.

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后园 卓 // Pixabay

#23. Water and liquid waste treatment plant and system operators

- Job index: 76.01
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 72%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 87%
- Median pay: $40,800

Local governments employed about three-quarters of water and liquid waste-treatment plant and system operators in 2016. You only need a high-school diploma and some on-the-job training to enter this career.

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Aaron Huber // Unsplash

#22. First-line supervisors/managers of mechanics, installers, and repairers

- Job index: 76.18
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 72%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 57%
- Median pay: $54,800

First-line supervisors manage mechanics, installers, and repairers of cars, building equipment, and other machinery. You typically get to this position by gaining seniority in your chosen field, not getting a college degree.

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Amanda Bicknell // Wikimedia Commons

#21. Construction and building inspectors

- Job index: 76.63
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 74%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 67%
- Median pay: $50,000

Inspecting building sites to make sure construction complies with building codes and regulations falls under the purview of construction and building instructors. Though you need experience in construction to get this job, you don't need a college degree.

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SarahAnderson // Wikimedia Commons

#20. Medical appliance technicians

- Job index: 76.78
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 78%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 90%
- Median pay: $37,900

These skilled workers specialize in repairing and constructing devices like orthotics, prosthetics, braces, and other pieces of surgical and orthopedic medical equipment. Though there's no doubt that this is a highly technical field, it doesn't require a college education.

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Quintin Gellar // Pexels

#19. First-line supervisors/managers of transportation and material-moving machine and vehicle operators

- Job index: 76.97
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 71%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 47%
- Median pay: $61,000

“Material-moving machine” is often used as a technical description for a freight truck, so these managers supervise truckers, couriers, and other delivery people. While this career has a much higher median pay than many of the jobs on this list, less than half of these workers said they found their job meaningful or fulfilling.

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Ianaré Sévi // Wikimedia Commons

#18. Electrical power-line installers and repairers

- Job index: 78.61
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 65%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 69%
- Median pay: $56,000

Like their counterparts who work in telephone lines, these installers and repairers often work high above ground on power lines. It's a high-risk job that requires significant on-the-job training, but no formal education.

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ivabalk // Pixabay

#17. First-line supervisors/managers of construction trades and extraction workers

- Job index: 80.22
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 70%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 65%
- Median pay: $58,000

In addition to construction, many of these supervisors and managers work in extraction, such as earth-drilling or explosives. This job has a relatively high median pay, job satisfaction rate, and job meaningfulness rate—all of which make it appealing to anyone without a college degree.

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Andy Dean Photography // Shutterstock

#16. Real estate brokers

- Job index: 80.49
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 67%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 69%
- Median pay: $57,900

You have to undergo a certain amount of training to obtain a state license and become a real-estate broker, but you don't necessarily need a degree from a four-year college. Unlike real-estate agents, brokers can also manage their own businesses.

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Daniel Tausis // Unsplash

#15. Firefighters

- Job index: 81.17
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 83%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 88%
- Median pay: $43,100

Firefighters do go through a significant amount of training before they can start work, although it's not usually at a four-year college. Typically, aspiring firefighters have to pass written and physical tests, train in emergency medical services, and sometimes even attend a fire academy for more specialized classes.

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Mwabonje // Pexels

#14. Musicians and singers

- Job index: 81.27
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 75%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 83%
- Median pay: $49,100

Like several other creative fields, the music industry doesn't require any formal education: If you have the talent and drive, you can succeed as a musician. Celebrities like Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Britney Spears all became huge hits without ever gaining a college degree.

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CoreCivic // Flickr

#13. First-line supervisors/managers of correctional officers

- Job index: 81.67
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 76%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 65%
- Median pay: $57,500

These employees supervise the correctional officers in local, state, and federal prisons across the country. This job can sometimes be dangerous—as well as physically and emotionally draining—but does not require a college education.

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Alexey Danichev/Алексей Даничев // Wikipedia

#12. Power plant operators

- Job index: 83.94
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 81%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 69%
- Median pay: $56,800

Power-plant operators need highly specialized technical training to succeed in their chosen career but can learn the skills they need through in-depth, on-the-job training programs rather than college classes. Nuclear power-plant operators also have to be licensed.

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ryanivy308 // Pixabay

#11. Electrical and electronics repairers, commercial and industrial equipment

- Job index: 84.62
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 75%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 72%
- Median pay: $59,100

You might have to take some college classes, enroll in an apprenticeship program, or undergo on-the-job training to become an electrical or electronics repair person, but you don't need to graduate from college. This field includes a wide variety of specialties, so there are plenty of opportunities for people interested in technology and mechanics to find employment.

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Spencer Platt // Getty Images

#10. Gas plant operators

- Job index: 84.62
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 69%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 68%
- Median pay: $63,600

These skilled workers are key employees at gas power plants, where they use compressors to maintain the proper amount of pressure in the pipelines. This job also has a fairly high median pay for something that does not require a college degree.

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John R. Perry // Pixabay

#9. Petroleum pump system operators, refinery operators, and gaugers

- Job index: 90.83
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 80%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 63%
- Median pay: $70,200

Like gas plant operators, petroleum workers also have very important jobs. By regulating the flow of oil, they not only maintain the pipelines but also keep refineries and plants safe. Plus, about 80% of people with this job said they were satisfied with the work.

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Benjamin Krain // Getty Images

#8. Detectives and criminal investigators

- Job index: 91.71
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 74%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 78%
- Median pay: $67,300

Surprisingly enough, you don't need any higher education to become a detective or criminal investigator for the local or state police. These skilled investigators gain all the skills they need through on-the-job training and experience or at police academies.

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Blake Guidry // Unsplash

#7. Commercial pilots

- Job index: 92.17
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 77%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 65%
- Median pay: $72,600

Though all pilots must be licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration, commercial pilots don't need any education beyond a high-school diploma or equivalent. Airline pilots, however, are often required to complete a bachelor's degree.

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Pixabay // Pexels

#6. Occupational health and safety technicians

- Job index: 92.79
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 72%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 76%
- Median pay: $70,700

These technicians visit workplaces to make sure that working conditions are safe for employees and comply with local and federal laws. Although you need a bachelor's degree to achieve the higher title of occupational health and safety specialist, you only need a high-school education and on-the-job training to become a technician.

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Federal Government of the United States // Wikimedia Commons

#5. Rotary drill operators, oil and gas

- Job index: 93.36
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 93%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 80%
- Median pay: $60,400

An impressive 93% of rotary drill operators in the oil and gas industry said they found their work removing core samples or excavating underground oil and gas satisfying, while about 80% found it fulfilling.

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GUANTANAMO BAY, CU // Wikimedia Commons

#4. First-line supervisors/managers of fire fighting and prevention workers

- Job index: 95.06
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 82%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 85%
- Median pay: $65,500

Instead of answering emergency calls and fighting fires themselves, these supervisors and managers oversee the firefighters themselves. Likely because they know their work keeps both firefighters and the public safe, these employees said their jobs were both very satisfying and very meaningful.

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Ruslan Krivobok / Руслан Кривобок // Wikimedia Commons

#3. Nuclear power reactor operators

- Job index: 96.82
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 63%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 72%
- Median pay: $82,500

Fans of HBO's “Chernobyl” will feel like they know an awful lot about what nuclear power reactor operators do—or at least, what not to do. These workers ensure that nuclear power reactors run the way they're supposed to by moving fuel rods, adjusting the controls, and even implementing emergency procedures when necessary—certainly a high-stress job.

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garrett parker // Unsplash

#2. Captains, mates, and pilots of water vessels

- Job index: 97.18
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 75%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 67%
- Median pay: $80,000

Beyond obtaining a license from the U.S. Coast Guard, captains, mates, and pilots of boats and ships don't need any other education besides a high-school diploma. With a relatively high median pay, job meaningfulness rate, and job satisfaction rate, this must be one of the most desirable jobs for someone who enjoys boating and doesn't want to obtain a college degree.

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Justin Sullivan // Getty Images

#1. First-line supervisors/managers of police and detectives

- Job index: 100
- Workers reporting high job satisfaction: 85%
- Workers reporting high job meaningfulness: 90%
- Median pay: $69,200

These managers hold an important role on the police force: They use their management skills to ensure that all the detectives and police officers in their squadron are working well together to keep their community safe. That might be why this job title was one of the most meaningful on this list: 90% of employees interviewed said it was a fulfilling job.

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