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11 Ways You Can Be Successful Without A College Degree

11 Ways You Can Be Successful Without A College Degree
Steve Gillman Oct 17, 2017
Want to Earn Some Extra Money?

You want to do well in life, but maybe you don’t want to go to college. I don’t blame you. Even if you don’t share my aversion to classrooms, there’s the huge cost of tuition and fees.

That big price tag may require borrowing. According to the data, student debt averages $37,000 for 2016 graduates. What a way to start your career, right?

That’s if your education even gets you a career. After all, you might become one of the 115,000 janitors with bachelor’s degrees. In fact, half of all people in the U.S. with bachelor’s degrees are working at jobs that don’t require them.

If you already have a degree, great! Do your best to use it. And if you’re halfway through college you should probably gut it out and get that degree. College graduates still make more money than those without one.

But if higher education is not in your future, don’t despair. There are a number of ways to do well when you don’t have a college degree. Here are eleven of them.

1. Get a Tipped Position

The federal minimum wage for tipped positions is just $2.13 per hour. That’s not a good start, but fortunately many states mandate higher minimums and, depending on the job, tips can add a lot more.

In fact, in our guide to finding the best jobs for tips there are several examples of positions that average $20 per hour or more.

And according to the Wall Street Journal waiters can make over $100,000 annually at high-end restaurants in New York.

Getting some experience is crucial, because a decent resume makes it possible to apply for jobs where the tips are the biggest.

Those are found in expensive restaurants, bars, and other businesses with high prices and good customer flow..

Here are some examples of jobs where (in the right place) you can make a decent living thanks to big (or at least consistent) tips:

  • Blackjack Dealer
  • Restaurant Server
  • Beautician
  • Masseuse/Masseur
  • Bartender
  • Golf Caddy
  • Uber Driver
  • Pizza Delivery Driver
  • Ski Instructor
  • Room Service Attendant

And you don’t have to stop with getting a good job. You can make that job even better. Just apply the strategies outlined in our post on 20 ways to boost your tips.

2. Make Commissions

A list of high-paying sales jobs includes several positions where you can make up to $1 million or more annually. Most of that income is from commissions.

Yes, you’ll need a college degree for many of those jobs, but not all of them.

There are many decent commission-based jobs that don’t require anything more than a high school diploma and a willingness to learn.

For example, one recent report puts the average car salesman’s salary at $42,150, which isn’t bad for a job that doesn’t require a degree.

And Brooks O’Hara, a car dealership executive, says he knows a salesman who makes $300,000 annually.

Naturally commissions tend to be better on expensive items, so try to sell high-end cars. Here are a few other sales positions that don’t typically require a college degree:

  • Real Estate Sales
  • Insurance Sales
  • Advertising Sales

A search of for open sales positions that promise an income $60,000 or more and do not require a degree turns up over 3,000 results at the moment.

3. Join the Military

How well you do in the military depends on how you use it. You could make a career of your service and arrive at a high-paying position years down the road.

Another approach is get trained in skills that will help you find a good civilian job when your contract period ends. A CNN story on high-paying jobs for veterans suggests that learning information technologies is the way to go.

To be sure you get the kind of training and experience that will help you with later employment, read up on how to negotiate with a military recruiter.

4. Do Dirty and Dangerous Jobs

You don’t even need a high school diploma to make up to $50,000 in three months crab fishing in Alaska. However, it’s also one of the jobs most likely to kill you.

Dangerous jobs often pay a higher wage. Dirty jobs do as well, especially if they’re unionized. For example, Seattle trash collectors can make over $100,000 annually.

Here are a few dirty and dangerous jobs that (sometimes) offer decent pay and do not require a college degree:

  • Oil Field Worker
  • Crime Scene Cleaner
  • Bricklayer
  • Welder
  • Chemical Plant Operator
  • Firefighter
  • Plumber

5. Get Promoted

If you’re a good worker and good at selling yourself, getting a promotion is a classic way to bump up your pay.

For example, when I was just 20 I was promoted to a management position after six weeks in a fast food kitchen.

In another six weeks I was offered twice as much to manage a new restaurant (I didn’t want to move, so I declined the offer).

It’s been reported that 40% of McDonald’s executives started as hourly employees. It’s also reported that most fast food workers get government assistance.

So these positions are not worth pursuing unless you feel confident you will work your way up.

If you have few options other than low-paying, no-degree jobs, at least analyze the opportunities for promotion at any given employer before applying.

Ask current employees if the company typically promotes from within, and whether a degree is required for higher positions.

6. Work Online

As a freelance writer I’ve sold hundreds of articles, generally making $20 or so per hour, and not one client has asked about my education. Online, clients want results, not degrees.

Finding consistent work is the biggest challenge. On the other hand, if you have a regular job you can boost your overall income by doing some work online.

For example, I used to work as a search engine evaluator for $13 per hour. Since I could do the work anytime of the day without leaving home, it was a great way to supplement other income sources without any scheduling conflicts.

Here are some online positions (employment or contract work) that you might consider as a primary or supplemental income:

7. Follow the Good Jobs

Some skills allow you to find higher pay by moving to where the better jobs are located.For example, right after Hurricane Harvey struck Texas there were reports of a lack of construction workers in the Houston area.

Higher wages are certain as companies scramble to find roofers, painters, and other workers to help rebuild thousands of homes and businesses.

Natural disasters are just one reason some areas have temporarily higher wages for certain jobs. Boomtowns offer another opportunity for higher pay.

For example, when North Dakota was at the height of its oil boom a few years ago, at least one small-town Walmart was starting employees at $17.50 per hour.

And CNN reported that in the towns around the Bakken oil formation waiters were making $25 per hour, while truck drivers took in $80,000 per year.

You can sometimes find information about the biggest boomtowns online, but be sure to check the date of publication and investigate further if it’s not recent. The good times may last just a few years.

8. Invest in Real Estate

You don’t need a degree to invest in real estate, and you don’t even need money. I’ve bought and sold a dozen properties myself, and also briefly worked as a real estate agent, so I can tell you two things from my experience:

  1. Yes, you can invest with little or no money.
  2. It’s never as easy or straight-forward as presented by get-rich-quick gurus.

My first deal was a piece of land I bought for $3,500 and sold for a $1,200 profit a few weeks later. That investment could have been funded by a credit card cash advance if I had had no savings.

I personally dislike real estate investing, but I keep going back to it because I hate jobs even more.

To learn how to invest in real estate, a mentor can help tremendously.

For example, I’ve worked for two different real estate investors. I cleaned, fixed, and painted, but I also constantly talked to them about the details of their deals.

9. Become a Paid Apprentice

The thing about being a paid apprentice is that you can do okay from day one, while you learn on the job. For example, participants in the Department of Labor’s Registered Apprenticeship Program average $15 per hour to start.

You’ll do even better once you complete your apprenticeship. You’ll receive a “nationally recognized credential from the Department of Labor,” and you can expect to make about $60,000 annually.

That’s not bad for a career that doesn’t require a college degree.

Apprenticeships typically range from one year to six years in length. Here are several industries where you can find these opportunities:

  • Healthcare
  • Construction
  • Information Technology

10. Live Well on Less

I used to live in a mobile home and work one day per week. Then there’s the rest of the story. I had paid off the mortgage and I had bedrooms rented out, so I lived for free.

I found ways to do without some things and ways to pay less for everything else.  That enabled me to live well on a poverty-level income. I even saved up enough to travel to other countries.

For example, I went to Ecuador for a month, spending only about $1,000 total (airfare, hotels, food, and everything else).

If you learn how to get everything you need or want for less money, you can do very well with a low-paying job or other small income.

11. Start a Business

If you have no college degree, perhaps the best path to wealth is to start a business. In fact, you don’t even need a high school diploma. Just look at these examples of high school dropouts profiled by Business Insider and Forbes:

  • Vidal Sassoon / Hair Products / Net Worth: $130 million
  • David Karp / Tumblr Founder / Net Worth: $200 million
  • David Murdock / Dole Foods / Net Worth: $2.5 billion
  • Richard Branson / Virgin Group of Companies / Net Worth: $4.6 billion
  • Kirk Kerkorian / Casinos / Net Worth: $3.3 billion

The list of super-successful college dropouts who made it big in business is even longer, and includes Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, and Mark Zuckerberg.

If you have your own example of doing well without a college degree, please share it below… and keep on frugaling!

Steve Gillman

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