The percentage of Americans with a college degree may be on the rise, but the vast majority of the population still lacks a postsecondary degree. Some may start college with every intention of finishing, but life gets in the way. Others simply choose to head directly into the workforce after walking the stage at high school graduation.
Although the unemployment rate for high school graduates is slightly higher than the unemployment rate for those with associates degrees or higher, college graduates are still struggling to find work after graduation. Noting this, some high school graduates may wonder if years of study and student loan debt are worth it. At the same time, they see billionaires and startup founders achieve great success without a college degree, giving the illusion that they can get some of the best jobs without a college career.
But it’s one thing to discuss whether you should go to college or not while you’re still in high school. It’s another to determine how to make a living without a college education on your resume. Here are a few ways to make money without a degree, whether you’re interested in fast careers or slowly building your own successful business.
Find What You Love
If you choose a college path, you’ll likely spend the early years trying to answer the question, “What should I go to school for?” If you opt to head directly into the workforce, you should still spend time planning your career trajectory. When you’ve identified where you eventually would like to be, you can position yourself to get there by obtaining years of experience.
The first step toward a long-term career decision is evaluating your interests. An outdoors enthusiast who chooses to work as a park ranger or hiking guide is more likely to wake up everyday invigorated by the work he or she has been assigned to do. Those who love their jobs are also more likely to be successful, according to psychologists, as well as being happier and healthier overall.
In addition to your personal interests, also consider your aptitude for certain types of occupations. What were your top subjects in school? There are fun online quizzes you can take to match your personality to the right job, but also look at your high school report cards to find where you got the best grades. If science is your strongest subject, for example, you can go through jobs for those with that skill and find one that doesn’t require a college degree.
Perhaps more important than choosing a job that fits your interests is feeling as though you’re contributing something to society. A 2014 study found that having a sense of meaning and purpose could extend a person’s lifespan. Participants in the study who had the greatest sense of well-being were 30 percent less likely to die in the more than eight years following the research. Even a job that pays less than you’d like could bring rewards in health and longevity, especially if you can directly see the impact your daily work has.
Start a Business
If you’re trying to decide how to get rich without college, one of the best bets is to start your own business. You may find some investors and potential clients research your background, but you’ll also find that many clients are willing to sign on based on your knowledge and talent. This is especially true if you have an in-demand artistic talent like graphic design or photography. When someone hires an artist, they usually put that person’s portfolio and work samples ahead of diplomas.
Blue-collar professionals are in great demand, whether it’s landscaping, construction work, alarm installation, or another type of skilled labor. If you don’t already have experience in one of these areas, study your local market and determine demand. Community social media pages are a great way to gauge interest in having certain services performed, as well as the volume of providers available to fulfill that demand. Once you’ve identified a service you’d like to provide, work in the field for a while to get experience, then take measures to start your own business.
When you’re ready to start a business, take plenty of time to plan your approach. Have a written mission plan, along with documenting your short-term and long-term goals. Once you’ve had at least one serious brainstorming session, you’re ready to develop your business plan, which should be in place before you hang the “now open” sign on your business.
In addition to information on how to write a business plan, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has helpful resources that can walk you through the process of starting a business. You can locate a mentor, find a local resource center, or get tips on obtaining financial assistance. Although a small business loan can help you get started, make sure you have that money pinpointed for specific expenses and that you’ll be able to pay off the debt once you’ve added a few customers.
With today’s technology, a person can start a business on a shoestring budget, using existing equipment and software. Still, there are small expenses every business will have, including registering with the county, pulling contracts, and sourcing any legal or financial advice they’ll need. Be aware of these steps before you make the decision.
If you’d like the benefits of running your own business without the many risks, freelancing may be a better option for you. As with opening a business, you’ll likely be able to get started using the tools you already have at your disposal. If you have an in-demand skillset, you may be able to immediately land work as a freelancer, especially if you have work experience in your field. If your area of expertise is artistic in nature, take some time to build a portfolio that you can then use to land your first clients.
Even if you don’t plan to earn a degree, there are things to go to college for that can help you build a freelance career. Just one or two courses can give you the experience and work samples necessary to start landing work. If you can achieve a certification in your chosen field, that may be even more valuable to potential clients than a diploma, since they’ll realize your education is recent and up to date.
Often when choosing a freelance specialty, the best jobs without a college career are a great start. As mentioned above, blue-collar professionals are highly in demand, especially when it comes to home repair and maintenance. With today's Internet-driven communities, you can easily advertise the work you do and land a few initial customers. Ask each one to provide a review on Yelp or Facebook for your business, and you'll likely find referrals bring even more customers your way.
However, if you’re searching for fast careers you can launch as a freelancer, the internet has opened up opportunities for work that weren’t previously available. Sites like TaskRabbit, Instacart, and Rover.com allow workers to get paid for odd jobs like assembling Ikea furniture, grocery shopping, and dog sitting. Through these sites, you can start bringing in money while also building a client base. Over time, you may find you’re able to get work on your own through referrals, saving the fee these sites take from your earnings on each job.
Even those who choose a college path can benefit more from freelancing versus working for someone else. By considering the question, “what should I go to school for,” you can decide whether school, a few classes, an associate’s degree, or a bachelor’s degree is the right option for your future freelancing career.
Have a Stake
If you prefer the security and benefits that come with a full-time position, you can still build a future while you’re working. It starts when you choose a job. There are certain careers that don’t require a college degree, but that have a solid future for business owners. One tactic entrepreneurs sometimes use is to find an existing, successful small business where an owner is retiring and make an offer. Consider this as you look for a job. A local business that has been around for decades with an owner who is likely to retire could be the perfect place to establish yourself. If you prove yourself, when the owner does retire, you’ll be first on the list to take over.
Another business that can have a strong future is in the beauty industry. You’ll need formal training and a license to be able to start working as a hair stylist or aesthetician, but you’ll usually be able to complete your training in a matter of months, rather than years. Although the average pay isn’t as high as other positions, you’ll be able to build a client base and, over time, you can open your own shop. As a salon owner, you can earn rent from the professionals who lease booth space in your shop, as well as the money you make from your own daily work.
If you choose the office path, you can still work toward building a future. Some businesses offer stock options, which can bring in considerable income if the business goes public or agrees to a buyout. Even if you can’t negotiate such a benefit, you can still secure your future by choosing a job that will give you the experience you need to start your own business eventually.
You can also secure a future by choosing an entry-level job that can lead to a solid path up the career ladder. A job as an assistant or clerk can give you a chance to prove yourself to big bosses. Work as hard as possible and keep a constant watch for any opportunities. If you're among the stack of applicants, you may be able to work your way into a position that traditionally requires a college degree, since you’ve already proven yourself.
Lastly, there are instances where some companies will consider someone without a degree, as long as they agree to work on getting that degree in their spare time once they’re hired. If you’re trying to figure out how to make money without college, but you're still open to pursuing a degree, don't rule out this option. Sign up for classes and initiate your job search, letting your employer know that you are currently in the process of obtaining your degree. There are many online options that will provide the degree you need without requiring you to visit a campus every day.
Choose a Well-Paying Job
When it comes to how to make a living without a degree, it’s important to note the jobs that pay best without a degree. Highly mechanical jobs like instrument technicians and precision grinders command impressive salaries. Although you might not need a degree for these jobs, however, your experience and skill will likely be scrutinized, so you should know as much as possible about the subject matter of each type of position before applying.
Truck drivers can also do well, pay-wise, especially if they own their own cabs. It isn’t required, but accredited truck driving schools can help improve your chances of finding a job in this field, and they may even help you find a job using their connections with companies in the industry. Before choosing this career, be aware of the lifestyle a truck driver leads and make sure you’re equipped to spend most of your week on the road.
Often while they’re still deciding the things to go to college for, high school students are working jobs where they see how much money non-degreed adults make. One such field is the restaurant serving industry. Thanks to tips, a good server can bring in an impressive salary, especially if they get enough experience to move on to a fine-dining restaurant. However, although the pay can be better than it would be in a job without tips, it tends to remain stagnant over time. An experienced server may find that a job in customer service or hospitality management is the perfect fit for their skills.
There are also some high-risk jobs that pay well, but you should also understand the dangers that come with those jobs. Electric line installers and repairers earn salaries comparable to some college degreed positions, but you’ll need training and on-the-job experience to ensure you stay safe. In smaller towns, you may be able to land a job as a police officer, but you might earn on the low-end of the average salary for the position unless you get a degree.
Salespeople can also earn impressive incomes, especially if they work on commission. While the business world will often request a bachelor’s degree for certain sales positions, there are sales jobs that don’t require a degree. Sales may be one of the best jobs without a college career you can find since commissions mean a talented salesperson can make more than a person with a master’s degree.
One occupation that has become popular in recent years is the job of a promotional model. Also known as spokesmodels and trade show models, these professionals are paid to draw attention to a business at events. Although no degree is required to work as a promotional model, they are generally chosen for their physical appearance and personality, rather than their background. Sales or customer service experience can also help you land a job as a promotional model. The national average for promotional models is impressive, but models in locations like Las Vegas and New York City can make significantly more.
Depending on your talent, there are other things you can do to achieve significant wealth without a degree. Singers, actors, authors, and dancers require no college degree to land work, but for every celebrity, there are thousands struggling to make enough to pay the bills. If you have what it takes to make it in one of these areas, you may need to move to a city where the entertainment industry is consistently looking to fill this type of position. You may also need to supplement any work you can get in your chosen profession with one of the higher-paying jobs mentioned above until you can get enough work to pay rent and basic living expenses.
It isn’t all-or-nothing when deciding how to make a living. You may not want to commit to a four-year degree, but you can attend specialized programs, like the cosmetology option mentioned above for hair stylists. Some of these programs can be completed in a much shorter timeframe than even an associate’s degree, making it the perfect option if fast careers are your priority. As an added benefit, these programs will come at a lesser expense, which will keep you from having the huge student loan debt you’d have with a four-year option.
If you’re open to a career with a training school requirement, you should first determine what you should go to school for, then find a local program that supports your goals. Make sure any program you choose meets industry standards to avoid putting time in, only to find nobody in the industry accepts graduates from those programs.
If you’re open to an associate’s degree, even more options are available. There are many high-paying occupations for associate’s degrees, including dental hygiene, nursing, respiratory therapy, and computer programming. Since many associate’s degrees can be achieved in two to three years, you’ll be in in the workforce before you know it. In some states, you may even qualify to go to community college for free, making it a waste to try to find the best jobs without a college career.
If you’re interested in how to get rich without college, these options may work for you. It’s important to identify your own interests and plot a career path before getting started. With careful planning, you’ll begin getting the experience and skills necessary to build a long-lasting, fruitful career.