No College Degree? No Problem: 7 Ways to Earn a Decent Income

Jobs that don’t require a college degree
skynesher/Getty Images

Okay, so you didn’t finish college — or maybe you discovered that your degree in Mongolian literature just isn’t that marketable. What can you do?

It is possible to make a decent living without a college degree. Here are seven options that don’t require a single college class.

Collect Tips

Some waiters in top restaurants in New York make over $100,000 annually, suggests an article in the Wall Street Journal. The key is to get experience where you can, then find work in busy, expensive restaurants. With an average tip of 19% of the bill in the U.S., you can do well serving a couple dozen $100 meals every shift.

Bartending is another job with big tip potential. Bartender Mike Kopczynski says he’s made as much as $700 in tips in one day working at a Margaritaville restaurant in Glendale, Arizona. Here are some other tipped positions you might consider:

  • Waiter
  • Taxi driver
  • Pizza delivery
  • Room service waiter
  • Golf caddy
  • Beautician
  • Casino dealer
  • Masseuse/Masseur
  • Ski instructor

Make Commissions

Brooks O’Hara, an executive for a company that operates 142 car dealerships, says they have a salesman who makes $300,000 per year selling cars (hint: sell expensive models).

Working only on commission (common in car sales) is tough, but if you think you have what it takes, here are a few more commission-based jobs that allow you to get paid for performance:

  • Insurance sales agent
  • Airplane sales agent
  • Real estate agent
  • Advertising sales agent
  • Direct-sales representative

Do Dirty Jobs

Some jobs are so dirty or dangerous that employers have to pay more to attract employees. That’s why you can make $15,000 per month crab fishing in Alaska.

With dirty jobs, it also helps to have a union. That’s how Seattle trash collectors made over $100,000 per year in 2010. Here are some other dirty and dangerous jobs that can pay decently and do not require a college degree:

  • Welder
  • Oil field worker
  • Bricklayer
  • Chemical plant operator
  • Firefighter
  • Plumber

Work in Boom Towns

Boom towns come and go, but while the gold or oil (or whatever causes the growth) lasts, the jobs usually pay well. The Bakken oil formation is responsible for boom towns in North Dakota, where, in 2014, Walmart paid $17.50 per hour to starting employees. In 2011, you could make $25 per hour as a waiter in the area, and $80,000 annually for driving a truck, according to CNN.

Keen to move to North Dakota? Check out the booming towns of Williston, Watford City, Dickinson and Belfield.

Boom towns are best for single young people who are willing to live in “alternative housing.” While a 2014 report put the average wage in the Williston area at over $77,000, rent for new housing may have been the highest in the country at that time. Many new residents slept in their cars.

Work Online

Online jobs don’t always pay a lot, but when working at home you have no commuting time or expenses. For example, you can make up to $12 per hour as a search engine evaluator without even getting out of your pajamas.

Here are three more online positions you might consider:

Try High-Mobility Jobs

More than 50% of front-line fast food workers get some sort of government assistance, according to some reports. These are not great jobs — unless you use them for the purpose of getting better positions. For example, when I was young, I worked in fast food for six weeks before my first promotion. Within three months I was offered a management position. I didn’t even have a high school diploma at the time.

In an interview, McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson pointed out that 40% of the company’s executives started out as hourly employees, and over 50% of franchise owners started as hourly help. Here are some other jobs that do not require a degree and might offer upward mobility:

  • Cashiers in large retail chain stores
  • Sales positions
  • Military careers

Start a Business

Perhaps the best way to get past the problem of not having formal credentials is to forget about getting a job and start a business. Being smart helps, but a college degree is not required.

You don’t even need a high school diploma. Consider these successful high school dropouts that have been profiled on Forbes and Business Insider:

  • Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin group of companies; net worth: $4.6 billion
  • David Karp, founder of Tumblr; net worth: $200 million
  • Kirk Kerkorian, casino owner; net worth: $3.3 billion
  • Vidal Sassoon, hair product entrepreneur; net worth: $130 million
  • David Murdock, Dole foods; net worth $2.5 billion

Add successful college dropouts, and the list gets much longer (and includes Bill Gates).