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How Much Money Can You Make Without a College Education?

By  Karen Banes

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We often tend to think that a lack of college education will consign us to working low-paid service jobs for the rest of our lives, but that really doesn’t have to be the case. There are plenty of well-paid jobs that are well compensated because they require skills rather than formal education, and a lot of those skills can be learned, in various ways, outside of a college classroom.

So How Much Can You Earn Without a College Degree?

The short answer is billions of dollars. Billionaires like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg all dropped out of college before getting their degrees. British billionaire Richard Branson never even started. It’s certainly possible to get rich with an amazing idea, the right investment backing and relatively little formal education. But basing important life decisions on extreme outliers is never a good idea.

Average earning statistics tell a different story. Those without a college education definitely tend to earn less. APLU estimates young earners between 22 and 27 earn almost 50% more if they hold a Bachelor’s degree.

However, not everyone with less education earns less. In fact it’s also been estimated that 16% of those who only hold a high school diploma earn more than many workers with a college degree. So what are those workers doing right? As already mentioned, they’re often relying on high-skilled jobs that don’t require a lot of academic education.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, analysed by CNBC, the top ten highest-paying jobs that you can potentially get without a college degree all pay $79,000 or more. They include:

  • Media and communication equipment workers
  • Elevator installers and repairers
  • Detectives and criminal investigators
  • Commercial pilots
  • Nuclear power reactor operators
  • Transportation, storage and distribution managers

Surprised by some of the jobs on the list? I was. But yes. These jobs are all available without a college degree. And yes, they pay over $79,000.

It’s important to note that most of these jobs require a lot of on-the-job training to move from an entry-level position to a well-paid one, but that generally means you’re paid as you learn, making these career paths much more accessible than a college degree for many people.

The training for some of these jobs also costs money. Getting a commercial pilot’s licence will take an absolute minimum of $30,000 (and can easily be double that or more depending on the flight school you attend). But that’s still cheaper than a 4 -year college degree.

If none of these jobs appeal, and a 4-year degree doesn’t either, it’s still possible to make good money with a 2-year Associate degree. I touched on that in this article, where I pointed out that certain 2-year degrees such as Physician Assistant Studies, Software Engineering, and Advertising and Marketing Communications can lead to reasonably well-paid entry level jobs, and potentially a six-figure salary when combined with experience.

Lastly, of course, there are a lot of freelance jobs that can bring in a great salary, and ‘just’ require stellar skills. Freelance writer Carol Tice has regularly written about how she makes six figures as a freelance writer even though she doesn’t have a college degree. Once she learned excellent copywriting skills, no-one once asked her about her formal education. I can confirm that I’ve found the same. I rarely get to mention my formal education to potential clients. They only care that I can write excellent copy and meet tight deadlines.

The same is true if you’re a graphic designer, photographer, or other freelancer. Clients care about results, not education. If you give them the results they want, they don’t care whether you learned your skills in a college classroom, via a reasonably priced online course, or through trial and error.

A college education is probably still worth it for a lot of people, but not everyone. Consider all the alternatives before you sink thousands of dollars and years of your life into your formal education.

Karen Banes

About the Author

Karen Banes

I’m a freelance writer specializing in online business, personal finance, travel and lifestyle. I also work as a content creator for hire, helping brands and businesses tell their stories, grow their audiences, and reach their ideal customers. I’ve lived, worked and studied in six countries, across three continents. Stop by my blog TheSavvySolopreneur.net to learn how to run your own (very) small business on your own terms. You can also connect with me at my website KarenBanes.com or follow me on Medium.com

Disclaimer: In order to make Wealthtender free for our readers, we earn money from advertisers including financial professionals who pay to be featured on our platform. This creates a natural conflict of interest when we favor promotion of our clients over other professionals not featured on Wealthtender. Learn how we operate with integrity to earn your trust.

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