There are plenty of people who believe that college degrees are essential, but they're not right. Some careers require no skill whatsoever -- you just need some work experience. Others don't even demand an advanced degree or certification.
The following 10 occupations offer the best combination of high salary and low-level education requirements. They'll also help answer one big question: What do you want to be when you grow up?
1. Retail salesperson
Average annual income: $26,000 (based on more than 1 million employees)
If you've ever shopped at Target, Walmart, Old Navy, Best Buy, CVS, Home Depot, Bed Bath & Beyond... then congratulations! You probably have retail in your blood. This career requires little training beyond basic customer service skills, which makes it easy enough to get started. The only downside is that there's always someone younger and better looking waiting behind you, so keep your eyes peeled for those coupons.
2. Food/beverage server
Average annual income: $27,200
You'd think servers would earn less than cashiers, especially since many restaurants look down upon tipping. But if you live near an airport, university campus, shopping center, movie theater, sports arena, concert venue, etc., odds are that there will be a restaurant nearby where you could find yourself serving food and drinks 24 hours per day seven days per week. Plus, as long as your table manners are decent and you know how to pour water into wine glasses, you may never see any customers' backsides again. Bonus points: If you're good at reading orders or figuring out what patrons might like, you can eventually become a manager.
3. Custodian supervisor
Average annual income: $34,280
This occupation offers lots of potential upside. It doesn't matter whether you're cleaning offices or schools -- being a custodian means doing whatever needs done, whenever needed. In other words, you can set your own schedule. And while it sounds boring, it can actually be quite exciting because of all the different ways you can clean. With overtime opportunities, you can easily make over $40K annually. However, working for a large company instead of going freelance gives you access to benefits like retirement plans, paid time off, health insurance, life insurance, dental care, and tuition reimbursement programs.
4. Mail clerk
Average annual income: $35,040
Like postal workers, mail clerks deliver packages around the country. That said, their duties vary from sorting letters, envelopes, flats, parcels, newspapers, magazines, and catalogs to delivering them to local residents. Since these positions aren't physically demanding, applicants often must pass medical examinations before getting hired. One caveat: Many states consider this type of employment "casual" labor and thus exempt from minimum wage laws. So, if you plan to move away from home soon, you should research your state's worker classification rules first.
5. Medical assistant
Average annual income: $36,910
Medical assistants perform administrative tasks such as setting appointments, taking notes during visits, scheduling surgeries, updating patient files, helping doctors draft prescriptions, running errands, and filing paperwork. While the average entry level position pays about $25K after two years, experienced assistants can pull in upwards of $50K within three years. Those interested in becoming medical assistants should take classes in biology, anatomy, physiology, chemistry, nursing, business administration, office management, computer applications, as well as CPR and First Aid certifications.
6. Childcare provider
Average annual income: $37,780
Most parents understand that quality childcare services can drastically improve both children's physical and mental development. Unfortunately though, finding affordable child care options can be challenging. Luckily, several online platforms exist that connect families seeking nannies and babysitters to providers willing to accept extra assignments. For example, BABYHELPER connects caregivers with parents needing assistance caring for kids between 6 months and 12 years old. On FIND A NANNY!, you can search by location, age range, availability, and qualifications for reliable sitters. To increase chances of landing gigs, apply through either platform using your current resume.
7. Office administrator
Average annual income: $38,590
Forget selling coffee beans or keeping track of late fees -- being an office administrator involves monitoring everything from payroll processing to copier use. Applicants typically must have strong organizational skills and possess familiarity with Microsoft Word and Excel spreadsheets. Two things to note: 1.) Job advancement depends largely on performance evaluations conducted by superiors, and 2.) As opposed to the previous nine entries, this category doesn't include self-employment.
8. Data entry operator
Average annual income: $39,850
While data entry operators usually enter information manually via keyboard, others employ optical character recognition technology to digitize documents. Regardless of approach, candidates must be proficient typists who can handle monotonous tasks. Typically, employers prefer applicants with high school diplomas or GEDs. After applying standard procedures, data entry operators often receive 40 cents to 60 cents per hour depending on experience levels.
9. Personal financial advisor
Average annual income: $44,870
As the name suggests, personal financial advisors advise clients on managing their finances. Depending on specific roles, PFA responsibilities may involve providing investment recommendations, recommending IRA accounts, determining eligibility for certain tax deductions, handling 401(k), checking credit scores, identifying debt collectors, drafting wills and trusts, calculating taxes, creating budgets, reviewing portfolio statements, and overseeing IRAs. All told, PFAs can rake in roughly $45K to $60K per annum. Yet unlike other top non-degree jobs listed here, PFIs have to complete additional coursework and exams in order to obtain licensing.
10. Customer service representative
Average annual income: $47,490
In addition to performing routine clerical duties, CSRs provide support for businesses. Specifically, they assist end users with navigating products, services, and systems, troubleshooting problems, and maintaining confidentiality. Most companies hire representatives based on past experience dealing with consumers, rather than formal educational background. Once employed however, workers can advance within the ranks to higher-paying positions like call center managers or supervisors.
Average annual income: $49,950
It seems odd today, but telemarketing has been used extensively throughout history. People were calling each other back in ancient Greece, farmers phoned grain suppliers in medieval England, and American shoppers called clothing manufacturers for sizes in the 1940s. Today, we still rely heavily on phone calls to purchase goods and services. The key difference now is that these communications occur across vast distances. Consequently, telemarketers must master verbal communication and technical proficiency. Candidates must have excellent listening abilities, problem-solving skills, and typing speed.
12. Call center agent
Average annual income: $52,430
Call centers allow organizations to efficiently manage incoming inquiries. By placing agents inside virtual cubicles, callers can choose to leave messages, request quotes, book appointments, report issues, place orders, and inquire about particular brands or services. These professionals communicate verbally with callers and transfer pertinent information onto digital screens. Because of this dynamic interaction, call center agents must exhibit superior interpersonal skills and multitasking capabilities. An added bonus: According to PayScale, the median hourly rate for a call center agent is nearly double that of a customer service rep ($20 vs. $10).
13. Delivery driver
Average Annual Income: $53,840
Delivery drivers transport groceries, prescription medication, dry cleaning, flowers, and much more throughout cities nationwide every day. Although truck driving licenses vary from state to state, applicants generally must acquire commercial vehicle endorsements such as CDL or ECDL. Drivers receive compensation based on distance traveled, weight limits, fuel costs, and delivery rates. Like other entry-level positions mentioned above, this field does not require a bachelor's degree. Instead, prospective hires should focus on obtaining relevant hands-on experience and passing pre-trip safety inspections.
14. Administrative assistant
Average annual income: $56,670
An administrative assistant handles various tasks associated with organization operations including accounting, budget planning, human resource management, travel coordination, event planning, project management, and recordkeeping. Similar to secretaries, administrative assistants often excel at word processing software like MS Word and Outlook, database creation and maintenance, researching keywords, organizing schedules, and coordinating meetings. At least once a month, expect to spend eight hours a day making phone calls, sending emails, preparing reports, attending conferences, and interviewing new hires. To qualify for this post, you'll likely need a bachelor's degree in business administration or related field along with five or more years of professional experience under your belt.
Average annual income: $63,770
Managers oversee teams consisting of dozens or hundreds of individuals. Typical responsibilities include delegating responsibilities, motivating subordinates, establishing goals, resolving conflicts, hiring staff, conducting performance reviews, developing employee growth strategies, and evaluating team productivity. To advance within this industry, managers need extensive knowledge regarding finance, marketing, personnel management, risk analysis, leadership, goal achievement, strategic thinking, and teamwork. To land this role, you should have earned at least a bachelors degree plus four or more years of managerial experience.
If you're looking at making some serious cash, it's probably time that you consider skipping college and getting an entry-level position instead. In fact, many experts are calling on people not go back to school in order to have better careers.
"The world is changing so rapidly," says Steve O'Brien, CEO of College Info Geek. "People who do graduate from college will find themselves behind their peers." He suggests taking advantage of online degrees or part-time courses to stay ahead of the pack. The flip side of this argument, however, is how much income these same graduates could be missing out on if they don't take a more traditional route into higher education.
In other words, there may be big rewards waiting for those willing to put in years of hard work — even after graduation day has come and gone (and all the parties). So what types of positions offer the best return on investment when compared to a four-year degree? We've compiled a list of some of the top earners across various industries who didn't attend college but still managed to hit six figures well before 30. Here are just a few examples of high-paying jobs without a degree.
1) Software developer - $79k/yr
According to Glassdoor data, software developers earn about $71K per year on average, which means earning potential is pretty huge once you figure everything else into the equation. But beyond base salary, working as a software engineer also offers excellent benefits like 401(k), health insurance, life insurance, retirement plans, vacation days, etc. One thing worth noting: While salaries tend to increase over time, bonuses and stock options are often non-monetary compensation packages offered by employers. That being said, it's possible to land one of these gigs right out of college thanks to strong programming skills and knowledge gained through internships.
2) Financial planner - up to $100-$150K
Financial advisors provide advice for clients regarding investments, saving money, etc., and need extensive training to get licensed. And while financial planners aren't typically thought of as having lucrative incomes, those who manage client portfolios can bring home upwards of $100K per year. According to PayScale, starting salaries range from around $43K to $76K annually depending on experience level. You'll likely become certified by FINRA or CFP® after passing either the Uniform Securities Act Exam or Series 7 exam. If you want to specialize in wealth management specifically, look into becoming a Certified Financial Planner professional.
3) Medical billing technician - $61K-$80K
Medical billers handle claims submitted by doctors and hospitals for reimbursement purposes, which gives them direct access to patient records and medical procedures. As such, they must know how to read EOBs (explanation of benefit forms) and maintain accurate documentation. This type of career requires a bachelor's degree in related field plus certification as a Professional Biller. Salary estimates vary based on where you live, but national averages appear between $50K-$75K annually.
4) Mechanical engineering assistant - $65K
Mechanical engineers design products used daily by millions worldwide. They usually require master’s degrees in relevant fields and two to three years of undergraduate study. A mechanical engineering assistant works under a senior engineer and helps run projects, test prototypes, plan new designs, analyze results, and report findings. These roles start at $60K annually according to Indeed. Salaries can climb quickly because companies hire assistants for short periods, so keep searching until you find yours!
5) Receptionist - $49K
Receptionists answer phones, transfer calls, screen visitors, greet customers, and perform similar duties. Most rely heavily on customer service skills to help grow business relationships. Depending upon location, receptionists generally earn somewhere between $40K and $55K annually. Those interested should focus on customer relations, telephone etiquette, typing proficiency, and basic computer literacy. Some states allow employees to register as self-employed contractors rather than full-time workers, which allows them to set their own hours and receive lower taxes.
6) Personal finance manager - $72K
Personal finance managers assist individuals and families managing their finances, including debt repayment, budgeting, credit monitoring, tax preparation, investing, banking, insurance, retirement planning, estate planning, and other areas. It takes several years of academic coursework to qualify as a personal finance specialist. Once hired, these professionals typically manage teams of accountants, analysts, support staff, and others. Average annual earnings fall within the $70K to $120K range.
7) Social media marketing consultant - $62K-$95K
Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Google+, Reddit, YouTube, Vine, Digg, StumbleUpon, Vimeo, Yahoo!, Quora, Yelp, Flickr, Tumblr, SoundCloud, TikTok, and more attract billions of users each month. Marketing consultants create strategies and tactics to build brands using social platforms. Although it sounds simple enough, many argue that mastering this skill takes considerable expertise and talent. Since content creation, advertising copywriting, search engine optimization, analytics reporting, website development, video production, photo editing, and graphic design are involved, marketing consultants can expect to pull down anywhere between $53K and $98K.
8) Paralegal - $48K-$66K
Paralegals file documents, organize paperwork, prepare legal pleadings, research court cases, draft contracts, serve defendants and witnesses, present evidence at hearings, conduct discovery, and take depositions. Typical entry-level paralegals complete 1-2 years of postsecondary studies, although experienced ones might advance faster. Starting salaries are roughly $45K to $63K per year, though wages can reach $90K+ over time.
9) Human resource generalist - $41K-$77K
Human resource specialists ensure compliance with employment laws and regulations, recruit qualified candidates, develop employee policies, investigate complaints and disputes, and represent company interests in negotiations with unions and government agencies. HR pros typically hold associate's degrees or bachelor's degrees in relevant disciplines, along with state licensing requirements. Compensation varies widely based on region, industry, employer size, and job responsibilities. For example, someone employed by a small firm specializing in IT services would earn less than someone doing the exact same role in a large corporation. On average, human resources managers make about $47K per year.
10) Project coordinator - $42K
Project coordinators oversee construction projects to meet deadlines and budgets. They need good communication skills, problem solving abilities, project management skills, organizational skills, leadership qualities, and technical knowledge. Usually required to have prior construction experience, many project coordination jobs involve overseeing subcontractors. Projects can last anywhere from weeks to months. Start-up costs associated with hiring a project coordinator include initial site survey, preparing contract document, estimating labor cost, supervising contractor, reviewing progress reports, coordinating meetings, and final punch list review.
11) Customer service representative - $39K
Customer representatives interact directly with consumers via phone or email to resolve any issues surrounding product purchases, warranty requests, returns, questions, and concerns. Because of the wide variety of responses received on a daily basis, reps need exceptional communication skills and patience. Many companies now employ millennials as customer service agents due to its ease of recruitment. Job titles differ slightly among businesses, but in general, representatives earn approximately $35K each year.
12) Tax accountant - $52K
Tax accountants audit tax filings, process payroll audits, advise taxpayers on filing status and deductions, and verify information provided by IRS Form 1099. Typically a minimum 2-year accounting program is needed to obtain certification and practice independently. Earning potential depends largely on individual firms and experience levels. Entry-level people can begin in public accounting, federal taxation, corporate finance, international accounting, forensic accounting, consulting, auditing, tax litigation, commercial lending, private equity, valuation, acquisition & appraisal, or capital markets. Bigger firms are expected to pay significantly more.
13) Event organizer - $37K-$56K
Event organizers coordinate events ranging from weddings to conventions. They need strong written and oral communications skills, organization ability, attention to detail, and the flexibility to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously. To apply, applicants must have previous event organizing experiences and completed prerequisites for formal certification programs. Total compensation includes hourly wage, overtime payments, bonus opportunities, commission structure, travel expenses, meal allowances, lodging, transportation, child care arrangements, promotional materials, and attendance fees.
14) Delivery driver - $26K-$34K
Delivery drivers deliver goods ordered online to homes and offices throughout the country. They use their own vehicles and carry supplies necessary to fulfill orders. Earnings depend on distance driven, number of stops made, speed capabilities, fuel efficiency, vehicle condition, and whether driving during peak times. Drivers can choose to drive only certain routes, or opt to work for multiple delivery services. Work schedules can be flexible too, especially since they can work whenever it suits them. However, long commutes can lead to fatigue and accidents.
15) Office clerk - $19K
If you're looking to earn more than $50,000 per year but don't have a four-year college degree, it's not necessarily impossible. In fact, there are tons of ways that you can get paid well while making an impact in your community and working toward something greater—without going through years of schooling first.
The good news is that if you are willing to work hard, these options aren't just possible — they're actually quite probable! Whether you want to be a professional athlete or simply find a way to support yourself financially, here are some job opportunities which bring in six digits on their own.
According to PayScale.com, people who do data entry typically make around $60K per year, whereas those who hold management positions pull in around $90K annually. The average salary range for both groups is between $23K-$77K. If you've got skills like being able to type fast (or even better, touch typists), then this might be one option worth exploring.
Another great idea is freelancing online. You'll need to set up shop as either a website designer, programmer, virtual assistant, etc., so that clients can hire you directly instead of having to go through another company/employee. For example, Fiverr allows users to post gigs for services such as graphic design, translation, proofreading, writing, editing, and other miscellaneous tasks. Clients only need to send payment once the gig has been completed, at which point you receive your cut. This process will take time to build momentum, but eventually, you could end up bringing home upwards of $100K per year by doing simple freelance work from home via apps like Upwork.
Although we know that it takes time to break into any field, if you keep your nose clean along the way, you could potentially achieve what seems impossible. One thing to remember when getting started is to always ask questions within every interview process. It may seem rude, but it pays off later when trying to negotiate higher wages. Also, try reaching out to companies that you admire and see how they managed to start. Most successful entrepreneurs were rejected multiple times before finally finding success. So, learn from them and take advantage of networking events like conferences where experts in different fields come together to mingle. That said, don't be afraid to network with anyone regardless of whether or not you think they'd be interested in hiring you. Chances are someone else knows somebody who needs your help.
Also, use technology to your advantage. Start using social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, Tumblr, Reddit, Snapchat, Pinterest, Google+, etc., to gain followers and grow your personal brand. Once again, leverage all available resources such as free courses, books, seminars, workshops, blog posts, podcasts, etc., to aid in establishing your credibility. Ultimately, the best resource is word of mouth recommendation. Think about how you would describe your experience and personality, and aim to become known for positive things rather than negative ones.
One last tip is to avoid falling victim to "busy work" scams. These involve low-paying projects which promise big bucks but never deliver due to poor quality, delayed delivery, etc. When interviewing potential employers, check references thoroughly and look into previous client reviews. Don't fall for offers that seem too easy...you must put in effort for anything worthwhile.
Just remember that no matter what industry you choose, building relationships helps pave the road to success.
In 2015, Forbes magazine reported that lawyers made over $150K per year. However, many law students spend thousands upon thousands of dollars studying towards becoming licensed attorneys without ever seeing much income beyond student loans. Another lucrative career choice was found in medical professions, specifically physicians' assistants and nurse practitioners. According to US News & World Report, the median annual wage for PA professionals was approximately $61K back in 2014, whereas NP salaries came in slightly lower at roughly $55K. Both occupations require similar training though, usually 2-4 years of education prior to earning licensure.
Other high earners include real estate agents ($80K) and salespeople ($75K). Again, each occupation requires specific licensing requirements. As mentioned earlier, it's important to research local laws and regulations regarding licenses required to practice in certain states.
This question is answered differently depending on your background. For instance, if you went straight into business school after graduating college, then you probably won't land a job that makes anywhere near $150K unless you decide to invest in a few businesses yourself. On the flip side, if you spent several years preparing for graduate school, then you should definitely pursue a master's program. A Ph.D. also comes highly recommended since it indicates dedication and passion. With that being said, if you decided to go that route, consider starting a small consulting firm or service based around your niche. Or maybe create software or teach classes related to your subject.
As far as non-degree paths, these tend to carry less risk compared to traditional investing strategies. But don't count out entrepreneurship because it does offer plenty of opportunity for financial freedom. Here are three unique ideas:
Become an influencer: While it sounds counterintuitive, gaining popularity among millennials can really boost your earnings power. To illustrate, Kim Kardashian earned hundreds of thousand of dollars from sponsored products alone thanks to her numerous partnerships with cosmetics and clothing brands. Similarly, fitness enthusiasts often endorse new workout gear and supplements in exchange for free merchandise or cash prizes. Just follow suit by creating something valuable such as informational content and curate it across various social networks. Eventually, people will naturally seek advice from you.
Create a membership site: If blogging isn't your style, why not turn your expertise into digital information product called course? Since learning doesn't happen overnight, you'll likely need to devote significant amount of time upfront to ensure its success. Luckily, creating eBooks and videos are relatively easier processes. Afterward, you can sell access to premium memberships for monthly fee.
Start teaching others: Teaching is arguably one of the oldest forms of passive income. Many successful investors today became millionaires by sharing knowledge in the form of speeches, webinars, and books. Consider launching a membership platform where people can purchase a subscription to lessons taught by you. For example, my friend Justin goes around the country speaking about his experiences growing his own business, which brings him closer to achieving his goals. He charges just $500 per event, yet collects enough donations to cover expenses month after month.
While there are certainly risks involved, the above examples show that it's entirely plausible to reach your desired destination without needing a bachelor's degree or formal certification. Remember, it's always wise to educate oneself first, especially when pursuing higher level careers. And yes, there are plenty of people who did succeed despite not holding degrees. They didn't give up, however, until they achieved tangible results. Be persistent and disciplined.
Alexis Neely is an entrepreneur, author, speaker, and founder of Millionaire Mentors Academy. She believes that true wealth starts with mindset mastery and leads to sustainable action steps. Follow Alexis on Twitter @alexsneely.
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