The idea that someone has to get a traditional college degree in order to land a well-paying job is no longer the case. If anything, there has been a decline in high school graduates wanting to attend college.
1. "I am a general manager of a local ice cream shop in Colorado. The shop I manage also does a lot of the production for the other shops in the company. I completed some college but dropped out after my third year. It wasn’t the right path for me mostly because my mental health was really struggling while I was in school. I’ve managed restaurants in the past after working myself up the ladder, and landed a general manager position now that pays $110k plus bonuses (about $10-$15k). I can honestly say it’s the happiest I’ve ever been. I get to bring joy to people five days a week."
2. "It’s not me. It’s actually my dad and brother. A blue-collar career route they took was working at a [laundry detergent] plant. We have a big one in our hometown."
"My brother just started last year at an entry-level position and is making $45k/year. My dad worked his way up the ladder and was making close to $100k when I was in high school."
3. "Test Engineer or QA Engineer. Some companies 'require' a STEM degree, but many do not. I personally do not have a degree; in fact, I have a GED. I make $120k and have no formal certificates or anything. Just hard work and willingness to learn!"
4. "Surgical technician. You’re the person who gets the operating room ready with all the equipment and instruments before surgery. You can earn in the high five, sometimes six figures."
5. "I did go to school for epidemiology, but I had started bartending in college. Then, I got into really chef-adjacent beverage work — "mixologist" is another word for that. I eventually got into bar management and kept propelling myself upward until I was a food and beverage director at a boutique hotel on a lovely southern island making about $110k a year. However, the hospitality industry is grueling, competitive, and intense. One day, I realized my well had run dry. A year and a half ago, I left the island and moved back home and took a job as a managing director of two offices for an interior design firm, and I make about $80k a year."
6. "I'm an operations director for a nonprofit with programming nationwide. I make $85k plus bonuses and generous perks. I never finished college. Everything I need to know to complete the work was learned on the job (this one, or similar positions previously) or through my own solo research. It's not six figures, but I know that I make more solo than some two-income households."
7. "I’m a bartender on the gulf coast. We have a huge tourist rush from around mid-May to September. I make 90% of my money during this time — around $70-$90k a year all within a few months’ time. You have to be careful to save, though! The winter months are brutal, especially working on the beach at an outside hotspot. I have a couple of bachelor’s degrees and had a professional job before I started bartending, but the service industry is money here."
8. "Garbage collection. My cousin makes $40 an hour doing that and gets one Friday off a month paid extra on top of vacation. He finished 11th grade and then got his GED later in life."
9. "I'm a sleep technologist. I went to community college for two years and took a certification test. I get paid up to $50 per hour, and work three times a week, mainly night shifts."
10. "911 dispatcher here. Almost all 911 dispatch positions are entry-level and require only a high school diploma or GED. I live in Illinois and earned around 70k last year, but I'm at a lower paying center in my area. I know some dispatchers who make upwards of $40-45/hour. It's extremely stressful and requires weird hours, weekends, and holidays, but your schedule can be quite flexible. I work 12-hour shifts and get every other weekend (Fri-Sun) off.
11. "I'm a loan officer. You will need a license, but the average loan officer makes $150k a year, and there isn’t a cap on what you can make."
12. "I'm a correctional officer at a federal prison. A college degree would help you in the long run, especially if you want to work your way up the ladder, but you really don't need one at all to make good money. I have an associate's degree in criminal justice which helps. You can start off making around $48k a year. Every year you work there, you get a pretty generous raise. I'm now up to $60k only after three years. I also do quite a bit of easy overtime which bumps me up to around $75,000. Plus, it has awesome benefits."
13. "Government employee. 20+ years, now making $150k, full benefits from day one, and on track to retire early at around 50. Started in an entry-level position and was willing to move to other states to follow opportunities to move up. I’ve worked really hard for a long time, and some of my bosses were not good, but employee protections are good, and no one really messes with you if you know policies and do your job well."
"Some moves were not great, but I learned how important quality of life was. Lived below what I actually earned all this time, but I have a great life and pretty much buy what I want. So, no degree, no specialized training that they didn’t give me and also pay for, and in about four to five years, I walk away with no regrets."
14. "You can get hired for IT help desk jobs without a college degree. You'll start at $50k or $60k plus benefits and have a runway to grow into a $150k+ job if you develop the skills."
15. "I’m a truck driver in Missouri and went to trucking school for cheap compared to college. I make $30 an hour and always have overtime. I made $103,000 last year."
16. "I work in manufacturing. I work in an envelope plant (yes we still make millions of them a year, believe it or not). It is physically demanding, but the pay and benefits are decent with no degree or experience required. I own a condo and lease my cars with only my income — it’s just me and two fur babies."
17. "I'm a mailman! The starting pay isn’t great, but I'm guaranteed to get raises every 46 weeks until I reach top pay. Right now, the top pay is $37 per hour. And that goes up with the cost of living increases and general wage increases. Plus, with the availability of overtime, people can make over $100k if they want to put paper in a box. Also, there are benefits and a pension!"
18. "I'm an insurance authorization specialist making $22/hour. I work from home for a nationwide home health group. I submit and follow up on requests for patients to get their home health visits. I do not have a degree, but in 2015, I took a local free CNA (nurse assistant) course that took eight weeks to complete. I started out working as a CNA, then as a home health aide. From there, I became a home health scheduler. I then ran a physical therapy front office for a few years. I got laid off during COVID and then went into insurance verification, checking patients' benefits. It's a great field to get into with tons of employment opportunities."
19. "I’m an IT technician. Most positions only require a high school diploma. To get a job, it’s best to get some sort of certification first, but they usually cost less than $500, which is a whole lot cheaper than college, and can be completed in about three months. You’ll then probably start earning around $25 an hour, but as you gain experience and if you keep learning, after a few years, you’ll be able to get a position making a whole lot more."
20. "I started an elementary education degree but ended up not finishing it as the state of school safety has gotten worse and worse. Instead, I continued taking customer service jobs through a temp agency where I’d been working to put myself through school. Eventually, I got hired as a temp into a pretty large medical device company that had great starting pay, thanks to all my CS experience (with no previous med device experience, even). I got hired permanently and ended up really having an affinity for the work, making my way steadily up through the ranks. I’ve been there about 10 years now and am a senior customer service supervisor, making about $100k a year, all without finishing my degree."
21. "I work in food service management. I currently make $70k per year and am on track for a promotion to $86k per year. I don’t have a college degree, but I gained work experience over the years, and it paid off for me."
22. "I am an auto mechanic. If you get into the right shop, you can make over $100k per year. You have to work hard and smart. My brother has a master's degree, and we make about the same."