Yes, you can still make a great living without going to college
Have you ever heard the term “lifescript?” It’s basically a term to describe what’s normally expected of in terms of progression in life. You go to high school, go to college, get a job, get married, and have kids. That’s the typical lifescript. But what about us folks who don’t want that or who simply can’t afford it? Can we still make a good living and find happiness?
Simple answer: absolutely.
There are plenty of less-traveled paths. College isn’t for everybody. Heck, not even trade school is. Some people just hate the classroom environment and want to learn hands-on and in the thick of it – and that’s a totally valid path. I’ve compiled a list of 6 high-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree, but will provide a lifelong career.
Web development is easily the first thing that comes to mind when I put ‘high-paying job’ and ‘no degree’ in the same sentence. Having a 4-year degree can help in some respects, but it’s also relatively easy to learn by yourself due to the sheer amount of free resources online – and books.
A good piece of advice to make it as a self-taught developer is to get a GitHub account as early on as possible and keep contributing to it. Additionally, create a portfolio site – lots of companies will ask for that during the interview process.
It can be hard to get started, but there are ways to get freelance experience under your belt – you’ll just have to work for it:
- Get in touch with any family members who have a business and offer to design their site.
- Look up local businesses on Google. Do they have a website? If they don’t, offer to design a simple one-pager for free. If they do have one but it’s terrible, offer to redesign it.
- Participate in hackathons and tech meetups.
- A self-taught web developer we know, shared a few suggestions:
- When he was starting out and building his portfolio, he had all his TVs and speakers installed in exchange for a website.
- Find nonprofits and charities you believe in and offer to do their site for free.
- Find open source projects on GitHub you can contribute to.
Once you have a good 5 or 6 years of experience under your belt, you’ll be in the $100,000+ range.
If you really want the advantages of a degree but don’t want to do the college thing, there are bootcamps that will do intensive 3-month web dev certificate programs. Google “Web Developer Bootcamp + Your City.” The great part about doing a bootcamp is that the projects you take on during the course make good portfolio pieces – you’ll end the program with a flagship project to demo and a couple smaller pieces as well.
Lastly, I’ll leave you with this: devs will always be in demand – anything in tech will be – so not only does the job come with great pay, but it also provides job security – which we all really want right now.
Here are some free / inexpensive coding courses to get you started:
Air Traffic Controller
Being an air traffic controller, from what I’ve heard, is very rewarding. If air traffic fascinates you, this might be the right career for you – if you’re able to meet the strict entry requirements.
Above all, you need to have three years of progressively responsible work experience in lieu of a college degree. Additionally, the FAA is a government agency, which means increased scrutiny into your background: you’ll have to pass a medical exam and security investigation. You also must be a US citizen, must speak English, and must be under 30 years old. The plus side is that when you’re in, you’re set for life with a high salary (in 2019, the median salary was $122,990 per year – which, as far as high-paying jobs go, is up there) and low retirement age (56).
If you meet all these requirements, you’ll then need to pass the ATSA, which is in essence a battery of tests to assess your skills. It’s a strenuous process, but results in a very stable, secure, lifelong career.
Here are some air traffic controller resources:
Nuclear Power Reactor Operator
Nuclear energy is a really cool industry to get into – and the occupation of nuclear power reactor operator is quite lucrative. It only requires a high school degree, as it is very much a continual, extensive on-the-job training kind of position. You’ll be an unlicensed operator while you learn, but when you complete training, you’ll get your license (see the second link in the resources below to learn more on the process).
The median salary for a seasoned nuclear power reactor operator is $100,530. You could also easily move into a supervisory position when you have enough experience. There are so many opportunities in nuclear – it’s worth a look!
One of System One’s specialty areas is nuclear energy. It might help you to look through our nuclear jobs just to see the kind of career you could have, what the requirements are for different roles, etc.: Nuclear Jobs
Here are some nuclear power reactor operator resources:
Metrologist / Calibration Technician / Equipment Validation Technician
I’m sure lots of folks give up their dream of a career in science because they think science = college. That’s mostly true, but there are some positions where you can make close to six figures without a degree. Think: field work. I work with Joulé, our Life Sciences division, on marketing activities that highlight metrologists, calibration technicians, and equipment validation technicians. Through this, I have seen that many of these professionals have a high school diploma only. It’s another one of those paths where a degree is absolutely helpful, but not necessary. So if you love working with scientific equipment and have a good understanding of electronics, keep your eyes peeled for opportunities in labs. With an end-game salary range of $80,000 to $100,000 per year, it’s worth it.
Here are some resources to learn more about these careers:
The wind industry is booming. Wind currently accounts for 120,000 jobs in the US, with 6,600 of those specifically being wind technicians. In the next few years, that number is expected to grow by 57%, which is crazy exciting.
You’ll only need a high school diploma to become a wind tech, but some people choose to go to a technical school since that gives them real life experience with a turbine.
One of the caveats of becoming a wind tech is that you obviously have to go where the wind farms are. That might mean a relocation to Texas, for example. Every state has jobs supporting the wind industry, such a parts fulfillment / manufacturing, but to become an actual wind technician, it’s location-dependent.
In terms of salary, here’s what our own Arcelious Bailey – who started his career as a wind tech in 2007 – had to say: “The highest I was paid was $36/hour as a Site Manager.” We did the math for you: that’s $74,880 per year. In general, wind techs usually cap out around $80,150. Plus, thinking long-term, it’s not like you’ll be doing field work forever – there are lots of supporting roles / office-type jobs that you can grow into. Arcelious went the Project Management route, which is a great path.
Here are some resources to help you learn more about becoming a wind tech:
There are different areas to marketing. Email marketing, email automation, ecommerce, direct mail, website / landing pages, content, communications, SEO, PPC advertising, social media, branding, digital marketing as a whole, etc. So many specializations, so many opportunities. Pick what you want to do and learn. I’ve run the gamut from ecomm to email to SEO to content to being a general Marketing Director, and found that I enjoy the content aspect of it the most. So, I dove in headfirst and read all I could online about how to write for SEO, evergreen content as opposed to topical stuff, etc.
Expect to build out a portfolio. If you want to write content for a living, write a few guest posts for fields you care about. Build up a good list of 10ish writing samples. Same thing if you’re into branding: design some company logos, stationary, brochures, etc. It doesn’t matter if the branding is for fake companies you made up, just build them out to show a range of what you’re capable of.
As for salary, established marketing professionals can make a median of $135,900 per year. There are many high-paying jobs in marketing, but it all depends on which area you go into. If you go into email marketing, you can make around $60,000, while brand managers can fetch $89,000. Choose wisely.
I won’t provide resources here because it’s just too dependent on which niche you go into, so I’ll leave you with this handy beginner’s guide to searching instead.
Things to search in google:
- Email marketing: HTML, CSS, responsive emails, email best practices, email automation (ie: Marketo, Pardot, etc. – learn one).
- Branding: Adobe creative suite, Photoshop tutorials, InDesign tutorials, branding best practices, branding trends 2020.
- Content: Evergreen content, writing for SEO, content best practices.
- SEO: improving site ranking, google search console, Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress, what are meta tags.
- Website: what is a landing page, landing page optimization, website content writing, website user experience optimization.
- Social media: social media marketing, social media company presence, social media best practices, social media company branding, social media automation (Hootsuite, Buffer, Sprout Social, etc. – learn one).