The average cost for a four-year degree at in-state tuition rates is $40,000. That’s four years of going to school full time, versus being able to work full time. In effect, this means the true cost of college is not just how much you pay for it, but also how much income you aren’t generating for those four years.

And the harsh reality is that while statistics show college graduates earn more on average than non-college grads, this is not always the case. The workforce is filled with employees who hold degrees yet barely make ends meet. Meanwhile, the opposite is true, too. There are legions of workers raking in sizable incomes despite having no degrees whatsoever!

In fact, here’s 10 of them…



You mean the person who unclogs your overflowing commode is pulling in over $100k a year? Possibly. The national average cost to unclog a toilet is $218. Unclogging a sink drain can run $214.

Consider there are roughly 261 work days in a year. A city plumber who clears out one toilet and one drain per day for 261 days a year can earn well over $100,000 annually.

With a vocational training from a local trade school, a plumbing apprentice starts getting paid while simultaneously mastering their craft. Once the apprenticeship is over, they may obtain a license and open their own business!

Computer Programmer

After Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard, he founded Microsoft and went on to become the world’s richest man (up until recently). He also becomes the poster child for self-education and entrepreneurism. Though not all of his ventures panned out (Remember “Traf-O-Data?” We don’t either…), Gates proved that programmers can make it without a four-year degree. If they’ve got the chops, that is.

Some employers do look for candidates with degrees, while others care more about demonstrable skills and certifications in specific programming languages, or vendor-specific products. So if you like to write and test code for apps and programs, this could be the path for you. Keep in mind, though, you could face some competition from overseas workers who can do the same tasks for less.

a man next to a plane

Commercial Pilot

Can you actually fly a plane without a degree? Absolutely! People do it all the time. Can you actually get a job doing it, though? Yes, you can.

In the military, officers are always the ones flying the aircraft, and all officers have to possess at least a bachelor’s degree. So one may be forgiven for assuming a degree is required to fly a plane. But it’s not!

You do need at least 250 hours of logged flight time as a private pilot before taking the Federal Aviation Administration’s licensing exam, plus certification and 1,500 hours of total flight hours to become a commercial pilot. Once you’ve got those, you’re ready for takeoff!


If you’re investigating career options that pay good money without all the academic fuss, you’ve probably uncovered the job of the criminal investigator. If not, let us give you the lowdown…

Detectives usually worked their way up from their position as a police officer, and though many agencies do require a degree to qualify for this promotion, some don’t.

If you demonstrate sufficient skills in your law enforcement job which involve investigating major crimes, you could find yourself on the fast track to becoming a detective in a few short years. A degree never hurts, but it’s not mandatory. What is mandatory is getting your hands dirty on patrol and getting recognition for yourself by going above and beyond. Learn the laws, learn the processes, and hang in there!

a person writing on a type writer


What better service industry to get into that one which doesn’t require your physical presence?

Most self-employed workers either sell a physical product or provide a physical service. With writing, you have the burden of neither. Your product is words which you pull from your imagination (or Google’s) and your service is stringing those words together into more or less coherent paragraphs for your clients…clients who may operate in another town, state, or country!

Though writing may be the world’s most exportable career, it’s no joyride. Mastering the craft is hard work, and finding consistent paying customers is even harder. But with enough tenacity, many writers are able to make a comfortable living from home (or a beachfront cafe with WiFi). No degree is required, but a solid understanding of the English language and how to use it to engage readers is the key.

For web or marketing content especially, understanding the objective of the piece (to entice a sale, to solicit a donation, to make a “call to action”) and knowing who is going to be reading it can make the difference between a writer how gets work and one who, well, needs more practice!

Real Estate Agent

Turning a profit as a real estate agent is all about the numbers. An agent may advertise dozens of homes, spending day upon day showing them and extolling their virtues to potential buyers…and yet not make a sale.

Until, eventually, they do!

Selling houses isn’t like selling snacks at a convenience store, where the small profit margins add up due to the quantity of product sold. No, in real estate the profit comes from a relatively high, and more or less set in stone, commission rate. In other words, agents don’t sell houses every day, but they don’t have to. Because they make thousands of dollars every time they do sell one.

No degree required, but you will have to pass a pre-licensing course and a licensing exam sign up with the National Association of Realtors, get a job with a brokerage…and then start convincing people to purchase incredibly expensive properties which will take them decades to pay for!

doctor and therapist

Radiation Therapist

Want to kill cancer cells? A career in radiation therapy can give you the chance. Using machines which focus X-rays directly at the murderous cells within a cancer patient, these therapists work with oncologists and physicians to shrink those cells. Few jobs can have such a direct impact on potentially saving a person’s life.

And though a bachelor’s degree is desired in some situations, you can break into the field without one and get started with your On The Job training. Pay scales vary but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, top earners clear over $124,000.

Working around radiation equipment all day requires taking safety precautions to limit exposure, so being diligent and focused is an important trait to possess.

Network and Computer Systems Administrator

Organizational networks are critical commodities requiring professionals to set them up and keep them running. That’s a pretty broad summary of what Network and Computer Systems Administrators do, but there are tons more to it. From enabling user access to supervising IT support teams and ensuring network security, there’s never a dull moment.

The men and women performing in these roles are assets just as vital as the network itself. And believe it or not, it’s still possible to get into some of these positions without a four-year degree! As with many of the jobs on this list, much depends on the employer’s needs. But with any computer-centric career, a lot also depends on your postsecondary certifications.

O-Net Online gives a thorough breakdown of the profession, including the tasks, tech skills, knowledge, and abilities needed to succeed!

apple computer on a table

Web Developer

Here is one more hot IT-related profession which you can make a good living at without having to spend four years of your life in college. Web development involves designing and building sites for clients, including adding in lots of various technical capabilities. These may include how “fast” the site is, how much traffic it can manage without crashing.

Specialized developer jobs might require a bachelor’s degree in programming or computer science, by otherwise it is possible to get in with (in some cases) with sufficient experience in HTML programming, JavaScript, SQL, and/or Flash. So if you’re highly creative and possess the tech know-how to build killer websites filled with advanced “bells and whistles” for your customers, then build up your portfolio and start applying to be a full-time web developer for a private company or institution.


The last option on this list is possibly the vaguest but also has the most potential to earn you far more than $100,000 a year. Or far less…

In our capitalistic world, money is made by businesses and anyone can open a business. In 1994 a guy named Jeff Bezos quit his job on Wall Street to start an online business selling books.

Why online? Because he’d noticed an interesting trend, that use of this “Internet” thing was rising at a rate of 2,300 percent a year. That’s a lot of growth, and he was looking at the start of it. So Bezos put together a short list of potential products he could sell and decided to begin with books.

That company, as you know, was Amazon…which now has nearly 650,000 employees. Oh, and Bezos’ current net worth is $151 billion, taking the title of world’s richest man away from Bill Gates.

If you see an untapped potential market or opportunity or have an amazing product or service you believe you could sell, then draft up a business plan, seek out capital from investors, friends, or crowdfunding sources, and start selling your wares to the public! You’ll never know unless you try!



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