No college? That’s no problem. A wide array of jobs — many of them well-paying — don’t require a degree. Moreover, some cities are particularly friendly to workers without a college education. These are the results of data compiled by a personal finance site called FinanceBuzz and SideHusl.com.
“When I was growing up in the ‘90s, they said you’ve got to go to college. But that is changing a bit,” said Josh Koebert, data scientist with FinanceBuzz. “There are plenty of people who can have great jobs and great lives without a college degree.”
Indeed, SideHusl.com data indicate that many highly paid positions don’t require college at all. The best college-optional jobs are in tech, logistics, construction, marketing, landscape and design. However, many other industries also welcome those without degrees.
FinanceBuzz’s analysis of the cities friendliest to those without degrees found that they were almost always heavy in hospitality, construction and manufacturing. The key, Koebert said, is skilled labor.
Las Vegas, for instance, was ranked the top city for those without a degree in the FinanceBuzz research. The site’s study looked at unemployment rates, cost of living, your chance of finding work, and the income differential between those who graduated from college and those who didn’t.
One thing that made Las Vegas stand out is that the many croupiers — dealers — at gaming tables don’t need a college education but have unique skills that are in high demand. Top-end hospitality workers of all stripes also don’t need a degree.
Construction and manufacturing were the keys to making Riverside a top city, he said. You learn to frame houses, do electrical work, plumbing and other skilled trades on the job, not in school. The same holds true in heavy manufacturing, where understanding what’s required to build and sell mobile medical equipment and gas generators is often learned by experience.
“You can start as an apprentice and have a great pathway to success,” Koebert said. “And there’s always a need for people who can do these jobs.”
SideHusl.com’s data underscore the point. Workers who sign up with TaskRabbit, for instance, offer everything from deep cleaning to care, handyman services to errands. Many charge between $25 and $100 per hour, depending on the city and the service.
Dog sitters, who would fall under the broad category of “hospitality,” are also highly paid. In Los Angeles, pet sitters with Rover charge between $25 and $100 per night, per dog.
Meanwhile, resume writers, voice-over artists and musicians registered with Fiverr say they can easily earn six-figure incomes and no one cares about their educational backgrounds. Once again, experience and good reviews say far more about their skills than whether they went to college.
Construction, landscaping and logistics
Construction, landscaping and logistics are also high-earning jobs that require skills but not college.
Logistics companies, which arrange deliveries for the burgeoning online retail community, for instance, may demand a commercial driver’s license but not college. With a commercial license, you can easily earn $100,000 a year.
A site called JiffyOnDemand helps workers find lawn care and other skilled work. Lawn care is billed out at rates ranging from $50 to $75 per hour, which nets the freelancer at least $41 to $61 hourly. Electrical contractors earn considerably more — often more than $100 an hour, depending on the city they serve.
Tech and marketing
Although full-time employers in tech or marketing often require college credentials to get an interview, side hustle platforms are far more interested in experience.
Mayple, a company that connects companies needing marketing expertise with freelancers able to do the job, expects two or more years of experience, for instance. The site will ask about past projects and measurements of success before allowing freelance marketers into the platform. But there’s no education requirement. Once there, freelancers are connected with part-time jobs that pay between $1,200 and $6,000 per month, which usually works out to $50 to $200 per hour.
In the technology field, certifications that indicate you’re an expert in fields as diverse as user experience and cybersecurity are every bit as valuable as college degrees. With these — or experience that shows your proficiency in a tech topic — you can find work through a wide array of freelance sites, including FreeUp and Braintrust.
And, while big tech companies, such as Google and Apple, once demanded college degrees — often from lofty, Ivy League universities — for new hires, that’s also changed. Increasingly, these companies are sponsoring low-cost certification programs to find the experts they need.
The founders of many of the biggest tech concerns were college dropouts, Koebert said. Microsoft’s founder, Bill Gates, dropped out of Harvard. Steven Jobs, founder of Apple, dropped out of Reed College. And David Karp, founder of Tumblr (which was sold to Yahoo for more than $1 billion), dropped out of high school.
Other noteworthy college dropouts include entrepreneurs and entertainers, including Richard Branson, David Murdock and Steven Spielberg. (Spielberg did complete college. But it was long after he was an acclaimed director. His alma mater: Cal State Long Beach.)
Is college worth it?
All this raises the question: Is college worth it? Unfortunately, the best answer is that it depends. A 2021 study by Georgetown University found that 16% of high school graduates out-earn college graduates. And 28% of those with a two-year associate degree out-earned those with a four-year bachelor’s degree.
But the average college graduate continues to earn more than someone without a college degree.
FinanceBuzz’s research also found that average income in all 50 cities it examined was considerably higher for college graduates than those without a degree. But the income differential might not make up for the often crippling cost of college.
After all, the cost of college isn’t just the amount spent on tuition, fees, books, transportation and lodging. It also includes the cost of not working for four or more years while you study. Taking these factors and the cost of student loan interest into account, the cost of a four-year degree can exceed $500,000, according to EducationData.org.
If you’re clear on what you want to do and that job requires college, it’s an investment worth making. (It’s smart to consider ways to cut college costs, however. You can do that either by completing college-level courses in high school and community college or by going to less-expensive universities.)
But if your passions fall into skilled trades and technology, you may be able to do without.
Kristof is the editor of SideHusl.com, an independent website that reviews moneymaking opportunities in the gig economy.