12 Cool Jobs That Don’t Require a College Degree
Our culture emphasizes education as the path to satisfying and lucrative careers. Education is one path to success but not the only one. Finding the right job (and prospering in it) doesn't always require going to college.
Being a DJ
After a semester at a junior college, Brian Buonassissi left school to become a DJ. He got his start working as an apprentice for a DJ manufacturer marketing manager. Within a year of his apprenticeship, he was DJ-ing in nightclubs in California. Over time, he was booking nightclubs across the United States, specifically landing private events in New York where he relocated to work full-time in 2011 as DJ Brian B. Officially he’s been in the business for 21 years. When he started, he was earning $25,000 to $30,000 per year and now earns over $150,000 per year. His advice on making it as a DJ? Know your financial basics, practice the craft, market yourself (but make sure you have the skills to back yourself up). With an open approach to his work, Buonassissi incorporates retro classics, pop hits, hip-hop, rock, reggae and house into the rotation. He interacts with the crowd through creative programming, which, to him means figuring out the vibe and adjusting as needed. Find out the weirdest jobs you didn’t know you could apply to.
Salary: According to PayScale.com, a DJ’s salary can range from $19,885 to $236,718.
Suggested skills: marketing, social media, music industry knowledge, creativity, software proficiency
For 35 years, Billy Dykan worked as a carpenter in Philadelphia. He started working for a general contractor after graduating high school and then continued with the carpenter’s union where he completed an apprenticeship program. Throughout his career, he helped build residential and commercial homes and did everything from house framing to high-rises. Part of the appeal of being a carpenter is the simplicity and the reward. He said, “There is some pressure on your body but otherwise there is minimal stress involved. Plus, you start with nothing and end up with a building. You get to see a result at the end of the day.” Dykan took a brief hiatus from the field to work in the carpenter’s union office but ultimately returned to manual labor, preferring to feel the sense of daily gratification that comes with seeing the progress and result of building four walls every day. Since physical structures need to be built and maintained, the field offers job security. Dykan was able to retire at 53 and focus on his five children. He says, ” If you’re a carpenter, you can always make a living in most circumstances. You can always hang a door or put in a window.”
Salary: According to U.S. News, carpenters can earn up to $76,750.
Suggested skills: physical strength, precision, math sensibility, mechanical ability, communication
Ron Hernandez works as a longshoreman at MaHer Terminals in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Loading and unloading cargo on ships may sound repetitive, but there are benefits to working in a port or dock. Your inner child may revel in operating huge machinery—which is exactly what a longshoreman does. Hernandez says, “I enjoy using big machines.” MaHer is a 24-hr operation where teams work virtually nonstop, loading and unloading car parts, appliances, refrigerated goods, and almost anything else you can think of. Hernandez says, “It’s one of those jobs I didn’t think I’d love until I started doing it.” Hernandez has an associates degree in graphic design but acknowledges the college life wasn’t for him. The gig is also pretty lucrative. His starting salary was $60,000 per year and he’ll likely increase to $80,000 by his third year. There’s an element of service to the role as people rely on the goods that longshoreman process every day. Handling cargo provides a daily sense of accomplishment, says Hernandez. “I like the grit of it, doing what you have to do to get these jobs done.” Check out 15 jobs you can land without a four-year degree.
Salary: According to PayScale.com, the average salary for a longshoreman is around $98,000.
Suggested skills: physical strength, hand/eye coordination, stamina, detail-oriented, cooperation, ability to multi-task
Even though Phillip Van Nostrand studied philosophy in college, he’s now a professional photographer who earns over $80,000 per year. A former math teacher, Van Nostrand got his start in photography in 2009. A friend offered him $500 to photograph a budget wedding after noticing the photographs Van Nostrand had posted online; he had been taking photos as a hobby for about six years. Now 36, he’s been a professional photographer for nine years. Is living off your photography your dream? Van Nostrand says, “You must love the art of business as much as the art of taking a picture.” His least favorite part of the job is financial bookkeeping, but mostly the job is a happy one. The joy of photography is evident from Van Nostrand shots.
Salary: Income varies greatly for photographers depending on who you work for and what kind of photography you do (photojournalism, commercial, event photographer, headshots, etc). According to Indeed.com, the national average is $25,780. Those who own their own photography business have the potential to build a much larger income.
Suggested skills: creativity, marketing, social media, camera proficiency, networking, pricing, negotiation, contract, email prowess
A longtime makeup lover, Stella Accardo decided to pursue a career in freelance makeup artistry after experiencing burn out in a previous role as a communications director for a non-profit. After taking a few courses that taught color theory, sanitary practices, and facial structure, she started to book weekend wedding gigs, which made summer her busy season. Weddings can be stressful, she says, because it’s a high-stakes event and the work is being done under a serious time-crunch. But Accardo says she loves it because making people feel good is one of the rewards of the job. Working in Pennsylvania, Accardo charges around $500 per wedding, though the price fluctuates depending on the size of the bridal party. She enjoys the creativity and working with photographers. Some of her most precious memories on the job include doing makeup for mothers and grandmothers at weddings.
Salary: According to the Bureau of National Labor Statistics, the median salary for makeup artists is $63,710 (2011) although wages can vary between $27,000 and $88,550, depending on market location and demand.
Suggested skills: creativity, business sensibility, time management, customer service, knowledge of beauty industry, sensitive to the needs of brides and wedding parties,
Communications director for video game company
Growing up in California, Rachel Caswell says it was often too hot to play outside. That meant video games indoors with her brother. She played Sega Genesis, Tetris, and Super Mario. Caswell originally went to college for fashion design and journalism, but then one day while walking home from work, a car hit her. Briefly unconscious, she ended up the emergency room after a stranger called 911. Even though she went home with minor injuries, her medical bills piled up and she decided to take a break from college to pay off her debts. In one of her jobs after the accident, she worked as a secretary for a magazine that was looking for video game reviewers. Caswell volunteered and was successful; that role led to promotions within the industry over the next 11 years. Caswell is now the director of global communications for 505 Games where she handles consumer communication, public relations, and global strategy. Now 33, Caswell makes over a $100,000 per year. As for her degree, she never went back. She was honest with her hiring managers over the years to let them know her path. She has now paid off both her medical bills and the school loans she took out way back when.
Salary: Salaries for communication directors vary depending on the company you work for. According to Glassdoor, the national average is $120,000.
Suggested skills: knowledge of media industry, excellent communication, writing proficiency, understanding of gamer lifestyle, relationship building expertise
Ryan O’Grady operates the controls needed to assure safety when electricians call in while completing their work for residential and industrial locations. A former reactor operator for the U.S. Navy, O’Grady currently training to get his National Electric Reliability Corporation Certificate so he can officially be a systems operations supervisor with Eversource Energy. Once certified, he’ll sit in a control room with an enormous video wall that has a map of an electric grid of for all of Connecticut and most of Western Massachusetts where he’ll be trusted with operating the bulk electric system and the transmission of high voltage electricity from the generation to the distribution level. O’Grady has been doing control room operations for more than a decade. He did a semester of college before realizing it wasn’t for him. Once he finishes his training, he’ll earn $120,000 a year before overtime. To be considered for the job, O’Grady had to take an aptitude test and complete a psychological profile through PSP Metrics. Find out the weird jobs you won’t believe actually existed.
Salary: According to PayScale, control room operators can earn between $39,679 and $97,279.
Suggested skills: assertiveness, confidence, questioning attitude, leadership,
On a whim in 2010, Amber Jasmin Morrow moved to New York City where she rented a small room in Inwood where her roommate happened to be a wig designer. To get a break on her rent, she began assisting him on shows. He taught her how to ventilate wigs, a strategy often used in theater and film. Later that year she went on her first Broadway tour as hair, makeup, and wig supervisor for Monty Python’s Spamalot. She’s since toured with The Color Purple and Rock of Ages, and she has worked on Les Misérables. She’s currently a television hairstylist working most recently for CBS’s The Bull. Flexibility is a perk of this career path, says Morrow, since she can freelance for various shows; demand can increase when networks are shooting large scenes or if a full-time staffer is on vacation. Morrow said, “The beauty of my job is there is no average day. Sometimes I wake up at 3:30 a.m. to be on set at 5 a.m, and work until 7 p.m. Some days I’m waking up in a hotel to start prepping wigs for a live theatrical show. Other days I work from home making wigs for clients, doing custom extensions, or doing a quick updo for an awards show.” In New York, Morrow’s base wage for Broadway, film, and television is guaranteed through the Makeup Artists and Hairstylist’s Guild. In the film industry in New York, the range for a full-time show employee is $114,000 not including over time. And in film, there always seems to be over time.
Salary: There is a huge range depending on genre, skill level, job specifics, and location. According to the Houston Chronicle, hairstylists in the motion picture industry have an average rate of $33.55 per hour.
Suggested skills: creativity, flexibility, grooming, fashion sensibility, good communication
Emily Joy Wallace started as a nanny when she was 13 years old. She’s now 29 and works as a teacher and artist. For seven years, she worked as a professional nanny for more than 12 families. The first little girl she babysat is now 16 years old, and they still keep in touch. Wallace loves knowing she played a part in so many children’s formative years. During her time as a nanny, she averaged an income of $32,000 per year, she says. “I hoped that by being with children I would have time to practice my art, songwriting, and other passions. Plus I find it so fulfilling to help kids with drawing, being a good friend, baking, and believing in themselves.” Her time in childcare led to teaching abroad, and she now works in childhood education in Costa Rica. While she’s happy with her path, she’s battled some insecurity along the way. She said, “Not having a degree was hard for me at first, but I never felt like it was a priority. The work I’ve done is different and not something many people do for very long or pursue as a career.” Still, the work is meaningful for Wallace. Currently single and without children of her own, the children she works with feel like an extended family.
Salary: According to the 2012 INA Nanny Salary and Benefits Survey, the national average hourly rate for babysitting or short-term assignments is $16 per hour. The national average gross weekly salary for full-time live-out nannies is $34,000. The national average gross weekly salary for full-time live-in nannies is $34,000. The national average gross weekly salary for full-time live-out nannies is $705. The national average gross weekly salary for full-time live-in nannies is $652. According to Payscale.com, a nanny can earn up to $42,000 per year.
Suggested skills: nurturing, empathetic, patience, creativity, warmth, playfulness, imaginative
Corporate general manager
As a general manager for Aire Serv, Jeremy Anderson says his job as a company leader is like being life coach, babysitter, entrepreneur, businessperson, and problem-solver all at once. He says, “I do some of everything. I’ve run parts, worked on rooftops, and climbed in attics.” As a leader within various roles in the heating and air condition industry, he’s been able to earn up to $120,000 per year. When he was a kid he wanted to work in the FBI. His dad was a successful entrepreneur who didn’t go to college so Anderson never felt the pressure to focus on school; at an early age, he realized it wasn’t for him. School felt boring. For Anderson, being a manager is fun. He especially enjoys the camaraderie with his employees. He even loves knowing his co-worker’s families. Plus, he feels a sense of service in knowing he can help others make a living. He said, “The opportunities you’re giving them is allowing them to buy a house. That’s rewarding.”
Salary: General manager salaries vary depending on the company you work for. Speaking broadly, general managers make $60,002 on average, according to PayScale. In the heating and air conditioning industry, a general manager can earn up to $95,853.
Suggested skills: management, leadership, sense of humor, customer satisfaction, knowledge of electrical systems, maintenance technology
One way to escape the monotony of an office job is to find work that requires you to use your senses. Every day, Brenda Hart, 44, uses her eyes and ears to fix appliances as a service technician for Mr. Appliance in Northern Colorado. She says, “I’m constantly using my hearing to listen to motors, drains, and machine functions to try to determine what’s going on.” This kind of sensory problem solving is satisfying in a way an office job isn’t. Before working as a technician, Hart was an administrative assistant making around $50,000 a year. Of her last job, Hart says, “The job never ended. There was always another staff meeting, always more inventory to do, and never any satisfaction.” She enjoys leaving a customer’s home knowing that their appliance is fixed. Getting the job done puts both her and the customers at ease. Plus, the active work is for the body. “I move a lot. I’m a lot happier. I’m physically healthier. I use my brain a lot more.”
Salary: According to Glassdoor.com, the national average for service technicians is $35,900. In the appliance field, service technicians can earn up to $60,908.
Suggested skills: problem-solving, tenacity, customer service, organization, time management, diagnosing technical issues
At first, Mike Gnitecki was a volunteer firefighter. He loved the variety and the excitement of the job. A former public school teacher, he decided to go through firefighter training after learning he didn’t need a degree to work full time in emergency services. To become a firefighter with Emergency Medical Technician training he undergent approximately 12 weeks of training and education. Other departments (often the higher paying ones) also require paramedic training which can range from nine to 18 months. Employed by both East Texas Medical Center and Gladewater Fire Department, Gnitecki is allowed to pick up shifts in accordance with his schedule. As both a firefighter and paramedic, he enjoys the opportunity to make medical observations. He said, “You can make a big impact in this job if you work hard.”
Salary: Full-time firefighters earned an average $47,720 per year, as of May 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Suggested skills: integrity, sensitivity, composure, reassuring manner, resilience, ability to work as a team, good communicator