According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, only 46 percent of college students actually finish their degrees. Research also shows that college graduates ages 25 to 32 earn $17,500 more annually than their non-degree-holding counterparts. But, given the crushing cost of student debt and a slowly recovering job market, is a college degree really worth it?
Certainly, anyone with a formal education should value his or her training, but that doesn’t diminish the wealth potential of ambitious non-degree holders. PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel thinks good ideas and work experience outweigh education. In fact, the Thiel Fellowship offers a $100,000 grant to college dropouts and those who delay formal education to become entrepreneurs.
Still, you don’t need the Thiel Fellowship, a degree or even much training to make money and pave your way to success. Instead, you can create your own opportunities or enhance the job you already have. Here are eight of the best ways I know to make money without a degree.
1. Start a service business.
A service business is usually the easiest type of business to start. There isn’t much overhead, and you don’t need many contacts or even a website to get started. Instead, you just need a valuable skill that people will pay you for, over and over again. Content marketing, web design and social media consulting are just a few places to start.
But you won’t earn much charging by the hour, or billing for one service at a time. To earn more, bundle your packages together and focus on value. If you’re running a writing business, offer a website-content rehaul that converts sales at a premium price.
2. Invest in real estate.
Anyone with enough up-front capital can jump into real estate and start a rental-property business. But do you really know how to manage a property successfully? If not, team up with an experienced developer or venture into commercial real estate through crowd-funding opportunities.
Crowd-funding sites like RealtyMogul.com can give you access to commercial property developments for as little as $5,000. Investors can also save time and resources by looking at pre-vetted deals and online presentations to help them make decisions.
3. Offer consulting services.
Think bigger than offering to train bookkeepers by the hour, or teach a course to business managers. Position yourself as a consultant instead, and get paid to share advice on everything from lean management to accounting. Think about pain points and how you can help solve a business’ biggest problems.
Consultants enjoy the ultimate flexibility as independent contractors who can work with businesses either by the day or for the long term. While consultants don’t need a college degree, they do benefit from having certifications with the tools they’re recommending. Consultants also need in-depth industry knowledge.
4. Create a product.
Everyone preaches selling Kindle books and ebooks to make money, but there’s so much more out there. The Internet is rife with premium products on both personal blogs and corporate websites alike. Join a site like Gumroad, which sells music, books, software, films and more. In reality, sellers can generate profits from just about any entertaining or useful material.
But, before you start selling, think about how to branch out and create new opportunities. Film your next workshop or web redesign and talk through the process as you go. Hire a video editor to polish the final product, then upload it to Gumroad for an added revenue stream.
5. Become a subject matter expert.
Subject matter experts (SMEs), or domain experts, provide knowledge and expertise in a given subject area. Your job might be to ensure that the content on a particular subject is completely accurate. Companies looking to train staff need an SME to work on everything from training videos to educational courses. SMEs typically come from academic, technical and vocational fields, but no specific degree is required.
Network for opportunities in your industry or opportunities working as course creators and contractors for training companies. Textbook publishers are also always looking for subject matter experts, though that’s a tougher sell if they need an experienced educator in an area like science.
6. Rent your stuff.
Many rental companies started with just one person renting out his or her own equipment, like pressure washers, power tools or office furniture. To get inspired, see what people are doing on Craigslist, like renting and setting up bounce houses or birthday-party-character costumes. Get creative, and consider renting out your house, your vehicle or rare antiques you own to a set decorator working on an upcoming film.
You don’t have to start a full operation to build up a rental store. Instead, start with the things that are already in your home. Renting everything has become the mainstream in a sharing economy. You can list your home, car, camera equipment, bike and campers without much effort.
7. Get adventurous.
Skydiving was a life-changing event for me that I’ll never forget. Skydiving instructors don’t need a formal education, though a license may be required from the United States Parachute Association (USPA), depending on where you work. Consider guiding whitewater rafting and kayaking tours or mountain climbing groups to earn money while you enjoy an adventure.
Adventure-related jobs may not pay much if you go the traditional route by working for a company; skydivers for example reportedly earn only roughly $40 a jump. But there are still ways to profit from your passion. Branch out and start your own business; or sell gear; or train clients to get certified to jump. Also, think about organizing weekend retreats.
8. Look at non-degree jobs.
There are plenty of careers that pay well and don’t require a degree. For example, gaming managers don’t need a degree and are responsible for planning and coordinating operations in a casino. Detectives, web developers, even pilots may need certifications and other training, but they don’t need a college degree. So, before you head back to school, ask yourself if you really need that piece of paper, and how much it will actually advance your career.
Related: This Major Publisher No Longer Requires Job Applicants to a Have College Degree
What are your favorite ways to make money without a degree? Let me know by leaving a comment below.