A college degree can go a long way toward helping you make a great living, but there are millions of Americans who don't have one. If you don't have a degree, but you're looking boost your income, there are multiple ways to do so.
We spoke with three of our contributors, and they offered up three different ways you can give your income a boost, even without a college degree. Here's what they had to say.
Dan Caplinger (start a business): A college education can be a huge asset in landing a first job when you're young and haven't had a chance to build up on-the-job skills. Once you've had some life experience in a career, however, you've often gotten much more valuable training than any college program will give you. If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, that can be the perfect time to consider opening your own business to take full advantage of your most valuable skills.
There are a couple of ways you can proceed in opening a new business. Some people prefer to start slowly, keeping their current job but looking at ramping up their new venture in their spare time. This has the benefit of giving you a safety net if things go wrong, but it also limits your ability to grow your business as quickly as you might like. By contrast, other entrepreneurs take the riskier route of quitting their current jobs, building up savings to get through an initial start-up period and dedicating their full effort toward business success.
Obviously, not all job experiences lend themselves to successful independent businesses. But for many, the training you get during your career can lead naturally to an entrepreneurial opportunity if you have the motivation and drive to follow it.
Selena Maranjian (learn how to invest well): A great way to boost your income -- or your wealth -- if you don't have a college degree is through investing. After all, a dollar doesn't know who is holding or investing it -- someone with a Ph.D. or someone without a college degree.
Don't think you're at a disadvantage by not going to college because you won't have learned all those valuable lessons about investing that they teach you there – because most people get through college without having learned much, if anything, about investing. You might think you're in the minority if you know little about it and find it intimidating, but you're far from alone.
So don't be afraid. Just start learning, perhaps by reading some classic books, such as Peter Lynch's One Up on Wall Street and Philip Fisher's Common Sense and Uncommon Profits. Read profiles of great investors, such as John Train's Money Masters of Our Time, and read about great businesses, too, as great investors need to be able to spot great businesses.
Then invest -- perhaps beginning with simple, low-cost broad-market index funds, such as the SPDR S&P 500 ETF, Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF, and Vanguard Total World Stock ETF. You'll collect a modest amount of dividend income from these (they each yield around 2% these days), which can augment your income. But it's best to simply reinvest your dividends into more shares, so that your nest egg grows and grows. If you venture into carefully selected individual stocks, you can find ones with fat dividends, and earn more dividend income that way.
By starting while you're young, you can sock away thousands of dollars that can turn into hundreds of thousands of dollars that can give you a much more comfortable retirement.
Jason Hall (start a new career in a high-demand field): For several decades, the constant refrain in job training has been "you need a college degree." And as Dan wrote, a college degree can make a significant difference in your ability to find a job and begin building valuable skills and experience.
The thing is, college really isn't for everyone. It may not be the right path for many of the people reading this. And that statement has absolutely nothing to do with the intelligence, motivation, or capabilities of those people.
Frankly, some great-paying jobs don't require a college degree, and many of them are in high-demand and have been short on trained talent for years.
For instance, ManpowerGroup's annual Talent Shortage Survey in 2014 listed skilled trade workers, IT staff, and drivers as three of the top-10 hardest jobs to fill as reported by 37,000 employers around the world. Skilled trade jobs have been the hardest for American employers to fill for six years in a row.
Another sub-sector with a huge (and growing) shortage of workers is professional drivers. According to Fleet Owner, there are projected to be more than 4.5 million job openings over the next eight years, with more than 2 million of those in heavy trucking. With a median annual wage over $40,000, this is a solid career choice -- and one that's in very high-demand -- for someone without a college education. Factor in the number of large companies with trucking operations, and there's also significant opportunity for career advancement.