The $100,000 waitress: Making good money without a university degree

Jenna Charlton|

A waitress at a high-end hotel bar recently told me that the full-time bar staff at her establishment and at many other upscale places like it can earn over $100,000 a year, largely from tips. I watched her interacting with a wide variety of people that night, always making each customer feel like a valued guest. She had great banter, rapport and provided great service.

I realized that she was very well-compensated, but she was also very good at her job. I’m sure most service staff aren’t clearing six figures. But maybe it’s just that if you work your way up to the top of your profession by being the best at it, the money will follow.

There are a number of successful millionaires (even billionaires) out there who never graduated from university:

1. Microsoft’s Bill Gates, of course.

2. David Geffen founder of Geffen Records. He also helped establish DreamWorks film studio.

3. Oracle’s co-founder and CEO Larry Ellison.

For good measure let’s also throw in music giants Jay-Z, Madonna, and Kanye West. These people all had ideas and worked hard to be successful, to become the best in their fields. They must have learned a lot along the way too. They just didn’t do it in the formal academic way.

Sure, a university or college degree does provide a certain amount of prestige. It also demonstrates commitment, an aptitude for critical thinking and problem solving, and motivation. Schools can also be hubs for networking, providing a place to mingle or be introduced to future colleagues and employers. Obtaining that piece of paper on your wall can still help get your foot in the door.

However, there is also a growing understanding that graduation does not necessarily guarantee success. Many people end up having several careers over their working lives, often in fields that have little to do with their course of study.

I can personally count five:

1. An architect major who now does photography

2. An English major now in finance

3. An Environmental studies major now a software consultant

4. An Information Studies student now a writer

5. A Fine Arts major now an academic administrator

This got me thinking. What are other high-paying jobs out there that don’t follow from a university degree?

Here’s just a quick a sample:

1. Sales Managers: $103,000

2. Marketing Managers: $107,000

3. Dental Hygienist $83,550 (Education and certification required)

4. Skilled Trades People: $75,000

5. Real Estate Agents: $77,000

Are you working in a career other than the one you studied for? What other high paying roles are there on the job market right now that don’t require a university education? Share your stories with us.

Jenna Charlton is a Toronto writer and blogger and a regular contributor to Workopolis