A 27-year-old college dropout earning $135,000 a year explains 4 things that were more valuable for her career than getting a degree
- Jasey Tragesser, 27, dropped out of college in 2014.
- Today, she's making over six-figures — and remains free of both a diploma and student debt.
In 2018, four years after Jasey Tragesser dropped out of college, she was still making only $300-500 per week as a waitress in Boston.
Today, the 27-year-old is earning $135,000 per year as marketing manager for a software-as-a-service company — and has no plans to finish her degree.
She told Insider that hard work, alternative education, job switching, and a bit of luck helped her move up the income ladder without having to take on student debt.
"College is so expensive and reasonable companies are realizing that not everybody can afford it," she said. "But there are so many smart people and so much talent they could be missing out on if they require a four-year degree."
Tragesser is among the majority of Americans without a bachelor's degree. Despite President Biden's August announcement on federal student debt cancellation, the cost of a college education remains as high as ever, and future students will continue to be saddled with debt.
This has led many people to explore alternative career paths, including trade schools and certifications. And as companies continue to ease their degree requirements in response to the ongoing labor shortage, a wide range of careers are becoming increasingly accessible.
"Maybe there is a path for me in my life without a college degree"
After graduating high school in 2013, Tragesser decided to attend college part-time for a "couple thousand dollars" per semester. But after a year, she decided to drop out.
"When you're 18 years old, and you move out, and you're in college, and you're just trying to be an adult, it's so stressful," she said. "And just as a society, we're forced into that. And a lot of kids aren't ready, and I was one of those kids."
Her parents were not happy with the decision. Tragesser had to move in with her grandparents and work as a waitress to support herself. She says this time in her life was "really, really hard."
"Everybody expects you to graduate high school, go to college, start your life," she said. "And it wasn't the path I was taking."
In 2018, she got her "big break." She was waiting on the president of a small investment firm who saw potential in her and asked if she'd be interested in a marketing internship. She decided to take the leap.
A year later, she was still with the company, but felt she had gotten "everything there was to get" out of the role. She applied for "maybe over 100" jobs and sat through dozens of interviews, during which she says her lack of a degree "never really came up."
"That was really exciting because it felt like, 'Wow, maybe there is a path for me in my life without a college degree,'" she said.
In March 2020, she received a job offer at a tech startup, but the next day, "the world shut down" as fears of the pandemic spread. The company pulled the offer, and soon after, she was laid off by the investment firm — where she was still working while pursuing other opportunities.
After six months of unemployment, the same tech startup renewed their offer, which included a $80,000 salary. While she was grateful for the job and learned a lot, it only took a year before she started feeling like she was again "reaching that ceiling of opportunity and growth in the role."
At the beginning of 2022, she says she submitted nearly 200 applications over the span of just two weeks and went through another grueling interview cycle.
She says most companies didn't seem to care about her lack of a college degree — something she attributed to the relaxing of job requirements many companies have undertaken over the last few years. "The timing was perfect," she said.
Ultimately, she says she received three six-figure job offers, negotiated, and accepted one for $135,000, according to a document verified by Insider. Roughly six months in, she says she's happy with her job and is finally in a role where she feels challenged.
4 keys to succeeding without a college degree
Tragesser lists four considerations for anyone hoping to find success without a college degree.
First is "work ethic".
"You have to be willing to show up to work as your best self," she said. "No matter what's happening in your life, give it your all. Come to work positive. Go above and beyond."
The product of this mindset when Tragesser was waiting tables clearly caught the attention of the executive that offered her "big break" four years ago.
That said, she's supportive of the "quiet quitting" movement and thinks it's important for people to scale back when they're feeling overwhelmed.
"I think you can work hard but still have that work-life balance," she said. After all, that's what's at the core of quiet quitting, which is simply a new name for the old phenomenon of creating boundaries to avoid burnout.
Second is the "pursuit of knowledge" — she attributes two online marketing programs she enrolled in through Cornell and Yale as key drivers of her success.
"If you can't afford college or you feel that it's just not your thing — both of which were my situation — I always tell people, 'Consider a professional program that directly correlates to what you're interested in,'" she said.
Third is "know when to move on."
After leaving her $80,000 tech startup job, she says she cried to her boss because a part of her didn't want to leave — but she ultimately knew it was the best thing for her personal and professional development.
"There's always going to be an excuse to not switch jobs, but if you're one of those people that wants more out of your job in your life, you have to be able to identify when your job no longer serves you."
Fourth is "goal setting." At the end of every year, she creates a list of goals that guides her life in the year to come. Every few months, she takes stock of her progress and adjusts as needed.
Some people still ask when she's going to return to get her college degree, but she has no interest in taking on the financial burden.
"That's not a bill that I would ever want," she said.
She knows that her path isn't for everyone and that some jobs may always require a college education. But generally speaking, she doesn't think a degree is a prerequisite for success.
Ultimately, she's just grateful to not be "worrying about where my next meal is going to come from."
"I think that everybody deserves that," she said.
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