This post is was originally published on The Penny Hoarder
In my experience, the United States places too great an emphasis on getting a college education.
I know several good friends who dropped out of college because it was not for them, yet they will be drowning in student loan payments for the next decade. Beyond my anecdotal evidence, the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that the in the U.S., the average college graduation rate is just 59% — that means that more than 40% of students who enter college leave it with less money, yet no degree.
What I wish every parent, every teacher and every mentor would tell high schoolers is that there are great jobs that do not require a degree — jobs that may be better suited to students’ strengths, and jobs they might find more fulfilling.
One of the coolest and most rewarding jobs you can get sans college degree is that of a mail carrier for the United States Postal Service (USPS). Mail carriers spend their days retrieving, sorting and delivering mail to homes and businesses. The job is both physically and mentally stimulating and a part of something very big: The USPS is the second largest employer in the United States.
A postal career also means you’re in good company. Several famous people throughout history have worked as postal carriers for the USPS, including Walt Disney, William Faulkner and The Office’s Steve Carell.
Are You the Right Fit for a Mail Carrier Position?
Being a mail carrier does not require a college degree. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder
Before applying for an opening in the postal service, take some time to determine whether the job would be a good fit for you. Does the salary line up with your lifestyle? Will you enjoy the day-to-day of being a mail carrier? Do you have the necessary skills to excel?
What Mail Carriers Do and How Much They Make
Mail carriers spend their days collecting mail for delivery, sorting through mail and delivering mail to its final destination. Some employees in the postal service also manage the desks at post offices, selling stamps, services and more.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median salary of a postal worker at $56,790 as of May 2016.
What Skills You Will Need
First and foremost, mail carriers need strong attention to detail, as they are responsible for delivering specific mail to specific people every day. Mail carriers also need to be morning people, as their days might start as early as 4 a.m.
To deliver mail on different routes, mail carriers rely on vehicles and their own two feet. That means, as a mail carrier, you need to be a confident, law-abiding driver and in good physical health. Are you willing to walk several miles a day? Are you willing to do that regardless of the weather — in the sweltering heat and the biting cold, in rain, sleet, sun and snow?
If you possess these skills, you may be a strong candidate for a mail carrier position.
The Rewards of Being a Mail Carrier
A career in the United States Postal Service is more than just good pay and benefits, though USPS spokesperson David Partenheimer does point out that both are very competitive.
Beyond pay and benefits, mail carriers enjoy a great deal of autonomy. “Our carriers tell us that they love the autonomy of the job. They are out on their own and able to interact directly with our customers,” says Partenheimer.
He also cites the opportunity to stay in shape and to work your way up the ranks as top rewards of starting a career as a mail carrier. “Many of our top executives started out as letter carriers or worked in our plants, including our current and past Postmaster Generals.”
How Do You Become a Mail Carrier?
Mail carriers begin their shifts at the United States Postal Service office. The USPS is the second largest employer in the United States. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder
Becoming a mail carrier is not an easy process, as it is a highly competitive job. Take each step seriously and practice hard for the test and interview to ensure success.
Education Level and Basic Requirements
To apply for a mail carrier position, you will need to obtain your high school diploma or G.E.D. U.S. citizens 16 and up are qualified for the position, assuming younger candidates have received their diplomas ahead of the traditional school schedule.
Beyond that, no formal education is required to become a mail carrier, though Study.com notes that applicants must have basic competency in English. You will also need an active driver’s license with a good driving record and must pass a drug screening.
Finally, you will need to be in decent physical shape. The job may require you to lift heavy objects upwards of 70 pounds, and you may have to spend entire days on your feet and walking.
To be considered for a job in the postal service, you must pass Test 473. According to Chron.com, this written exam consists of five timed sections, including address checking, coding, forms completion, memory, and personal characteristics and experience inventory. The test is roughly 2 hours and 15 minutes long.
To pass, you will need to score at least a 70, but as this is a highly competitive job market (more on that later), you will need a much stronger score to better your chances of gaining employment.
A quick Google search of “Test 473” will unlock pages and pages of search results dedicated to test prep. Some are free and some are paid (probably for good reason). Make sure to study hard for the test; you can even visit your local post office to ask for tips from workers there or just ask your own mail carrier the next time they make a delivery.
The official Test 473 Orientation Guide for Major Entry-Level Jobs PDF from the USPS is likely your best resource as you prepare for the exam.
After applying online for an open position, anticipate an interview. Study.com describes the interview process in three parts: an introductory phase, which involves the beginning small talk; the middle, which is the meat and potatoes of the interview, in which you will be asked relevant questions; and the end, which is your opportunity to ask questions of the interviewer.
A pro tip from someone who has conducted interviews: Always have relevant questions to ask. Asking questions shows that you are interested, and making sure those questions are smart and relevant demonstrates that you understand the position and are well-suited to tackling issues that the role might face.
I asked Partenheimer to offer advice for anyone considering becoming a mail carrier.
“Think of the Postal Service not in terms of just a job, but as a career. Whether you want to be a carrier for your entire career or explore other opportunities, the Postal Service offers many opportunities for advancement,” Partenheimer says. “And if hired as a carrier, give yourself time to adjust to the requirements of the position and don’t become frustrated or feel overwhelmed.”
A Note on the Job Outlook for Mail Carriers
The USPS is a humongous organization regarding hiring and employees. In 2016, it saw $71.4 billion in operating revenue and delivered nearly 154 billion pieces of mail, according to the USPS.
That said, email, social media, video conferencing and the technologies of tomorrow are uprooting the postal service industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for mail carriers is expected to decline by 13% between 2016 and 2026. Beyond that, the future of this career path may be even bleaker.
This decline in postal service employees means jobs will be even more competitive. However, take this with a grain of salt, as technology is affecting careers in almost every industry, and your experience as a mail carrier now may make you better suited to another career path down the road.
Despite this projected job growth — and due to the good pay, competitive benefits and challenging yet enjoyable job role — a career as a mail carrier is a strong choice, especially if you lack a college degree and have no desire to pursue one. Get started on your application today by applying online.
Timothy Moore is an editor and freelance writer based out of Nashville. The best piece of mail he ever received was the reimbursement check from his insurance company after a fire (yes, really) because, as an avid Penny Hoarder, he enjoys having money to pay for things.