Is a College Degree Necessary for Success?

Education can come in many forms, from years of schooling to months of hands-on training. But today, it seems the highest and most credible accomplishment in education is a college degree – something not only encouraged but often expected by employers.

“At some point in the last 20 years, the idea developed that you needed a college degree to ensure professional success,” said Robin Schwartz, PHR, managing partner at MFG Jobs. “That has evolved to many pursuing four-year degree programs and even master’s degrees without being entirely sure what they want to do professionally.”

There’s much controversy surrounding this topic. In fact, the Business.com community asked questions about the importance of degrees in the business world today. For instance, Business.com community member Asmaa Lasheen wanted to know if hiring managers would consider candidates who didn’t graduate from college. We sought answers.

Is it necessary for success?

To answer this question in simple terms: it depends on the …

Hiring manager

An overwhelming number of workers, including those with impressive degrees, feel that degrees are not necessary for career success. However, experts said most companies and hiring managers don’t reflect this belief.

“I have two college degrees that I barely use, so I would say at face value, no, you don’t ‘need’ one,” said Valerie Streif, senior content manager at Pramp. “But unfortunately, the way HR departments have evolved and hiring strategies have changed, it has become an essential box to tick, something that must be on a resume for you to be considered for a position, even if the position wouldn’t require skills that you acquired while earning that degree.”

For instance, Alex Membrillo, CEO of Cardinal Digital Marketing, said that a standard prerequisite for post positions in his marketing agency is a four-year degree. If a candidate doesn’t have one, their application likely won’t even be reviewed.

“The reason for this is because the agency manages large advertising budgets and media spend for clients, and it’s important that we’re staffed with qualified employees,” he said.

Many managers believe that degrees validate qualifications, and they’ll usually choose a candidate with a degree over one without.

Industry

This issue is also highly dependent on industry. For instance, someone who works in psychology would need a higher degree to counsel, whereass someone in construction would need more hands-on experience.

“People can certainly be successful without a degree,” said Membrillo. “However, they need to choose a path or career where it’s not necessary.”

Even at his marketing agency, there are some positions that Membrillo doesn’t require a degree for, such as marketing content writers. He hires them based on writing samples and tests, and he would consider anyone regardless of whether they graduated college, going off talent and experience rather than schooling.

Individual

Everyone is different. There is no right or wrong level of education, no matter what society says. People learn in various ways, and it ultimately comes down to what works best for them.

“It is up to the individual to decide how they view and measure success,” said Jacob Dayan, Esq., CEO and co-founder of Community Tax. “There are many variables to help measure your own unique success. For example, you can find success without a college degree by taking on a family business at an early age. This is a successful story for small business owners. It is up to the individual to find their own unique type of success that both challenges them and gives them purpose in life.”

Alternative options

If you don’t want or have the resources to attend college, there are many other paths to take. Here are the most common.

Trade schools

Trade schools are great for those with specific interests who want to receive accelerated training and education for a given trade, from elevator installment to radiation therapy. At the end of their studies at a trade school, students typically receive a diploma and certification in their field of study. This route requires less money and time.

“By earning an associate’s degree at a community college or trade school, many students can avoid accumulating a mountain of student loan debt,” said Schwartz. “Standard programs may vary from one to two years, depending on the certification or degree being accredited. So, in half the time it takes to finish a four-year degree program, those pursuing the skilled trades can already be working in their industry and start becoming financially dependent.”

Many of these trades offer more job security than those associated with degrees, Schwartz added. Career stability is something all workers want, and a major reason why many attend college and earn degrees in the first place.

“While no job is 100 percent secure, people still need their roofs repaired and their cars worked on,” Schwartz said. “For the foreseeable future, those jobs will be handled by local skilled trade workers.”

Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are similar to trade schools but offer more hands-on opportunities, giving you a feel for labor demands so you know exactly what to expect. While you must pay for a trade school, you are typically financially compensated for your work in apprenticeships.

“Having the opportunity to learn through doing also allows one to become skilled in their job more quickly,” Schwartz said. “If you’re looking for a career that will provide you immediate satisfaction and develop you into an expert more quickly, the skilled trades might be for you. The experience you gain can also be used in your personal life. Imagine you’ve bought your first home and need to make some renovations. If you’re a master carpenter or a skilled electrician, these projects will cost you a fraction of what the unskilled public will pay.”

Self-made experiences

If you choose not to pursue any of the options listed, you must be self-motivated enough to start your own brand or network with those in your preferred industry.

“I had a financial advisor who was a retired PGA club pro,” said Membrillo. “While he did not have a college degree, he had over 25 years of business experience running a large golf club and pro shop. When he transitioned to financial advising, he obtained all the needed certifications and training from the national investment company he worked for.”

When you dedicate your time to building experiences and connections with experts in your field, hiring managers tend to view you as more respected and credible.

“If you start out by working for small businesses through personal connections and build up a strong reputation and a long resume of experience, you’ll reach a point where no one will question your education,” said Streif.

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