Is a College Degree Necessary in Today’s Work Environment?

One of the biggest decisions every young adult has to make is whether to attend college or move straight into the workforce. While there are many benefits to getting a college degree, it isn’t essential in every field, and it’s not the right choice for everyone. Your higher education decision is a very personal one that will depend on your goals, skills, and personality. 

Degrees Can Be Pricey

College degrees have become very expensive in recent years, especially in the United States. According to US News & World Reports, the average private school cost over $35K a year, while public, in-state schools averaged just under $10K. Over four years, those educations are very high-priced. Sometimes the investment is worth it – but in other cases, you could end up with a huge chunk of debt that will take years to pay off. 

College TypeTuition (2020 – 2021)
In-state public$9,687
Out-of-state public$21,184
Private$35,087
Average Tuition at Ranked Colleges
Source: US News

Before investing in a college degree, consider your future goals. If your dream career requires a degree or you want to work in academia, getting a degree is a key component on your path to success. However, if you don’t have a major picked out in advance, or if you think you may change your mind about your career at some point, it may be better to spend some time in the workforce gaining real-world experience. 

Resumes are a Small Part of the Application Process

It’s hard to deny that a college degree looks great on a resume. However, your resume is just one part of the broader application process. While some companies place a lot of stock in your degree, others will focus on the interview process and screening tests to see how you fit in with the company. 

If you don’t have a college degree, your resume should focus on your work experience and the special skills that you have. You’ll also want to make sure that you have a well-written cover letter and several reliable references. Make sure you follow any specific directions employers have laid out in the job listing. This shows that you care about the job and can work with others. 

Work Experience is Just as Valuable

There are some jobs that are going to require you to have a college degree, or even multiple degrees. For example, if you want to be a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer, you won’t be able to get the necessary training without a higher education. However, in many industries you won’t actually gain much relevant experience in college – you’ll learn most of what you’ll be doing once you’re actually on the job. 

The key is to show that you have the relevant skills and qualities to get the job done effectively – this is always going to be more important than just showing off a diploma. In today’s digital world, you can teach yourself many of the requisite skills you need for a new career through online courses, videos, and workshops. 

There are also plenty of entry-level jobs where you can learn valuable skill sets without a college degree. Companies will often invest in internal training programs to help their employees succeed. If you’re applying for a new job, relevant work experience and skill sets are going to be more competitive than just having a college degree alone. 

You can highlight these things in a job interview to downplay the fact that you don’t have a college degree. While many job listings state that a bachelor’s degree is required, this shouldn’t deter you from applying if you have all of the other relevant qualifications. Job requirement listings are more like an HR wishlist than a strict criteria – things that would be nice to have, but aren’t necessarily essential. 

Jobs That Don’t Require a Degree

In a lot of fields, completing a trade school program or apprenticeship is far more valuable than getting a college degree. Some examples of popular trade school jobs include construction workers, electricians, auto mechanics, cosmetologists, air traffic controllers, and more. Many jobs that require a trade school education provide a very stable income. Trade schools are much easier to get into than a traditional college. They also don’t cost as much or take as much time to complete. 

There are also many viable freelance businesses you can start on your own if you have a certain skill set. For example, web designers are self-taught, but make a good living building websites for a roster of clients. Other examples of lucrative freelance businesses that don’t always require a degree include photography, writing, illustration, and translation. This path is a great option for those who want to work independently and have control over their schedules. 

Final Thoughts

For many people, a college education is the right path. However, our current work environment is rapidly evolving, and a college degree is no longer necessary for success. It’s more important to have the right skills for the job and a good work ethic.