I get asked this question a lot as a college instructor:
Does having a college degree really matter?
You may think since 1) I teach at a community college and 2) I have both bachelor’s and master’s degrees that I would immediately answer, “Of course! Duh!”
But actually, the answer isn’t that simple.
Education vs. experience is an age-old debate, one that has no right or wrong answer.
On the one hand, having a college degree can’t hurt. Many jobs — think accountants and chemical engineers — require the kind of training you get in college. And a degree of any kind usually equates to higher pay and more mobility within a company. Attending college can mean, to some recruiters and employers, that you are able to learn complex subject matter, analyze problems and devise solutions, demonstrate commitment to learning and to the career, and maybe allude that you can work collaboratively or in group settings.
Then again, I know a few college graduates who aren’t capable of any of the above.
Experience, on the other hand, shows something else: tenacity, perseverance, work ethic, grit. It’s the “walk,” the “pavement,” the “proof in the pudding,” so to speak. I’d rather hire someone who’s proven to be a published writer — meaning, she knows how to meet deadlines, she can work with editors, she can actually write — than someone with just a bachelor’s degree in English from a prestigious university. That doesn’t mean anything, really, to me.
So what’s your take on the debate: Is education more important than experience? Or do you need to prove yourself in the workplace in order to get ahead?
Experience and the school of hard knocks. I’d vote for experience, as in “on-the-job-training by the skilled and wise elders. Supplemented with book education.Or in this day and age ==> The Internet and specialized seminars.A firm handshake,respect and being on time, can take one far too…..
I’d like to say experience but I’ve seen many instances where those who are capable but lack the education are passed over for those with the education.
@oldshoes @kim I should have listed the people who are successful WITHOUT college degrees — like Bill Gates and roughly 25 percent of state legislators, believe it or not. And I totally see what you’re saying, @kim, about people who are qualified to do a job but don’t have a college degree. I think that’s what the new movie, “Larry Crowne,” is going to be about!
As I am also a college instructor I think I come at this from that perspective. There is no substitute for college in my eyes. Having said that there is no substitute for experience. Say what? In teaching entrepreneurship I am fond of telling the class to think differently so here is my think differently spin on this subject. Life is about doing whatever you can do to improve your odds because there are absolutely no guarantees out there anywhere. So let’s take your typical high school grad, go to college, not go to college. It is generally a four year process. Ask the question, how do I improve my odds of having the kind of life I want? If the answer is go to college then go.
College is no guarantee. You may graduate not much better off than when you started other than having the satisfaction of accomplishing something over a period of time. Some people though choose that route and wind up not really having anything. Some school may bless you with a degree and you may be unable to compete with others of similar training. Why? Every school is different. Some are experts at getting you to where you need to be to succeed. Some are frankly diploma mills despite the ‘prestigious’ name. And employers know this.
I also tell my students that despite excellent product development experience in telecommunications and software development, degrees from well regarded schools, and experience in a wide variety of disciplines nothing prepared me for starting and growing a business. And here is where I learned the biggest lesson ever. Without the help of others nothing worth doing is possible. Without self awareness and really understanding yourself nothing worth doing is possible. There is a lot to be said for emotional intelligence. A lot to be said about not being afraid of uncertainty. But in the end everything you do improves your odds of doing the next thing better. So I say do whatever improves your odds of getting to that next thing.
I don’t think college is for everyone, either. There are some people who don’t need the advance degree — and go into careers where they are both successful and happy.
You’re totally right about some college being diploma mills; some of these graduates enter the workforce completely unprepared for the real work of jobs and mortgages.
“But in the end everything you do improves your odds of doing the next thing better. So I say do whatever improves your odds of getting to that next thing.” — I couldn’t have said that better!
Thanks Cat, most kind of you.
it depends (like how I took a stand there?). in my field, a degree is often a way to get a foot in the door, although I know a number of colleagues who do not have degrees. in fact, the best (best combination of people skills, regulatory knowledge and technical knowledge) safety professional I know does not have his degree and he’s currently managing safety in a 5K employee site.
there are others in my field, though that have multiple degrees and certifications and, when push comes to shove, aren’t worth the time spent interviewing them.
in this economic climate, at least, a degree is definitely worth having. there are so many people out of work that, rightly or wrongly, hiring managers (again, at least in my field) aren’t inclined to look at a candidate unless the piece of paper is included in the package. this is even for the lower level technician positions. luckily, for my friends, the ones without degrees are, mostly, employed in good, stable positions, but I’ve heard horror stories about people with years of experience in the field who are having a hard time even getting phone interviews while I am getting cold called by recruiters (I’m not banging my own drum on this because recruiter interest is definitely not an indicator on ability, imho) mostly, I’m guessing, on the strength of my combination of education (bachelors and MBA), certifications and experience. operationally, there’s little to separate me from the pack, but, with open positions at a premium, what I can put on paper seems to have given me an edge.
Yeah, I think when it comes down to it, BOTH are vital, especially in this economy where jobs are more competitive. But it’s hard when some jobs requires both — and all you have is one or the other. How do you get experience when you can’t even get a job?
Hello Cat, my daughter has a bachelor’s degree and almost every job she applys for experince is required. How do you get the experince if you can’t get hired?
YES! THIS IS SUCH A PROBLEM! How do you get a job when you don’t have experience… and how do you get experience when you can’t get a job? It’s an age-old Catch 22.
Three great thoughts. I never had too many great original thoughts, so I borrow from others.
“Education is what survives when what one has learned has been forgotten.” (B.F. Skinner)
“Wisdom comes from experience. Where does experience come from? It comes from making mistakes.” (Joe Neeley)
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” (Calvin Coolidge)
Thanks for the great thoughts from other! 🙂
Education and experience go hand in hand but a lot of times in order to get ahead it’s not what you know, but who you know. I’m sure we’ve all heard of “the good ‘ole boys” system. Yeah, it still exists in todays economy. Why you think I took up golf 20 years ago! Hah!
True… you could have both education and experience — but you’re not in the “Inner Circle.” I do think it’s still about WHO you know than WHAT you know.
The only absolute answer I have to the question of education or experience is “it depends”.
It depends on the type of position and the employer’s expectations. If I were applying for a position, I would put myself in the employer’s shoes.
A couple of questions I would ask myself:
> Is this an entry-level position? Or is the applicant expected to be able to step directly into the position, knowing what to do? (Many employers provide specialized or on-the-job training for entry-level positions, with the expectation that the employee will be capable of learning the necessary technical skills. General skills like: effective communication, ability to problem-solve, etc. are pre-requisite to most jobs. If it is not an entry-level position, I’m sure the employer looks for relevant work experience.)
> Is it a technical position (i.e., engineering)? (There are some things that just cannot be learned through experience. I firmly believe engineering is one of them. You learn problem-solving techniques, research and design methodology, and general concepts specific to engineering. And, no engineering employer would provide OJT to teach someone about the difference between “work” and “power”.)
There are many other considerations, but these are a couple I thought were of high importance.
I lean toward that, too. I mean, those with both usually are the best candidates for the job. But it does depend on the job. I mean, I would rather hire a guy who’s worked on cars for 10 years as a mechanic to fix my oil leak than a guy with a mechanical engineering degree with no real experience.
Education is one thing. Having a degree is another.
Unforeseen circumstances forced me to drop out of engineering school a year before completion. Needing a job, I applied with a contracting firm for an entry-level position as a software engineer. The application didn’t ask whether I had a degree and they hired me. Over the course of two years, I was promoted while nearly all of my co-workers–most who were hired at the same time as me and had degrees from UH–were laid off. Another two years and another promotion later I was called in by my boss who had two things to tell me. First, he was giving me a raise. And second, they just discovered I didn’t get my degree and the corporate office said they needed that so would I mind getting that paper for them.
I politely told my boss I would not and that since it was not a requirement when I was hired and since I’ve proven myself to be a valuable worker, getting that degree would benefit them more than me. He agreed and nothing more about the topic was mentioned again.
My situation was unusual and I’d be the first to admit some luck was involved. But it shows the answer to the education vs. experience question can depend greatly on whom you ask. There are times when skill (or talent) can trump both. Given the opportunity.
You sound like the inspiration for that new movie, “Larry Crowne”!
I’m going to keep it sweet and simple. I wouldn’t want someone with a “theory” on how to fix a car that I drive my family in everyday. I would want a person with years of experience doing that. It would be okay with me if said person had an apprentice and he’s being all “yoda-y” with, But I would want the experienced guy fully in charge.
On the other hand
It’ll be easier to learn from on the job training if you had a classroom setting to learn the basic reasons why you do things in certain jobs.There are just some things that you can’t learn by trial and error. As an example, “Why would you cut the red wire instead of the blue?”. If you were to have that job on your first day… that may have been your last…
I’m just saying that some cases will require more education than experience, and vice versa. It’s up to the management to see if they would really want to focus on one or the other.
Both. Can I put it any simpler? (hehe)
Seriously, one without the other = less than.
It’s like what @DavidJackson said, if you want to get ahead, you have to be better than the next guy. So do what it takes!
I am still wondering why we even separate the two. Why is there education and then experience?
I think in some cases, especially with young people who are just entering the workforce, there only have one or the other. They’ve either spent four years (or longer if they went to UH) getting a bachelor’s degree OR they’ve worked. If two people from each realm applied for the same job, which would weight more? I mean, most jobs have specific requirements. But there are people — take state legislators, for example — who have important jobs that don’t require college degrees.
It all depends on the person. If one can learn from the education they are given and apply it to be able to do it then it’s all good, but if they are not able to apply said education then it is a waste. At the same time if someone is able to experience something and then learns from doing it and improves each time they do it then that is good, but if they only go through the movements for the sake of doing it then that is a waste. So in the end both are good, each with their own plusses. It just depends on the individual person and their learning styles.