Education vs. Experience: Which Matters More for Your Career?

Education vs. Experience: Which Matters More for Your Career?

Regrets in life can be powerful.

And one common regret a lot of people have is not finishing college. 

But is a degree really that important? 

After all, nearly two-thirds of people in the U.S. workforce do not have a bachelor’s degree.

Can years of hard-earned experience substitute for a four-year college degree?

Yes…no…maybe.

This education vs. experience debate largely depends on the professional field you work in and your current career situation.

In this article, we will analyze experience and education.

We’ll discuss which one takes the upper hand in various situations.

Let’s first look at the arguments in favor of getting your degree or continuing your education. 

How can educational qualifications or degrees help you in your career? 

There are several ways.

Higher pay is more likely.

Education surely helps a person get a higher-paying job or achieve a position that pays more. 

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, employees with higher education earn more than those with high school degrees. 

The median weekly earnings of a master’s degree holder is $1,497.

But for workers with a high school diploma, it’s $746. 

That’s more than twice as much! 

The BLS has also published information that the unemployment rate is also lower among those with higher education.

Some fields require education.

As you know, some professions rely heavily on educational degrees. 

Professional fields like healthcare, education, engineering, and research naturally require employees with higher education. 

In some cases, companies also have policies that require applicants to have certain degrees.  

For example:

  •  According to Harvard Business School, 67% of employers request a college degree in postings for the Supervisor of Production Workers role.
  • In addition, 96% of Mechanical Engineer jobs request a college degree.

Future opportunities are more available.

Holding a post-secondary degree automatically opens up many professional doors that are not available otherwise.

You’ll find switching careers and changing jobs a fairly straightforward task compared to people without higher degrees. 

More importantly, higher degrees can play an important role in getting promoted within your organization. 

Higher education equals better reputation.

From the employers’ perspective, a person with a degree will usually be seen in a better light than a person without a degree.

It sounds harsh, but in most cases, this is the truth. 

Higher degrees bring with them a reputation. 

That, in turn, makes your resume more powerful.

A staggering 82% of executives and 75% of hiring managers surveyed by the Association of American Colleges & Universities think that college education is “very important” or “absolutely essential” for professionals. 

Okay, so plenty of stats back up the need for higher education.

But don’t belittle the importance of experience in the professional world.

Experience also has its own set of arguments backing it up! 

Some vocational fields require experience.

In some career fields, on-the-job experience will always reign supreme. 

The nature of these jobs is such that no amount of education can replace the competency that actual experience can offer. 

Take, for example, these two fields: construction and sales. 

While they’re very different from each other, there’s no room for the degree vs. experience debate here. 

Experience wins, hands down.

Old degrees can be obsolete.

Did you finish college 25 years ago? 

After so many years, much of what you learned in college will have grown obsolete. 

What you did in the years after college will matter far more.  

  • How much have you progressed professionally? 
  • What practical experience have you gained?
  • How much have you contributed to the companies you worked for?

All this experience will matter much more than education and degrees.  

Experience makes you competitive.

Picture a new graduate with a couple of years of internship or part-time job experience.

Then imagine someone who just obtained a degree but has no experience.

Who would have a competitive advantage? 

Surely the candidate with experience would have the edge. There’s also a Maguire Associates study to confirm that. 

So, experience will always give you a competitive edge in your career, no matter where you are.

Even if not in the eyes of others, you will know that you have done the job and you can do it again in the future. 

This knowledge will help boost your confidence. 

Future growth will require it.

A higher degree does not guarantee a higher professional position. 

You still have to work your way up the ladder, no matter what degree you have earned. 

In any professional field, a lack of sufficient work experience will translate into a lack of promotions.  

Norms are shifting.

If you’re actively seeking a job, you’ve probably noticed that job posts requiring a bachelor’s degree are on the rise. 

According to the same Harvard Business School study mentioned above, of the 11.6 million jobs created between 2010 and 2016, three out of four required a bachelor’s degree or higher. 

However, there’s also a noticeable shift against this norm in certain fields and companies.  

The same HBS study also finds that 40% of employers surveyed ranked a four-year degree as the least important qualification for vetting candidates.

The traditional norm of degree inflation is shifting, specifically in the technology field. 

Many large corporations – including Google, Tesla, Apple, Netflix, and others – do not require college degrees from job applicants. 

Key Takeaways

In the battle of experience versus education, there’s no clear winner. 

So what's the verdict?

It all depends on where you are in your career and your career field.

Education is indispensable when it comes to long-term career growth in traditional career fields. 

Yet, the same can also be said for experience.

It’s safe to say that you need a mix of both education and experience for a sustained and growing career.  

If you have any questions about your specific situation and what path you should take, you can always get professional help from a career coach at Find My Profession.

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