The great debate: education vs. experience

educationJune 14, 2013 – Who has it easier when searching for a job, a college graduate, or a well-experienced worker without a degree?

This is an age-old question asked by many potential job applicants, whether they are fresh from the college classroom, or wise with experience from years spent in the workforce.

Recent graduates may believe they have it more difficult, and often cite their lack of experience as the reason. Still, experienced workers without higher education noted on their resumes often feel fewer doors open to them when looking for a job.

Employers seem just as puzzled by this question. A recent survey shows they say they value a bachelor’s degree more than they did five years ago. Yet they claim a degree has become the new high school diploma, which almost devalues it.

College degrees are more common today than ever, so there may be something to the claim they are not as highly valued. Perhaps that is because many believe the propaganda that college graduates earn a million dollars more in a lifetime than high school graduates do. Not only is this figure grossly inflated, but also it based on information found in studies funded by colleges and universities who want to market their schools to potential students.

Those same employers who say a degree is more important than experience also say they have trouble finding qualified graduates to fill vacancies because they lack basic workplace skills. So, what is the true answer?

It depends on the industry and the job, of course. Students desiring to become doctors, lawyers and engineers, for example, must have a degree to pursue a career in their chosen field. Money spent on that type of education is often a good investment. You may be wise, however, to think twice about going $120,000 in debt for a degree in women’s studies.

Still, experience often proves more important in other fields. In technology, for example, a field that boasts a few big names that are famous for not having a degree, such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg, experience and keeping up with the latest advances on your own may be more valuable than classroom time.

Higher education is always the best option if you can afford it. The problem is most students cannot go to college without the help of student loans, the amount of which is a growing problem for the United States. Students graduate with enough debt to see their monthly payments equal a mortgage payment in many cases. That often means moving back home after graduation and putting off buying your first home for several years, which hurts the economy.

Another solution is to gain both experience and a degree. If you’re starting out and can find an entry-level job somewhere, you can work during the day and obtain a degree at night. Many larger companies have tuition reimbursement benefits that help workers achieve this goal.

There are also colleges, like Philadelphia’s Drexel University, that has co-ops or internships, often well paid, built into the degree program. Drexel is a five-year program because of the co-ops, but the student gains valuable experience in the work force, along with a degree.

Times have changed for both the recent college graduate and the experienced worker. The job market is quite different than it was prior to 2007, and fewer jobs available. It is best to find a sensible solution that works for you, and realize that taking on a huge debt isn’t always the best answer.


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A girl trying to live the dream.

2 thoughts on “The great debate: education vs. experience”

  1. This is a great post. I have twelve years of very specialized experience and no degree. I have managed to get a job — even though I don’t like the rat race of a corporate day job – that pays better than many of my coworkers because of my experience and the networking that has come from that experience. I think co-op programs are a great way to go for people just getting out of high school. At this point, a degree from an accredited online school while working a day job may be a good route.

    1. I agree, Lewis. I have several years of experience as well, two years ago I did complete a bachelor’s degree program at night. While I’m glad I did it in many ways, I had to take some student loans out because my company’s tuition reimbursement program didn’t pay for everything. I question that choice each month when I go to make that monthly payment to Sallie Mae. I’m not sure I actually benefitted from the degree in the long run.

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