Degree vs. Experience: Which Do Employers Prefer? (With Tips for How To Choose)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 5, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Choosing to go to college or gain work experience is an important decision. Each option offers benefits, and it's important to choose the right opportunity for your preferences. In this article, we discuss the benefits of having a degree, the benefits of gaining experience, if employers prefer a degree vs. experience and tips on how to choose between a degree and experience.

Related: 12 Alternatives To College

Benefits of having a degree

Earning a college degree is often the minimum requirement for many jobs. It can be an important step in your early career. Earning a degree often provides you with background information on an industry and helps you develop essential technical skills.

Here are some benefits of earning a college degree:

Earn more money

Some people consider earning at least a bachelor's degree a guaranteed return on investment. This is because people with college degrees often earn more money. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020, people with a bachelor's degree earned a median income of $1,248 per week. In contrast, people with a high school diploma but no college credits earned a median income of $746 per week.

Find more jobs

While having a college degree does not guarantee employment, unemployment rates are often lower for people with college degrees. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate for people with bachelor's degrees in 2020 was 2%. This was lower than the overall national unemployment rate, which was 3.6%, and the national unemployment rate for people with a high school diploma but no college credits, which was 3.8%.

Gain specialized knowledge

Earning a degree allows you to gain specialized knowledge about a specific career or industry. This may help you develop skills you need to begin your first job with little to no on-the-job training or advance your career. A degree may also help ensure you are up-to-date with the latest trends.

Learn about other industries

Many degree programs require you to complete a variety of courses. This may provide you with the opportunity to learn about other industries. Learning about other industries may help ensure you chose the right career path or provide you with transferable skills for your job search.

Demonstrate academic abilities

Earning a college degree show your ability to complete academic work. Some employers consider this a demonstration of your mental capacity and work ethic. Employers may view your degree as verification of your skills, intelligence and ability to dedicate yourself to difficult tasks.

Earn more degrees

Different jobs, industries and companies require different degrees. While earning a bachelor's degree may provide you with a range of job opportunities, earning a graduate degree may provide you with even more opportunities. Earning a bachelor's degree will allow you to pursue further academic opportunities.

Related: Is Grad School Worth It?

Benefits of gaining experience

Gaining experience rather than pursuing a college degree allows you to begin working immediately. Some types of jobs, such as sales positions or skilled trades, may prefer candidates with relevant experience. You may develop important skills, complete on-the-job training and handle real-world problems.

Here are some benefits of gaining experience:

Become familiar with how an industry works

Each industry is unique. Gaining experience allows you to start learning the intricacies of an industry immediately. You may make important connections with other people, develop important skills, understand how to advance within the industry or complete on-the-job training hours to earn certifications.

Prove success with real-world situations

Earning a degree often involves working with hypothetical situations and learning theories. However, gaining experience allows you to take part in real-world situations. Your real-world experience may help prove your abilities to potential employers.

Develop professional skills

Earning experience provides you with the opportunity to work in a professional setting. This may help you learn more about workplace politics and ethics. You may also develop professional skills, such as critical thinking or analytical skills, that you may not be able to develop in school.

Be prepared to work right away

Gaining experience may ensure you have the required skills to skip completing on-the-job training at a new position. This may mean you start working faster. Employers may seek candidates they don't have to spend time or money training more.

Related: 40 Great Jobs You Can Get Without a College Degree

Do employers prefer a degree or experience?

Employer preference for a degree or experience often depends on their industry and the specific job they're hiring for. For example, on-the-job experience is often more beneficial for vocational or trade jobs. Conversely, there are many companies have policies that require a minimum of a bachelor's degree to hire a candidate. However, some of these policies may allow you to substitute relevant experience to satisfy degree requirements.

Employers often seek candidates with a combination of education and experience. If you choose education, consider completing an internship or other work experience to develop important skills. If you choose experience, pursue relevant certifications or training courses to verify your expertise.

Related: Should I Go To College or Not? Reasons To Consider Both Options

Tips for choosing between gaining experience of earning a degree

Here are some tips to consider when choosing between earning a college degree vs experience:

Consider the job

Determine what kind of career you hope to have. Some industries prefer candidates with experience, while other industries require candidates to have at least a bachelor's degree. For example, many vocational trades seek candidates with relevant experience, but jobs within the tech industry often seek candidates with degrees.

Think about the cost of college

Earning a bachelor's degree can be expensive. The National Center for Education Statistics reported the average cost of one year of tuition at a four-year institution from 2017 to 2018 was $27,357. This means earning a four-year degree would cost approximately $109,428.

Related: Is It Worth It To Get a Bachelor's Degree?

Explore other opportunities

Consider other opportunities that may provide you with beneficial training or experience. Look for opportunities to intern or volunteer to add valuable experience to your resume. Consider enrolling in classes or training programs to improve your education credentials.

Evaluate your experience

Think about what your experience may say about you. Consider the impression you may give if you worked a full-time job while earning your degree or started your own successful company without a degree. Regardless of choosing education or experience, it's important to show you are a dedicated worker and prove the value you could provide a company.

Consider your recommendations

Most jobs require candidates to provide recommendations to learn more about their experience. Consider what you different types of recommendations may say about your skills. For example, academic recommendations, such as those from professors, show you understand theory. Conversely, professional recommendations, such as those from previous managers, verify your technical skills.

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