The Value of a College Degree

So often, when I see advice regarding a college education, people speak of a college degree as some sort of magic ticket that will raise your income level. “A college degree is worth $500,000 more income over a person’s lifetime” or something to that effect is constantly touted.

This idea often pops up in the questions I get from readers. A reader will ask me if they should go back to school, not because they want to learn, but because they believe this piece of paper will directly increase their earnings.

I’ll state it right now: the piece of paper you receive at the end of your college career will do nothing to directly increase your earnings. Nothing. A college degree will simply help you to get your foot in a few more doors. It will not get you a job simply because you have that degree.

What will get you that job is what you bring to the table after you get your foot in the door. Yes, you have that B. A. or B. S. on your resume, but what else do you have that will impress? What other skills do you have that will make money for your employer or for the business you hope to start?

In the end, it’s about the skills and attributes you bring to the table, not about the piece of paper you hold.

So, what does that mean for a college education? Does that mean I hold it as being valueless?

On the contrary, I think a college education is incredibly valuable.

However, it’s not valuable for the piece of paper you get at the end; it’s valuable for the experiences you have, the skills and knowledge you actually learn, and the accomplishments you achieve while there.

If you want to come out of college and get a great job, don’t spend your time doing nothing but hitting the books, working a generic service job, and partying. That’s the recipe that a lot of college students take – and it’s a recipe that ensures that it will be more difficult than it needs to be to find a job when you graduate.

Instead, try these approaches.

Build relationships with your professors. Stay after class to ask questions. Participate in class. Hit office hours. Attend on-campus events, like lectures, that professors might attend. Ask them for more general advice, like what they did as a student to put themselves in a good position. Later, don’t be afraid to ask for employment help and reference letters.

Get a job that relates to your major in some way. The best way to start with this is to do the above – start talking to your professors. Ask them for suggestions for employment that will match your major and help you learn some basic skills. Work study jobs are often perfect for this. Yes, you’ll often find yourself doing repetitive tasks that are boring, but if you keep in mind that mastering these skills will not only impress your boss but give you a great springboard for later on in life and earn you some money and create some very impressive resume fodder and stories to tell during interviews, it’s a lot easier to focus.

Use electives to build transferable skills. When you have slots for classes that you’re unsure how to fill, look for courses that help you build transferable skills – the things you will be able to use at any job. Public speaking. Leadership. Technical writing. Time management. Communication. Information management. Basic IT skills. Take these classes and focus on the skills you’ll build.

Participate in student activities. Seek out an activity or two that’s connected to what you’re studying. Get involved, build relationships with others who are involved, and seek out leadership positions within those groups. This will not only accentuate your knowledge, but it will build relationships with future professional peers and give you some great resume fodder.

Participate in activities that build transferable skills. Beyond activities related to your studies, seek out activities that will help you build skills that you can use after school. Public speaking is always good, as are organizations that focus on leadership and debate. As always, leadership positions are always a positive.

Take any projects you have to heart. When you have a class project, don’t just look at it as a path to a good grade. Look at it as a way to build the skills you’re going to use when you’re in the workplace. Look at the product of that project as something you might be able to hold onto for a portfolio, or to build into something big. Look at it as something you’ll want to show to people in a professional environment. Not only will the grade be easy to achieve, you’ll build some skills and potentially have some great material for a portfolio.

Do something awesome. Spend a semester or two abroad. Take a year off to do a major volunteer project. Anything you can do that will help you stand out from the pack in a positive way and contribute a deep personal value to your life is something you really should consider doing.

These steps not only will build your character, your knowledge, and your relationships, but it will build a resume that will stand out from the pack when you start seeking work.

It isn’t the paper that’s valuable in college. It’s the actual skills gained and experiences enjoyed.

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  1. Monica says:

    “A college degree will simply help you to get your foot in a few more doors.”

    I would argue that, in white collar corporate America, a college degree is necessary to get your foot in almost any door.

    I think article brought up some really excellent points about maximizing your college experience to maximize future earning potential.

    But I disagree with the statement that the piece of paper will do nothing to increase your earnings. If you can’t even get in the door within your chosen industry, you’re not going to be earning anything.

  2. Mary says:

    Well said. I unfortunately fell for that plan of working part-time, getting by with C’s in my classes and partying a lot. I lost focus of why I was at college in the first place. You really have to take advantage of every single opportunity while you’re there to increase your chances of getting a job in your field at the end of it. Getting a job after college takes a lot of work, at least from my experience.

  3. Monica says:

    I’d like to add to my #1 post that while I think a college degree is necessary to get your foot in the door in corporate America, I completely agree with Trent that it’s not going to get you the job.

    It’s your experience, initiative, etc. (all the things Trent mentioned) that will land you the job.

    Just didn’t want to come across like I was implying a degree = foot in door = job.

  4. Johanna says:

    This makes no sense. Without a bachelor’s degree, I could not have gotten my PhD, and without a PhD, I could not have gotten my current job. Not even if I’d had all the same knowledge and transferable skills. So my bachelor’s degree did nothing to get me my job? I don’t think so.

    Sure, there are lots of people who have the same degrees as I have who did not get my job…but they all got different jobs. The unemployment rate among PhD holders is incredibly low. Look at any chart of the unemployment rate as a function of educational attainment. It’s really striking.

    Please forgive my negativity, but this is just another article into which you put exactly no research, and in which you explain how the world works based on how you want it to work. Not useful.

  5. Natasha says:

    I agree with this post for certain types of BA/BS degrees – general business/humanities/sciences majors that don’t point towards a specific job. In that situation, it’s important to stand out and seek out experiences that will set you apart from other job seekers. In something like healthcare, however, the degree and grades will get you the great job- RN, PharmD, CNA, etc. My friends in those fields who studied abroad or were involved in public speaking groups were met with bewilderment when they talked about those experiences in interviews- similar to the response that would be expected to an applicant who spent the interview bringing up stories about his/her kids or love for marathon running. It’s important to know the culture of your field- sometimes phenomenal grades are infinitely more attractive to a prospective employer than a semester in France.

  6. Amanda says:

    I agree that you need to do more than just the bare minimum in college for it to help you get a job. However, I think for many, many, many jobs you do need to have that piece of paper. During the recession I had 3 friends who lost jobs or had issues getting jobs, one who was out almost a year. They are all friends who never completed their Bachlor degrees.

    When people are looking at resumes, or putting out job offers, frequently they put under requirements that a degree is needed. If they can’t check off that you have one, they’ll just toss the resume.

  7. Natasha says:

    Sorry- addendum to my previous post. I don’t mean to say that study abroad/transferrable skills development groups and the like are useless, but quite the opposite. However, the value in these experiences is in what they give back in personal development and satisfaction, not necessarily professional advancement.

  8. Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch says:

    I think you are over-generalizing here with all bachelor’s degrees, which can vary greatly in field and application. For a science or engineering job, just for example, a BS is a necessity, not just optional further education. My BA is a prerequisite for my higher academic degree. For most of us a bachelor’s degree is not a bonus line on our resume, it was a requirement for the career we wanted.

  9. Tom says:

    The degree is not a piece of paper. Those are diplomas. The degree is a title conferred to the graduate. The two words are not interchangeable. Other than that, I agree with the premise of the article.

  10. Jonathan says:

    I think that the Pro-Degree comments may be missing the point of the post. It doesn’t seem to me that Trent is denying that in some cases a degree is required. Instead, he seems to be saying that the degree itself isn’t going to get you a job or more money. An argument that a degree will get someone a job or more money is an argument that the skills and experience of the person are irrelevant, as long as they have a degree.

  11. Kerry D. says:

    A side issue–my husband and I (he is a scientist and I am in the arts) have taught many thousands of college students over 20 years, and varying over 5 institutions–what we find in common is how FEW students even do the bare minimum of “hitting the books” and making it to class. It is common to have 1/2 or 1/3 of the class present; perhaps a third have done the preparatory readings. Yet, they are disgruntled with the mediocre or poor grade they get at the end. The number of students we have who truly engage in the material is around 5%. Shocking, yes? Hate to think about the future of the other 95% of our students.

  12. Spencer says:

    I think this is wishing for how the world should work. Unfortunately it doesn’t work this way. We certainly have an over-credentialed workforce, and could do with fewer college grads, but the fact is that many low level jobs use college degrees as a first round filter, whether or not that position really requires college level knowledge.

    It would be nice if you were evaluated based on your skills, but first you have to get in the door.

  13. Chris says:

    The college degree is far more than just a piece of paper. Without it, you won’t even be considered at many companies. To categorically state “the piece of paper you receive at the end of your college career will do nothing to directly increase your earnings. Nothing.” is just plain misleading.

  14. Interested Reader says:

    Most jobs you have to have at least a 4 year degree in something in order to even apply for the job. People can get jobs outside what their degree is in as long as they have a degree.

    I work as administrative support staff, I don’t have a college degree (for a variety of reasons adn I’m hoping to be a position to change that soon), when I was looking for a job I kept coming across administrative aide or even positions classified as receptionist with the same job descripton as mine and a 4 year degree was a requirement.

    I tried to check to see if some would take equivilant work experience but either the answer was no or no one was taking inquiries about the position you just had to apply.

  15. Michelle says:

    Someone with no degree can do well. But it’s a lot more difficult because there truly are not as many doors open. As a general rule, I think there is a continuum of hirability/earning power:

    $ no degree, no initiative
    $$ degree, no initiative
    $$ no degree, lots of initiative
    $$$ degree, lots of initiative

  16. valleycat1 says:

    I agree with Trent’s central premise that it isn’t the piece of paper, it’s what’s represented by the piece of paper. And that you have to have some substance there, not just squeaking by. Or else, build skills and substance outside the college environment.

    However, a huge number of professions require that pice of paper as entry ticket before you are given the opportunity of an interview to demonstrate what you have to offer. And generally those do pay better over the long run than non-degree jobs (other than, for example, successful business entrepreneurship).

  17. Tracy says:

    I’m solidly in the ‘without a degree, there are many, many doors that are closed to you, no matter how intelligent, skilled and knowledgeable you are’ – which isn’t to say that initiative and follow-through aren’t important and I actually think all of Trent’s suggestions on how to get more out of college are really good – but “the piece of paper you receive at the end of your college career will do nothing to directly increase your earnings” is actively false.

  18. Johanna says:

    Another thing: Trent ends the post by saying that you should use your time in college to build skills and experience and connections outside of what you learn strictly in the classroom, because those skills and experience and connections have more value than the degree itself. It sounds like what he has in mind here is a traditional student who goes to college straight out of high school. For those students, Trent’s advice may be worth heeding.

    But he opens the post by talking about readers who ask if they should go *back* to school – that is, they’ve already spent some time in the workforce, building skills and experience and connections in their field. Probably, for at least some of those readers, the degree itself really is the main thing they need to continue to advance in their careers.

    But even if it’s not, how much does it really matter whether the answer to the readers’ question is “Yes, you should go back to school because a bachelor’s degree itself would be valuable for you” or “Yes, you should go back to school to build valuable skills, experience, and connections”? Should we also have an argument about “less filling” versus “tastes great”?

  19. Sara says:

    Having just gone back to school to get my masters I am actually kind of shocked by the level of student input in some of my classes. Students who don’t even bother to do the reading or speak out at all in class. Luckily our department doesn’t have too many of them. For those that are willing to put in a bit of initiative, there are opportunities galore. The professors are incredibly open to student initiatives and projects that are going to look very nice on anyone’s resume. I personally have an opportunity to put on a workshop in my field, which is not any of my professor’s specialty. Like anything else in life, college can be so much more when you put in your energy and your passion, but I think many students hold back because they have learned that trying and failing invites criticism from peers and others. We really all need to learn to empower people to innovate, create and grow — all of which suffer from a risk of failure and setbacks.

  20. Jesse says:

    I, too, disagree. It has been my experience, and the experience of EVERY person I know, that if you want a professional job that makes a living wage, you need a degree. In fact, considering that most of my friends have military training and experience, they shouldn’t be having the trouble they’re having getting jobs or promos. The fact is, many have even been told that they’re really looking for someone with a degree, and when it came down to the hiring, they often hired people who had a degree but no experience over someone who had been with the company over 10 years with much experience.

    Granted, you’re right, experience matters. But when a company won’t even look at your experience until you’ve gotten through the “degree-holder” gate, it eliminates the job prospects greatly. Anymore, the degree has become the new “high-school diploma”, and both present an opportunity for discrimination and lackluster investigation on the part of a company’s hiring department.

  21. Nancy says:

    Much agreement here with #5, #6, #10, and #11. (Especially #11.) I tell my high school students that there is a HUGE difference between the student that “sits and gets” and one that is truly engaged. Unfortunately, most are “sitters and getters”. With the cost of college so high and students not aligning their actual skills with their goals, and lacking the motivation to achieve at a high level, there is a large percentage of a generation that will struggle to get out of their self-designed rut.

  22. MikeTheRed says:

    I think everyone who’s refuting the entire article on the basis of “you need a degree to get XYZ white collar job!” are missing the point here. The degree still has value, but it’s not the primary value.

    Student graduates from College X with Degree Y and that’s it (no work experience, no extracurriculars to showcase abilities etc) will have a pretty rough time getting a job. The diploma saying they completed a B.S in something isn’t an instant qualifier for a job. Sure it’s a basic requirement, but it does them little additional good.

    After reading, my take-away is that college has two benefits: The Degree and The Experience. If you just pursue The Degree at the expense of everything else, you derived considerably less value from college and will have a harder time getting a job post-school. If you balance The Degree with meaningful experiences, building solid relationships etc then you are coming out of a 2-4 year program much stronger and with a much better shot of success.

  23. Evita says:

    I agree with #4 and #8 and many others.

    Maybe it is the way the post is written, but I find that this article contradicts everything that I know of the “real” world.
    Recent examples:
    - a friend of mine got her accountancy degree at 56 (!) and promptly got a promotion and a raise in salary, right before her 25th year with this company (which had a policy of no manager position without at least a college degree)
    - a very smart, hard-working clerk with some college but no degree, blocked from advancement but secure in her job, she is so good (and not paid what she is really worth)

    I work for a large company who hires only people with a college or university degrees. Even the secretaries and IT techs! and degrees and certifications are actually counted in the compensation packages. So more degrees = more money.

  24. Jeannine says:

    I think the problem with this article is oversimplification. Just like there are a number of degrees that may not directly affect your annual salary by themselves, there are a number of degrees that ABSOLUTELY will directly affect the amount of money you make, especially with regards to professional degrees. A person with a degree in accounting typically doesn’t earn nearly as much as a CPA, which requires a degree plus certain requirements. To get an advanced degree in a field, you’ve got to have the BS/BA first, and in many fields you make substantially more if you have an advanced degree. Building personal skills and relationships are indeed important, but if you don’t get the “piece of paper” you won’t even be considered for most professional jobs.

  25. Jesse says:

    And to add to what I said, I don’t think us refuters are missing the point, and I’ll give a couple of examples:

    My father works for a railroad company. He knows several men with over 15 years experience who have tried for management positions without a degree and been told they didn’t meet qualifications. They then in every case subsequently employed a degree-holder who had less experience than I have (and the only experience I have is what little he’s talked about his job). It makes him angry, because they have to follow their boss around and, in his words, “practically wipe his (well, you can fill his word in, but it starts with a) all day long” because these guys are incompetent…but hey! they have a degree!

    My husband, who was in the military working as a radar tech, was hired over 5 years ago for a well-known tech company…two pay grades under his ability, but only with some good recommendations from people he’s known in the military. We KNOW it’s 2 pay grades under him, because he consistently helps out those individuals 2 grades above him after he finishes his work (i.e. he’s doing 2 jobs, basically). Just recently, after being asked about what degree he held (he doesn’t hold one), some engineers had a talk with his boss, and he was informed that if he could do his job as well as helping others in this way, then perhaps they don’t need someone like him in this position. They expect him to just go along and get along, and won’t promote him unless he gets a degree…so that’s what he’s thinking of doing in his “spare time” at work.

    Another friend of mine is really good with computers, and while he has had SOME tech school, he didn’t finish (to be honest, he didn’t see the point when he could have TAUGHT the classes he was attending). He finally got into working at an internet connection company because his friend worked there and gave him a VERY good recommendation – though they put him on a probationary period to see if he could do the work. And they admitted to my other friend (the one who did the recommending) that they really wanted someone with a degree, but would settle for this, if he was as good as what he’d said.

    And I could go on and on (and on and on)… Now, granted, if you don’t know me, you’re just going on hearsay. But believe me when I say that I’m NOT exaggerating, and that every case I could name is along these same lines. About the only things I’ve come across that DIDN’T need a degree were sales and food service…but again, most people want a LIVING wage.

  26. Jonathan says:

    “It has been my experience, and the experience of EVERY person I know, that if you want a professional job that makes a living wage, you need a degree.”

    My experience does not match this. I do not have a college degree, but I still make a good living in an IT position for a Fortune 500 company. I started in an entry-level position and have worked my way up over the past 10 years.

    I also have a friend who worked as a software developer for years with no degree. He did eventually go back to school to get a degree, which did lead to a pay increase. To get the pay increase, however, required transitioning into a management-oriented position. He doesn’t enjoy his new position as much as his old one, but took new job to justify the thousands of dollars spent on getting the degree.

  27. Brandon says:

    “I would argue that, in white collar corporate America, a college degree is necessary to get your foot in almost any door.”

    100% agree. I am a computer programmer. I know that I could get *a* job without a degree and the level of skill I have, but without a degree, most places I was interested in working had no interest in people without a degree at all or required something like 8+ years of experience.

  28. Ryan says:

    I agree that a degree is simply necessary to get in the door at many (most?) places. I work part-time in retail right now for a huge company, but I will never work in my company’s corporate environment until I receive my degree.

  29. Without that “piece of paper” you won’t even get your foot in the door, REGARDLESS of what else you can bring to the table….

  30. Krista says:

    I have a professional license that I could not obtain if I didn’t have a Bachelor’s degree. Therefore, I couldn’t have my job without the “piece of paper”. I understand the idea behind this article, but it is underdeveloped and lacking real research. For some, working hard and making contacts works, for others, you have to have it. Can I just work hard and meet people and be a lawyer? I think the point wouldn’t have been lost (point being it doesn’t JUST take a degree) if less emphasis was placed on the uselessness of a degree.

  31. Jennifer says:

    I heartily endorse the advice to talk to your professors outside of class. As a student, I was too intimidated and afraid to speak to my professors. Now, as an economics professor, I know how much professors enjoy talking with their students and most would be happy to help out a hard working, sincere student.

  32. Des says:

    “I think the point wouldn’t have been lost (point being it doesn’t JUST take a degree) if less emphasis was placed on the uselessness of a degree.”

    Agreed…but you know Trent did it just to be contrarian and to stir up the pot (generate comments). And it worked.

  33. jim says:

    College degrees are more than just a door opener. Degrees are a mandatory requirement for many jobs. They are a requirement for most higher paying jobs. Thats more than just a door opener.

    On the other hand I do agree that a degree won’t guarantee you a job. They don’t hand out high paying jobs with the diplomas. You have to go get a job. Any old degrees also won’t guarantee you a fat paycheck. Trents advice for making yourself a more attracitve job candidate is pretty good. I would especially recommend having job experience related to the career like with an internship or similar.

    On the other hand I would question the value of a study abroad program or other ‘well rounded’ stuff. To me those seem like little more than an excuse to take an extended vacation or indulgence that the employers may not see any value in.

  34. Krista says:

    @32 Des:
    Absolutely right! Kudos for comment generation!

  35. wren says:

    I think there’s some oversimplification, but I agree with the idea that the diploma isn’t the ONLY reason to go to college any more than fueling the body with caloric intake isn’t the ONLY reason to partake of a delicious meal.

    There are other generalizations being made here, too. The primary one seems to be that the ONLY job worth having is a white color corporate job. That’s probably true among a high percentage of the people who read this blog, but it’s not true in the wider world. Three is no shame in being a blue collar worker.

    I have one of those pieces of paper. It has never been used for its intended purpose. I didn’t need it to get a job with a high tech company where I made a ridiculous amount of money to do a job that was meaningless. I didn’t need it to get a far more interesting and satisfying blue collar job making just as much money — which I bring up not because it’s important to me, but it seems to be the sole criteria of “worthiness” here. Come to think of it, I really didn’t need it for the managerial jobs I held prior to the tech job.

    On the other hand, I’ve used everything about college EXCEPT the piece of paper in every job I’ve ever had. Time-management, people skills, resource management, how to research, how to set priorities, etc. – all worth every penny of tuition.

    The education is not the piece of paper; it’s everything learned while earning the piece of paper.

  36. David Stern says:

    This is a case of necessary and sufficient conditions. The degree and decent grades is necessary to get the job but if you interview terribly it might not be sufficient. However, in public school systems etc. in some places just getting the degree (masters degree for example) can boost your salary. Cultivating a professor or two to write you a letter is important especially for going to grad school.

  37. marie says:

    I disagree with this. In many places, take the same person with the same amount of initiative, skills, etc., the person with the degree will always be more successful and better paid.

    Sure, if you compare somebody with a degree and no skills, etc. vs somebody with no degree with a ton of skills and initiative, you might be right, but that is comparing apples and oranges.

    Also, I worked in an Accounting firm for a while when I was taking a year off, and I was doing THE EXACT SAME WORK than some new graduates and everything was the same, except that they got paid way more than me. So I think you are wrong.

  38. jackie.n says:

    “I’ll state it right now: the piece of paper you receive at the end of your college career will do nothing to directly increase your earnings. Nothing. A college degree will simply help you to get your foot in a few more doors. It will not get you a job simply because you have that degree.”

    well to put it SIMPLY that piece of paper said i obtained a BSN–can’t be a nurse without one of those! later on another piece of paper said i had a Master’s Degree in Nursing–and that little doodad quadrupled my salary in the past 2 decades. it SIMPLY boggles my mind that one can make such a sweeping statement with effusive confidence.

  39. spaces says:

    A graduate degree is part of the minimum education for my profession, and a bachelors is a requisite of getting to the graduate program, so for the track I took at least it is necessary.

    Two things I would stress for today’s undergrad students:

    1) Learn a foreign language. No, your degree might not require it and yes, it might be hard. So what. It’s incredibly useful to have and has the potential to set you apart as someone who goes beyond the bare minimum.

    2) Learn to write. Being able to effectively communicate in writing, whether it be in emails, memos, or what have yous, is a critical skill that many of you will lack unless you go out of your way to develop it. Multiple choice tests and classes that do not require term papers sound easy now, but the deny you opportunities to develop meaningful writing skills.

  40. Cindy says:

    That degree may not mean getting you the job, but it definately says alot about what job you may get.
    I was laid off in September 2008, basically because I did not have a degree. The company was starting to pride itself in only hiring college graduates. When hard times hit us, it was easy for the higher ups to get rid of the only two employees who held no degree but had 14+ years experience each in the field. After trying for 6 months to find employment I returned to school & received an Associate Degree. Within 2 months of graduating I had a very good job, one which I had previously applied to before returning to school and had not even been called for an interview. I am very fortunate to be starting out at the same wage as when I was laid off. Without the degree no one would equal that pay rate even with 14 years of experience in the field.

    However I know this degree doesn’t guarantee me a job. I often wonder if I applied for my old job what response I would receive. But I beleive in moving forward, wouldn’t trade my years of experience with that company but am very glad I did return to school & received that degree.

  41. Janie Riddle says:

    My son is going to college now. He hates school and always has. I am hoping he reads this article and the comments. He goes to all his classes and is on time. He works part time. He is learning a lot. Many of his upper level classes are online and not offered in a classroom setting and are a real struggle. I think it sad that many of the companies that were started by people without degrees are requiring them to even get an interview.

  42. Kathleen says:

    #36 David Stern sums it up – a degree is NECESSARY, but not SUFFICIENT, for many positions.

  43. CJ says:

    “[A college degree] will not get you a job simply because you have that degree.”

    Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.

    In government – and I suspect Fortune 100 – qualification standards are often inflexible.

    I work for the feds and have a good relationship with my superiors. One of them, four levels above me, invited me to a meeting and said (I quote) “the problem with government is credentialism. There are jobs I’d like you in but they require a degree. That degree won’t make you any better at doing the job than I think you could do now but it’s mandatory.”

    Unfortunately, I don’t have that degree so it’s probably going to be the next step for me.

  44. Trent, you capture my love / hate relationship with our American education-business ecosystem.

    I’ve got 20 plus years in the software development industry and make anywhere from $0.00 to $100.00 dollars an hour, but I don’t have a 4 year degree.

    The only way that I can make that kind of money is to come in the back door as a consultant with a couple of specialty certifications.

    I have a lot of experience not getting hired. I am the proud owner of a AA degree (12 years in the making.) That piece of paper opened up doors I hadn’t know were closed, but it’s impossible for me to get past a fortune 500 HR department without that 4 year degree.

    The last time I was a full blown employee of a fortune 500 company, the company where I was working, got bought. However, a year and a half later, when they cut my department in half, I could not get an interview in any other part of the company because of that missing piece of paper.

    The secret to high “wages” while having no degree is owning your own company. If a large company hires your company (which consists solely of you), it is because they need your skills and they know you can provide it. You bypass the HR department that way.

    On the other side of the coin, if I’m in HR and I put out a job listing, I’m going to get anywhere from 100 to 1000 resumes. I can cut out 90 of them by throwing out those without 4 year degrees.

    Am I throwing out great candidates?
    Am I keeping some horrible candidates?
    Yes to both questions, but by and large, I’m improving my odds. Also, the HR person, as an employee themselves, if they hire a bad employee, it had better have been someone with a 4 year degree.

    Kinda like in 80′s when the watch-phrase was, “no one ever got fired for specifying IBM” People in HR will rarely take the risk of hiring a person with a 4 year degree.

  45. jeremy says:

    “There are no bad investments; only bad prices.”

    This holds true for stock, bonds, gold, real estate, and college degrees. Horse manure at the right price can be a better investment than gold at the wrong price.

    College is not a good investment *at current prices* for many people. For some people, it still is a good investment.

    The key is to look at prices, and not just blindly say “real estate is always a good investment”, or “college is always a good investment”.

  46. Kai says:

    It is true that a degree will only get your foot in the door, not get the job for you.
    but if you’re a person who already has experience and abilities and skills but is never even considered for a job due to the lack of a paper, then yes, that foot in the door means everything.

    I think our society currently over-values degrees, to the extent of finding them more worthwhile than actual abilities or experience, and I think that’s awful.
    I think that a person considering paying for school should look at what sort of job they want, and whether a pretty piece of paper will actually do them any good – and what the paper has to say.
    But to completely call them worthless is to dream.

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