The trajectory for career advancement used to seem pretty straightforward—at least, in theory. It was something like this: You go to school so you can get a job. Then, you go to more school so you can get a better (read: higher paying) job. Today's landscape is a little more complicated. On one hand, several reports over the past few years have stated that the educational requirements for jobs are rising, with more jobs requiring at least some postsecondary education. On the other hand, many major companies (like Apple, Google, and Tesla) have started dropping college degree requirements from their job descriptions, and studies have shown that as little as 27 percent of college graduates end up working in a field related to their major.
So if you're feeling stagnant in your career and you're hoping to level up and make some more money, you may be wondering if further education can get you where you want to be. The answer is multi-faceted, and depends on the individual. In general, however, many career experts agree that formal higher education no longer correlates as directly to greater career advancement.
Instead, future-of-work expert Steve Cadigan, LinkedIn's first chief HR officer and author of Workquake, believes these are the qualifications that outweigh degrees in today's work environment: learning agility and adaptability. "I believe that with the future of work, the value of someone in the future is increasingly going to be not what you know, but what you can learn," he says. He credits this largely to the rapid advancement of technology and all the ways that businesses (and, subsequently, workers) constantly need to adapt in order to keep up. "Those things are changing faster than ever before, and so how quickly you can learn new things is going to really differentiate you," he adds.
Brie Reynolds, career development manager at FlexJobs, agrees that the larger culture around what is needed to succeed in a career is shifting. "The new formula is no longer A plus B equals C, [meaning] what I have now, plus extra schooling, equals more money," she says. Instead, she says, the formula is "what you have now, plus what you're willing to do, what you're willing to take on in a creative way, and how many small things you're willing to do that will equal more money."
Cadigan isn't convinced that advanced education is an efficient way to learn these non-tangible skills of workplace adaptability. "If you're going to school to chase a skill, I think it's a bad choice right now," he says. "Because I don't think many universities are equipped with and dialed into what the businesses really need—and I know that because a lot of businesses don't really know what they need."
Not all industries, however, have been aligning with this "new formula" and lightening up on the education requirements. In fact, as mentioned above, many have been increasing them. In 2017, The Harvard Business Review coined this rising demand for a four-year college degree for jobs that previously did not require one "degree inflation." Among the jobs that were at the highest risk of degree inflation were sales representatives, bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks, secretaries, and administrative assistants.
So while it seems that the barriers to entering career fields are simultaneously being taken down in some areas and put up in others, there are still more options today for non-traditional trajectories. Keep reading for more on how you can advance in your career (or successfully transition to a new one) without pursuing another degree.
These Are the Top-Paying Careers That Don't Require a College Degree
How to Earn More Without More School
Do your research
While a master's degree or more may be required for some positions, Reynolds says that there are a lot of jobs for which investing in those programs might not make sense, simply because it's not necessary. "I think one of the best things that people can do before they dive into a degree program of some kind is to spend a good amount of time researching the types of careers that they might be interested in," she says. So whether you're looking to enter a new career or level up into a management position in your current career, Reynolds recommends spending time looking into the job descriptions for that next job you have in mind and getting a clear idea of what requirements are actually necessary for you to achieve it.
If you're interested in pursuing a degree program simply because you want to learn more, and you can afford to do so, then there's nothing wrong with that. However, if it's an increased salary or a specific job you're after, make sure to confirm that the program is actually necessary before you invest your time and money.
Do informational interviews
A great way to learn more about the reality of job requirements (beyond the online job descriptions) is to conduct informational interviews with people in those roles. Look to people in your current company or a company you're hoping to work for and ask if you can take them out to coffee or hop on a quick video call to pick their brain. Reynolds recommends asking questions like: How did you get to this level? Did you find extra schooling was helpful? If so, what kind and how much?
"That can give you some real insights into people who have been exactly where you are and have gotten to where you want to go," she says. "How did they make that work? Was it education-based or was it something else? And even if it was education-based, what level are we talking? Was it a new degree? Was it a certification?"
How to Use Informational Interviews to Get Ahead
Look into alternative education options
Not only can pursuing a new degree be time-consuming, but it can also be financially inaccessible. "It often feels like a big barrier for people because they're trying to get a better paying job and they can't necessarily invest a ton of money that they don't have to get to that next level," Reynolds says. Fortunately, though, there are several options that are often much less expensive that can still aide in career advancement.
One of those options, Reynolds says, is a certificate program or educational boot camp. These are typically three- to nine-month programs that focus on hyper-specialized education or training that is relevant to specific career fields. "Certificate programs have become very common for a huge variety of career fields," she says. "We see them in technology and marketing and accounting and education. There are all sorts of different certificates out there." Some are more useful than others, she notes, so it's important to do your research before moving forward.
Another option, Reynolds says, is to take a few online courses for a specific skill in place of pursuing a full degree program. "So let's say you're already a professional in finance, but you want to start leading people," she says. "There might be a shorter executive leadership type of course, that you could take through an online university...You don't have to necessarily even have the certificate at the end of your studies in order to make it effective and worth your time."
For a free or much more affordable option, she recommends looking into the wide network of online learning courses out there. This could range from the thousands of free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), the courses available through LinkedIn Learning, or even YouTube tutorials.
Diversify your experiences
Cadigan believes that the idea that more schooling equals a more equipped worker is too narrow of a mindset. "When we think about the vitality of someone's future, we're confining it too narrowly when we think about just the classroom," he says. "I mean, we should think about your growth as a person, your growth as an individual." In Cadigan's mind, a degree (or multiple) isn't what makes a candidate stand out. Instead, he says, it's the many other lived experiences that contribute to how a future employee can communicate with and understand others, work well in groups, practice creative thinking, etc.
For Cadigan, he believes that the experiences that distinguish him most in the workplace are his time spent abroad. "When I was sitting on the executive staff of LinkedIn where we were growing a juggernaut company, not a single member of the executive team, except me, had ever lived in another country for any length of time," he says. "I've lived in Canada for four years, Singapore for two, and South Africa for five, and no one else had. And so when we're thinking about growing internationally, the depth of what they could offer was limited...[but my experiences abroad] served me incredibly well.
Of course, moving abroad or investing in a new creative pursuit may not be a realistic or accessible option for everyone. However, Cadigan believes it's worth widening the lens to see that the things that can eventually help you succeed in your career aren't always so career-specific. So if you've been hesitant to pursue a new skill—whether that's learning a new language or taking a dance class—because it doesn't seem directly productive to your job, he would say to go ahead and go for it. "It never hurts to invest in yourself," Cadigan says.
Finally, don't let degree requirements in job descriptions keep you from applying to jobs that you know you could do. "We often talk about job descriptions as a wishlist that employers have, and so they are putting all of the things that their ideal candidate would possess on that job description, but the ideal candidate doesn't exist," Reynolds says. "So if you are reading a job description and you really figure that you can do this job, you have the experience, the skills...we say go ahead and apply, because they're not going to find that perfect person."
Even if you don't have the exact education requirements listed for the job, Reynolds says you can make up for it by tailoring your application materials to reflect how well suited you are for the job. "Take some time with a cover letter and tailor your resume to make sure that it's very clear how you have certain key skills and requirements that are needed in this job, then definitely apply," she says.
Part of tailoring your materials can include making clear the "equivalent experience" you have that can make up for a lack of a particular degree. "You can literally have the words, 'In lieu of bachelor's degree,' and that's where you could put if you were doing some independent study or taking some courses or whatever it might be," Reynolds says.
This can help show employers that you have related experience, even if it's not the exact requirement they asked for. Having the phrase 'in lieu of bachelor's degree,' can also help your application get through automated applicant tracking systems, Reynolds explains. "If [the systems] are set up to scan that people have a bachelor's degree on their resume, you've got that keyword on your resume," she says. "And so the applicant tracking system is going to be able to check that box for you and move you on to where you can actually explain to a human why you are so qualified for the job, even without that degree."
Sixty percent of bachelor's degrees in the United States are awarded by public institutions. College-educated workers enjoy a substantial earnings premium. On an annual basis, median earnings for bachelor's degree holders are $36,000 or 84 percent higher than those whose highest degree is a high school diploma.What are the benefits of higher education? ›
Over their working lives, typical college graduates earn about 73 percent more than typical high school graduates, and those with advanced degrees earn two to three times as much as high school graduates. More educated people are less likely to be unemployed and less likely to live in poverty.Why is education important for success? ›
Education lessens the challenges you will face in life. The more knowledge you gain the more opportunities will open up to allow individuals to achieve better possibilities in career and personal growth. Education has played an important role in the career world of the twenty-first century.Which level of education will earn the highest salary? ›
Median salary for professional degree holders
Workers with a professional degree earn a median salary of $1,924 per week, the highest of any education level.
Of course, no degree program can guarantee a higher salary. However, the degrees you earn can open up the possibility for new careers as you upgrade your skills, update your knowledge, and get the latest training in your chosen field. Think of the earnings data above as goals to aim for as you climb the career ladder.Does education make a difference in salary Yes or no? ›
The short answer to that question is yes. Study after study shows that the more education you have, the higher your salary will be. That may not come as much of a surprise, but there's more to the story that you may not be aware of.Why is higher education important for jobs? ›
Importance of pursuing higher education
People who acquire tertiary education are better placed to get well-paying jobs in the job market and develop a distinctive career path. They are also more likely to develop deep critical and reasoning skills that will be assets to their personal growth.
It helps people become better citizens, get a better-paid job, shows the difference between good and bad. Education shows us the importance of hard work and, at the same time, helps us grow and develop. Thus, we are able to shape a better society to live in by knowing and respecting rights, laws, and regulations.Is higher education really necessary? ›
The Majority of Jobs Require College Education
Georgetown University predicts that 70% of all jobs will require some college education by 2027. Without higher education on your resume, it may be more difficult to find a high-paying job, and competition for available opportunities will be fierce.
Education is the key to success, and pursuing education is the best option to achieve one's goals in life. Education plays a significant role to plan your future as a successful person in life and as a useful citizen in society. I believe no one can neglect the importance of it.
If you are more educated, it means that you are more productive. Good education gives you respect in society. It is an indication that you have more knowledge and you have better skills to do the job. Educated people are also good at judging other peoples they decision-making is better than uneducated people.How does education affect salary? ›
Men with bachelor's degrees earn approximately $900,000 more in median lifetime earnings than high school graduates. Women with bachelor's degrees earn $630,000 more.What is true about education and its effect on income? ›
The earnings gap between better- and lesser- educated workers has held steady. Even if, on average, better-educated individuals can earn more money, all persons with more schooling will not necessarily have higher incomes. The income distribution of college graduates overlaps that of high school dropouts.Why should education be cheaper? ›
Making college affordable for more students can potentially increase access and lower barriers to completion, which could help close the projected degree gap by 2030, and at the same time promote more equitable access to and success in college.Does education get you a better job? ›
You gain knowledge, skills and experience to help you both in your career and in life in general. On top of that, by gaining additional skills in communication and problem solving and achieving your goals, you can also increase your confidence.Why do workers with more education get paid higher? ›
Conversely, industries with higher education and training requirements tend to pay workers higher wages. The increased pay is due to a smaller labor supply capable of operating in those industries, and the required education and training carrying significant costs.Which is better higher education or job? ›
A job could be the best choice for you if it's the need of the hour. On the other hand, if you are financially stable with an interest in further studies, pursuing higher studies is unmistakably the best option.Which is best money or education? ›
Money may allow us to have more control over our lives, but it is education that allows us to contribute to society. Although money is useful, an educated individual understands how to make money in the first place. Education has the potential to open up job opportunities.Does more education mean more jobs? ›
Indeed, highly educated workers tend to earn more, work more hours and have a higher likelihood of being formal employees. Conversely, in high-income countries, workers who do not even have an upper-secondary degree are more exposed to both unemployment and job quality deficits.Why higher education is important for future? ›
Building new friendships, learning study skills, navigating personal choices, exposure to diversity, and becoming a responsible adult are part of why higher education is important aside from professional preparation.
Proper education improves people's understanding of the world around them, making them less susceptible to the influence of others. Proper interpretation of information requires education, as it improves knowledge. An educated person better understands their own and others' purpose in society, and their rights.What is the real purpose of education? ›
“The purpose of education has always been to every one, in essence, the same—to give the young the things they need in order to develop in an orderly, sequential way into members of society.What is the main purpose of education? ›
The main purpose of education is to provide the opportunity for acquiring knowledge and skills that will enable people to develop their full potential, and become successful members of society.How does education impact your life? ›
Those who get an education have higher incomes, have more opportunities in their lives, and tend to be healthier. Societies benefit as well. Societies with high rates of education completion have lower crime, better overall health, and civic involvement. Lack of access to education is considered the root of poverty.Does education mean success? ›
Education has its own benefits it makes us mentally strong but it doesn't mean that education need to be successful. For success one should have their goal and focused to that goal. We can take example of ms dhoni. He is not good in studies but changes the cricket World.What factors will affect your salary? ›
- Credentials. ...
- Experience and skill. ...
- Industry or employer. ...
- Job tasks. ...
- Geographic location. ...
- Success and performance.
Yes, of course ! to earn in good manner and retain and spend the same with right manner. But some times it depends upon the person's ability and God gifted empowerment.How does education affect the income gap? ›
Education is arguably one of the primary factors that cause income inequality. Recent studies show that the earnings gap between workers with a Bachelor's or more advanced degree and workers with a high school diploma has been widening.How is money related to education? ›
Schooling resources that cost money are positively associated with student outcomes. These include smaller class sizes, additional instructional supports, early childhood programs, and more competitive teacher compensation, which permits schools and districts to recruit and retain a higher quality teacher workforce.Why higher education should be free? ›
Research shows that free tuition programs encourage more students to attend college and increase graduation rates, which creates a better-educated workforce and higher-earning consumers who can help boost the economy.
It helps people become well-rounded
Education is more than just learning to read, write, and count. It also teaches kids how to become critical and logical thinkers. In this world, it is important to not only be able to speak out and give your opinions on various issues.
1. Free college programs benefit higher-income students the most. Contrary to their reputation as “progressive,” free college programs overwhelmingly allocate taxpayer dollars toward upper- and upper-middle-class students, giving them a further head start than they already have in the higher education system.Why do people with higher levels of education tend to make more money? ›
More educated workers can also compete more effectively for high-paying and high-skilled jobs. In other words, the more knowledge someone has, the more effective they are finding work.Why do more educated workers tend to earn more money? ›
Higher educated workers earn more money because they are (theoretically) more productive than those with less education, with all other conditions held constant. An employee with higher education performs complicated tasks, including accounting and management, which play a significant role in a company's success.Why do more educated workers get paid better than the less educated? ›
Accordingly, more highly educated workers would earn higher wages ceteris paribus simply because they are more productive than their less-educated counterparts. This explanation of pay inequality has been challenged by empirical and theoretical work on labour markets.Which is better money or education? ›
Much good may be accomplished with money, and unnecessary suffering can be prevented or eliminated. Education, on the other hand, is essential for survival. Everyone needs education at some point in their lives to improve their knowledge, manner of life, and social and financial standing.Is education important to get a better job? ›
By being well-educated and holding a college degree, you increase your chances for better career opportunities and open up new doors for yourself.Do people with better education get better jobs? ›
– In general, people with higher levels of education have better job prospects; the difference is particularly marked between those who have attained upper secondary education and those who have not. – In all OECD countries, tertiary graduates are more likely to be in work than non-graduates.Will education ensure you a job? ›
Earning a degree is also a great way to make sure you are always employable. In today's job market, the average person will change jobs between 10 and 15 times during their career. Higher education is a great way to stand out from other job applicants.What are the three reasons to receive higher education? ›
- Earn More on Average. ...
- Increase Chances of Employment. ...
- Experience Greater Job Satisfaction. ...
- Prepare for the Future. ...
- Build New Relationships. ...
- Achieve Your Personal Goals. ...
- Make a Difference.
Increased Earning Potential for College Graduates
Studies show that those with a high school diploma or GED earn approximately $36,000 per year, and those with a bachelor's degree earn a median salary of approximately $60,000. That's almost double the yearly earnings!
In conclusion, the paid education ensures a far better quality education as compared to the free education and the free education only provides the poor children with a chance to get the education and get in the competition.