Is a College Degree Necessary for Today's Job MarketAttending college these days is a pricey bill to foot. With student loan debts off the charts, it is no wonder that countless amounts of teenagers, parents, and college students are left wondering what a college education is truly worth. They might be asking if a college degree is really necessary to start a career, especially since unemployment rates are low even for college graduates. These, however, are just a few of the concerns about the continuing value of college degrees.

High school graduates and working adults might ask, “Is a college degree necessary in today’s world?” While jobs that require a degree might be increasing, jobs that don’t require a degree are also growing. About two-thirds of Americans don’t have a degree, and the U.S. economy is the most productive in the world. The main reasons to get a degree are to find a job in a regulated field or to become a white-collar professional. In the U.S. economy, experience is still a deciding factor.

Making the Right Decision

Simply put, no person definitively requires a college degree to make a career for themselves. While there are a career paths that unavoidably require a college education – like doctors and lawyers – there are plenty of careers with no educational prerequisites or degree requirements. Many companies allow their employees to start at an entry level position and work their way to higher ranks over time. Others only require a high school education. The most important thing to keep in mind is knowing and understanding what it takes to break into a desired career field before spending thousands of dollars on college tuition and student loans.

Deciding whether or not to go to college may be an important decision, but it doesn’t have to be a difficult one. By the time a student is ready to enroll in college, he or she should have enough life experience to be able to choose a general career direction. While that student may not know exactly what he or she wants to do for a living, it shouldn’t be too hard to make a rough guess.

Only a small minority of high school graduates will be conflicted about their choice of work for more than a few years after graduation. Making the right decision means listening to the inner voice telling you which path to follow. While it’s possible to make a decision at this point based on a purely rational analysis, a career choice is about more than earning an income. It’s a life choice with consequences that affect family life, friends, work satisfaction and location.

Facts and Figures

Is a College Degree Necessary for Today's Job Market?

According to, about 13 million workers in the United States who have Bachelor’s degrees or higher are employed in occupations that only require a high school education or less. In keeping with that 13 million statistic, The Huffington Post says that number is about half of all Bachelor’s degree holders who are employed. There are simply too few job openings and options for the amount of job seekers with college degrees out there. Thus, college degree holders are opting for careers in both skilled and non-skilled trades that have no connection with their education. Many are becoming waiters, taxi drivers, and manufacturers – none of which require a college education.

The problem with having no post-secondary education is the average wage earnings. Though many degree holders have only been able to find jobs in fields that do not require a college education, the average annual salary of those with a high school diploma (about $30,000) is still half that of the average annual salary of those who have a bachelor’s or AA degree (about $60,000). There is, however, a silver lining. The median yearly salary for those with an Associate’s degree is almost the equivalent of those with 4-year degrees – both hovering at about 60,000 dollars a year. Therefore, when considering a college, 2-year junior colleges should not automatically be discounted. The value of an AA degree is on par with a Bachelor’s degrees, and they cost much less in tuition, fees, and student debt.

For those students looking for a purely rational reason to choose a career path, some facts and statistics could help. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers with a higher level of education earn more than their less-educated peers, on average. While this fact isn’t surprising, it doesn’t capture the variation within each group, which often overlaps with adjacent groups.

For example, the median weekly earnings for workers with a professional degree is around $1,800 while the median for those with a high school diploma is around $700. These figures don’t reveal the overlap between these two groups, which includes successful entrepreneurs who dropped out of college and doctors who do humanitarian work for very little money.

Evaluating the Statistics

Clearly, the statistics lean in favor of those who hold some sort of post-secondary degree. Whether it is an Associate’s degree or a Master’s, the odds are that degree holder will be making a significant amount of money more than those with a high school diploma or GED. The statistics, however, are just numbers, and do not account for the glaring inconsistencies and lack of available career openings for those that do have a college degree. It is best to be informed of the available options before shelling out the cash for a college degree.

To fully understand the statistics, it’s important to go deeper than the numbers on the surface. Statistics about lifetime income can provide some context for deciding on a career path, but the key to making this choice is understanding how much job satisfaction you can expect to have throughout your career.

Careers that Require a College Degree

Jobs that require college education are becoming ubiquitous in today’s job market. While there are many causes of this situation, the result is that more and more people are enrolling in college programs and earning degrees. It may seem necessary to follow along with this trend, and there are many good reasons to do so.

Although a college degree is by no means necessary to find a high-paying job in today’s economy, it can open the door to many new opportunities previously unavailable. From nursing to financial analytics, the careers that require a college degree are extremely varied and suitable for a broad range of personality types.

Vocational Careers

Is a College Degree Necessary for Today's Job Market?

People who choose a vocation usually have a passion for a certain type of work. They may be animal lovers, healthcare professionals, musicians, athletes, hairstylists, artists, or life coaches. College training is required for many vocations, including jobs in healthcare, veterinary medicine and cosmetology, but they aren’t required for all of them.

Some choices that don’t require a college degree are fire fighting, law enforcement, plumbing, music, culinary arts and entrepreneurship. While a degree may be helpful to anyone pursuing careers in these fields, they aren’t always necessary. The cost of a college education could outweigh the benefit of obtaining one for many people in these careers.

Professional Careers

Is a College Degree Necessary for Today's Job Market?

Not only do professional careers require postgraduate education, but they typically require licensing in all 50 states. Professions such as medicine, law and dentistry are highly lucrative and regulated by state and local governments.

The cost of a professional degree ranges from around $20,000 to $200,000, depending on the school and the professional program. With salaries for professional careers in the six-figures, paying off the student debt for a medical or legal education can take around 10 years.

Before enrolling in a professional program, it’s a good idea to check the job market. For example, many students in recent years have graduated from law school only to discover that the need for lawyers in today’s job market isn’t what it was a decade ago.

High-Paying Jobs that Don’t Require a Degree

While a college degree is required to join the ranks of white-collar professionals, there is a wide range of high-paying jobs that don’t require any higher education. From personal training to opening a restaurant, there are many jobs available to anyone with enough passion and determination.

In general, employers are more concerned about job applicants’ ability to perform well on the job than about their education. In most cases, experience is more important than education. Highly educated but inexperienced job seekers usually have to start at the bottom, just like everybody else. One of the big advantages to pursuing a career without a degree is the extra time that will be available for gaining experience.

Skilled Trades

Trades such as welding, pipe fitting, music recording, commercial fishing, oil drilling and stage work all require a high skill level and on-the-job training. They can provide six-figure salaries for people who are focused and organized, and many of them are unionized, giving them additional job security and earning potential.

The main drawback of unionized jobs is that they can be hard to break into without a personal connection to a union member. Even with a connection, joining a union is a difficult process that usually requires a former member to retire or move to another location. There is often a long waiting list for union jobs, but industries with strong growth can do a lot of hiring. The key to finding a well-paying job in a skilled trade is to be flexible and take every opportunity that arises.


Starting a business is a great way to earn a living for people who don’t want to go to college. While studying entrepreneurship in college could provide an advantage, there are many instances when it isn’t necessary and would be a waste of time.

Opening a restaurant or starting a cleaning company would be difficult without experience in these professions, but it would still be quite possible without a college degree. A large number of restaurants, cleaning companies, general contractors and online businesses are owned and operated by people without college degrees. Instead of going to college to learn business, it could be more beneficial to spend a few years working in one of these professions before starting a company.

Online Marketing

Online businesses are growing at a fast rate, and marketing products to people online is an essential component of any online business. Learning to create an ad campaign for social media doesn’t require a college degree, but it might benefit from an online course about Internet advertising.

When it comes to online marketing, the price of admission can be steep, but it won’t cost nearly as much as a college degree. Most people spend a few thousands dollars learning how to create successful ad campaigns for social media websites such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Compared to the cost of a college degree, this cost is very affordable, and the learning process can typically be completed in a year or less.

Online Content Production

Producing media content for the Web goes hand-in-hand with creating social media ad campaigns. The Internet needs huge volumes of new information every day, and content creators are needed to provide it.

From how-to videos to online articles and e-books, online content is an essential part of modern life for people all over the world. The vast majority of online content is created from a simple set of rules that are determined by market research and metrics gleaned from Web searches. Because online content production is generally formulaic, anyone can learn how to produce exactly what large audiences of people are looking for.

Restaurant Jobs

Is a College Degree Necessary for Today's Job Market?

Another high-paying career that doesn’t require a college degree is the hospitality profession. From the kitchen to the dining room, restaurant jobs are as challenging and stressful as they are lucrative. In major cities, servers in the top restaurants can earn six-figure salaries with healthcare coverage and personal retirement funds.

For those with aspirations to one day own a restaurant, working in the kitchen might be a better choice. Learning to be a sous chef, head chef or pastry chef is a good path to a lifelong vocation, and it doesn’t come with the upfront expenses of learning to create successful Internet ads.

While a culinary degree could help to speed up the process of working in the top kitchens of major cities, it isn’t a requirement. The factors that matter much more to restaurant hiring managers is how competent a job candidate is and how well he or she will fit in with the other employees.


Only a small number of people can stay for long in job that makes them miserable, even if it pays well. Being stressed out and depressed for decades can lead to serious health problems and an early death. Those who ask, “Is a college degree necessary in today’s world?” need to know what sort of job they would enjoy doing for thirty or forty years. The answer is that there are probably many jobs that would give them satisfaction. Some of those jobs probably require a degree while others don’t.

Millions of people from around the world strive to come to America to find jobs in this powerhouse economy. Most working Americans don’t have college degrees, but the ones that do generally earn more money on average than their less-educated counterparts. These facts are worth considering when asking the question, “Is a college degree necessary in today’s world?”

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