Education Vs. Experience: What Do Employers Value?

Photo of a job interview with two women sitting across from each other at a desk.

Today, more than ever before, hiring managers are looking to fill job openings fast. And it goes without saying these positions will likely always go to the most qualified applicants. But if it's a choice between you, with your new degree, and an older applicant who has 16 years of experience in the field, who gets hired?

It's an age-old question: What carries more weight — work experience or a college degree? And the answer isn't as black-and-white as you might think. A lot depends on the situation, the person who's doing the hiring, and the marketability of your resume. An ideal applicant will have both the educational background to succeed and a strong work history. But in lieu of this, most employers are willing to take one over the other. Here's what we know about which one means more:

The Value of Your College Degree

A degree is always a valuable asset to bring to a company. However, to hold up under scrutiny, it should be well-suited to help you perform in the industry in which you're applying. This means your communication degree probably isn't going to hold a lot of weight in the medical field, but it could help get your foot in the door of a newspaper office. If you worked part-time in a physicians' office, answering phones or scheduling appointments to earn your tuition, this is worth noting and should be featured on your resume.

Average Cost of Attending College

The cost of attending college for one year averages between $10,000 and $39,000 according to the U.S. News & World Report. Much depends on whether you're attending a private or public college and whether you're an in-state or out-of-state student. So, is it really worth it to pursue a pricey degree? To answer this question, you must look to employers and their trends in hiring.

Average Return on Investment of a College Degree

The easiest way to figure the ROI on your degree is to research the average salary in your field and compare it to the costs of your student loans. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median pay for a computer programmer is $89,190 annually. This means if you spent considerably less on your four-year degree, you're in good shape. Skilled professions such as those in the tech, medical, education, and engineering fields require degrees for entry-level positions. Therefore, if you're entertaining the thought of a career in a skilled area, you must pursue a degree regardless. This makes college a must-have right out of the gate.

But even if you find yourself making less money right out of college, you still learned skills along the way you wouldn't otherwise possess. Hiring managers want people who've proven their dedication to the field, and the essential knowledge and life skills you've mastered by earning your degree will carry weight. Learn more to earn more, as the saying goes, and this is still valid today.

The Value of Your Work Experience

Unfortunately, the value of work experience is a bit more difficult to factor in. There are no set parameters for measuring experience. You can start, however, by researching your local job listings. Which jobs ask for 3 or more years of experience?

The BLS Handbook is helpful here, as well. For example, if you're interested in becoming an editor, you can find this position in the OOH and see that most employers require less than 5 years of experience along with a bachelor's degree. By meeting these requirements, you can expect to earn somewhere in the vicinity of $63,000 annually.

It may also be helpful to visit the careers pages of companies with whom you'd like to work and peruse their job listings. If you want to be an animator at Bethesda Game Studios in Maryland, for instance, their job listing asks for 5+ years of experience plus expert-level skills in animation and game development. It goes without saying that the best way to acquire these types of skills is to have worked for a previous company. In a situation such as this, prior work experience is the only way to be considered.

Work experience nets you soft skills, too. If you've been in the workforce for 20 years, you already know how to interact harmoniously with others. You're likely a good team player and know how to maintain a professional appearance and demeanor. Employers look for these assets, too.

Still, when it comes down to the wire, every job requires specialized skills. And whether your degree or your work history will carry more weight depends largely upon the industry you're courting.

Is College Worth the Investment?

Without a doubt, most experts agree that it's worth it to earn a bachelor's degree for many career fields if you want to have solid earning potential. While this may differ for skilled trades such as electrical, plumbing, or mechanics, if you wish to enter academic, scientific, technology, or administrative fields, you'll need a degree to get started.

And if you're worried about how marketable you'll be right out of college, do your best to flesh out your resume with internships and relevant experience within your chosen field. In the real world, these experiences matter, and potential employers look upon them favorably. Most college students have to take at least part-time jobs to help offset the costs of tuition. Make sure the job you take is one that helps you master career-related skills.

Where to Begin Your Journey

Bryant & Stratton College offers online and on-campus learning opportunities to students in multiple locations, mostly throughout the eastern United States. With campuses in New York, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin, we're easily accessible, and we've been so since 1854.

At Bryant & Stratton, it's always been about blending academia with real-world skills. As such, our innovative programs give college graduates every advantage in the workforce. Choose from a variety of majors, choose how and when you'll attend classes, and earn your degree in a way that fits your lifestyle and responsibilities.

Bryant & Stratton is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and has been educating students from all walks of life for over 160 years. Contact us today to begin your journey toward a rewarding and financially stable career you're going to love.

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