interviewing when you’ve been successful without a college degree

A reader writes:

I would appreciate your insights on this — college degrees. You see, I don’t have one. My particular career is not so specialized as a physician or rocket science; it’s in benefits in the human resources department and I have over 20 years of experience. I don’t really regret not having finished my degree yet — I fell in love, got married, and raised a child. I’ve had plenty of promotions and recommendations. I’d like to work on it (my degree), but it never seems that time and money are in equal abundance to really pursue it. Besides that, I’ve met more than my share of clueless people with Masters degrees and see ungodly unemployment in recent grads. So sure, I’d like to go back to school and finish my HR degree, but it’s not my #1 priority in life.

When you get that dreaded “have you got a degree” from a recruiter (usually a third party one, not a corporate one), is there anything you can recommend as a response to convince them I’m not a brainless monkey and I really am quite qualified for this position?

Say this: “Nope. I’ve thought about going back and finishing it, but I’ve found it hasn’t gotten in the way of my building a successful career.”

You have 20 years of experience, a track record of achievement and promotion, and presumably a good reputation. If anyone really thinks that you still need a degree to show you can excel on the job … well, they’re idiots who can’t see what’s right in front of them and you don’t want to work with them.

And those idiots are out there — the ones who think only in black and white, and who think there’s only one path, and who think that if you skip a step on the path, then it doesn’t matter if you’re now 20 steps beyond it; you still for some reason need to go back and do that step from years ago, even though that step was intended to help you get where you already are now.

Now, lots of employers use a college degree as shorthand that tells them that you have at least some basic education and the wherewithal to stick with something at least minimally challenging for four years. And it makes sense to use that shorthand with inexperienced candidates, when they don’t have much work experience. (And that’s why if you were 26, I’d tell you to go back and finish it.) But it really isn’t useful shorthand for candidates with decades of experience. You have a track record in the work world, and that track record says a lot more about what you’re capable of than a degree can say.

So don’t let the question throw you or make you feel defensive. Be matter of fact about it, and explain that you’ve been successful without it.

And if you find an employer who has a problem with that … well, college didn’t do much for their critical thinking skills.

(And before anyone jumps in and points out that degree requirements make sense in some fields, like medicine: Of course they do. But if there are many, many fields where that’s not the case, and the letter-writer’s success in her career seems to indicate she’s in one of those.)

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 125 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike*

    I have my college degree, so this doesn’t really apply to me, but I’m curious if OP could ever get around those monster systems like Taleo without having his/her degree? Or will they just be rejected automatically? Do those systems have the programmability to pick people out with years of experience without a degree?

    1. blu*

      Only if the person entering the job lists that as a requirement. The systems do no automatically put the same criteria for all jobs across all companies. Also, I would recommend that even if the system is asking you if you have a degree it doesn’t mean you are going to be screened out. Those questions can be set up as “assets” rather than requirements which will just rank the candidate differently, but will not knock them out of consideration.

  2. Amouse*

    I love this. The only reason I am going back for my degree (at 29) is because I want to totally change fields to something specialized that I can’t do without credentials. For you OP, what Alison said. You’ve got a proven track record and any recruiter worth their salt will realize the value of that. Don’t let the question trip you up.

  3. Aggie07*

    It is necessary to have a degree if you are just entering the workforce. It’s almost impossible to get a well paying job without one. It also depends on where you live. You need something to make you stand out, so why not.
    If you already have 10+ years of experience, then no…it isn’t necessary to have a degree anywhere you live. You have the experience. However, don’t be surprised if you get passed up for a promotion over someone with a degree.
    I’ve configured Taleo and yes, the company can sort through resumes and postings based on how questions are answered. So if you answer no to having a degree and the job requires it, then you will not be considered. If you really want that job, you will go the extra mile to make yourself stand out by contacting the company directly. Sometimes that in itself makes you stand out…..

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Passing up someone experienced for promotion because they don’t have a degree is just as dumb as not hiring them because of not having a degree. Whether or not you took Spanish literature 20 years ago is not relevant to whether you should be promoted now.

      1. Aggie07*

        Dumb or not, it still happens. I’ve seen employees that were hired without a degree sit in the same position for many years while those with a degree pass them on the ladder to higher levels. But of course it all depends on the individual and the hiring manager.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, and if a hiring manager really does make decisions that way, I can pretty much guarantee that she’s a bad manager and you won’t want to work for her for all kinds of other reasons anyway.

        2. Joe Schmoe*

          Yes, it does happen! I don’t have a degree (yet-currently have 69 hours completed and counting) but I applied for a job within my company. I had already been told by the man who was leaving that I could do the job. He sent me a list of his duties and I was already doing at least 90% of them in my current job because I had a boss that delegated EVERYTHING. So, I applied. Never got an interview. When a friend of mine that worked at that location asked the manager why they didn’t interview me she was told that they didn’t know I applied. Which meant HR did not forward my information on for consideration. The job specified “Bachelor degree or equivalent experience” and I have 18 years of experience. So, when I asked HR if my name had been forwarded on I was met with silence.

          That single incident has spurred me on to complete my degree even if I feel EXACTLY like the OP!

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            This sounds more like a problem with HR than anything else — from the silence (unacceptable with an internal candidate) to their possibly not being aligned with the hiring manager on the qualifications for the job.

            1. Joe Schmoe*

              It is most definitely a problem with HR. What I didn’t say is that I first emailed “Can you tell me why I wasn’t referred for consideration for the job at XYZ” and I immediately got a response asking “Which job at XYZ?” and when I replied and said “Administrative Supervisor” that’s when I was met with silence….which made it even worse since I knew she got my first email.

              The same HR rep told another co-worker “It’s to be expected” because of the area we live in, when the co-worker brought up instances of racism in the workplace. But when people need their jobs they don’t want to cause a big stink. It’s really sad.

        3. Melissa*

          This happened to my father – he’s worked in transit for over 20 years and just recently got promoted to a supervisory position. For years he watched people with far less experience than him get promoted over him, and he was straight-up told that it was because of his lack of a degree (although there is the possibility his supervisors were being kind – but I doubt it).

      2. The IT Manager*

        I’ll agree it can be dumb but certain government entities and some companies do have mandatory degree requirements.

        I once lost an awesome (contract) sys admin because his company refused to pay him more (not a promotion mind you) without a degree. He started the degree, but was frequently stymied because he seemed to be a happy workaholic and work took precedence. The lack of more pay which he richly deserved and feeling he was wasting his time on the degree was part of why he left I am sure.

        But he did say part of the problem was that he was unable to obtain work-life balance at his job because of his role. He went to work for a ski resort managing a CRM system I think where one of his perks would be free lift tickets. I hope he got to make use of it.

        Point, though, is that stupid degree requirement definately contributed to his leaving. Nevertheless, that one loss didn’t cause his large company to reevaluate its policy.

      3. Kelly O*

        I have to chime in with Alison on this one.

        I have an Associate’s Degree and over ten years of experience. Rest assured, I can run circles around some recent college graduates when it comes to running your office and keeping it running smoothly.

        Yet I continually see jobs that require a four year degree, and “will not consider” applicants without them. I’m taking Alison’s advice and applying to some that don’t have severe verbiage against other degrees and experience, but it does burn me from time to time that a company would rather have a 22 year old with no experience and a degree in 4th Century Greek Literature than someone with an A.S. and tons of experience.

        And like the OP, I am having a difficult time justifying going into debt to complete a Bachelors, particularly when it seems that is not even enough to push you over the top in many things. I want it because I’m just that sort of person, but it’s not the #1 priority in my life right now. I don’t think it will make me any “smarter” – and there are plenty of other people getting A.S. degrees from community colleges because they don’t want to saddle themselves with that much debt to start.

        1. Anonymous*

          Kelly, I love your comments and look forward to seeing them here. Have you ever thought about seeking a job at a university that will pay for you to go to school while you work there? That’s how I got my masters degree. Sure, I had to do it one class at a time because I worked full-time, but it was worth it.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          Not me. I’d hire you. :)

          I may be wrong, but there is an HR certificate that I’m seeing a lot of those positions ask for and it’s NOT a degree. Maybe the OP could get that instead.

          I have a BS in English (I know, I know!) and an AS in Criminology. I’m looking at going back now for another Associate or equivalent in web design/communication, with a social media certificate, because of the stupid accounting thing (dyscalculia, companies making receptionists do their books–impossible for me). I’m thinking it will route me around that, and it fits nicely into my strengths as an admin and a writer. Creativity, the writing (can do content as well as construction) and very detail-oriented.

          A lot of the potential jobs in this field that I’ve been looking at want a Bachelor in Comm, Marketing or “a related field.” I would expect it there; I’m getting pretty sick of seeing that requirement for a job that a monkey could do. For the pay of a monkey.

          1. Amanda*

            This isn’t just happening to people without Bachelors, but also those with Masters. There is a MBA program in the U. K. where you can apply without having high school or Bachelors. It’s a respected and tough program yet students who have achieved the degree still can’t get jobs in the U. S., because the job requires a Bachelor’s. LOL

    2. some1*

      I got a good-paying job without a degree. Not great, but good enough to live on my own & pay my own bills with awesome benefits. When my friends my age were graduating from college, there was a minor recession going on and college grads were in a tough job market, and I was one of the only one of my friends who had a full-time job, health insurance, and/or wasn’t living with my parents.

      1. IndyIT*

        Same deal Some1- been doing computers with industry certifications since age 14. My friends wonder why my driveway is full of so many Japanese sports cars.

  4. Meg*

    My field is easy to get into without a degree, simply because with front-end web development, by the time you learn something in college, the technology is old. Most companies in my field are looking for people with initiative who can continue education on their own, and being self-taught (and good at it!) is the best way to show that.

  5. Jamie*

    From Alison’s answer: “Now, lots of employers use a college degree as shorthand that tells them that you have at least some basic education and the wherewithal to stick with something at least minimally challenging for four years.”

    Agreed that it can help to those just starting out. But if an employer can’t figure this out about me from my resume and a few minutes speaking with me in person…I really don’t want to work with them, anyway.

    I quit a less than a semester shy of my bachelor’s (I also quit to get married and then kids…one thing led to another and I didn’t even get my first job until I was in my mid-late 30s) and I’ve done okay for myself. I think it’s something people expect you to regret or feel bad about…but I really don’t.

    If it would benefit me to finish I would, but as an IT finishing up a marketing/finance degree I cut short 20+ years ago wouldn’t make me any more money.

    I have taken a couple of additional accounting classes – because it was helpful for my job…but to go back and grab a handful of humanities classes at the expense of time I don’t have when it wouldn’t increase my salary? I just can’t find the logic there.

    I’m in a field where it’s based on what have you done lately. Even if I had an MIS degree from 20+ years ago, if I hadn’t kept up with the last 6-9 months I’m in the no pile anyway.

    The bottom line is most of us want to work for reasonable people and if it’s not something you need in order to be good at your particular job than it’s not reasonable to make it a requirement.

    And I’ve gotten two jobs where a bachelor’s was required and masters preferred…which just meant someone other than the reasonable hiring managers wrote the requirements.

    1. Anonymous*

      I think it just depends. I have the equivalent of a Masters and I’m in IT. Actually, by training I am a Veterinarian. My current employer sees it as an indication that I must not be entirely behind the 8 ball. I manage a group of webdevs that have BS, AAs, or are self-trained. My employer tops out those without college degrees at a fairly low level. Of course, we are educators — it turns out, teachers value education. :)

      That said, the OP has great experience, and probably should only go for the degree if she wants it, or her current or potential employers support it. And, she can afford to do it!

      1. Jamie*

        Right – I didn’t mean to imply there aren’t a lot of very good IT out there with formal education. There absolutely are – there is just a lot of variance in what is required in this field…depending on the employer and the position.

  6. Joey*

    Get your PHR or SPHR. Its a better bang for your buck when you already have professional HR experience. It won’t open every HR door but it will open a lot.

    Absent those you’re going to have to compensate with better job accomplishments than the pack.

  7. Dara*

    Posts like this make me feel (a little) better about not having a degree. I admit that I have a bit of a self esteem problem with respect to my lack of one – I often feel like I must be the only person in the room who doesn’t have one on their office wall. When people ask me where I went to college I feel a hot shame. It’s totally self inflicted – and it has not stopped me from earning a good living or moving my career forward. I’ve always felt like I would “someday” go back and get one…but now it’s been 20 years, and is likely pointless. I need to get over this.

    1. some1*

      Personally, I’ve never understood why anyone puts their degree on their office wall, with the exception of doctors, lawyers and professors. I think it looks a little arrogant otherwise.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Dara, there are tons of successful people who didn’t finish their degree, and really, what you did 20 years ago is so not relevant to what kind of work you do now. Liberate yourself from the shame!

    3. Tax Nerd*

      When asked where you went to college, I recommend answering “The School of Hard Knocks” and seeing if they get it.

      Also, people (other than doctors and lawyers) put their degree on the wall? Everywhere I’ve worked, it’s been prohibited, because it seems a bit… douche-y. My degrees are sitting on a shelf in the linen closet, in the cardboard envelope that came with them.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I see people do it. Engineers like to put up their PE licenses, so the diploma balances out the decor. Then I see other people around here put up their degrees because some engineers are arrogant and act like they are the only ones who have an education. (Not all, just a few annoying ones.)

          FWIW, I had my MBA and PE up when I first got them, but moved them to my home office after a year. Because it IS douche-y. You shouldn’t have to point to pieces of paper to show you were smart 15-20 years ago. If no one recognizes that you are smart now, it doesn’t matter.

        2. Cruella DaBoss*

          Two of our company accountants display theirs, but I think that one did it to poke fun at the other.

          1. tcookson*

            Our budget officer displays her degree and her annual auditor certifications in frames in her office. It seems a little weird and attention-seeking to me, but she is kind of attention-seeking in other odd ways and maybe I’m conflating the two things.

      1. Blinx*

        I haven’t seen degrees up on office walls either. But I have seen people have college souvenirs, like a mug, in their office. Especially if it’s a big name school. It’s half bragging rights/half conversation piece. Just another way to network with someone you may not know.

        1. Anonymous*

          I’m an academic and I have mine on my office wall. I never knew it ‘wasn’t done.’ Should I take it down and put it on the wall at home?

          1. Laura L*

            I’d expect it, too. The two places I’d expect to see diplomas on walls are in academics’ offices and in doctors’ offices.

        2. Elle*

          Where I work a lot of people put their degrees up even for administration. I work for a major hospital in HR. It’s just common practice.
          I say, if you got it, flaunt it. ;) Let the haters, hate!

          Currently working on my MBA…

      2. A Teacher*

        I think it depends. One school where I used to work required us to hang our diplomas (and other credentials if we had them) on our classroom walls. Some medical professionals will hang/display theirs because it is common–when I worked in the PT clinic we all had our state license posted and our diplomas were up too…

        When I was in the process of looking for a house to buy, many people had their diplomas up in an office. I would venture that more houses had diplomas up than not. It wasn’t douchey to me but then Sallie Mae will own me for the next 10 years to pay off a graduate degree I needed to get my teaching position. My degrees, along with my national certification (in an allied health field), and my state medical license are all up in my office.

        People aren’t better or worse for having or not having a degree. I have several, my sister and mom have one each, and my dad has none. We’re all equal and the people that act better for having a degree would act that way about something else if they didn’t have a degree.

        I can also say I’ve had the supervisor that had a BS when going for a MS in my initial profession is common (75% have at least a MS) and she was threatened by those of us with more education. She flat out said that at a meeting and those of us with more education would be put down for stupid reasons that she would say nothing to those with less experience or only as much education as her.

        1. Jamie*

          I think the rule of thumb is that all rules of thumb are different in California and academia. :)

      3. Liz in a Library*

        It’s pretty common in Universities (from what I’ve seen). At my current workplace, it’s the only thing you’re allowed to hang in your cubicle or office, which is another issue all together…

      4. Elizabeth West*

        Mine came in pretty red leather folders. I shoved them into the bookcase and dust them intermittently. What I did hang up was a little shadow box with my graduation program and tassel in it. :) I’m more proud of the fact that I finished than the actual degrees!

    4. Jamie*

      “When people ask me where I went to college I feel a hot shame.”

      I have a story about that – I won’t bore you with the details – but it ends with someone thinking they offended me by insulting my alma mater (can it be an alma matter if you didn’t graduate? I never did know…maybe that’s something they teach you in the final 9 semester hours…)

      Anyway she thought she offended me and was all over trying to apologize and another co-worker laughed and said, “Does it look like she gives a sh*t?”

      Yeah – like Alison said – liberate yourself. There is a lot to be ashamed of in life, but this isn’t it.

    5. Kelly O*

      Dara, I didn’t go to a four year college either.

      You would not believe the looks I get sometimes. I did community college, and worked full time while I took a full time course load. (I’ve been working since I was 14 in some capacity, and that was a huge thing for me to move to full-time and have my own insurance while I went to school.)

      Sometimes, I have to admit I get a little jealous when I see people who have all these college friends, sorority sisters, whatever, and all these fun stories about the things they did while away at college. I was working at that time. I didn’t have time to go to parties or football games or whatever. I busted my ass, but I don’t think they’re any smarter than me.

      And don’t ever think it’s pointless to go back, if that’s what you want to do. It’s never, NEVER too late. I keep telling myself that, and I’m only 34. I worry that I’ve waited too long. My mom keeps reminding me that it is NEVER too late.

      But do not ever let anyone make you feel like you are not as good as them because you didn’t choose to share their experience.

      1. Jen in RO*

        I always wonder how those people did all the partying in college – I had tons more fun in high school than in university.

        (And, to add to the topic: my boyfriend is a programmer and he didn’t finish university. He’s got 15+ years of experience though and employers are fighting over him.)

      2. Joe Schmoe*

        I’m 37 and have been going to school off and on since 1993. I tell myself that too :) Hopefully I will graduate next year-the same year my middle son graduates from high school!

    6. class factotum*

      Yes, you need to get over this. A person’s worth as a human being is not determined by her educational status. And anyone who tries to make you feel less because of the lack of a degree is a jerk.

    7. The Other Dawn*

      Dara, don’t feel regret or shame at not having gotten your degree. Your experience speaks for itself.

      Up until my late 20s I always felt embarrassed when someone asked me where I went to college and I’d have to say “I didn’t”. Then I realized that I was lucky enough to work for a small company that didn’t place any importance on a degree (unless you’re the chief financial officer or accountant). I was able to work my was up to vice president within 6 years (no small task considering I started at the very bottom). The year I became VP (I was 33) was when I decided I wanted to go to college. And it wasn’t because I felt like I needed to. I did it just for personal satisfaction. I have an associate’s degree now and I really have no desire to get a bachelor’s. And I don’t feel that I need it.

  8. AnotherAlison*

    I’d argue that technically a degree is not required for anything – even medicine, accounting, law, and engineering. Now, we all know it IS required, and for professional licensing it makes sense, but universities do not have a monopoly on information distribution. I greatly benefitted from learning engineering at a university, but what I needed to know for my first job could have been taught via high-quality apprenticeship as well. Nothing I do on the job now was learned at a university, and I think I do alright.

    1. Amouse*

      OK but if you want to be a reputable psychologist or lawyer you could be sued if you don’t have credentials or at the very least you aren’t considered qualified. It might not be “fair” but that’s just the way it works with those kinds of careers if you want to practice using the title “lawyer” or “psychologist. Personally I really don’t want to go to a pharmacist who didn’t very carefully study dispensing correct medications and quantities. Yes you could read a bunch of books, go to seminars and learn that same information other ways but the degree shows you went through a comprehensive and extensive study of those things.

      I get what you’re saying and I wish there were more alternative ways besides universities to obtain accreditation but unfortunately in some fields there aren’t.

      1. JT*

        ” sued if you don’t have credentials or at the very least you aren’t considered qualified. ”

        But credentials are not always the same as a degree. Lawyers must pass a bar exam, and in some states it is possible to take that exam w/o a JD. And I am pretty sure you can get a JD w/o a bachelors degree.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Getting an engineering license without an ABET-accredited engineering degree is possible, too. A few of the foreign-educated engineers I’ve worked with have done it.

        2. Law School Dropout*

          IIRC, California is the only state that lets you take the bar exam without having a law degree from a school accredited by the American Bar Association. The other 49 states want a law degree. (And practicing law without passing the bar exam is a big no-no.)

          As far as I know, you can’t get a JD without a bachelors, in this country. In other countries, they’re combined degrees, but in the U.S., it’s Bachelors then JD.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        Not having a good “reply” day. Just lost what I was going to say.

        Basically, I agree with you. : )

        As for the “wishing there were more alternative ways besides universities” I think some day there will be. I am on the advisory board for my alma mater, and it’s a threat (or an opportunity). They’re watching how the education industry is changing and seeing how they can stay relevant. I see the non-professional fields changing before engineering does, but look at what MIT is doing and you can see that today’s model is not going to last forever. (Medicine & Pharm are changing too. The MD process might be the same, but look at the use of PAs and Nurse Practioners compared to 20 years ago.)

  9. LMW*

    My first job out of college was one of those stupid “requires a degree” positions…for no reason at all. When I left I told them to hire someone with common sense and good people skills–no degree can grant you those.

  10. Wilton Businessman*

    After about 10 years your degree is not really relevant for a majority of careers. Certainly if you want to go back to school to prove something to yourself, by all means go for it.

    1. pgh_adventurer*

      Agreed. When I started my first job out of college I had to re-train myself how to write like a normal person, not those long winded academic 30+ word sentences that got me As in history class.

  11. Thomas*

    Sometime last year, one of the other admins I work with and I had a conversation about who in the team we work with would be a great person to make a team manager. The two people we almost immediately selected were the only people on the team with a bachelor’s degree. One only had his GED, and the other might have had an associates degree but I don’t believe so. Both of them were consummate professionals with much better temperaments for leadership than many of the others. They also both had extremely impressive resumes, both for this industry and more generally.

    I’m a big believer in higher education (I graduated last year from a small liberal arts college with a double major in humanities/social science fields), but a lack of it does not make you a bad employee, and I’m happy to say I have not seen that bias among the employers I’ve been around.

      1. Thomas*

        Wow, I fail at writing. Yes, they were the only people on the team WITHOUT a bachelor’s degree. That rather changes the meaning of the sentence!

  12. GeekChic*

    When I hired I was interested in whether you had experience or, failing that, a degree to get you started.

    That said, I was also interested in attitude toward people that took different life tracks. So, the comment “I’ve met more than my share of clueless people with Masters degrees” would really annoy me because I’ve met more than *my* fair share of clueless people with 20 years of experience – because they haven’t kept up and think that longevity is automatically a good thing (it’s not, sometimes it means stagnation).

    1. Jamie*

      Right. The key is 20 years of experience, not one year of experience repeated 20 times.

      It’s important to keep an open mind to the fact that there is more than one path to most destinations.

    2. LJL*

      I have to say that, from my experience, cluelessness is not confined to those with any particular experience level. It’s the person that matters.

  13. Zee*

    I say this: If you want to go back to college and either finish your degree or just take courses for enrichment, then have a go at it.

  14. Michael*

    I’m a Senior Software Engineer without a degree. My team lead and a Senior Analyst I work with neither have degrees. I’m glad to see there’s more of us out there.

  15. Jesicka309*

    If the OP was intending the change careers, having a relevant degree would be almost essential.
    I’m currently doing my second degree, as I found my first degree didn’t teach me what I needed to know. So I’m doing university online whilst working my current job, so I have some sort of knowledge in the area I want to move into.
    Mind you, I did a stupid communications degree first time around, now doing business/marketing.
    My Dad went back and did his accounting degree after dropping out in his 20s. He’s been at the same company for 20+ years, and was told that he couldn’t progress any further along the pay scale unless he did his degree, as a graduate could start that day at the company and earn the same wage as Dad after 15 years. So in terms of money, sometimes it helps.

  16. Gene*

    I’m in a (relatively) new field of regulation – first Federal regs came out ~30 years ago. I started shortly after that, no degree, no college at all, just 7 years in the Navy as a nuclear operator. I’ve changed jobs to different cities twice since then, starting the current one in 1991. I’m a well-known authority in the field, run a 2000+ member forum, have spoken at many conferences, etc., etc. You’d think it would be easy for me to move on to a management role in the field, assuming I wanted to move to another program – which I don’t. I do look at job announcements; you never know, that dream job in Kona might just open up.

    In the 30 years this field has been around it has grown up. Most of the old-timers came from sewer operations staff or from the outside like I did; most of the newer folks are fresh out of college with either chemistry or environmental science degrees. Listings for most of the entry-level positions prefer a degree and mid-management and above require one. Since it’s civil service my application would never even make it to the desk of someone who would say, “Hey! Gene applied here, we want to at least interview him.” I don’t meet the minimum standards for the job, so my application wouldn’t get out of HR.

    My only real hope to advance to management is for my boss to retire for some reason. Since he’s only 2 years older than I, I don’t expect that any time soon. But that’s OK by me, I’m happy in my position here and make enough money to keep me happy.

  17. nyxalinth*

    “And if you find an employer who has a problem with that … well, college didn’t do much for their critical thinking skills.”

    LOL! You win, Allison.

    This really gets my goat. I see it happen sometimes in call centers, as I was saying the other day. I did run across one legitimate reason to require a degree last year: I’d applied to work the Colorado Quitline (helping smokers quit) and for some reason the State of Colorado requires a Bachelor’s for some reason. doesn’t matter what it’s in, as long as you have it. Stupid rule, but they had to follow it.

    1. pgh_adventurer*

      Well, that’s not a legitimate reason, though. It’s a random state law that requires at least a Bachelor’s for state govt employment even if a degree has no impact on your ability to do the job.

  18. eh*

    My previous field did not technically require a college degree. And, yes, some of the best people I worked with did not have degrees.

    However, many, many times people were told they were turned down for promotions because they did not have a degree. In reality there were other issues at play (“excessive” time off, low self-esteem, did not get along with certain managers, filling their sport would require hiring two people, etc.) that was the least confrontational way to go.

    When I moved into management, I was shocked to see that it was a common crutch used to avoid having tough conversations with people. FWIW most of those non-degreed people were such pros, I personally felt they rose to the occasion if you spoke with them in an honest, respectful way.

    1. LadyTL*

      Maybe they used it because it gave the least opportunity for arguments about the decision? It’s harder to argue with “you don’t have x degree” then “excessive” time off, low self-esteem, did not get along with certain managers, filling their sport would require hiring two people, etc. The other managers might have had a different experience with them then you did.

      1. Anon*

        Even if they did use the no-degree thing so they wouldn’t get so much pushback, it’s still wrong. For external hires I can see it being a useful tool, but for in-house promotions and internal hires it just sounds like poor management. If I were an employee who wanted to be promoted, I would want to know exactly why it was I wasn’t deemed fit for the position and what (if anything) I could do to change that. If I were told I didn’t get promoted because I didn’t have a degree, and then went out and spent a lot of time and money getting one, only to be passed over again for another reason I’d be pretty pissed.

        1. Meg*

          I’m so grateful that my university courses and career workshops taught me that my degree was not the Wonka golden ticket to gainful employment (I graduated in 2011 with two degrees in the Humanities from a well-ranked state university FWIW). However, I was encouraged to gain professional experience while in university, and learned how to market myself accordingly.

          Fast forward two years after I had some work experience at companies that downsized or went under, and I am in a current position where only a high school diploma is required. I had to address being over qualified in both of my interviews, and I could not be happier in my position while I earn my Masters degree.

    2. Natalie*

      I’m not in HR so of course I’m not 100% sure, but I suspect this happened to a former manager R – they were passed over for a promotion on the grounds of not having an MBA, but were also quite emotionally unstable and generally a very bad manager. And yes, R’s immediate manager and the manager one level above were fond of avoiding tough conversations.

  19. Amouse*

    This just occured to me about when I was being drilled on my education in an interview for a position that “required” a Bachelor’s degree that I don’t have (I got the job). I think that wasn’t a complete sentence but I have to write this quickly so I’m trekking along:

    When I was asked about it I basically said that I hadn’t been financially able to complete my degree at the time and I also did not have enough real-world experience to know what I wanted out of a degree at that age but that I would be definitely open to professional development opportunities should I have the opportunity at the company or should the company want me to furhter my education I would be thrilled for the opportunity. At this particular company that was an option. I had to endure quite a few pointed questions about my education at that interview but I still got the job so my answers must have been acceptable on some level at least.

  20. Jersey*

    I work for the government, and for some contracts certain positions must have college degrees. When I asked my contractor why she wasn’t bid on the task order, she explained that the contract they were bidding under required a college degree. This is one of the primary reasons they require college degrees, because lucrative contracts require them as a matter of process. They almost didnt win the task order without her, and it would’ve been a slam dunk with her. I told her to finish her degree ASAP if she wanted to continue working with the government.

    1. Anonymous*

      This is very true with government. I just finished working on a successful proposal for my contracting company and we were restricted to the educational requirements set in the original staffing contract. Unfortunately, the original contract did not allow for years of experience in lieu of a degree so we had to exclude some very well qualified candidates because they didn’t have a degree.

      I have been fortunate because I was on the tail end of people working in public health who were able to get entry level positions with a bachelors and I was able to work my way up – just 8 years later, that is almost impossible to do. I’m going to get my MPH because in federal work, a bachelors with 10 years of experience can still be overlooked in favor of a MPH with 1-2 years of experience because a graduate degree is considered fatal criteria.

  21. Louise*

    OK, I have a followup question to that. What if you’re a marketing writer and you don’t have a degree? I have managed to get 10 years of marketing/copywriting experience under my belt without a degree as a freelancer and two full time jobs at a senior level. I am job hunting now and pretty much every listing wants a degree. I can’t help but be afraid that I’ll never even get called for an interview. Thoughts?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Writing is a job where a degree is really irrelevant.

      Many ads ask for a degree because that’s their boilerplate language that they stick in every ad without thinking about it. I’d ignore it and apply anyway.

      1. Louise*

        Thanks, AAM. I guess I’m afraid I won’t be considered, even. But, apply, I will! I’m new to this site, btw, and I’m addicted. Slowly working my was though all the archives. Love it.

      2. Tracy*

        This is good news! I’ve been writing and editing for nearly 20 years, but I worked my way up from editorial assistant. School was just too expensive.

      3. Anonymous_J*

        Yup. I do this all the time–as long as I KNOW I can do the job.

        I haven’t had any interviews yet, but I won’t give up.

  22. Jer*

    What does a Degree really mean anymore? I work at a community college and I see tons of students just going to class because they have to.

    Even if they make it through life and get that degree, I don’t believe it will do them much good because of their general attitude towards life.

    Now on the flip slide because it’s a community college, I get to see many returning students trying to get their education. They’ve been outside of school for 20 years … much like the OP and they have been very successful in life.

    Before working there I thought the only path to success was going to college and getting a degree. I got my degree and now I only work part-time. No benefits! I’m fighting to make full-time there one day but with decrease student enrollment it doesn’t look like that will happen any time soon.

    Moreover, I just found out that the janitorial staff makes a decent chunk of change *more then me* and all they need is a G.E.D/High School Degree.

    Now I know I can go higher then them but it’s only now with talking to so many different people there were many roads to success.

    I said all that to say, No one should feel ashamed that they didn’t get there degree. You can become successful without it. There are still plenty of jobs you can get that actually don’t need a degree. However, more and more employers are requiring nowadays, so it seems like its a must now.

    Education and Skills > College Degree and the two aren’t mutually inclusive.

  23. Twyla*

    Well, I am the OP (under a psuedonym – hey, you never know who is surfing the internet!) and would like to say I am heartwarmed by the response. I’ve dedicated my professional life to my chosen career and honestly, am not sure what a generic Bachelor’s in Business Administration would really give me at this stage of the game. Again – sure, I’d like the degree, but real life has taken precedence and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

    I’d written a very long response (never sent) to the third-party recruiter outlining my accomplishments but knew it was a defensive (and to some extent to reassure my self exteem), but now I feel much more confident in simply responding “No, I don’t have a degree. But I do have years of experience, a proven track-record, and a list a mile long of references to back that up. If your client requires a degree and will not consider anything else, then I am sorry but I am obviously not a good fit for your client.”

    Thank you Alison for answering my question!

  24. Kat*

    The only thing I’d say from the OP’s post, usually 3rd party recruiters, if they see you have the experience won’t have a problem submitting your resume to their clients, however many of the CLIENTS only look at resumes in black and white, or degree or no degree. You can have years of relevant experience and all the client will see is you do not have a bachelors, and you are automatically disqualified.

    I’ve been a paralegal and when I moved to my current state I had over 15 years experience as a litigation paralegal and only had an AA from an unaccredited trade school. One of the legal staffing agencies I signed up with loved my resume, and would tell me they were going to submit my resume even though their client wanted a 4-year degree. Unfortunately 9 times out of 10 they rejected me. It was actually difficult getting a paralegal job here, so I ended up temping as a legal secretary for one company, they hired me on as a legal secretary and about a year later promoted me to paralegal.

    If you have the background and skills to perform in certain fields, employers shouldn’t just overlook you resume just because that almighty 4-year college portion is blank.

  25. Girasol*

    A degree is handy to keep oneself from being screened out of the candidate pool by an unthinking recruiter. It’s great for impressing people who have never been to college and think it’s much tougher than it is. If you’d gotten a degree in any technical field 20 years ago it would be so out of date no one would care anyway. Supposedly a degree proves you have stick-to-itiveness, which is great if you’re jsut starting out and that’s all you have to put on your resume, but 20 years in the field is all the proof you need.

  26. Anonymous*

    I am going to play devil’s advocate, based on the experiences of at least five people I know. No, degrees should not trump experience, but that presumes all employers want the best person for the job. In reality, way too many employers want the best person who fits their budget. I worked with a number of 50 year olds who had impressive experience, but no degrees–most of them had worked their way up from factory positions. When they got laid off by our employer (“Hey! We can get young people in for less money and less vacation days!”) they found that their lack of degree pretty much telegraphed their age to potential employers, even if they only put 10 years of experience on their resume. (It was a lot more common to move up the ranks without a degree back in the 70s & early 80s) I am currently in school myself (advanced degree), so I’m not unaware of how hard it is to do school & work. But given what I’ve seen others go through, I wouldn’t dismiss the idea outright just because things are comfortable now.

  27. Cassie*

    My former supervisor had an AA degree, but no BA/BS degree. She worked for a number of years in industry (secretarial), then in our organization going from an admin assistant, to an analyst, to an officer. She’s of a slightly older generation where maybe college degrees weren’t so prevalent (at least, to get into entry-level positions) and her work experience has spoken for itself ever since.

    I know our dept has been leaning towards the “must have a degree” silliness. I think it’s stupid, especially for our entry-level positions. A degree is not the be all, end all. It’s like people who become professors at a university. The majority of the professors have at least master’s degrees, or (if you are a top research university as ours is) a PhD. Don’t even bother applying if you don’t have the master’s. However, once in a while, there will be someone who is absolutely brilliant in their field. Every university would be dying to recruit that individual. Same thing in the arts – for example, if you have strong experience in the performing arts, universities are willing to use that as a substitute for a degree. You can’t really learn your art form just by going to school.

  28. Jamie*

    I’m so thrilled to see this issue being discussed. I’m 28 and have over 160 college credits but I’m still 6 short of my bachelor’s degree (I changed majors from art to psychology….long story short I have a LOT of electives now).

    I’m still working for the company that gave me my first job at 17. I’ve been promoted four times and my reviews are always excellent, but I will never go further than I am right now unless I finish my degree.

    My employer doesn’t even care what field your degree is in, just that you have it. This results in a slew of young, irresponsible, and extraordinarily under-qualified recent graduates being put in charge of people with anywhere from 5-30 years of experience. They’re usually gone in a matter of months. Now, that doesn’t mean that we never get a truly qualified new hire, but they’re few and far between.

    College didn’t teach me how to properly communicate with my co-workers and bosses, how to navigate the minefield of dealing with poor performers, how to prioritize and delegate excessive workload, how to identify my strengths and weaknesses, etc…- working did! It mystifies me that my huge (300,000+ employees) employer has not wised up to this yet. The amount of money that they waste on training is undoubtedly staggering.

    In any case, I’m finally moving on. I’ve found another company that was able to see my value after one interview. I’m looking forward to not being negatively judged over my hesitance to incur crippling debt!

    1. Popart*

      Might it be worth it to take the 6 credits you need to complete your BA even though you sound successful without it? It seems like just two more classes could allow you to benefit from all the work you’ve already put towards the degree (and not be prohibitively costly).

    2. Late Bloomer*

      Consider checking out some of the external degree programs that award psych degrees. You may have all the credits you need already. Or you could go for a non-designated “liberal studies” degree (some have those too).

  29. Elle*

    You know what? Why don’t we discuss people that have an MBA etc and still can’t get a job because they’re “overqualified”. Now that would be interesting..

      1. Zed*

        Once I got “You have too much experience.” It was for a post-graduate (paid) internship, and I was stuck in the place where I was overqualified for that but underqualified for a full-time permanent position. That stung.

        1. Jer*

          My fellow colleague has a saying

          “I’m just trying to get in where I fit in!”

          He has a way with words but essentially means; I don’t need to do a job that’s beneath me, nor do I want to do brain surgery! I just want a job I’m good at so I can put food on the table.

  30. Lucy*

    Thank you for posting this question.

    I’ve been working 20 years in IT and left school to raise my son (and work). My coworkers all have degrees and talk often about their degrees and colleges. Most of them have gone to a prestigious local college. It does feel deflating at times. This December, even my son will have more college work completed. Ha :)

    I don’t feel it’s really hindered me, but I also don’t bring it up. On resumes, I list the college and program I attended. I don’t list dates, completion, or anything that would indicate completion. Unless I’m asked point blank in an interview, I don’t go into detail. This method has helped me consistently clear initial hurdles.

    I love the response to the OP and if it is ever asked of me, that’s a great response. It’s so strange that it can still feel even a little shameful after so many years and other non-degree accomplishments. And, in reality, I think that slightest shame means I hold myself back from certain opportunities more than any gatekeeper or listed job reqs do. So, the response was great, I love the positive spin on it, and the unspoken encouragement it offers.

  31. Ah-nony-moose*

    Once upon a time, in a galaxy gar, far away… oh no, wait, that was something else …

    It was a long time ago, but I remember consistently applying for a graphic design position with a noted publishing company that had a West Coast HQ. The ad always said that an AA was required. I still put in, but never, ever heard back from them. Then, once I put in for the same exact job, and fibbed about having the degree. Not only did I get a call, I got the job. And nothing (absolutely nothing!) had changed from me not having a degree to having one. (Note: I did finish up the last 6 credits within the first year of working there.

    My point is, employers put waaaay to much emphasis on a degree; I learned how to be moderately successful in the workforce not from a college course, but from day to day work. I have worked for youngsters that have a BA, get promoted to be my supervisor without any clue as to what they are doing, no life experience to draw upon (and in one case, slept her way to a VP position with the President). It is all quite disheartening, because companies just don’t seem to understand how hard some people work and don’t just skate by.

  32. Mich*

    I never put comments on sites however I had to on this topic.
    I owned a small but successful e-commerce company for over 15 years. When I decided that I might want to go to work FOR the corporate world I realized that I was going to have to get a degree even though I had more than enough knowledge and experience. I sat in classes that were specific to my career and listened to teachers that had LESS hands on experience and practical knowledge than I did in the field. I taught THEM more than they taught me as I had been in the field 10+ years longer, basically from the conception of online shopping. In fact not even one teacher had done 1/4 of the things I had done within the industry.
    I decided to retire instead of completing my degree and focus on family since I had built enough income to do so for many years without working. Now the kids are grown and I am wanting to go back to work even if I had that degree it would be obsolete due to the industry changes.
    While I would not be able to bring to a company any updated practical skills in the industry I worked I do have excellent management skills. Management skills in general in my opinion cannot be taught . The concept can but that does not ensure the person will be able to do it effectively. It is more of an inherent personality trait to be able to deal with people effectively. Yet while I might have had the a degree in the industry I was in, it would not have ensured that I was or can be an effective manager.
    Now with so many out of work try finding one job at this level without actually working within a company already without a degree.

  33. LifeinGeneral*

    People should concentrate on what they need to do in their lives to support them and it’s just another plus if what you’re doing makes you happy. Working full-time, you will have your good and bad days. Usually, when you’ve been working in a company for 2 years or more, you may have those thoughts in your mind…Maybe it’s time to move on and look for a new position. Employees should be encouraged to apply for a higher position in the company within 2 years. I am very inspired by people who work with endurance and stamina all the years they’ve worked in one company. Whether it’s in an office, retail, or medical fields, all employees who are hardworking should be respected and treated fairly. I do know it’s not all fairness in the real world. You will hit bumps down the road and there will be people that will bring you down, I admire my sister because she gets back up every time. She has been a store manager for 5 years since she was 28 yrs old and without a bachelor’s degree, her annual salary is $47,000.
    It is up to her if she wants to pursue another field or career. I have deep respect for people who can work 10-16 hrs a day and this includes people who work in an office setting. It is quite impressive and to tough it all out, you need to have a thick skin and you’re able to quickly learn and adapt. I know it’s easier said than done, but never give up no matter what happens…the struggle often ends up with a reward.

  34. Rod*

    I can relate to this initial comment. I’ve been in the workforce for just over 20 years as an engineer. I have been very successful with every job I’ve had. I dropped out of college after 2 years for several reasons, but still found an entry level job back in the day without a degree. I have just built on this ever since. Changed jobs a few times and have never been asked for my college degree, even when the position required it ! My resume simply states the years I attended the college and the program I was in. So when read it is often just assumed I have the degree, and I always got away with it based on experience. Until very recently .. I am 44 years old now and just accepted a very attractive position at a good company. Three days before my start day, they asked me to bring a copy of my degree ! yikes ! My gut chruned . I already resigned from my current job and told all of my family and friends. I had no choice but to come clean and tell them the truth. My 20 years of experience and good references surely override a 20 year old obsolete degree. Luckily they were good with it and told me not to worry. But I still have that strange feeling inside now that they know. Time will tell I suppose.

  35. A S*

    I am in a field that most of my peers have masters degrees, certifications, and teach aspects of our profession in universities. Me personally, in addition to being overly sensitive and jealous that they got to go to college, I try to out-do them all . . . 4 certifications, international client list, on board of directors for local chapter of our international professional development org.

    But even with all this, I am still automatically weeded out for permanent positions and have been a serial contract/consulting hired gun for 10 years now. I’d like the hamster wheel to stop and have someone to see my value despite my lack of a degree!

  36. Anonymous*

    I work for a small liberal arts college advising students and recent alums in their job search and an alum from our Masters in Theological Studies program recently sent me his resume for review. He says he’s been applying to teaching jobs at Catholic schools for over a year without getting any interviews. Is the reason he isn’t getting interviews the fact that he doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree?

    I found it hard to believe that he was accepted into a Masters program without an undergraduate degree and told him that employers will most likely have similar reactions and therefore tend to overlook the fact that he doesn’t hold a bachelor’s degree. If he successfully finished the Master’s coursework, whether or not he holds a bachelor’s degree is almost irrelevant. But is it, in this situation? To teach in Catholic schools does not require certification or a major in education but certainly teaching is a profession that requires bachelor’s degrees.

    I think the lack of interviews has more to do with the resume and cover letters he’s been sending out but wondered if anyone had any thoughts in this unique education situation.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wow, that’s so interesting that he was able to get into a masters program without a bachelor’s! I wonder how he did that? In any case, I’d generally agree with you, but I could see how schools might be different (and also subject to really rigid rules in this regard that they can’t waive). I’d tell him to talk to people in the industry he wants to work in and get their take on it — he might hear that it’s definitely that, or he might hear that it’s something else.

      1. Amanda*

        I know of an MBA program in the U. K. that allows people without high school or Bachelor’s to attend and it’s a respected school. Many from the U. S. or who come from overseas with a Masters, but no Bachelor’s have said the same thing happened to them. SMH I mean really a freaking Masters trumps a Bachelors

  37. LG*

    Hi all,

    Looking for advice and came across this site. I am 28 years old and work as a Marketing Officer, which I really enjoy. However, it is within a company where there are no opportunities for progression and therefore, I don’t want to work there all my life!
    I don’t have a degree and right now, I feel terrible about it. I am studying a Graduate Certificate (degree level qualification) via distance learning but I am convinced that I will fail the last module.
    If I do fail, I don’t know what to do. I don’t particularly want to go & do a 4 year degree full-time as I’d have to give up my job & worry about finances.
    I am recently married, living in a flat and hoping to move to a house in the next year or 2 as we would like to have a baby. Do you think it would be worth quitting my job & putting other plans on hold to go to university full-time or should I continue gaining experience? Long term, I’d like to continue working in Marketing/Communications but I am scared that I can’t progress without a degree.


    1. jesicka309*

      Wow, you’re doing well to have a JOB in the marketing industry without a degree – I’ve had to go back to school (distance) to even have a hope of getting an interview for an entry level job, and I already have a degree. So good on you for getting as far as you have!
      I’d say that if you’re already studying, and are close to graduating, that you throw yourself into trying to pass that final module. Use all your leave from work if you have to. Get your husband to help you around the house more. Something I’m learning as I’m studying is that you have to sacrifice some things if you want to work and study. Let hubby cook dinner if you have an assignment due. Forget about a holiday this year – your leave is needed for studying for that final exam. Short term sacrifice for long term gain. It hurts (so much) but considering you don’t have a degree yet, having that certification will help you, because there are thousands of newly minted marketing/comms graduate entering the market every year. You have experience over them, but I’m finding in my job search that most employers want the full business rounding (accounting, stats, public relations, management) that the study gives you as well.
      Good luck with your studies, from one distance learner to another! :)

  38. fly1974*

    Just found this article as this is a major concern of mine. Although my last two jobs did not even bring up education and neither did I or my colleagues while in the process of interviewing others, I do feel it’s a crutch.
    I am planning on going back to finish up, I never enjoyed college as I enjoyed the challenge of the workplace and found more education there and from learning what I needed on my own. With this said what is the general consensus of listing education on a resume, if one has taken significant classes, certs etc but does have a degree? again from my experience nobody seems to even ask about the degrees listed.

  39. Late Bloomer*

    I worked about 25 years as a software developer without a degree, and managed to do pretty well. Sometimes worked with other non-degree holders, but we tended to be a minority. More surprising were the number of people with non-technical degrees working in the technology sector. (We made me wonder if the credential was more important than the content.)

    But I knew even early on this was limiting my opportunities. Some companies (typically large ones) have absolute requirements for a credential. I’ve actually been kicked out of interviews that otherwise seemed to be going well when learned I had no degree.

    As the years went on and the microcomputer industry matured, that limitation became increasingly problematic. So I decided to stop fighting it, and finish the degree I started in 1977. Did so thru an external degree program that accepted most of my prior credits, while acquiring the rest by traditional in-person and distance online courses, with some by testing. Since my first college experience wasn’t positive, I was worried about returning. But delighted to discover being an older student made general education courses much easier than expected, and industry experience made the technical courses (especially the theory) more relevant and interesting. And it confirmed that my workaday knowledge wasn’t so different than my degreed colleagues.

    Although this took 5 years of significant part time effort, I finished in 2007. (Luckily my prior employer had reasonable workloads.) No employer has questioned the quality of the degree, and being regionally accredited, got me accepted into 3 state university masters degree programs. (But had to drop the masters due to my current employer’s heavier workloads.)

    I’m very glad I did this, and certain I faired much better in my recent job searches because of this. (Several companies told me outright I wouldn’t have been interviewed otherwise.) And with ever more companies relying on mindless applicant tracking systems, I didn’t want to leave home without it. Even better, going the non-traditional route was very inexpensive, no more than 15K total.

  40. Roger Dodger*

    I have a high School education i am ADHD and sometimes i have to ask the question twice to really get it. I have depended on God through prayers to get me to where i am. I have been moved through the ranks from cashier to a management position and have held different management posiion now for the last twenty plus years.. I am a manager of IT AMI and Data Integrity. I have been at this same employment for 32 years and hope to retire in less than 3 years i have been honest, trustworthy and faithful to my employer. Not just because that i don’t have a college degree but i love the experience. There are approximately 130 employees and i have hired 35 of them. I am not braging because i know what i am but I believe that if a person works hard , stands firm in what they believe, that God will richly bless . I am a living example.

  41. Experience Means A Lot!*

    “And if you find an employer who has a problem with that … well, college didn’t do much for their critical thinking skills.”
    Unfortunately there are a lot of employers who lack critical thinking skills so it is truly important to “emphasis the success gained from your experience and the track record of achievement you have achieved without a college degree.” No need to go into all of the personal details for why you haven’t completed it. As one knows–life happens–and things can make one leave college such as a lucrative job offer or a lack of financial resources.
    And when thinking of returning life happens–(baby, sickness, etc.). Or you could have been making lots of progress on your jobs w/o a degree as many of us older candidates have–especially 10, 20 years ago.
    Still, it’s interesting that given the fact the president of a billion dollar pharmaceutical company was recently named to his post without a college degree and a police commissioner of a major city was just inducted w/o a college degree–these organizations still fail to consider candidates with extensive work experience for open positions if they lack a college degree.
    I know for many of us financial constraints are a big concern when thinking of returning, especially with a family to support or when working freelance or being unemployed and job searching!
    I would just add that in today’s environment it is tough w/out a degree, regardless of your experience, so if you do plan to return to school–make that understood to the employer–and once you do have that offer in hand–seriously consider completing that degree. Best of luck!

  42. It can be done*

    I am reading this post because I am looking at changing companies. It is always a huge decision for me because I am mid 40’s and I do not have a degree. I won’t lie… It was not easy early on, I was a young kid that wanted to do everything but go to college. After getting married and becoming a father, time and money went out of the window however need was staring me in the face. After getting my mind right and wanting to make something of myself, I pursued positions that allowed me to learn more about the IT field. I now have many certificates specific to my field as well as much training over the years. I will tell anyone that one of the major factors in your success after a lot of prayer is the person. I have heard a lot about college grads that do not have great positions and although a degree is a great have, you have to complement it with drive. Without drive you will go nowhere. With a degree and drive when leaving college and entering the workforce you are literally unstoppable. My life is an example of the drive with no degree as I currently make well into Six figures with no degree. I still get a funny feeling when the question is asked however as one of the other posters said, just be honest and direct “No I don’t have a degree”. What is interesting to me on an off note is all of the competitiveness that takes place among college grads of different colleges when comparing which is better. I am thinking to myself if one is so better than the other than where does that put me when I did not go but yet you both report to me. Long story short it can be done but it depends on first You, then the company in which you are interviewing with.

  43. Lb*

    I have 20+ years experience as a HR director, was brought on as a consultant, asked to be the interim director when the director resigned, applied for the job, and was told I’m not being considered because I don’t have a degree. When I explained that I’m 13 units shy and there wasn’t even a degree for HR when I was attending night school, they stuck to their decision. Have never been treated this way. When did society embrace this as a method of acceptable discrimination? Those of us with experience need to rise up and raise our voices. The very foundation of our great nation was founded by folks without degrees and a lot of hard work. Many successful entrepreneurs do not have degrees. It’s gotten ridiculous. How many out there correct the grammar and spelling for those degree people? A piece of paper does not mean you’re literate or intelligent.

  44. Lilly*

    I have a degree that’s not relevant to the jobs I’d like to apply for. However, I have more than enough employment experience to show that I am competent in my particular area of expertise. Would it be inappropriate for me to apply for a position that lists a specific degree requirement, despite having an irrelevant degree?

  45. Carol*

    I went to a top notch private East Coast college, after 3 yrs I decided I did not want to pursue my major but didn’t really know what I wanted to do. To save money, I transferred to a state college. All of my credits transferred, but due to changing majors I had an additional 2 yrs before I graduated. I fell into a deep depression during that time and stopped attending classes and ended up being academically dismissed from the college. Soon after that my husband was transferred down South so we had to move. I bounced back from my severe depression, but found myself pregnant. College was put on hold indefinitely. Stupidly, I put that I had a college degree on my job applications. I figured since I had over 120 credits I pretty much had a degree. No one checked back then. I got a decent job right away that didn’t require a degree, however, they thought I had one. I have a million college stories that I have told over the years, so why wouldn’t they believe I graduated? I moved up fairly quickly within the company but lived in constant fear that I would be caught. Eventually, I left that company and took a job at a very large Fortunate 500 company. I did not lie and took a job that did not require a degree. If I had a degree I would have made $10,000 more a year for a job that really anyone off the street could be taught to do. Since hiring me 6 years ago, the company has now made it mandatory to have a degree for all new hires in this position. Once again…ANYONE could easily be trained to do this job. All my co-workers sign their emails with their credentials after their names, Jane Smith, BA. We are asked frequently to fill out surveys asking for our credentials, so it is only a matter of time before they start letting go of those of us without degrees. That bothers me. Due to this company using Taleo and having degrees mandatory, I cannot ever move up in the company. I was told my application would be automatically thrown out by the system. Mind you I have more supervisory experience than my boss and her boss combined. However, I will never ever be considered for a promotion without a degree. My boss knows I am highly qualified, but there is nothing she can do. All employees must apply via Taleo. I have seen so many supervisors within this company who have no idea how to be a boss but because they have a degree they are promoted. I see this as a growing trend. My husband’s company told him they would rather take a recent college graduate who does not know how to do the job then to promote someone who has been in the field for 20 yrs because a degree means they are more educated and more committed. Really? That just seems crazy! How do you get around this requirement that all companies now have? Does 20 + years of successful employment mean anything anymore?

  46. Directornodegree*

    I have been told many times not to do this, but similar to this total situation, it should be about the results. When I fill out any Taleo type system, I absolutely say that I have a degree. I know that change alone has caused my resume to get consideration when previously it didn’t. When almost an interview finishes, the interviewer will invariably ask “Do you have any questions?” Where I will say, just one thing, I have not completed my degree. I have (fill in concise career description). This is a job that I know I can do, and did not want a broad brush system sweep to keep from having this conversation.

    If after interviewing me, and hearing all that I’ve done they’re not interested in hiring me 1. because they don’t think I can do the job or 2. because they rule me out specifically because of my lack of degree then I wasn’t going to get the job anyway. But without the interview you have zero chance. If the job says specifically degree required, they will have to take down the posting and repost updated with “or related experience” for I think 48 hours, but I’ve had this done for me multiple times. If you’re qualified to do the job, you can change their mind. The degree doesn’t do the job, you do.

    As someone who has been on the other side of the hiring process as well, if I find someone I really like for a position, I want to get my person hired. I’ve been fortunate to get every job on which I’ve gotten a call. The only exception being if the call was a pre-interview with an HR rep who has flatly stated (or researched/confirmed) that no degree is a non-starter. I’ve found that HR is the only group that cares about the degree, the hiring manager is just trying to make easy criteria for them.

    I’ve sat on an executive committee as a managing director where we spoke about new hirings and listened to a peer say “We’re going to require a degree,” to which I simply asked “so you wouldn’t hire me?”. . . crickets.

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