Do I need a college degree for the work I love?

Last week I mentioned that Ernst & Young (a major finance and accounting firm) is no longer requiring a college degree as part of their application process.  A few months ago, PricewaterhouseCoopers )PwC) – another big player in financial services announced they would no longer be using The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) scores as a part of their hiring process.

Gaenor Bagley, PwC head of people said: “As a progressive employer we recognize that talent and potential presents itself in different ways and at different stages in people’s lives. Removing the UCAS criteria will create a fairer and more modern system in which students are selected on their own merit, irrespective of their background or where they are from.”

Even though college graduates are less likely to be unemployed, research shows that fifty percent of recent college graduates are working at jobs that do not require a degree.

In this week’s podcast I share an update from Joshua Kemp – a young guy who went from being a blacksmith to an $80K position by training himself in software development over a period of 7 months in his spare time.  All using free online courses and tutorials.  His enthusiasm and initiative allowed him to bypass candidates with professional degrees and years of experience.

I also played an audio question from Amy, who has over $200,000 in student loan debt for her doctor’s degree (Pharm.D.) but doesn’t want to work in that industry any more.  She’s already making $7500/month in her little Amazon online business and I encouraged her to go ahead and make the full transition to building her online business that she loves.

Here are 10 recognized companies that don’t have a degree requirement for job applicants.  They question the connection between success in their companies and having a college degree.  They are recognizing that “life skills” can be found in lots of smart, enthusiastic and hard working individuals.

  1. Google
  2. Ernst & Young
  3. Penguin Random House – Here we’ve got the biggest book publisher in the world. For an industry that involves education and literature, this is a pretty bold move. The HR Director of Penguin Random House Neil Morrison said, “This is the starting point for our concerted action to make publishing far, far more inclusive than it has been to date. We believe this is critical to our future: to publish the best books that appeal to readers everywhere, we need to have people from different backgrounds with different perspectives and a workforce that truly reflects today’s society.”

4.  Costco

5.  Whole Foods  – They call their employees team members and take pride in having being included in Fortune Magazine’s, “100 Best Companies to Work For” every single year since the list was started.

6.  Publix Super Markets

7.  Apple

8.  Starbucks

9.  Nordstrom

10.  Home Depot

One of Home Depot’s main tenets is to have “greater diversity in their people.” Our local Home Depot has a permanent sign out front that essentially says – if you’re 16 years old and can breath, we want to talk with you.degrees

This just reflects our changing times and workplace.  Do I still value a college degree – absolutely.  It shows goal setting, persistence and a whole lot more personal skills. 

I loved my time in universities – first at The Ohio State University where I got my B.A. in psychology, then at Western Kentucky University where I got my M.A. in clinical psychology, and then at Oxford where I completed my doctoral studies in religion and society.  But I never pursued a degree because of a career path.  It was always for personal growth and development.  I never applied for a job based on my degrees.  I’ve always been self-employed but believed the continued process of study would add to my success.

I never had student loan debt.  I was raised to pay for things I could afford – thus I worked (and Joanne worked) all through those university years.  I always painted houses, flipped cars, and mowed lawns in order to pay for school.  I went back for my Masters four years after graduating with my Bachelors degree – so I sold our house and my Jaguar to pay for that next degree.  I started my doctoral studies eighteen years after completing my Masters.  By then I was already writing, speaking and coaching, so I was able to pay for that program as I went.  I didn’t complete any degree program burdened by debt that limited my future choices.

Would I get all those degrees again – probably not.  Information is so much easier to access today.  I was married by the time I as a junior in college so I wasn’t looking for lots of social events – just the learning.  But I don’t regret having taken that route at all. 

Be realistic about why you are going to school.

  1. If you are going to get a degree so you can get a better job – you’re likely to be disappointed.
  2. If you are going for the personal development, the social connections, and the broadening of your options – you’ll always see yourself as more prepared and having more options.

How does traditional “education” tie in with your path toward work you love?

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  • Dan,
    That is so interesting to see that you probably won’t get your degrees if you had to do it all over again. Excited to see how times are changing.

    • Jen – back then I couldn’t access classic books, research studies, etc. online. I would spend days just finding relevant bodies of work for study I was doing. Today I can jump on line and it’s all right there.

  • PaulVandermill

    Greetings Dan, The other night my wife and I were having a similar discussion. We we feeling thankful for our experiences in life. Sonya, my wife, served in the U.S. Army for 22 years after having decided to bypass college where she had been accepted into a teacher preparation college program. She wanted to see the world and has. As for me, I went off to college knowing that I needed to grow beyond my small town roots and humble beginnings. Several of the the traits she and I share and further developed, particularly through our experiences, are powerful work ethic and driving tenacity which served us well. Given the opportunity to do it over again, I would have done things differently and not gone so far as to earn the 2 masters degrees that I have. I am thankful for having found you and your materials which have reshaped my thinking without which I may well have pursued further education. Instead I satisfy my never satiated need to understand in other ways. This topic certainly appears to be near and dear to your heart. You are right on the mark as always!

    Thanks, Paul

  • Cliff Feightner

    Many places in all of this nation
    Don’t require much education
    They feel that your earning
    Results from the learning
    You get from your life situation

    • Cliff – oh my. That has to be one of your best ever.

      • Cliff Feightner

        Thank you. And thanks for using my poem in your latest podcast.

  • Samuels Help

    Execellent post Dan, growing up you would always here go to school to get something in your head to provide for your family. Now to get something in your head you can listen to blog post and watch videos to learn.

  • Jevonnah Ellison

    Dan, this is so on point and an article I will point clients to. Thank you! By the way, I went to Oxford for the summer years ago to study religion and society, too. How neat to know you did that as well!

    • Jevonnah – I have such great memories of being in Oxford – love that town!

  • Kathryn Lehan

    I had a boss once who told me to only hire (work with) people with potential, not papers. Potential is teachable. It was some of the best advice I ever got.

    • Kathryn – oh that’s good. People, not papers. I’ll remember that. Thanks for sharing.

  • Marcy Travis

    It’s interesting the paths we take as we are exploring what we want to do. I started out going to college because of the greater earning power I thought it would afford me. I started out in engineering because of the great opportunities for women. Pretty soon I was having recurring dreams about being trapped in a plain, brown cardboard box (engineering). I changed to computer science and ended up in psychology. I loved psychology, and when I interviewed with AT&T for a technical sales position, they could care less what in the world my degree was in. They wanted honest, hard working, customer service oriented people; all the rest I could learn on the job.

    I love learning, but graduating with a degree and no experience doesn’t get you too far with employers. So my advice always is get as much experience as you can in the areas you want to work in. You can always add the education, but never ever just pursue the education without working.

    • Marcy – I love your input here. The dream about being trapped in a plain, brown cardbox is indeed pretty alarming. If more people paid attention to their dreams they could avoid some obvious mistakes.

  • Theresa Lode

    Great post, as usual, Dan! I thought long and hard before returning to school myself (you know I’m a renegade when it comes to school!) and have LOVED this past semester. Meeting new people and developing my psychology background in order to build my coaching skills has been a fantastic move. In the spring, I’m finishing a degree I started many years ago.

  • Dan, this is so inspiring to see the opportunities that are available when we break out of the old way of thinking. Thanks for expanding our thinking.