Education vs. Experience: Reconsider Your Priorities

In a down economy, it’s important to take a good, hard look at your career to determine what you really need to succeed.

With the rising cost of a college education, you certainly don’t need to waste a ton of money on education if it won’t pay off in your field. However, too little education is also not an option in many industries where a bachelor’s degree is the norm. Then there’s always that Catch-22 of, “How can I get the experience without the education?”

In order to be as successful as you want to be, which should be your priority: education or experience? Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.

The amount of education you need largely depends on the field or industry you plan on working in. For example, while a public relations professional almost always needs a bachelor’s degree from a four-year institution, an HVAC technician requires trade school education and hands-on experience.

It’s no secret that college can open a lot of doors in your career. But now, since so many people now have four-year degrees, does it really make you stand out in a crowded job market? Not nearly as much as it would have in the past. In addition, how much of what you learned at college do you truly use on a daily basis at your job?

For a lot of fields, though, you can’t get the experience you need without that education helping you land an opportunity.

Employers value relevant experience. Whether it’s experience working in a paid, full-time job, at an internship, volunteering, or from some other type of position—these can hold a lot of weight in landing a job. Although education is a great foundation for any professional, experience is often the key to standing out among other professionals who have the exact same degree that you have. 

In fact, in a 2010 survey conducted by Internships.com, 93 per cent of employers indicated the most important qualification to them when hiring interns was “relevant internships or experience,” with a strong resume and cover letter following closely behind. “High academic performance” and “Attendance at preferred schools” were the two lowest-rated qualifications.

What do you think? Is a four-year degree still worth the cost? Is experience more important than education? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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