Blog Article

Degree or Not Degree


For decades, a college degree has been the metaphorical gateway to a solid career path. But rising education costs and growing student loan debt may be causing a decline in college enrollment in the United States – enrollment numbers have been falling for the last 6 years.

With unemployment so low, employers are struggling to fill their open positions, and they’re starting to reevaluate what they really need in an ideal candidate, beginning with that college degree. One survey found that 9 out of 10 employers are willing to accept candidates without four-year degrees. But how do you go about evaluating whether or not a college degree is really necessary for your open position?

Some roles quite understandably require specific degrees – medicine, law, some engineering roles, etc. But for the hundreds of other office jobs out there, many of which are rapidly evolving with technology, the answer isn’t as obvious. Sales, customer service, administrative work, office management, marketing, product development – these functions are often integral to modern business, but do they require skills and competencies that only a college degree can provide?

Before we can attempt this answer this, we first should ask why companies typically require college degrees in the first place. One possible answer is that a college degree serves as a sort of proxy for a lot of other information that you as an employer want to know about your candidate. When you see a college degree on someone’s resume, you might assume that this candidate is:

  • Smart
  • Hard working
  • Dedicated and committed
  • A good learner
  • A critical thinker and a problem solver

The prestige of the university may even heighten your assumptions about this candidate’s qualities. But while a college degree is an enormous achievement, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your candidate possesses all of the qualities listed above. Even more importantly, it also doesn’t mean that a candidate without a college degree doesn’t have those qualities.

The college degree operates as a shortcut that helps us identify those desirable qualities in an applicant. When we see the degree, we feel like we can automatically check off all those boxes – we don’t have to put in any more work to prove it. For overworked and time-constrained HR departments, the college degree is a quick and easy indicator.

But when great job candidates are so scarce, and the skills gap continues to plague companies in nearly every industry, it’s important not to overlook talented people just because they don’t check off one box. Is a college degree the only way that someone could prepare for the position? Is it possible that someone could be self-taught or could have gained enough experience through a prior role? Even more importantly, do you have another way to assess their abilities to succeed in that role?

When you take the college degree away as a requirement, what you’re losing is that extra piece of information on your candidates, and you need to make that up somehow. You need evidence that, despite their lack of degree, they can still successfully perform this job. Assessments are one way to evaluate your candidates’ abilities to see if they could be a good fit in the long term.

Cognitive aptitude, for example, is one of the best indicators of job performance for nearly every job type. If a candidate does well on a cognitive aptitude test, you can feel confident that this person will be able to learn quickly and think critically once they’re hired. While many college graduates have already taken the SAT or ACT to get into their schools, cognitive aptitude tests can provide a quick snapshot of an applicant’s smarts.

Similarly, personality traits can be extremely powerful indicators of future success in certain roles, particularly those that involve a lot of interpersonal communications. Take sales, for instance. Many sales roles require college degrees, especially if the job involves selling a complicated product. But success in sales has a lot to do with internal drive and communication skills, qualities that aren’t necessarily taught in an academic environment. Personality assessments, when combined with cognitive aptitude, can provide an extremely powerful indicator of a candidate’s ability to excel in the long run.

Taking away the college degree requirement doesn’t mean you’re lowering your standards. It just means that you’re taking away a piece of information about your candidates, and you have to find other ways to identify potential in its place. Assessments provide a quick and easy way to learn more about your candidates, all while opening your hiring process up to a whole group of great applicants hiding under your nose.

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