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No college degree, no problem

July 15, 2019
5 minute read
Last updated July 16, 2019

No college degree, no problem

By Alexandra LeBlanc July 15, 2019

One Sunday afternoon in mid-2004, I sat cross-legged on the floor of my parents’ home, poring over college brochures and blank application forms. My parents stood over me, asking why I hadn’t completed any applications or even narrowed down a list of schools I’d be happy to attend. At that moment, all I could do was cry. 

I didn’t want to go to college. I wasn’t ready. “You’re going,” my father told me. “End of discussion.” His reasoning? It was the only way I’d be able to get a job and be successful.

But with some of the top companies in the world no longer requiring college degrees for a number of their job openings, it’s time for us to rethink how much value we place on a formal advanced education outside of certain specialized fields. Even at The Predictive Index®, a college degree isn’t an immediate qualifier or disqualifier to join our team

So, why are we still so hung up on earning college degrees?

“Talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not.”

I first heard this quote from Leila Janah, CEO of Sama Group, paraphrased in an advertisement for Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), and it has stayed with me ever since. 

With the rising costs of higher education creating an economic burden on entire generations, weighing the pros and cons of pursuing an advanced degree means that going to college can’t be a reality for everyone. When we require college degrees, how many talented, high-potential people lose out on opportunities? And how many companies lose out on opportunities to hire the right people?

Our paths aren’t always the same.

One of the smartest, most talented people I’ve ever worked with recently revealed to me she didn’t have a college degree. Narrow-mindedly, my first thought was, “That can’t be true.” 

Here’s someone I revere, whom I look up to and rely on for professional guidance or another set of eyes on a regular basis. She can write 500 words requiring minimal editing in what seems like a heartbeat. She’s organized, driven, reliable, and isn’t afraid to hold others accountable. 

When I asked her why she decided against going to college, she quickly responded: “They didn’t offer me a good scholarship, and I didn’t want to pay money for something that wasn’t guaranteed to give me a return on my investment.”

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Our potential is linked to much more than past academic performance or milestones.

While we cannot undersell the importance of education, what we can do is reframe our thinking around our own learning journeys and how education factors into our professional successes. It’s essential we think about the whole person when we look for potential—not just one facet of someone’s experience. 

The head

By the time we reach adulthood, our individual behavioral needs and drives become ingrained in who we are. Our cognitive abilities, too, fall into this category. When it comes to job fit, our ability to process information and adapt—as well as our alignment to the behavioral demands of a particular role—will determine our success in it. The more we can operate without unnecessary friction, the more likely we are to not only be good at what we do, but enjoy it, too.

The heart

Our values play an important role in our potential, too. And so it’s important we hire in alignment with our organizational cultural values. A college degree will not teach someone to value reliability or teamwork, but someone who intrinsically values those things will do well in an environment that similarly values them.

The briefcase

When it comes to skills and experience, education plays a role. But how we acquire knowledge over time and build our resumes does not necessarily need to stem from an academic institution. With the exception of some specialized functions, we can learn on the job to be the best we can be.

When I asked my colleague about the No. 1 thing that helped her realize success, she simply said: “I’m just willing to jump into anything and learn how to do it.” 

When it comes to college, we need to make a decision that’s right for us individually.

I ended up going to college and earning a four-year liberal arts degree. It may not have been the right choice for me at the time, but it ultimately was the choice I made. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had over the years, and I still have affection for my alma mater. 

But I look at the changing economic landscape and how industry titans are responding in kind. I think of my colleague who spoke about how she benefited from having good mentors at the right time, and I wonder: How much longer will we propagate the myth of a college degree as our best path to success?

Perhaps we’re already on our way to eliminating it in favor of what matters. 


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  1. I must agree wholeheartedly. I also do not have a college degree. I went to college, but it was for performing arts. Long ago when performing arts was not what it is today. If you didn’t have the financial comfort of taking considerable lessons outside of the college environment, you weren’t going to make it. At the time, art, dance, and performing was all that interested me. I left college, but have always been gainfully employed. I had worked in workforce development of all things for over forty years. I learned so many life lessons from myself and those I encountered through those forty plus years. After a slightly difficult layoff from that career, finding myself without my college degree scared the heck out of me. But once again, those life lessons and an I can do attitude came through. A reinvention of myself with known skills in life and of course the computer, landed me a new job in a new field at the age of sixty. Throughout my life I continued with my passion of dance, if only to appease myself. My passion for art was satisfied in my job of over forty years where I was able to keep a small but satisfying hand in it. I continue to work, and live a good life. Support from my husband and best friend has always helped. And from the many friends I have made throughout my career and life in general.

  2. I did attended college right out of high school for 3 years. My parents had me late in life and by the time I was in college their health was failing. I school left to be with them and never graduated. At forty I attended night school with the intention of getting my degree. I was 3 credits (my dissertation) away when funds ran out so in reality I never got a diploma. I say all that to tell you that even though I had been to college (Liberal Arts was my “degree”) few of the courses I took related to the career I was in. Even without a degree I had already cemented myself in the Financial department of a bank and then a major insurance company. I learned more in the real world of the office than I did in any classroom. Not that those courses weren’t interesting and made me a more rounded person but they were not specific to my field, which by the way I LOVE!! I believe that instead of pushing college on high school kids we should focus on their interests and talents to help guide them to be the best co-worker and team player they can be rather that’s military, PHD or blue collar.

    1. Hey Karla!

      Thanks for sharing your experience. So glad you found a career you love that makes use of your knowledge and skills.

  3. I agree, I have been working in the Clinical /biotechnical field for 20 years and do not have a college degree. I started to take the path of college, but then decided to move my education in another direction. I chose to join the military, and due to my test scores, ended up in Military intelligence and also becoming a linguist which required you to pass the DLAB (Defense Aptitude Battery Test) which I am told only 1 out of every 10 people pass. My point is that a degree does not always mean that you have the required skills to perform a job. My experience in the military and my chosen industry helped me to build the skills required for the technical position I have now. The test I took in the military reflected my ability to learn. So don’t always overlook a candidate just because they do not have a degree, perhaps their education took a different path.

    P.S. I was also invited to attend West Point on 3 different occasions due to my ASVAB test scores. I chose not to accept the invitations at the time because it would have required me to sign over 10 years of my life to the military, and at 18 I was not ready to do that. I did not know at the time that to be invited to attend West Point was a huge thing, because if you were not invited it required a recommendation from a Congressman or such. Guess it just goes to show you really do not get a good picture of your candidate unless you are willing to dig a little deeper than looking for a college degree.

  4. Thank you for your comment ons ‘Our paths aren’t always the same’. As an adult who focused on career before education, I appreciate hearing about the success of other who have taken a different path.

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