Education vs. work experience: Which is more valuable?


Fact Box

  • In terms of wage disparity, Investopedia reports that in 2020, 'Workers with a bachelor's degree had median weekly earnings of $1,305...compared with $781 for workers with a high school diploma.' 
  • Tracking educational trends, Statista relates that by 2020, 'about 37.9 percent of the US population who were aged 25 and above had graduated from college or another higher education institution,' compared to 1960, where only about 7 percent had graduated college. 
  • A 2021 Pew Research survey revealed that only one-third of college graduates under age 50 found their college experience to be 'extremely useful in helping them develop skills and knowledge that could be used in the workplace.' 
  • A Harvard Business School study found that many 'middle-skills' job postings in the US now 'stipulate a college degree as a minimum education requirement, while only a third of the adult population possesses this credential.'

Chad (Education)

While both are valuable and important to the individual, education is more essential for humankind than experience, as it can transform society, protect our rights, and enable progress. As Nelson Mandela poignantly said, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Experience can allow you to do what is already being done, solve problems you have previously encountered, and inch your way towards improvements. But education enables you to raise the bar higher by developing new insights and giving you robust tools to propel industries forward in leaps and bounds. In our fast-moving world, relying only on experience can leave you falling behind as industries evolve.

Educational settings bring together people from diverse backgrounds, philosophies, and skills--leading to a cross-pollination of ideas and methods that culture innovation. These educational institutions often provide grants and funding to help you travel, attend conferences, conduct fellowships, and other ways to grow and collaborate. There is a strong correlation between higher degrees and higher salaries for a reason.

Lastly, outside of the manufacturing industry, there are many things that you cannot learn on the job, and education fills in those gaps. Many employers are not looking to hire “worker bees” who can do what is already being done but bring fresh insight into old problems and improve things.

Our society needs more educated constituents. Democracy itself demands higher education to keep it from descending into a dictatorship. As a democratic society currently on unstable footing, we cannot afford to allow people to downplay the importance of education. 

Dougie (Work Experience)

While it can't be said that education lacks value, modern views no longer regard it as such a necessity. Work experience has become increasingly sought after and is now, according to employers, a more favorable quality followed by attitude and work ethic.

Many people lack access to higher education, especially given the impact of the recent worldwide pandemic, amongst many other factors that create an 'opportunity gap.' Moreover, millions of Americans owe large sums of debt accrued solely to obtain their degrees. Yet education is by no means a guarantee of future success.

Meanwhile, some of today's most innovative minds and wildly successful individuals did not complete college. The Senior VP of People Operations at Google stated: 'GPAs are worthless as a criteria for hiring,' and went on to say test scores are entirely lacking in worth as predictors of anything. He also championed the resourcefulness of those who thrive without schooling, noting the superiority and desirability of such a trait.

Work experience itself is a credible and powerful form of education. Even educated new-hires are preferred to have real-world experience on their resume. Plus, all new hires will typically require some form of on-the-job, hands-on training from more experienced colleagues. With experience, people can develop diverse skill sets with realistic expectations while utilizing valuable networking opportunities to excel in the professional world.

With today's evolving perspectives, it's clear that work experience is held in higher regard than education, and people's attributes are considered on a more case-by-case basis than ever before. Perhaps Elon Musk said it best when explaining his views on the subject, “I don’t consider going to college evidence of exceptional ability.”

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