In 2013, the pay gap between college graduates and everyone else reached a record high: Americans with four-year degrees made 98 percent more per hour on average than people without a degree did.
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But college degrees still aren't the norm: only 46 percent of people ages 25-29 had completed an associate's degree or higher as of 2015. Plus, it seems like everywhere you look, someone has a side hustle or is dabbling in entrepreneurship, which brings up the question: "Do you really need a four-year degree?"
There is no perfect one-size-fits-all answer. However, it is important to look at the benefits of obtaining a four-year degree. When you're debating whether a degree is right for you, ask yourself three questions:
What do you want to do? What is your ideal job?
Do you want to create something for yourself, or would you rather work for someone else?
What degree(s) does your chosen field require? Is there a minimum level of education that you must attain in order to be successful in the field?
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What Do You Want to Do?
This question is harder to answer than it looks, but it is the basis of determining whether or not you need a four-year degree. Figuring out what you want to do will help you understand the kind of education your chosen path requires.
For instance, if you want to go into a creative field like art or music, you might be able to forgo the four-year degree in favor of a program that truly enhances your abilities through a nontraditional route. On the other hand, if you want to go into a STEM field, you most definitely need a four-year degree.
Do You Want to Create Something for Yourself or Work for Someone Else?
Figuring out whether you want to create your own company or work for an established organization can help determine the amount of schooling you'll need. While a four-year degree can be beneficial in both instances, it will most certainly allow you to obtain higher wages if you're working for someone else. If you're working for yourself, you can probably get by without a four-year degree.
If you are trying to break into the corporate world – or at least start out there – a four-year degree will give you the foundation you need to obtain the kind of job(s) and salary you desire.
What Kind of Degree Does Your Chosen Field Require?
Once you've determined the path you want to take and/or the job you want to obtain, go online and do some research. What kinds of degrees do your future coworkers hold? Do the jobs you're aiming for now or in the future require certain credentials? If so, what are the steps to earning those credentials? Do you need a minimum amount of education?
The point is, some career paths require certain degrees. Look into this now to avoid problems down the road.
So – Do You Need a Degree?
While there are people who can get by without having a four year degree, having one will almost always benefit you. Furthermore, obtaining high-level jobs in almost any field will require at least a bachelor's.
The bottom line is if an employer has to chose between you without a degree and an equally strong candidate who has a degree, they will almost always go with the degree-holding candidate. And, as mentioned earlier, degree-holders earn almost twice as much as their non-degree-holding counterparts. A college degree will not only help you learn more about yourself and your industry, but it will also allow you to earn more than your peers.
If you have the opportunity, earning a four-year degree will benefit you in many ways, both socially and in the workforce. If you feel a traditional college education isn't for you, try exploring other options, such as online or community college classes.
Ultimately, a college degree is not 100 percent necessary, but it will make your life easier in the long run. Why not just go for it?
Michele Lando is a certified professional resume writer and the founder of Write Styles.