Education versus Experience: is it better to have a degree in something or to have experience in that field?

Imagine you are an employer seeking the best candidate to help you run your new business. You have two great candidates: one with an M.B.A. and no work experience other than working at restaurants in college and another with an associate’s degree and four years of work experience in a related field. Who would you pick?


In almost every case, you will need more information than what is offered above to make a choice because there is no easy answer. The first candidate has the knowledge needed for the position, but they will need training to apply the knowledge. On the other hand, the second candidate may lack some necessary knowledge but has substantial experience and will likely require less on-the-job training.


Pros and Cons of Education


One of the most apparent benefits of having a degree, and the pivotal reason most college students choose to pursue higher education, is the increased job opportunities after graduation. Many jobs require a college degree to be employed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, individuals with a college degree earn, on average, 84% more than those with just a high school diploma over their lifetime.[1] Additionally, college graduates experience lower unemployment rates.

education supplies school - graduation cap, books, globus, notebooks.
Education supplies school – graduation cap, books, globus, notebooks. Experience vs. Education. Image: Adobe Stock

Additionally, obtaining a college degree shows employers your dedication and commitment. People do not pour thousands and thousands of dollars into and dedicate four years of their life to a degree just for fun. It takes a major personal sacrifice and a lot of self-discipline to complete a degree.


On the other hand, education can pose a significant setback for many students. The only cost that has increased more than college tuition is student debt.[2] Tuition has increased by 200%, and student debt has increased by 600% in the past 20 years.[3] While most college graduates end up making more than they would have without a college degree, the large upfront cost of attending college is often enough to scare many young adults away.


Pros and Cons of Experience


When you have experience in a field, you show future employers that you can effectively execute the work rather than simply knowing how to do it. Gaining experience allows you to demonstrate that you can apply what you know. It also allows you to find creative ways to solve real-world problems that you would encounter in the workforce.


Additionally, an employee with work experience requires less on-the-job training than one with only a degree. For example, if you apply for a job as a chef with no experience, the employer knows that you will need at least a few days of training, depending on the complexity of the cuisine. On the other hand, if you were applying as a chef with experience in a restaurant with similar food, you would likely be obliged to commit to lesser training; you would simply given the recipes. It would make you a more appealing candidate since the employer would not have to invest as much in training.


Intern, conceptual illustration. Multitasking millennial concept. A young black girl with six hands doing a lot of tasks at the same time.
Intern, conceptual illustration of hands-on experience. Multitasking millennial concept. A young black girl with six hands doing a lot of tasks at the same time. Image: Adobe Stock


Work experience also provides an opportunity to explore different career paths. Approximately one-third of undergraduate students change their major at least once throughout their four years in college, and job changes after graduation are also no anomaly.[4] Many students enroll in college as undeclared majors. Gaining work experience can help you find out what interests you most and what you are seeking in a job.


While there are many benefits to having a strong work history, it may not be sufficient to secure your dream job. Oftentimes, jobs will demand some sort of degree, so narrowing your focus upon job experiences may not be adequate for some positions. With this, you limit the options available to you.


You could think of education versus experience as “hard skills” versus “soft skills.” Education equips you with the knowledge needed, while experience provides the skills you need. Education is what you need to get your foot in the door for many positions, while experience enables you to understand what you are doing and be productive and efficient. Both are vital to a successful career and having a good balance of each will make you a highly appealing candidate.


Read more articles related to Workforce on the Zealousness Blog Workforce and Job Market – iN Education Inc. ( .


Works Cited

  1. “10 Benefits of a College Degree.” The California State University. Accessed May 10, 2023.
  2. Chamorro-Premuzic, Tomas, and Becky Frankiewicz. “6 Reasons Why Higher Education Needs to Be Disrupted.” Harvard Business Review, November 19, 2019.
  3. “Data Beginning College Students Point – National Center for Education.”, December 2017.





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