Category Archives: degrees

To What Degree Do You Need a Degree?


It really depends on you.  If you are motivated or inspired to learn, and will be thorough and unbiased, you can learn a great deal more than potentially even the best universities can teach you.  The history of the world is full of people like this – people who stretched the boundaries of our understanding of things, who mastered topics that weren’t even formally available (thus creating a need for them), who redefined our understanding of things that were previously limited by old dogmas and concepts.  People who look at life as an on-going learning process, like to take on the challenges thrown at them, enjoy expanding their horizons in unexpected directions, and/or want to know more and be able to do more really don’t need to go to university, except for certain professions (such as medical, legal and other professions in which the lack of a degree makes it illegal to perform the tasks of the job).

If you like traditional education, and prefer to have someone lead you from A to B to C, then you should earn a degree.  I’m not saying that everyone who has earned a degree, or is working on one, is lazy, though, nor am I saying that degree-holders are inherently inferior to those who’ve taught themselves!   Excellence in a career (or at university) is dependent on YOU – if you find the environment, mode of teaching, materials, etc. to be a mismatch for you, and you lack a strong desire to persevere in the face of such a challenge, it will likely be a struggle!  What I’m really saying here is that people who prefer to have information presented to them in the way they have grown accustomed to in school, don’t enjoy researching, want everything presented in a predictable, linear way, prefer learning via watching and listening rather than doing, etc. may find that earning a degree is easier, more practical, more comfortable or a better match for you than being self-taught.  Being a self-directed learner is not for everyone, but that doesn’t make you a bad or stupid person.  Some people thrive in an academic setting – others feel suppressed by it.

To criticize someone for lack of a degree is like saying that all those millionaires who never finished school somehow cheated “the system” is unfair.  It also raises questions about the huge number of highly successful people throughout history who never went to or finished university (and some didn’t finish primary or secondary school), which leads one to ask: “Is the system the real problem?” When we solidify rules to the point that those who can do the job well but don’t hold a relevant degree CAN’T get a job, prioritizing a piece of paper that often doesn’t prove ability over the ability itself, we turn our nation onto the path of intellectual slavery. I mean this in the sense that everyone becomes enslaved to universities and the financial sector, forced to take out large loans that they may never be able to pay off because, in the end, having a degree doesn’t guarantee you are qualified, nor does it guarantee you will get a job for that degree, keep the job you DO get, or earn enough to pay off your debts!

While having a degree from a top-ranked university will likely guarantee you a job in your field of choice, it doesn’t automatically mean you will be successful in life.  There are plenty of super-smart people out there who are terrible at handing social relationships, and/or their emotions, or who have lots of knowledge but few valuable skills and, as a result, find themselves failing to succeed according to their expectations.   Not everyone can be a Mark Zuckerberg.

One of the most talented individuals I’ve met in the field of computer programming, my dear friend Scott Klement, was massively talented as a programmer long before he went to university. Why did he get a degree if he was so great? He felt he needed a degree to be able to get a good job in programming, even though his skills were such that there were many university-trained programmers who couldn’t do what he could.  Ironically, his story is not unique – I have met many other programmers (and indeed people from other professions) with the exact same story.  Many of them, despite years of experience and a reputation for ability, found themselves unable to work because too many HR people are not smart enough to see that a piece of paper isn’t what you should base a hire on  One of the best English teachers I ever hired was actually a graduate of the faculty of economics! Go figure!

If you read the article, you’ll see a startling false assertion by Howard Dean:  “Howard Dean recently criticized Gov Scott Walker for never finishing college, stating that he was ‘unknowledgeable.'”. If Scott Walker is “unknowledgeable”, it doesn’t automatically follow that it is because he lacks a degree, nor does not having finished college mean he is “unknowledgeable”.  Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerburg didn’t finish, either, but few people would say they are “unknowledgeable”.  I have met several people online from around the world who hold a degree (or more than one) yet display a vast lack of knowledge on the topic which they hold a degree for.  I have met others who held one or more degrees but couldn’t do their jobs properly. And, still other degree holders never got a job in their own profession (myself included) for a variety of reasons.

How many greatly admired historical figures never went to university? Jesus, Muhammad, and Buddha, of course, all fit that bill, but what about people now?

I’m not sure why Bill Gates is on this list, since he did go to university but I think he didn’t finish. Don’t forget the link at the bottom of this link for an article about why you don’t need a degree:…

Or, if you want a comprehensive list of those who didn’t get a degree:

The requirement of a degree is a problem with hiring practices in many countries, not just the USA, and it doesn’t just affect citizens of each country.  Many countries require a degree so that foreigners can get a work visa, yet that degree doesn’t mean the person is qualified to do the job.  Whether you’re a local or a foreigner, choosing a new employee based on credentials is like playing “pin the tail on the donkey” – you never know which part of the jackass you’ll hit.  So, you may ask: “Why would a government insist on it?” Because it’s easier than telling the Department of Labor to investigate each applicant for a work visa to determine their worth. By reducing it to a piece of paper, the government does the least amount of work and all the consequences are placed on the shoulders of the employer.  The sad truth is that, if a governmental department doesn’t perform due diligence by verifying the degree, then it is easy for employees and employers to falsify documents.  In some countries, the fake document business is an industry unto itself.

Not only is it an imperfect system but there are universities and colleges actively seeking to rob students, banks and governments. They provide low quality education and some are “fly-by-night”. Others, such as some community colleges, can’t provide a good enough education and thus rob their students of a better future, including actual job opportunities upon graduation. And then there are the degree mills – fake universities and partner companies that give you a degree if you pay them money. They lie about accreditation – often creating their own accreditation organization on a separate website, and have no physical location or teaching staff. Their whole goal is to rake in money for a piece of paper that I could just as easily photoshop as as pay for.
A friend of mine who is a stock trader wrote:

“I guess it all depends upon what one is seeking to learn. Personally, I believe one’s education never stops, and the vast majority of it occurs at the “school of hard knocks”. I’ve generally considered a degree to be a piece of paper that grants access to a higher “caste”.. (management.. etc).. Because most of what we learn to do at a job, is provided by job training when you get the job (or working with others who tell you what to do and how to do it).. Only a Tech school might prepare you for a specialized task..We’ve all known people who are “educated beyond their intelligence” and who display a lack of common sense. Having that degree, by no means, displays competence in that field.

And I agree with Glenn.. the educational system has become a true money machine. It has offered false promises of higher paying jobs, and put students into tremendous debt.. A debt they are not permitted to default on. But did that education really prepare people to function in society?”

I would add that the school of “hard knocks” is what happens when we resist learning and changing. I think how often you “go” there depends, in large part, on how much time you spend resisting learning what you should and applying it. Does that necessarily mean someone who spends a lot of time on self-improvement will escape “hard knocks”?  Nope, but such a person is likely to be hit by fewer of them since said person has already learned how to avoid many of them.  In other words, when you put a blanket over your head to avoid seeing the monster in the room, don’t expect for it to keep you safe. It is, after all, just a blanket. You need to take off the blanket and confront your inner demons so that you can improve.


Yet, some major companies (like QVC in the article I linked to above) such as Google are starting to change their hiring practices.  Instead of just looking for a degree, or a degree and experience, they’ve come to see that while these two things MAY indicate the quality of a candidate, they do not GUARANTEE the quality.  You can assume that academic results and ranking indicate how great the person is an employee, but that doesn’t show you how good that person is at working in a team, building relationships, or controlling his/her emotions, nor do those scores necessarily indicate abilities, creativity, problem-solving, wisdom, cleverness, grit or any number of other qualities that make someone better than the rest.  Experience from previous jobs may show that the person is highly capable but if you cannot verify this information through honest, unbiased communication with former employers, your ability to know his/her level of ability is hampered.  Neither academic results nor a resume will tell you about the person’s character.  Letters of recommendation can help in this area, but if you’re not good at inferring from them, you may miss hidden messages from the authors.

Ultimately, challenging a candidate to perform specific tasks, alone and/or in groups, with and without pressure, can give you a much better feel for that person’s overall intellect, quality, character, and ability,  as well as how good a match the person is for a job than a portfolio of documents can.

So, let’s return to the question that is the title.  Who absolutely MUST have a degree (in my opinion)?

  • Doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, midwives, nurses and anyone else for whom the absence of a degree makes performing that job a crime.
  • A job that requires a great degree of highly-specialized, technical knowledge (implying great intelligence) in order to ensure that the person knows enough to do the job well, such as a rocket scientist, nuclear physicist or psychologist.

Who probably SHOULD have a degree, but might be a great candidate anyways?

  • A job that requires specialized knowledge that can be learned at a university or through self-learning, such as engineering, architecture, biology, general physics, upper management, etc.

Who may or may not need a degree, depending on their personality and learning style, as well as how hard it actually is to independently learn the knowledge and acquire the skills?

  • Computer programmers, chemists, construction workers, librarians, lower-level managers and supervisors, sanitation workers, farmers, ranchers, etc.

There are plenty of other jobs out there that fall under the category of: you don’t need a degree if you’re willing to teach yourself, ranging from secretaries and fast-food workers to entrepreneurs and angel investors.


The most important thing otherwise is that you make a choice based on your own needs, learning style, and willingness to study unassisted, as well as what the government requires.


Remember, even if you don’t have a degree – you can still impress them in an interview.  Can’t get that interview, you say?  Well, then produce an example of your ability to get their attention so that they can’t help but call you in!


By the way,  teaching yourself isn’t easy.  You have to be willing to study a lot of things along the way that you didn’t anticipate, be disciplined and develop skills that support your success in learning this way.  But, it’s a lot more interesting, personally rewarding and cheaper than a degree and, ultimately, it may lead you in very unexpected directions that are far more exciting than what you’d originally decided on (with or without a degree).