Do You Really Need a Four Year Degree?

While only 46% of people ages 25-29 had completed an associates degree or higher as of 2015, the pay gap between college graduates and everyone else reached a record high in 2013, based on an analysis of Labor Department statistics by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington. Americans with four-year college degrees made 98 percent more an hour on average in 2013 than people without a degree. That’s up from 89 percent five years earlier, 85 percent a decade earlier and 64 percent in the early 1980s.

It seems like everywhere you look, someone has a side hustle or is dabbling in entrepreneurship, which brings up the question of “Do you really need a four year degree?” There is no perfect answer for everyone, however it is important to look at the benefits of obtaining a four year degree. When you’re debating if a four year degree is right for you, ask yourself three main questions:

  1. What do you want to do/What is your ideal job?
  2. Do you want to create something for yourself or would you rather work for someone else/a larger company?
  3. In your desired field of work, what is the required degree? Does there seem to be a minimum level of education which you must have in order to be successful in that field?

What Do You Want to Do?

This question is harder than it looks, however it is the basis of determining the answer to “Do you really need a four year degree?” Determining what you want to do will help you figure out what kind of education may be required and what path you should take.

For instance, if you want to go into a more creative field such as art or music, perhaps you can forgo the four year degree and focus on a program which truly enhances your abilities through a nontraditional route. On the other hand, if you want to go into a sector of science or engineering, you most definitely need a four year degree to obtain a job and get the required licensure. 

Do You Want to Create Something for Yourself or Work for a Larger Company?

The real question here is, are you going to be paid by a larger company, or are you going to work for yourself/run your own business? Figuring out if you want to create your own company/business or work for an established organization can help determine the amount of schooling you need. While a four year degree would be extremely beneficial in both instances, a four year degree will enable you to obtain higher wages if you’re working for another company, whereas you may be able to get away without a four year degree if you are working for yourself.

If you are trying to go into the corporate world or at least start there, a four year degree will give you the basis and foundation to obtain the kind of job(s) and pay that you want.

In Your Desired Field of Work, What Is the Required Degree?

Once you’ve determined what path you want to take and/or what job you want to obtain, go online and do some research. Is there a common degree that is required? Do most of the jobs you’re aiming for either now or in the future require a certain certification? If so, what are the steps to getting certified? Do you need a minimum amount of education? Figure out what you need to do education-wise to qualify for the job you want.

Do You Really Need a Four Year Degree?

While there are people who can get away without having a four year degree, it will always benefit you, and will almost always be necessary to obtain a high level job in this day and age. 

The bottom line is that if you are applying for a job, and it comes down to you and one other candidate who are completely equal, employers will have to split hairs to decide who they want to hire. In this instance, they will often choose the candidate who has a better education. Similarly, full-time workers ages 25 and over without a high school diploma had median weekly earnings of $504, compared with $700 for high school graduates, (no college) and $1,266 for those holding at least a bachelor’s degree. Not only will you learn a lot about yourself and your industry through a college degree, you will be able to make more than your peers who are not college educated.

If you have the opportunity, getting a four year degree will benefit you in many ways, both socially and in the workforce. Think that a traditional college education isn’t for you? Explore other options such as online or community college classes to educate yourself based on what you want and need.

Do you really need a four year degree? While it isn’t 100% necessary, it will greatly benefit you and make life easier in the long run.

A native San Franciscan, Michele Lando is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and founder of She has a passion for helping others present the best version of themselves, both on paper and in person, and works to polish individuals' application package and personal style. Aiming to help create a perfect personal branding package, Write Styles presents tips to enhance your resume, style, and boost your confidence.