Top Companies Ditch College Degree Requirements

Well known organizations are beginning to look beyond a college education when hiring new staff. But what’s the reason behind it? And what will be impact be on both the business and workers?

Having a 4-year college degree used to be an essential requirement to land a job in a top company, but that’s not looking likely for the future.

Well-known companies such as Google, Apple and IBM have decided to throw out recruitment traditions and ditch the college degree requirement of their future applicants, placing more focus on hands on experience and vocational training.

For employers, the college degree was an easy way to whittle down applicants, believing a formal education meant individuals were automatically suitable for the role or more entitled to apply.  However, new reports claim that the college degree isn’t ‘all it’s cracked up to be’.

And with the advances in technology, jobs are becoming more demanding in some areas so it’s believed having hands on technical skills would be more beneficial than a degree on paper.


Over-education in the United States has also been highlighted. A study by The Economist has uncovered that 26.5 million workers in America, (two thirds of those with a degree), are doing work that was done by non-graduates 50 years ago, which is why businesses may want to look into whether their vacancies actually require applicants to hold a degree or not.

And with the college degrees comes a lot of debt.  Over 44 million Americans have taken out student loans to pay for their higher education, which is reported to amount to $1.4 trillion worth of debt.

So if we are now saying that applicants are over-educated, just think of the amount of long-term debt that could be reduced here if companies open up their doors to non-graduates.  Not forgetting to mention a reduction in the additional implications that debt can place on people such as stress or anxiety.

But what does this mean for companies?

Some companies want candidates to have a college degree in a general sense, to appeal to those who took an interest in higher education and as it has always been that way, many companies haven’t even considered there could be another alternative.

As technological change makes new demands of workers, it seems plausible that more will need to be well-educated. A degree is a way for bright youngsters from poor families to prove their abilities.

From my experience in recruitment, more often than not, employees with degrees don’t normally just land their dream job as soon as they graduate.  They usually still have some ‘working up the career ladder’ to do regardless of their qualifications so that they can get used to the ins and outs of the business and end up learning the majority of the skills needed for their role whilst actually on the job.

This isn’t the most efficient use of the company’s time and resources and isn’t engaging for the employee either.

Hiring has also taken a new direction with a main focus being on culture.  What we are seeing more and more of within business recruitment is that hiring employees that fit in line with the values and culture of the company and if they also possess the right skills from vocational training or work experience, it could make having a college degree seem unnecessary.

One of the ways to change your culture is to change out the people who don’t match your culture

Businesses opening up their talent pool prospects could end up finding candidates that may otherwise have slipped the net.  However, they are also increasing the amount of applications they will need to filter through which could be a deterrent.  But it needn’t be a real issue.  HR technology options available today will mean a mass of extra applications shouldn’t cause any further disruption to the recruitment process, as so much of the process can be streamlined and essentials such as specific skill sets could still be automatically identified by the system.

We can also see that companies today are continuously pumping more energy and investment into their training and development programs, which will produce more of a ROI as courses will be current, specific to the needs of the business goals and hopefully be more engaging rather than a repetition of things employees might have already covered within a college degree course.

What does ditching a degree mean to future workers?

For non-graduates seeking work, not requiring a college degree is obviously a great development.  People who believed their chances of ever working within a highly sought after company will have more doors opened up to them and the same opportunities as everyone else.

Businesses recruiting this way are also giving further opportunities to those that are not financially able to attend college which is good to promote a culture of equal opportunities, and overall helping to decrease the mass amount of debt that college loans place on individuals.

Going to university is more important than ever for young people. But the financial returns are falling

However, companies that choose to ditch the college degree aren’t necessarily saying that they want candidates with no formal skills or experience – but more so that there are alternatives that they are willing to accept in lieu of a 4-year degree.  Future workers can turn to platforms such as the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) which offer people more flexible and affordable ways to advance their skillset, rather than committing to full time higher education, or could make use the free online classes and lectures that are now available from some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the world!

But for the ‘over-educated’ graduates, the reality of this development is not so great.  There will be more competition to land a job and the sense of achievement from obtaining a degree that is no longer considered necessary may be disheartening after they have just completed 4-years of solid education and pulling all-nighters to get their grades.

Therefore, graduates that may now see themselves earning the same salary as the non-graduates in the same position are more than likely going to be disengaged from the commencement of their employment… with a student loan to pay back on top of it.

What happens next?

Of course college degrees will not be unnecessary in a lot of cases and the achievement of obtaining a college degree should never be discredited.  But in some industries such as technology (which are ever evolving), old degrees would be considered irrelevant, so having more recent skilled experience is obviously going to be more sought after by employers looking to recruit.

Businesses thinking about taking this untraditional approach to recruitment should first start to look at their own workforce and the needs of the business going forward so they can answer ‘Do candidates really need a 4-year college degree to be successful within certain departments of the organization or can the right vocational skills and training be a smarter approach to take?’

If companies decide they do want to ditch the college degree requirements, it would be worthwhile to make sure they have some good technology in place to take on the extra workload incurred during the recruitment application process and help deliver the on-going skills and training in an easier, more efficient way.

We would love to know the thoughts of our graduate and non-graduate readers – so please let us know how this new development could impact your career goals in the comments below.


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Written By

Norberts Erts

HR Degen and Product Marketing Manager at Sage. Former Co-founder of HR software company CakeHR (acquired by The Sage Group plc in 2019). Keep a sharp eye on HR, marketing, business, finance, science, technology, and the connections between them.