Skill vs Degree: Which Matters Most?

22 Feb, 2023 | Read in 5 minutes

The debate about having a degree or specific skills has been ongoing for years. Our article explores the pros and cons to help you make an informed decision.


The debate over skills vs degree has been ongoing for years, with some arguing that education is the key to success, while others emphasise the importance of skills development.

In the past, degrees were typically regarded as more valuable than skills. Even if a candidate possessed all of the practical skills required for a job, they might have struggled to get a job due to lacking a degree. Now, which is more important? Many people will answer that both are equally important.

Elon Musk once said, “Don't confuse schooling with education. I didn't go to Harvard but the people working for me did.” He aimed to express that skills hold more significance than titles.

A Burning Glass Institute study also says that US employers have shifted focus from degrees to skills. This conclusion is measured by the change in the percentage of job vacancies requiring a bachelor's degree.

On the other hand, tuition fees continue increasing, and the average student loan in 2020 was $37,500. Plus, as of 2022, about 45 million Americans are burdened with student debt, meaning getting a degree is expensive.

The Definition of a Degree

Education helps you prepare for business and work. It gives you knowledge and insight that you can use to run it. A degree can serve as a certification of the skills and knowledge you have acquired. Some professional fields require a degree as a requirement. For example:

  • In medicine, it is impossible to practise without a medical degree. Your advice and diagnosis will only be considered valid with the proper credentials.
  • Likewise, in law, you can only practise or obtain a licence to practise law with a degree. With the appropriate qualifications, your knowledge and expertise will be considered reliable and accurate.

Benefits of a Degree

According to College Pricing and Student Aid in 2020-2021, the estimated cost of one year of public college is $26,280. However, the actual cost may vary based on the campus's accreditation and quality.

The cost of obtaining a degree is high and pays off in many ways. The US Bureau of Labor (BLS) statistically compares people with bachelor's degrees and high school diplomas. Individuals with a bachelor's degree who are at least 25 years old have an unemployment rate of 2.2%, compared to those with a high school diploma, with an unemployment rate of 3.7%. Individuals with a bachelor's degree earn $1,248/week, while high school graduates earn $746/week.

The statistics above show that a degree affects employment and income. Besides that, Madhav University has listed several benefits of obtaining a degree, such as:

  • A degree serves as a certification of professional knowledge, allowing individuals to manage functions and positions more effectively.
  • Individuals with degrees are more confident in their opinions.
  • Degrees help individuals develop valuable soft skills, such as politeness, humility, and wisdom, which are useful in job applications.
  • A person's qualifications and titles are often used to assess their social respect and reputation.
  • A degree can lead to higher income opportunities.

Do employers require College Degrees?

According to Truthout, 75% of new jobs require a bachelor's degree, yet only 40% of prospective applicants hold one. Why do employers require a degree when the job responsibilities do not depend on an employee's education?

A study from Harvard Business School reveals that employers believe applicants with a bachelor's degree are more prepared than those without it. Companies believe that candidates with a degree possess more skills. Nevertheless, employers also acknowledge that having a bachelor's degree does not guarantee that candidates are better equipped for the job than those without one.

The Definition of Skills

Skills are highly valued because they can be applied directly to the job. As the job market keeps evolving, many crucial skills have become outdated. As a result, many companies look for candidates who can quickly adapt to new skills.

Skills mainly focus on practical abilities and expertise, whereas a degree emphasises theoretical. For example, a pastry expert's skills demonstrate their ability to make pastry cakes.

CEO Apple Tim Cook has recently said that people without a four-year degree can perform well in their job responsibilities.

Today's companies place value on potential, expertise, and experience. Talentic mentioned that 45% of recruiters and managers consider potential an essential candidate criterion.

The Importance of Skills Development

To succeed in today's fast-paced world, continually developing your skills and expertise is essential. Doing so increases your chances of getting a job and boosts your self-confidence. Skills development encompasses both hard and soft skills and offers numerous benefits, including:

1. Increase self-awareness

Skills development begins with self-assessment of the current situation and predictions for future trends. This assessment can help identify an individual's strengths and weaknesses. Self-reflection is necessary to determine which skills should be prioritised for improvement.

2. Career advancement

Investing time in developing your skills can help you move up in your career quickly. Whether you're looking to move up in your current field or switch to a new one, having strong skills can make you more qualified and competitive.

3. Provide excellence

You have to compete with millions of job seekers every day, and if you're still stuck on one skill, you're falling behind. Developing and finding a strategy to keep up with the changes is essential if you don't want to be left behind. Skills development is essential, especially when keeping up with changes and regulations.

4. Increase productivity and enthusiasm

Having skills is an essential component of self-confidence. For example, if you are a jewellery expert, you can confidently say anything about jewellery. Self-doubt will disappear when you have the ability. Plus, when motivation and self-confidence are high, efficiency and job satisfaction will increase.

Remember, skills development is a lifelong process that doesn't necessarily require formal training. Taking the time to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses and setting goals for improvement can go a long way in helping you achieve career success.

How to combine education and experience

What if you don't have the experience and knowledge that fits your dream career? Relax. There are several options to improve your education and work experience, such as:

  • Community College
  • Trade School
  • Apprenticeships
  • Volunteering
  • Virtual Learning


Depending on the individual's situation, having either skills or a degree can be advantageous or disadvantageous. A degree can offer a strong understanding of a particular field and show dedication, making it valuable in many careers. However, possessing diverse skills can make one more flexible and attractive to employers, especially in today's rapidly evolving job market. Ultimately, a mix of education and hands-on experience is often the most effective way to succeed in many fields.


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