For decades, young people in high school have been told that getting a college degree is the best option (or maybe the only option) for getting a high-paying, fulfilling job.  The other thing professionals new to the job market learn quickly is that everybody wants experience. So which is more important? Are higher education and experience weighed equally or is one more important than the other? Do you have to have a degree to get a high paying job?

The answer to this question may depend on your desired field.  Technical positions that rely on skill- specific processes and knowledge of terminology such as auto technicians, nurses, doctors, and biologists often get experience as part of their degree through internships and clinical studies, but the degree level is a must. For more creative and communicative positions, there are plenty of valuable degrees available, but experience is more likely to get you a job in these fields than education alone. The reasoning is that positions such as photographers, designers, and journalists must adapt to each task using the talents and skills they have learned, but every time is different. It’s not about learning a process and repeating it multiple times; it’s about developing strategies and skills which can only be done through experience. Of course, there are positions that use exact knowledge and skills as well as creative talents and social skills such as teachers and social workers. A balance of education and experience is most effective, but the minimum degree level of a job function needs to be met before applying for that type of position.

There are fields where individuals seem to find a job within weeks of graduation and others where a college grad is still submitting resumes on their parents’ couch a year later. The real reason for this is less about how much education or experience a person has and more about what industries are growing, have a lot of money, and have jobs in the area you are living. In some areas of the country, the medical and education fields are huge; in others, maybe publishing and manufacturing are growing faster. No matter what, seeking a career in whatever field most excites you will better ensure long term fulfillment on the job.

So how do you know what to do and what not to do to get the job you want? Research. Find out what type of degree you need, what cities are best to live in for that industry, the salary range, and what types of experiences will prepare you for it. Look for different kinds of experience: internships, volunteer opportunities, trips, clubs you can join, and ways you can build your skills on your own. Spend the time gaining the skills you need---if it’s through work experience, get that job; if it’s through education, hit the books and have a support system (another job) to keep you going while you get your degree. Any job will pay the bills, but look for one that is even slightly related to your career goals and you’ll be better off.  Don’t rule out the idea of relocating and be open to changing your course a little for opportunities you hadn’t considered before.

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