Do employers care about college? Why it doesn’t matter in tech!

The debate around college and its for your long-term career prospects continue to rage on. Some people are fervent advocates of attending college and the benefits it has for your future. Others believe success can be obtained without the need for a four-year bachelor’s in your back pocket. 

Employers do care about college certifications with 28% of business leaders stating an applicant’s college major is very important to them. However, this is far outweighed by the 84% of businesses that stated the knowledge a candidate has is the most important factor followed by 79% who said their applied skills were the most essential factor.

Understanding whether businesses care about a college education is complex. Different industries and jobs look upon formal education differently. In tech, there is a whole raft of people who are self-taught and doing incredibly well whereas a self-taught lawyer isn’t even going to be allowed in the courtroom. 

Let’s explore whether employers favor people who attend college and then look at how it relates to the tech industry.

College graduates

Do employers care which college you attend?

Some businesses do care about the college you go to, and just over a third of business leaders said that a college major is very important to them when hiring new staff members. In contrast,  84% of businesses stated that a candidate’s experience is very important to them. So that leaves a significant portion of employers who don’t mind if you have a college education.

The number of Americans without a degree has increased dramatically over the last 80 years. In 1940, just 5% of adults over the age of 25 had a degree. Now 32.9% of Americans over the age of 25 have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. The number increases even further if we include people that have attempted college but didn’t get a degree. 

So do you have to get a degree to stand a chance at getting a top job? Let’s take a look at a few reasons why that just isn’t the case. 

Public opinion

The Gallup study (linked below) that found employers care more about a candidate’s experience and skills, also surveyed the public. Where you received your major was only very important to 9% of employers but 30% of the public deemed it to be an incredibly important factor. Similarly, what major you obtained was important to 28% of business leaders but 47% of the public thought it to be very important.

Those stats are interesting because they show a clear difference in what employers and the public think. Public perception does not match reality. People generally put a lot more emphasis on obtaining a degree from a prestigious college than the person at the company who will be hiring them. 

Industry

The biggest factor that determines whether your employer will care about the college you went to is the industry you work in. Investment banking and finance are reputation driven, a prestigious university is almost a must-have to get into a top firm. In these industries, a degree from a good school means you have applied yourself for long periods and can handle being around the upper echelons of society. 

In contrast, a career in retail or a service-based industry won’t require a degree but may help you climb the ladder quicker. Most jobs fall into this category. A degree gives you some general business knowledge, and good communication, and shows you can learn. But the majority of your learning will occur once you enter the role. 

Business-focused and STEM roles often ask for a degree but it is by no means a prerequisite and relevant experience can get your foot in the door. However, getting a medical degree from some no-name school isn’t going to help you get ahead. So it all depends on the industry. 

Experience

Your first full-time employer may care about the college you attended. It can be a leg up against other candidates. But once you have a few years of experience very few employers care about your education at all. What you have achieved whilst in the industry across different roles is what becomes important. Not the schools you attended. 

As you enter the middle of your career the college you attended matters even less. 

In most industries, the same is true for people who didn’t attend college at all. If a sales or business job requires a degree, a few years of experience will help you skirt this requirement. A proven track record trumps college nearly every time. 

Networking

The old-school way of doing things was to give your alums a leg up in the company you currently work at. These Old Boy’s clubs were notorious – always helping out applicants from other top schools. 

Luckily this type of thing has improved and now top executives tend to hire the best candidate for the job – at least on paper anyway. A lot of companies don’t want to be seen to discriminate. 

Qualifications

Some jobs specify specific qualifications to even consider you as an applicant. A doctor, nurse, or social worker won’t get the job unless they have a specific degree. So in this instance, employers not only care about college, it is a prerequisite for the job.

Some fast-track graduate programs also require a degree and others also require it to be a specific grade.

Do tech companies care what college you went to?

College graduates

The short answer is that no, tech companies don’t care about the college you went to and many don’t even care if you have a degree or not. There are plenty of people that work at the biggest tech companies in the world without degrees or with a degree from a no-name university. It is absolutely possible to get a job at a tech company without having a college degree. 

However, nearly 65% of all software developers have a degree, so it is reasonable to say that working in tech typically requires a degree. However, where the specific college you went to is rarely an issue, particularly if you have a few years of experience.

The rise of coding boot camps has also meant that a lot of software engineers are entering the industry either without a degree or with an unrelated degree. 

Let’s take a look at whether tech companies care about college and the factors that may determine if it is important.

Self-taught developers and previous experience

Software development has a lot of parallels to a trade in that the learning doesn’t end once you graduate. You essentially embark on a lifelong journey of learning and improvement. 

The most important thing you can do as a self-taught developer is to land your first job. From there you begin building your experience. While answering questions about your biggest strengths and weaknesses is difficult the first time around, with a few years of industry experience it is a breeze.

On top of that, a company doesn’t care if you are self-taught and not college-educated if you have five years of previous experience. The best thing about software development is that it’s all about what you have done and what you can do going forward.

Top schools 

The unfortunate reality is that if all things are equal when applying for a graduate program the school you went to may play a part in the final decision. If you have similar backgrounds and experience, and are both early in your career, having a top school on your resume can help give you the edge. 

Big-name schools are hard to get into and show that you have passion for the subject at hand. Graduating also requires a tonne of hard work which reflects positively on you in a job interview. Top schools also promote work experience during the summer months so a lot of their graduates have done internships before they even finish school. It puts them ahead of the field come interview time.

But the specific college you went to, or even if you went to college matters less the further into your career you get. 

The candidate

Software companies are looking for people with decent technical chops who have had some relevant experience and can work well with a team. Teamwork is an incredible understated skill that nearly every hiring manager looks for. You can’t deliver high-quality software with a dysfunctional team. Someone who has displayed great team working abilities and has demonstrated the ability to learn quickly will push themselves to the top of the pile

A passion for the company and the subject matter can also help you excel in an interview. Even better is if you have had a year or two of experience. Once you have that in the bag most hiring managers won’t read far enough down your CV to find your education. 

There is more to a software developer than the school they went to. Sure it can help but it is not the be-all and end-all.

Top tech companies don’t officially care about your college education

Companies will often take to social media to present their virtues and how they all care about equal opportunities. Big employers are now trying to obtain people based on skills and experience rather than the college they graduated from, even Apple, Goggle, and Netflix don’t require a college degree. 

However, their employee makeup tells a different story. 

  • Google, Apple, and Facebook both hire extensively from Stanford with 3,934 Google employees graduating from there.
  • Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon have a lot of employees from the University of Washington. Microsoft alone has 6,399 employees from Washington.
  • Berkeley alumni make the top 5 universities of choice for Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. 

So while it isn’t crucial to go to a good college to do well in tech, it seems to help if you go to specific universities and want to work at the major tech companies. That being said, there are thousands of tech companies and the vast majority have a far larger hiring pool than the FAANG companies. 

There are also 150,000+ employees at Google so it may be slightly unfair to cherry-pick a single university as their preferred choice. 

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