College is overrated.
Well, at least sometimes. New data from millions of users and job listings from career networking site LinkedIn shows that many top companies including Google GOOG, +0.23% AAPL, -0.02% Airbnb, Facebook FB, -0.16% Oracle ORCL, +0.85% and others all have high-paying, in-demand jobs where a four-year degree isn’t required.
“The four-year degree isn’t gone altogether but we’re starting to see a shift in what these companies are looking for,” says Laura Lorenzetti, editor at LinkedIn. “There’s a growing emphasis on skills over school as they compete for top talent. People still see the four-year degree as a signaling factor but companies are taking experience as seriously as a four-year college degree.”
Among the high-paying jobs at top companies that don’t require a college degree: A brand director position at Apple (the listing simply says “bachelor’s degree preferred”) and an editor for Apple News (it says bachelor’s or master’s degree preferred or equivalent work experience), both in the Bay Area. Other jobs include a corporate account manager at Oracle (applicants need either a BA/BS degree in business/related field or equivalent work experience) in Boston and an account manager for Google Cloud in Chicago (the listing simply says bachelor’s degree or equivalent practical experience).
LinkedIn revealed that the top jobs that don’t require a four-year degree (all based on profiles of people working at top companies who don’t have a four-year degree) include mechanical designer, electrical technician, manufacturing technician and telecommunications technician. Mechanical designers at top companies are eight times less likely than average to be required to have a four-year degree, and electrical technicians seven times less likely. Mechanical designers make about $71,000, electrical technicians $69,000.
One UX designer for Netflix NFLX, -0.25% , Hannah Maddy, spoke to LinkedIn about her lack of a four-year degree. “Not only do I not have a four-year degree, but I’m also a high school dropout and worked the graveyard shift as a baker until I landed my first design gig,” Maddy told LinkedIn. She got the skills to land her Netflix job by working on side projects with friends, learning to code online and diligently sending out her portfolio to employers, she told the site.
To be sure, a four-year degree is still very relevant for many job seekers. While those with just a high school diploma can expect to make a median of about $35,256 per year, people with a four-year college degree rake in $59,124, according to data from personal finance site SmartAsset.com.
Students’ pursuit of ever-more-expensive four-year degrees — based in part on the belief that they’re necessary to land a good job — has contributed to America’s $1.5 trillion student-loan debt crisis.
But experts say that while a four-year degree does typically help, some people can land solid jobs without one. Randalyn Hill, a relationship development specialist at career coaching firm Ama La Vida who chose not to get her college degree, says one big thing you can do to get your foot in the door when you don’t have a degree is to take relevant classes. “Get a Facebook Blueprint Certification, take a class on Google Analytics, and then depending on the job, get your tech stack in coding from online courses. Read a book, find a General Assembly event near you,” says Hill.
Another big helper: Working for free. “But not forever,” Hill adds — noting that “there is a difference in doing something for free with the goal being to get hired and doing everything for free because it’s your new hobby.” You work for free for a short time and then show your value by doing things like giving “10-star service on a 5-star scale.”
And document all the work you’re doing well, says Hill. “Start a blog, answer questions on Quora, or if you’re feeling really trendy — start a podcast. Make sure you’re either framing the writing or the discussion around 3 main points. 1) What did I learn? 2) How does it help me personally/professionally? 3) How am I creating value for myself or someone else?,” she adds.
And career strategist Carlota Zimmerman says that you must “have an intelligent story prepared as to why you haven’t gone to college. Don’t be defensive, or angry, just calmly state your case about why you didn’t go to college, why you believe your skills/experience make you a strong candidate.”