Although conventional candidate qualifications within the job market have always been governed by having earned a college degree, in recent years there has been a shift in mindset. Job candidates are increasingly skipping the traditional four-year degree in favor of alternative paths, such as vocational training and coding boot camps. This trend is driven in part by rising student debt and changing attitudes toward higher education. As a result, many companies are reevaluating their hiring practices and placing more emphasis on continued skill development and experience rather than simply requiring a degree.

Reasons for job candidates skipping four-year degrees

There are several reasons why job candidates are entering the workforce without the historical and hallowed badge of honor: the four-year degree. Although the rising cost of college tuition is one of the primary drivers of this seismic shift, a recent Gartner report touted that the ongoing economic volatility of the last couple of years has also accelerated the trend of remote work and online education, making it easier for individuals to gain skills and certifications without attending traditional universities. As a result, many companies are warming to this trend provided employees have the necessary skills and experience, as well as other needed attributes, to excel in the job.

How and why employers are learning to look past four-year degrees

As with many adjacent business trends of the day, such as the rapid expansion of remote work and the increasing diversity of fringe benefits, McKinsey reported that COVID-19 has also fueled the accelerated pace of this evolution. Employers have been obliged to consider new ways of thinking about employee engagement, long-term retention, and curating a highly skilled professional and/or “new collar” workforce. Harvard Business Review’s recent study found that what is aiding this culture shift is how the unpredictable and ever-changing nature of work has become. Thus, the need for more specialized skills in certain fields.

Just a few years ago, recruiters across several industries used to reject résumés missing four-year degrees without even considering them. The age-old practice of requiring a four-year degree is resolutely holding on, however, the rapidly expanding trend of foregoing this requirement to access otherwise highly desirable candidates will eventually force the issue in larger numbers, resulting in a tipping point for this newly minted employment trend. 

The prevailing thought is that traditional education, although still valuable, is no longer best suited for dynamic work-life experience and continued, real-time skill development. In fact, it is now vocational training programs, coding boot camps, and the like, that can provide candidates with the necessary skills to succeed in their roles. Likewise, professional certifying bodies, who require a few weeks to a few months of study, can do a far superior job of continuous employee skill development, which is why more and more university systems are offering “professional certifications.” 

The hidden benefit of this professional culture shift

The most dynamic gain for workplaces and candidates alike, thus far, has been the attraction and acceptance of a more diverse pool of candidates who may have gained valuable skills through alternative routes, such as vocational training, apprenticeships, or work experience. By prioritizing skills and experience over degrees, employers can expand their candidate pools and tap into a more diverse range of talent, especially among BIPOC candidates. Not only does a change in mindset broaden the talent pool but it also fosters an inclusive workplace culture that values individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences. 

Companies that are warming up to non-degree candidates

Most importantly, this is not a “theoretical” development. Progressive-minded companies are employing this practice right now. Here are three examples of notable companies that have found success in attracting and hiring candidates who do not always possess four-year degrees:


Google employees are widely recognized as some of the best and brightest in the industry. However, having a degree is not the only path to securing employment at Google. If you have the necessary skills, you may be considered for most software engineering and project management roles. Furthermore, Google provides free access to various courses and educational resources to assist you in developing your coding skills.


Apple is another tech giant that has embraced the trend of looking past four-year degrees. In 2018, Apple launched its “Learn to Code” program, which provides individuals with the skills they need to pursue a career in coding, without the need for a college degree. Apple also offers its own certification program, which allows individuals to demonstrate their proficiency in specific skills and technologies.

Ernst & Young

Ernst & Young, one of the largest accounting firms in the world, has also taken steps to look beyond four-year degrees when hiring new employees. In 2016, the company announced that it would no longer require a college degree for its entry-level positions, instead focusing on skills and experience. 

Bottom line

The trend of job candidates skipping four-year degrees is becoming increasingly common and companies are starting to recognize the value of skills and experience over traditional educational requirements. By focusing on skills and experience, companies are finding qualified and more diverse candidates who can bring unique perspectives and value to their organizations.

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