College Degree vs Experience ~ Is One More Valuable Than the Other?

Which is more important?  

A College Degree or Actual Hands on Experience?  

Which makes you more qualified?


Now that I’ve stirred up a hornets nest with just the question, let me continue with my journey and then I’ll get your thoughts.

I’ll start with this…..Education comes in two packages…One is learned from textbooks and one from hands on experience. Both are important. The textbooks explain the “why” behind the “I do”……   More on this in a bit….

As I continue down the path of this weeks posts, it’s important to explain the role of “Education” in my journey to discover What I Want to Be When I Grow Up.

As I explained yesterday, I was set to go to college right out of high school. Not really knowing what to do, I applied to Cal State Fullerton and to the University of California Irvine. I was accepted at both. Right before classes began, I choose not to go. I broke my mother’s heart. I was tired of sitting in classes learning stuff. I wanted to get out in the world and start experiencing and learning hands on. I had a job for a couple of years and I loved it.

As it turned out, I had just gotten a new job with a local home improvement store. I started moving up the ladder and even relocated an hour away when I was 18 (dragging my best friend). Soon everyone started jumping ship to this new HUGE home improvement warehouse everyone was going crazy over. I was one of the last to jump ship. But I did. Yes, I had just turned 20 years old, and I was about to begin a 22 year career with Home Depot.

Home Depot was still in its early years then. I joined the 63rd store. When I left, there was way over 2,000. It was fun being part of a new young company. The founders really believed in letting you own your store / department / area and let me tell you, you learned a lot about business. I credit the great business mind I have now to the lessons I learned through the years. Some I learned the hard way.

I was a sponge from day one. I loved it all. And during the course of time, I pretty much did it all too. My claim to fame if you will was being able to relate to being a cashier, a sales associate, a dept lead, an assist manager, a store manager since I had walked in all those shoes. Even when I left the stores I still spent quality time in various regional and divisional roles. I moved to three states and at one point got to be part of developing not only new stores, but helping to grow 9 states as part of the Pacific Northwest Division. Which by the way, spending time in Utah & Montana, definitely reinforced how much I hate being cold.  LOL.

yes, I actually got to be part of all these states at one point or another

But I don’t tell you this to impress you. No, I tell you this to explain why even with great intentions, I ended up not going back to school “after my year off” (famous last words of many a teen).

I was so busy “experiencing” and “learning” and “growing” I thought I was learning all the stuff some college could teach me. I learned everything you could about Profit and Loss, Stats, Ordering, Managing, Leadership, Human Resources, you name it. Home Depot put me through some great training classes and even better, my passion became about teaching and developing others.

People would ask me, what do I want to be remembered for long after I left HD and I would always say the same thing. I want to be remembered as a coach, a mentor as someone who helped teach them great tools to be successful. And to toot my own horn for a moment, I think that is how I will be remembered.

Ok, great Tammy, how does this all tie into what the heck you are trying to say here????

At one point I was Director of Learning overseeing like 9 states. Our HRVP got promoted and I was given the temporary assignment of overseeing our HR Department. Lucky me got to do both jobs. And I LOVED it. I had a blast that year as we were going through an exciting time in HR for our company with lots of changes. I got exposure to even bigger things within our company that really drilled into my head the “big hat vs little hat” that is often going on in any company (Store needs vs Company needs).

Then I got hit by the bus. The decision I had made 17 years prior finally bit me in the butt. For the first time my 15 year career (at the time) I was not able to achieve a position I wanted due to a lack of a degree. Forget how successful I was in the role, I didn’t have the piece of paper that someone felt was more important than the experience and execution. I could not keep the position I had been working hard to make permanent. I was about to begin a series of lessons on College Degrees vs Experience.

Realizing that being mad wasn’t going to solve the situation, (don’t get me wrong, I was still hurt) I realized that I needed to make a decision, if I wanted that next level, I might have to get a degree. This was hard not because I hated school, I actually love learning. I think it was more mentally hard because it was a turning point in the company. For the first time it became about having a college degree vs experience. In most companies that might seem normal, but for our’s, it was famous for “kids” working their way up from cart pushers to Vice Presidents. And these were some fantastic minds who learned in the trenches.

So I enrolled in an online college to get my “degree” that would teach me more than I already knew. So I did what a lot of working adults do, I worked 50-60 hours a week, traveled (remember I covered 9 states at the time) and went to school on-line. What I discovered was, I was now spending thousands of dollars to learn the “book” reason behind what I already knew. I was in actual debates with people about how to correctly do something that I was doing and they “hoped” to do someday. It was crazy. But I pushed through.

After a year of doing this, I needed to make a change for family reasons and I took a step back career wise and moved to Arizona. The position was still great and I got to travel all over Arizona (even New Mexico for a year). However, during the transition and all that was on my plate traveling between Seattle and Arizona for a few months, I had to put school on hold. Once things settled down, I had to decide if and when I would return to school.

As life would have it, I didn’t. I had a lot going on and school costs racked up and there was a part of me that regretted going into debt all that money for a year to really not learn anything new.  So I put it off again. Then a year or so later, I was hit in the face again by that same decision. Another position I was more than qualified for, was denied due to a piece of paper. I was even apologized too but “rules” were “rules”.

I remember the hurt I felt at the time that here I dedicated over half my life to a place, proved through my performance what I was capable of and a little piece of paper decided my fate once again.

But, as I’ve shared through my blog many times. I don’t dwell on the bad that happens. I try to learn from it and move on. I try to live my life without regrets. I made the best decisions I could at the time with the information I had. But if I was to have only one regret, it might be around this school decision.

Not that I didn’t go 25 years ago. I do not regret that. Had I gone, I never would have ended up at Home Depot and I never would have gained all the wonderful, valuable business and leadership knowledge I have. The lessons I learned about providing great customer service. I wouldn’t trade that for the world. I thank Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank (founders of HD) for all they exposed me to and allowed me to do. I have no regrets about that decision. I loved my overall experience there.

My regret is not finishing the online courses once I moved to Arizona. Because once again the debate of Degree vs Experience is impacting my life.

As I stated yesterday, I am now looking to go back out into Corporate America. Guess what seems to be the #1 qualification on jobs that I am more than qualified for? You got it… Bachelor’s Degrees.  Yes, the piece of paper is haunting me again.  LOL.

Now it is about convincing someone that my experience is just as valuable as the paper. That the 22 years at HD and the almost 4 years of running my own business has more than given me the tools needed to be successful in many areas. My proven leadership, customer service and business skills would be a great asset to any company.

I do not write this long-winded (sorry) post to feel sorry for myself or to knock anyone that has worked hard to achieve their degree. I applaud those that have their degree. I know how hard it can be to learn new stuff in areas you may or may not have experience in. I know that someone who shows dedication to completing college will no doubt show that same dedication in learning the hands on experience they will gain.

My issue lies in the theory one is better than the other. Sure there are some jobs that you absolutely need the college experience before diving right in. But we have swung this pendulum too far. Businesses are foolish to turn away great experience just because someone lacks the degree. Businesses need a combination of both. Each brings a talent that is valuable and if hired right, will help any company exceed. Experience hits the ground running and making an impact, degrees will learn and grow into fabulous leaders. Those with both are definitely a prize.

I do not say this only because I am in this spot. No, I say this from experience. I’ve had the pleasure of working with those that achieved their degrees either first or later in life and I’ve had the pleasure of working with those that never did. Both sides have their fair share of idiots. Both sides have their share of exceptional leaders. But no matter how you slice it, the perfect person for the job is the one that has the ability to achieve the goals set out by the company and who help the company, its people and it’s customers to the next level. Regardless of how they got there.

I have often wondered through the years, how much great talent is missed by a company by either picking solely by experience or by college education. We say we want the best talent possible, but do we often miss out due to false beliefs that one is better than the other?

College Degree vs Experience???  

I ask you….. 

Is one really better than the other?


Thank you for hanging in there through my long post. (if you didn’t just skip to the bottom – which we know some of you did – LOL)

I promise to go back to my shorter ones now. But this has always been an important debate regardless of which side you are on. If talent is being missed due to false assumptions, we all pay the price.


Hopping off my soap box…..  thanks for indulging me     😀

~~~till we laugh again~~~

26 thoughts on “College Degree vs Experience ~ Is One More Valuable Than the Other?

  1. Carl D'Agostino

    My next door neighbor did nothing in high school thst did not involve computers.
    As a consequences he had many F’s. He was so good he hacked into th Maiami Dade school base and changed his grades ! They way he got caught was that his mother recognized the paper type was not the same as past reports. He did not get his diploma. Last I hear he was employed by a movie production company at six figures and given a 4-bed room home , two of which have been conveerted to a green room. At 19 years old.!

    1. terry1954

      that is awesome Carl! What a story and not everyone that goes to college are brains either!! college is not for all, and some of the smartest as you have pointed out, don’t need that silly paper!!!

  2. buckwheatsrisk

    then there is being over qualified with too many degrees! lol
    also my Hubby spent thousands of $ to become a Helicopter Pilot, and the need lots of experience to get a job and a job to get lots of experience…he is still fighting to get a foot in, hence our second big move and being waaaayyyy up North. He was told he got a foot in and we moved and the only thing so far his foot is in, is cold Northern Weather this winter and the mine until..ugh!
    are you looking at going back to school?

    1. Tammy @ LaughingAtEverydayLife

      Good point. Some folks are over qualified due too much knowledge. Plus the experience one is a tough nut to crack. Hopefully he will get someone to take him under their wing to get that experience.

      As for me, Yes, I’m willing to go back. I was hoping to get my foot in a door first then do both to help minimize the financial impact. But I think the third lesson is teaching me. LOL Now its a matter of staying with a business degree (and be semi bored) or go crazy and do something new like IT area to gain even more experience.

  3. boltoncarley

    My husband is one of the smartest people I know. He’s brilliant, but his family has told him that he’s nothing because he doesn’t have a college degree. Although I have a master’s degree and am well-educated, there is no question in my mind about who is more capable. I fully believe and promote college, but it’s not for everyone.

    1. Tammy @ LaughingAtEverydayLife

      That is a great perspective. It’s hard since each of our journey’s are so different. I love learning. And sometimes people think a lack of college means someone doesn’t like to learn. I have found the opposite. A lot of people may not like “traditional” school learning but are sponges on learning other things. These have been some very intelligent people who just get bored in classroom environments. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Margarita

    I think the problem lies in the vs. as in college degree vs. experience. These should not be adversarial. Furthermore, if formal, academic education is so important to the advancement of our society, then it should also be freely available to EVERYONE!

    Fortunately, you have many skills and much experience to help you make the decisions you need to make now.

    All the best, M

    1. Tammy @ LaughingAtEverydayLife

      Great point. That is exactly what I was trying to end with. It doesn’t need to be this or that but embracing the two!

      I agree, higher learning should not be so expensive to drive out or cripple those that want to advance their knowledge.

      thanks for sharing

  5. writerwannabe763

    No need to apologize for the long was necessary to explain everything. I too can see in some occupations needing the degree to ensure the person has been fully trained in maybe law,medical, and the like. but in positions where you have grown with the company and been trained and learned what is necessary then the piece of paper is not necessary. I was fortunate in the last job I had before going on LTD/retirement. I started in a basic position, then supervisory, then Manager of a dept. When the job descriptions were done it was stated that College education was necessary OR equivalent experience.. ..the latter I fell into. I only had Grade 10 education and had many jobs previous to this one that helped me but then I learned so much on the job…I am grateful that the organization I worked with had this attitude…..I’m sorry that yours’ didn’t….Diane

    1. Tammy @ LaughingAtEverydayLife

      Another great example of how a company can help someone grow through the ranks and learn tons of business skills.

      Don’t get me wrong, HD was awesome with that for many years and to a small degree they still are. Unfortunately, as the company leadership changed hands, those in charge, placed a higher value on college education. While this did open my eyes to what these folks brought to the table, I was saddened when it began to prevent some great talent on continuing up the ladder unless they went out and got the degree. Not just myself, but others as well.

      I think it is awesome when a company believes in training and developing folks from with in. I think a healthy mixture is great for sparking creative ideas and solutions.

      thanks for sharing!

    2. terry1954

      what you have said Diane is so right, and I would tell Tammy the same thing. if you are becoming a doctor, or lawyer, u do need that piece of paper, but u have been trained, and probably know as much if not more than that college. they should b paying u to teach them!!!

      1. Tammy @ LaughingAtEverydayLife

        Funny you say that, one of the things that I think might be neat is to actually get the degree, just so I can become an online teacher for other working folks that had to go back to school. What a neat way to give back to those who’s shoes I have walked in.

  6. chlost

    There are many programs in some schools now which will give you credits for your professional experience. If you can locate something like that, you will be much closer to a degree and be done sooner.
    I work as a professional which requires an advanced degree in order to be licensed. But I worked and raised kids while going to school. I know I may be prejudiced on this issue, but those who only go to school lack the experience and practical knowledge/common sense to be good at their jobs. But those who work their way up often lack the basic knowledge necessary to be the best at their jobs. I think that a degree earned with or after gaining experience is much more valuable than only a degree or only experience.
    Good luck on your new venture!

    1. Tammy @ LaughingAtEverydayLife

      I do agree that a combination of both is ideal. I think that is the reason I regret stopping a few years ago. The two offer a great combination. As for the “professional” credit. You are right. I made the mistake when I went back to have the complete experience and I should have taken those credits. I think it would have made a huge difference. But it is never to late!

      thanks again!

  7. kewsmith

    I pointed all my children towards college because even if they never use the degree they can put it on a resume and it gives them a few years of life lessons without me beside them before the real world smacks them in the face.
    I love school and go back every few years and take a course or two. I have only used my Sociology degree at a paying job once. And, of course, everyone said,’You reallly need a Master’s degree.’ Still may happen.

    1. Tammy @ LaughingAtEverydayLife

      I love learning, so I was always surprised I didn’t go back. Problem was, I think I like making money just as much. LOL!
      I encourage the kids that work for me to attend. I’m getting three going this coming semester. I try using my situation as a good reason why and promise to help them with their homework. LOL

  8. dearanonymousfriend

    I do not have a degree. I have often thought about going and getting one, but have not. My husband was retired from the military after a 21 year career. He was medically retired after breaking off his foot. He went back to college and did a 4 year degree in 2 years. He worked crazy hard, I worked. We stressed college to our daughters. One graduated with honors, the other decided she liked working much more than school. So, I can see all of your points. Don’t apologize for length, several of my posts (and comments) are way too long. My advice is go with your gut. It obviously has not steered you wrong in the past and won’t now. Best of luck. I am enjoying your posts on this subject. Great work.

    1. Tammy @ LaughingAtEverydayLife

      Thank you. I’m glad you are enjoying them. Thought I’d share a little more that I am more than just the cute funny stupid things I post. LOL.

      It does seem like you have a little of everything going on there. I agree, I push the kids that work for me, but I understand when they don’t. I just try to make sure they are informed. The reality is, we all tend to follow the path we are meant to. I say it is part of the lessons we learn.

      thanks again!

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