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Do companies prefer college degrees over years of experience?


william ross Tarawa Terrace, NC

I am retiring from the Marine Corps early next year and I am worried that my 20 years of aviation experience will get overshadowed by someone else with a degree and minimal experience. Just wanted to get some insight on this matter.


17 July 2019 7 replies Education & Training



Christopher Dilley Jacksonville, FL


I think that the type of job if going to drive the weight of the experience or the college degree. Honestly I think that most companies will value a college degree over experience, unless you are trying to land a job as a technician or mechanic. I left the active duty USN life and lucked into a position with Johnson & Johnson in 2000 based off my technical experience as a 10 year AE1. After starting as a technician I also pursued a BS degree, and transitioned from a technician to a salaried QA engineer, where I leverage both my education and my technical skills. Sorry for the long answer, but I would tell any transitioning veteran to use the Post 9-11 GI Bill and get a degree, it's something that cannot be taken away and will only make you more employable.


Robert Jurasek Hollywood, FL

Dear William,

Even though the some of the replies from the Advisors may conflict—they’re all good! The job market today is much different than it has been in the past. This may be one of the reasons for the differing opinions—and I definitely do not pretend to be a subject matter expert in this area.

The following except is taken from
“A recent report from PayScale backs that up. Its 2019 Compensation Best Practices Report found that 69% of 7,030 organizations it surveyed in late 2018 prioritized skills over a formal education when making hiring decisions.”

Based on your experience, you may qualify as an FAA Aviation Safety Inspector (ASI), with a promotion potential to a GS-14 pay level. The ASI job announcements are listed on (use the job series code 1825 as your search term.) Most or all of the announcements have a requirement of a high school diploma, because the jobs require years of experience more than they do formal education.

I remember one Advisor, who responded to a similar question on degrees vs. experience, by saying that certificates (IT/cyber security) will get you in the door—degrees will get you promoted.

Good luck with your transition, and thank you for your Service!

Bob Jurasek


Stefan Beyer Kirkland, WA

I know in Software Development the Bachelor's degree is becoming less of a requirement than it has in the past, as it's common for jobs to list a "Bachelor's degree or equivalent experience". The equivalent experience is commonly 4 years. Most tech places just want to know whether or not you can code, and aren't too interested in how you acquired those skills.

Other STEM jobs, such as mechanical engineering, might have a more strict requirement for a degree, to make sure an applicant has a broad knowledge base which includes some topics not commonly encountered on-the-job, but will take considerable time to ramp-up on.

Do you have a specific field you're looking to go into? That would help provide some more specific replies.


Jodie Prieto-Rodriguez Pittsburgh, PA


Thanks for your service and congratulations on your upcoming much earned retirement! The answer to your question is a 50/50 split depending on your career field. I am in a career field that requires a degree; however, the degree requirement could be waived if sufficient experience is displayed. I believe this is a concern among many vets, especially combat arms and other fields that don't necessarily translate to civilian careers.

I was a medic in the Army and at one point in my career worked as the Flight Surgeon Clinic NCOIC. I noted that many of our maintenance troops were extremely talented, yet lacked FAA certifications and college degrees. One of them is a retired 1SG (master guns equiv). He left the service with no degree, and a few certs. He asked his network of aviation vets where he should apply; they recommended boeing, lockhead, sikorsky, etc... He took a chance and applied to GM to be a program director for R&D projects (like a lot of aviation, he loves anything fast and powerful).

During his interview, the interviewer noted his absence of certs and degrees and asked him why he felt that he was qualified for the job; he stated his experience with managing multiple teams with varying deadlines in a safe cost effective manner. He rattled off his experience in managing maintenance schedules, inspections, culturally diverse teams, and gave examples of how he dealt with FAA crash investigations, employee conflict, and project leadership. They hired him to keep their R&D teams on tasks. His experience in aviation maintenance management; employee leadership, and product knowledge has allowed him to obtain, maintain, and prosper in his position. He tells people whpo question his ability to lead without a degree (he's obtained it since and GM helped pay for it <saving his GI bill>) that he knows engine systems, aviation process, culture, and standards, and when people are blowing smoke up his ***.

Point being; for what ever you lack in certifications, you should be able to make up in stating your experience in previous leadership positions and being able to articulate in a specific manner what steps you took to ensure safe mission success, or if you failed... how you learned from it and the steps you took to prevent the failure from repeating.

I currently work as a Healthcare Regulatory Compliance lead. My educational background is Business Admin, my MOS while serving was a combat medic (Corpsman). My position requires a degree; however, my interviewer was less concerned with what my degree is and more concerned with my experience in regulation compliance, safety, and drafting/implementing plans of correction. My interviewer concerns are the very thing Medical NCOs should excel at!

My combat arms, aviation, and recruiting colleagues have made a rather nice post service career for themselves in quality control, regulatory compliance, and program/project management. If you are having difficulty finding positions you are ideal for, use the three areas i mentioned in an indeed or linkedin search. The results may surprise you.


Thomas Kidd Dallas, TX

SSgt. Ross- I agree with Tim and Nathan in that you should seriously consider obtaining your bachelors degree in a STEM related field. These days, it would be tough for you to find a job that's at or near the same level you were operating at in the USMC because most of those civilian jobs still have the traditional check-in-the-box of a degree to even be considered. That being said, if you were to combine your technical expertise and leadership experience with a bachelors, you would likely be highly sought after.

Sorry, wish I could say that the job market has caught up to being able to balance the true value proposition of experience v. higher education credentials. I recommend you pursue a path where you have both, at which point all of those hurdles disappear.

Semper Fi,


Tim deCordova Palm Bay, FL

Hello William
Depending on the position for which you apply, a degree isn't a hard and fast requirement per se, but it certainly doesn't hurt. Having said that, not every degree is weighed the same. Aerospace and defense contractors look for STEM degrees over Bachelor of Art degrees. Most large defense contractors PREFER the degree but offer positions that do not require one. Many manufacturing jobs within aviation and aerospace are out there and I have seen an uptick in those jobs as folks retire. The key for you is to construct your resume such that it highlights your experience/training and certifications to attract these companies. The resume should present you as someone who is fully qualified to solve the hiring company's immediate need for that position.

At some point, I would highly recommend you go back to school and avail yourself to the free educational benefits offered by the GI Bill.


Nathan Cobble Atlanta, GA

Hello SSG Ross. It really depends on the company you are applying to. Companies are evolving around to understanding the skills of veterans. Some companies may even prefer to hire veterans, because we have our stuff together. Your skills will carry you a long way. Personally, I am still working on my degrees, but my military skills have carried me most of my career. I have done well without a B.S., but it will be necessary in the future. I'm currently working on mine.

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