Education vs. Work Experience

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With college tuition costs climbing at a record pace, many high school students must decide whether to invest in a college degree or dive right into an entry-level job. Whether driven by economics or personal preference, this decision can have a major impact on the course of your professional career as well as your personal life.

Benefits of a College Degree: Preparation for Today's Job Market

Throughout most of the 20th century, a high school diploma was usually enough to assure American employers that job applicants could handle most basic tasks. In fact, many large companies operated their own internal training and development programs for recent high school graduates. As a result, many Americans enjoyed long, successful careers, usually working for the same companies their entire lives.

Recent changes in the global job market have put an end to those traditions. Very few people experience the stability of working for only one or two employers throughout their careers. In fact, most workers entering their first job today will change career paths at least seven times before they reach retirement age.

With workers jumping ship more frequently, few companies can afford to invest heavily in employee development. Therefore, more employers rely on job seekers to develop their own skills before joining a company. As a result, the demand for workers with college degrees has skyrocketed over the past few decades.

Getting the Career Training You Need

As you pursue more specific career opportunities, the requirements for entry-level positions become more complex. Many trade and technical fields require new workers to earn an associate degree before applying for a position. These two-year degree programs provide job seekers with critical skills in areas like nursing, technology, or business.

Some jobs that require more interaction with customers and clients require bachelor's degrees. Many hiring officers like to recruit recent graduates of bachelor's degree programs, since they possess the specific skills to perform detailed tasks and the broad cultural knowledge to relate to clients and colleagues. If you're ready to climb the career ladder ASAP, an accelerated bachelor's degree program can help you get those credentials faster.

Advantages of Gaining Work Experience

Of course, not everyone can afford to invest in a full-time, traditional degree program right after high school. Lacking a college degree does not have to restrict your career choices. Many professionals start their careers in retail sales, customer service, or other positions that offer on-the-job training.

Although a college degree program builds critical skills, few colleges and universities can fully prepare students for real-world challenges. Despite the substantial pressure to make good grades and to complete assignments on time, few college experiences can match the demands of a regular, full-time job.

In some cases, students who don't do well in high school can find real satisfaction in the work force. Without the tedium of the classroom, these individuals can find the environments that inspire them to succeed on their own terms. Despite the prevalence of MBA graduates in the work force, many successful entrepreneurs and business leaders have achieved success with little more than a high school diploma.

The Best of Both Worlds, Part I: Working on Campus

Since both strategies carry potential rewards, many colleges and universities have started to emphasize work experience as an important element of their degree programs. Depending on your college major, you might find yourself required to get professional experience while still attending classes. Each type of placement offers different benefits, and all of them help students establish strong reputations for success early in their careers.

  • Internships.
    Because classroom work can only prepare you for part of the challenge of a new career, internships can help you round out your work experience and make you a highly attractive candidate for jobs after graduation. More and more industries have opened up internship programs over the last few decades. Depending on the type of company you intern with, you could gain valuable insight into the ways that professionals turn theory into practice.

    Most internships are unpaid positions at professional companies. Instead of receiving a salary, interns trade their time for the opportunity to earn college credit. In most cases, interns must keep a detailed journal of their work experiences. Usually, an intern must also prepare a final report or a presentation that demonstrates the skills s/he has developed during his or her placement.

    Interns work side-by-side with professionals on real projects and products. An increasing number of hiring officers prefer to hire job seekers who have completed internships in their industry. This way, they can guarantee that new hires are familiar with the business environment.

  • Study Programs.
    Each year, the federal government provides significant financial aid awards to students in the form of work-study grants. Originally, these awards funded part-time jobs on college campuses, so deserving students were guaranteed a stable job to help pay for education expenses.

    Over the past few years, many students have taken advantage of relaxed guidelines for work-study placements to earn jobs in a variety of career-oriented positions. Instead of working in campus dining halls, many students use work-study positions to gain hands-on experience in social service agencies, non-profit organizations, and performing arts troupes. In addition to jobs offered by a student's institution, many students can find work-study openings at government agencies and non-profit groups within a mandated distance from campus.

  • Co-operative Work Placements.
    In high-growth fields, such as nursing and technology, employers need as much help as they can get. Therefore, a growing number of colleges and universities offer cooperative work placements to help students gain paid work experience while still completing their degree programs.

    Students in co-operative work placements can often start earning competitive hourly wages and seniority within a company. By recruiting students from prestigious schools, companies can guarantee a flow of qualified, eager, new employees. Meanwhile, students can eliminate the stress and the uncertainty of the post-graduation job hunt.

  • Apprenticeships.
    In a number of specialized professions, students must complete an apprenticeship under the direction of a skilled supervisor before they can earn a license or a certification in their field. Traditionally, most apprenticeships begin immediately after a student earns their degree. More recently, colleges and universities have begun to offer extended degree programs that encourage students to begin their apprenticeships while completing their final few years of study.

    Employers rely on these supervised work experiences as an opportunity to bridge the gap between formal learning and on-the-job skill building. Moving beyond mere tradition, apprenticeships offer students the chance to really understand the demands of a profession before moving on their first full-time jobs.

The Best of Both Worlds, Part II: Online College Classes for Working Adults

New educational technology has revolutionized the way that students get their college degrees. Instead of choosing to pursue school or work, a growing number of adult professionals can enjoy both, without having to sacrifice personal and family commitments.

Today's job market rewards workers who demonstrate the ability to work independently and manage their own time. Students who take college courses online while working full time can customize their degree programs and avoid taking pay cuts or missing time with family. A growing number of employers are also offering tuition reimbursement for online degree programs, which allow employees to keep working full-time.

Online Degree Options

Online degrees are available at every level, in hundreds of popular fields. If you already have a busy professional and personal life, taking college classes online might be the solution you need. The online colleges and universities listed here at World Wide Learn are all accredited (an important fact to check before enrolling at any online program) and offer their students the same high-quality, focused education that most traditional U.S. college students receive.

Whether you're encouraged by your employer or pursuing your own passion, the right college degree program can amplify your work experience. By cultivating your interests and focusing on the things you love to do, you can build an exciting, evolving, rewarding career.

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