You Don’t Need a College Degree to Excel in Information Technology


Student loan debt has exceeded $1.7 trillion in the U.S. and is a constant burden on many Americans. Terry Kim and Jacob Hess, co-founders of NGT Academy, say a four-year degree isn’t the only path to securing a well-paying, rewarding IT career. Many companies prioritize skills-based training over diplomas.

Education is expensive. Student loan debt is now more than $1.7 trillion in the U.S. and a constant burden on many Americans, leading younger generations to ask themselves: Is it worth it? Ensuring that an educational investment makes sense for your long-term career and financial goals is crucial before jumping into a four-year program that often comes with hefty student loans. Although traditional college is the default for many young professionals just getting started, it’s important to remember that education isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Not every role requires higher education, and many hiring managers prefer hands-on experience and skills-based training over a framed diploma. Knowing whether your dream job warrants a pricey education can give you a head start toward success and protect your pocketbook for years to come.

Skill Versus Diploma

Extensive college degrees are necessary for doctors and lawyers, but skills-based training brings higher value for industries like software engineering, where self-taught coders can earn sizeable incomes.

In fact, Google, Apple, and IBM are among a growing contingent of powerhouse brands that no longer require a college degree for applicants. Skipping college is not the career killer it was once thought to be, and for those who dedicate themselves to acquiring a tailored set of abilities that matches their desired role, skills-based training can optimize their hiring potential and make them more attractive candidates than their college graduate peers.

Within the rapidly growing IT sector, for example, many careers value this quicker, online certification training as much or more than a traditional four-year degree. The job description for these roles prioritizes a honed set of skills, including:

Software Engineer


  • Completion of a skills-focused training program
  • Strong proficiency in coding
  • Know-how to design computer applications that solve real-world problems

Computer Support Specialist


  • Coding language familiarity
  • Knowledge of common operating systems
  • Some computer repair experience

Computer Programmer


  • Experience debugging code
  • Knowledge of how to build and maintain operating systems
  • Fluency in computer languages to modify and test computer programs

Cybersecurity Analyst


  • Completion of an online course
  • Robust understanding of scripting and coding
  • Deep familiarity with operating systems, including mobile applications
  • Ability to recognize and anticipate threats to virtual infrastructure
  • Training in digital forensics
  • Awareness of regulatory guidelines

DevOps Engineer


  • An understanding of the software development lifecycle
  • Strong coding and scripting fluency
  • Command of automation processes
  • Typically requires three or more years of hands-on experience

Network Engineer 


  • An industry certification demonstrates you have the necessary skills, such as the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA). A degree in computer networking, network administration, computer science, or a similar field is helpful but not required. 
  • Ability to design, build, maintain, and troubleshoot a variety of computer network systems 
  • Experience configuring network devices and components such as routers, switches and firewalls, and maximizing network performance and security 
  • Knowledge of disaster recovery as it relates to IT operations

Weighing the Pros and Cons

A conventional degree plan and a skills-based training program have benefits and risks to consider. Four-year degrees offer a broader field of study, meaning a wider variety of majors to choose from and more flexibility for your ultimate career path, as well as time to find clarity when it comes to selecting your focus. Connections to tenured professors, fellow students, and a university alumni directory also create networking opportunities and potential job prospects after graduation. And, of course, there’s the once-in-a-lifetime college experience that an at-home or online education can’t replicate.

On the other hand, four-year degrees are time-intensive. Most of the instruction takes place in a static classroom environment, with minimal real-world training or tools, and some of the professors will have had little to no on-the-job experience in the field before becoming certified to teach. Moreover, the first two years will likely be spent fulfilling a general course requirement that has nothing to do with a student’s chosen major. 

To combat this sluggish education process and compete with increasingly popular skills-based training courses, many traditional universities are shifting their process to reflect online certifications and programs, targeting students who already work full-time and can’t devote years to a multi-faceted degree. While this shift is important, universities often fall short in staffing these programs with technicians who have experience in the field. Once these expedited certification courses are complete, students may find that universities don’t have a job placement program comparable to one provided by a well-connected skills-based training solution.

See More: Why Your Company Training Programs are Failing

Students turning to a four-year degree should also consider their long-term career opportunities. What is the likelihood that your major will be in demand in a decade or two? Is your career path offering a solution to a real-world, growing need?

Unlike a four-year degree, skills-based training courses can typically be completed in months rather than years, and everything taught will be highly applicable to the real-world scenarios that a student’s ultimate job would present. These focused training are highly tailored to a specific role, so if you’re studying computer programming, you’ll unlikely be required to endure a session on art history. Once complete, finding a job after graduation is often simpler, given that skills-based occupations are in high demand. 

Graduates of these fast-tracked courses typically jump into the workforce quickly, meaning earning a living will be less painful when just starting. The tradeoff? This quick pace will require strong internal motivation and drive, and any future career pivots will be difficult because the education with these programs is highly specific. Students should ensure their field of study is exactly what they want before entering.

The High Cost of Higher Education

The average cost of a four-year degree at a state school is now $41,000. Attend a private university and that number tops $152,000. Those numbers have grown significantly over the last 20 years, with in-state tuition costs rising at public universities by 211% and tuition rising at private universities by 144%. At this pace, many potentially high-performing workers will be priced out of an education. But affordability and education don’t have to be mutually exclusive. 

Once courses are completed, students are met with a competitive hiring market, particularly within the in-demand IT sector. With some experience, annual salaries for these occupations are higher than the nationwide average.

Interested in learning more about skills-based training options that offer certification in your desired field of study? Check out part one of this series here

How do you think intense and immersive career training can benefit employees in their career path? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.



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