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IT is the fastest-changing global industry, creating the need for new positions year after year. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, “employment of computer and IT occupations is projected to grow 13% from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all other occupations.”

This is a huge trend that leaves both recruiters and job seekers scrambling. Namely, 65% of employers claim talent shortage is the biggest challenge in hiring. On the other hand, the process leaves young people wondering: with such heavy demand, do I really need a college degree to build a career as an IT specialist?

We will be completely honest here and tell you straight away that there is no clear answer to this question. However, we will do a deep dive into the issue and present the pros and cons of having an IT degree. Let’s take a look!

The Pros of Earning an IT Degree

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that 40% of IT workers are self-taught, relying on practical skills and experience in the field rather than a strong academic background. IT companies obviously need people with concrete skills, but if there are so many successful IT workers who are self-taught, how does a college degree fit into the picture?

Here are the most important benefits of studying IT:

  • A higher earning potential

As an educated IT specialist, you will have a higher earning potential. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that full-time workers with a high school diploma had median weekly earnings of $718, almost $500 less than those with a bachelor’s degree. IT is a specific job market, so we cannot expect such huge differences between employees, but a college degree is definitely a big advantage when it comes to your annual income.

  •  More bargaining power

Strong academic achievement will not only help you to get a higher salary, but also to negotiate other terms of service as well. Laura Stafford, a recruiting advisor at Careers Booster, explains how it works: “IT specialists are often lone wolves who develop unusual working patterns. Those who combine real skills with a diploma have the authority to ask for the more flexible schedule, remote work, or any other condition related to the work-life balance.”

  • A variety of career choices

Attending college courses, you can learn so much more about IT in general than your skill-focused peers. Studying opens new boundaries that can help you to understand various fields of work, allowing you to choose the role that suits your preferences. Not everyone has to be a software engineer – there are tons of other positions to check out, including cybersecurity analysts, enterprise architects, DevOps engineers, etc.

  • A comparative advantage over colleagues without diplomas

Sometimes a college degree is the only thing that can distinguish you from peers and competitors. Applying to the job posting, you will be competing with IT specialists who have mastered the same types of programs as you. However, a university degree proves that you have both the practical and theoretical knowledge. It also proves your work ethic, so a potential recruiter doesn’t have to worry about your diligence and professional enthusiasm.

  • A networking opportunity

This is the benefit you shouldn’t underestimate. College gives you many opportunities to meet people who share the same interests, and who could potentially become your business partners or hire you. Look no further than Larry Page and Sergey Brin – they met at Stanford’s Ph.D. program in 1995 and launched the biggest search engine project (a.k.a. Google) three years later.

The Cons of Earning an IT Degree

Now that you’ve seen the pros of studying IT, you should also understand why most of the industry experts decide to skip college. Here are the cons of attending a college dedicated to computer science and programming:

  • It is time-consuming

Unless you are a hard-working genius, it will take you at least four years to obtain a college degree. But in a field where things evolve so quickly, four years is a lot of time to lose. If you don’t follow trends and stick to formal education, you might end up with a big disadvantage because most of your peers will have four years of relevant industry experience.

  • IT courses cost less

Enrolling in a college, you will spend a lot of time and money as well. Tuition fees are increasing steadily, which is why over 70% of graduates from four-year colleges carry debt. On the other hand, there are literally hundreds of highly credible online IT courses that can teach you everything there is to know about any given field of work. And even the best courses cost less than one year of college studies.

  •  IT courses are skills-oriented

While it is true that colleges get their students acquainted with a wide range of topics, some people prefer a more focused way of learning. IT courses are skills-oriented, so you don’t have to waste time learning anything other than computer programs and systems that you’ll really need throughout your targeted career.

  • A college degree is not a requirement

IT companies are very practical, so they don’t care about formalities such as degrees and diplomas. They just need to make sure that their future employees can get the job done, which means that IT is one of the few well-paid fields where you can get a position without any sort of formal education. Therefore, while a college degree may be to your advantage, it’s usually not a requirement.

Conclusion

As the fastest-changing global industry, IT needs thousands of new employees all over the world. Most companies prefer real-life skills over official education, which encourages young people to skip college and start looking for a job immediately.

In this post, we showed you the pros and cons of obtaining an IT degree. While it is true that professional proficiency can earn you a job regardless of the academic background, we believe that a college education can significantly improve your career opportunities, so don’t be afraid to take the academic route. It may pay off in the long run with a better range of job prospects at a greater salary.