Degree + Experience is a formula for career success

Last year I addressed Education vs. Experience in today’s career market. Since that time, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Management from Grand Canyon University. I enrolled in July 2011 and completed my degree in August 2013. During that time, my wife also completed a degree at Liberty University—a Bachelor’s degree added to her two previously earned Associate’s degrees. We completed different degrees through online programs that we selected for reasons including accreditation, financial investment, reputation and online support. A terrific resource for evaluation is the GI Bill Comparison Tool.

My wife and I both had similar experiences, though of course we will argue who had the easiest time and which program was better. While she is obviously smarter than I am, I think I had an easier time since I chose an area of study in which I had years of experience, so most of the information was familiar to me. She studied in a new area for her, and learned more about labor relations than I think she wanted to. Finally, both in our late 40s, we hung our degrees on the wall side by side. That was cool.

Since graduation, I have stayed in my current position and am debating my next educational experience. While I am no longer the least educated person in my office, most of my peers and leaders have advanced degrees. I learned a lot about project management and research, and I still hate citing references. But I have learned the value of scholarly references to promote an idea or project. I think my contracting officer appreciates that I now know more of the formalities of his job than previously. But mostly, I think I learned what is actually taught in college, how my co-workers have been trained to think critically and apply research. I feel I have more understanding of both worlds now, than of just one.

My wife graduated and learned that recent grads and recent experience are two different things and that new careers can be challenging to start. With limited need to fill entry level HR positions in our area, she began to volunteer and learned of a Masters in Social Work program at Louisiana State University that will allow her to intern two days a week and attend on campus classes two days a week. Upon successful completion, she will have the opportunity to begin a career in Social Work while having her tuition reimbursed for a work commitment. She is very excited to begin something so close to her heart and fulfill her goal of serving others.

Why am I sharing this? The trend today is that one has better opportunities for advancement and promotion with both experience and education combined. A recent survey by Pew Research Center found there is a rising earnings disparity between those with and without a College Degree. You will note that from 1979-1995 a mere 24-25% of young adults had a Bachelor’s degree or more; today that number has increased to 34% and climbing.

In addition to increased competition, the value of a high school education solely has a declining value. People are more likely to live in poverty with a high school diploma versus a college degree. A high school diploma is no longer a ticket to success, the bar has been raised.

Now for the good news!! The biggest regret of college graduates is failure to “Gain more work experience”—as Veterans, we got this!


Several intangibles the military gives us are experiences in leadership, teamwork, ethics, perseverance, problem-solving, etc. No matter our job in the military, we may or may not gain actual job skills in our new career goals, but we do bring discipline to study harder (#2) to college. We also now know that we have to start “Looking for work sooner” and we have/had time to “choose our major.” As for experience, we know that we can gain that “recent” experience through a current job, volunteering, part-time positions, etc.

With these resources in our tool belts, Veterans are well prepared to excel in the private sector. Many of us have or will be hired into positions without a degree, but those tides are changing. I encourage us all to use the GI Bill we earned and the tools at our disposal such as Vet Success, VA for Vets, and the VA Careers Blog that offers career advice for all. Check out “A Veterans approach to a job search”.

Think College, Think Healthcare, Think VA!

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Published on Feb. 25, 2014

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