For any working person who has not earned a bachelors degree yet, there comes a moment when they realize that-with the exception of a few career fields-their upward movement and promotions have started to slow down, dry up, or run out altogether. Although many fields don’t experience this as much, most of them do. Call it the “glass ceiling” or whatever you like-chances are, your career advancement will run out very quickly if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree.

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The Glass Ceiling

Let’s talk about the ones that don’t need four-year bachelor’s degrees. Vocational jobs tend to be exempt from bachelor’s degrees. This includes hair stylists, chefs, and massage therapists. Tradesmen, like carpenters, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, and auto body repairmen, are also in this category, although these usually require some kind of training, certification, or licensure before you actually start. Then there are desk jobs that also don’t require a bachelor’s degree. Salespeople, court reporters, air traffic controllers, and web developers are in this group.

Now, while these careers sound great at first, you need to understand that having less than a bachelor’s degree in any of these careers will almost certainly leave you lacking. While you will be able to get your foot in the door with less education, you will find sooner than later that you are less likely to be considered for management opportunities and more likely to be taking orders from someone else. If you want to have greater levels of responsibility, you must have a bachelor’s degree.

One exception to this rule is vocational workers or tradesmen who decide to start their own business and, in effect, become their own bosses. Another exception is in Sales, Web Development, or Design, which tend to weigh skills and results much more heavily than education. If an individual can show solid achievement in these fields, regardless of their education level, they have a pretty good shot at advancing in their career. For example, a web developer who can program in a dozen languages and has a strong record of success will be advanced pretty far even without a bachelor’s at many companies.

We can’t emphasize enough, however: in your typical company or government job, however, you will hit a glass ceiling.

Why Bachelor’s Degrees Matter

Does a bachelor’s degree automatically prove that someone is smarter, more talented, or more ethical than the next person? Absolutely not. Anyone who has spent time in the workforce knows that some college grads can be completely useless and some high school grads can be brilliant, and vice versa. Still, the fact remains that companies have found that college grads, as a whole, are of a higher quality than others. That’s why they keep requiring that associate and management position candidates have at least a bachelor’s degree.

In this way, the bachelor’s degree is less a measure of how talented or hardworking you actually are and more of a foundation. It gives employers an assurance that you have passed a certain level of achievement and have been exposed to ideas beyond your high school diploma- or associate’s degree-holding peers. You have a foundational knowledge that they can build on to train you to be the kind of manager, director, or executive they need.

Call them unfair or misguided, but these are the rules of career advancement. You’ll need to play by them if you want to win.

The Bachelor’s Degree Boost

There is no denying that a bachelor’s degree will open career opportunities that you never would’ve had otherwise. What kind of opportunities? Management, analyst, engineering, or other administrative roles, for one.

According to 2012 median salaries (thank you, Bureau of Labor Statistics!) someone who would’ve settled for a career as an electrician making $48,000 a year can advance to become an electrical engineer getting $87,000. The humble bookkeeper making $34,000 a year can become an accountant making a solid salary of $62,000. A registered nurse making $65,000 annually with an associate’s can move into higher-paying management and educational roles making much more. Even the web developer, who may be sitting pretty with $76,000 a year, can improve his or her responsibilities and earnings with a bachelor’s degree, advancing to take a leadership role as a computer and information systems manager making $116,000.

And we haven’t even mentioned how earning bachelor’s degrees opens up opportunities to earn professional degrees that magnify career potential even more. Earning a bachelor’s degree qualifies you to continue onto earning degrees to become a professional accountant, dentist, lawyer, doctor, and more. These post-graduate professional degree programs are available only to bachelor’s degree-holders.

Bottom line: for nearly all careers across the board, a bachelor’s degree can offer a huge boost in opportunities. Even for a small business owner, a bachelor’s degree can add to their real-world experience and allow them to further improve their business. So the question becomes not so much ‘if’ as ‘when’.

Looking to learn more about how a bachelor’s degree could advance your career? Find out at our Bachelor’s Degree page.

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