Is Higher Education Needed for Your Job?

By: Tania Lavin, Market Research, Allegis Group

Higher education can certainly increase your employability and advance your career. The unemployment rate for people with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 3.9% in April 2013 compared to 7.5% for the entire population and 11.6% for people with less than a high school diploma. But is higher education necessary for your occupation? In high-skilled jobs the answer is obvious. But in lower-skilled positions, the answer isn’t clear cut and is likely to vary by employer, geography, industry and the economy.

Since the recession, many employers have become increasingly choosy about hiring decisions. Workforce reductions, economic uncertainty and a continued focus on profitability and efficiency have led many employers to combine job functions, decrease training spend, increase candidate expectations and delay hiring decisions. Many two and four year college graduates struggle to find positions in their chosen field and have settled for entry-level positions that would not normally require higher education.

The Census Bureau’s education attainment categorization combines people who have some college experience and associate degrees into a single category. This combined category reduces visibility into whether an associate’s degree is necessary for some occupations. Still, it is clear that higher education increases employability when employers focus more on advantages (better skills and experience) over disadvantages (higher compensation needs). The groups are based on the Census’ American Community Survey data.

YES, Higher Education is Needed

When pursuing a position in a highly-skilled profession, higher education is a mandatory requirement. Not surprisingly, 75% of people employed in the following professions have a bachelor’s or graduate degree and 95-100% have some college or an associate’s degree. Thirteen percent of U.S. workers fall into this category.

  • Science, Technology and Math: Engineers, architects, scientists, doctors, nurses, therapists, pharmacists, software developers, market researchers
  • Education: Teachers, school administrators, librarians
  • Finance & Accounting: Accountants, personal financial advisors, financial analysts
  • Media: Editors, reporters, writers
  • Legal: Lawyers, law clerks
  • Other: Social workers, fundraisers, urban and regional planners, archivists/museum curators, public relations specialists



Most job descriptions for the positions below don’t list higher education as a requirement. However, between 50% and 75% of people employed in the following occupations have attended some college or have an associate’s degree. Twenty-nine percent of U.S. workers fall into this category.

  • Hospitality: Waiters, baggage porters, gaming service workers, hotel desk clerks, bartenders, reservation agents
  • Customer Service: Switchboard operators, customer service representatives
  • Clerical: Tellers, data entry keyers, secretaries and administrative assistants
  • Sales: Telemarketers, retail salespeople
  • Public Service: Public transportation workers, animal control workers, mail carriers, sorters and clerks, firefighters
  • Other: Childcare workers, security guards


Between 25% and 50% of people employed in the jobs below have attended some college or possess an associate’s degree. Twenty-eight percent of U.S. workers fall into this category.

  • Medical Assistants: Nursing and home health aides
  • Protective Service: Crossing guards, lifeguards
  • Food Preparation and Serving: Counter attendants, hosts/hostesses
  • Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance: Janitors, pest control workers
  • Personal Care and Service: Barbers, personal care aids, hairdressers, cosmetologists, ushers
  • Sales: Cashiers, parts salespeople, counter and rental clerks
  • Office and Administrative Support: Shipping/ receiving and traffic clerks, stock clerks and order fillers, mail clerks, utility meter readers
  • Farming, Fishing and Forestry: Farmers, ranchers and agricultural managers
  • Construction and Extraction: Carpenters, pipelayers, plumbers, boilermakers, hazardous materials removal workers,
  • Installation, Maintenance and Repair: Mechanics, riggers, home appliance repairers, millwrights
  • Production: Bakers, machinists
  • Transportation and Material Moving: Driver/sales workers, truck drivers, railroad brake/signal/switch operators, bus drivers, taxi drivers, parking lot attendants, ambulance drivers



Fewer than 25% of people employed in the jobs below have attended some college or possess an associate’s degree. Higher education is not needed for these jobs. Only seven percent of U.S. workers fall into this category.

  • Food Preparation and Serving: Dishwashers, cooks
  • Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance: Maids/cleaners, grounds maintenance workers,
  • Farming, Fishing and Forestry: Agricultural graders and sorters, loggers
  • Construction and Extraction: Masons, installers, roofers,
  • Installation, Maintenance and Repair: Building installers
  • Production: Machine operators, laundry/dry-cleaning workers
  • Transportation and Material Moving: Packers and packagers, refuse and recyclable material collectors