Sunday, December 19, 2010

Do I need a college degree?

People ask me one question all the time: "don't I need a college degree to take a foreign job?"

the diploma
Will you need this?
Photo by Josh Parrish
The answer is a short and frustrating, "it depends". If you're a medical doctor, then yes, you'll need a degree. In fact,you may need to get accredited/retrained in your target country. For many occupations, though, I see legalese which invariably says something like "a 4 year university degree or equivalent." What's equivalent? I typically see "years of experience" being substituted. This appears to be particularly true in the IT industry as so many people are self-taught.

As a case in point, I have no Bachelor's degree. I have an Associate's Degree and when I mention this, Europeans typically ask "what's that?" As far as I can tell, this two-year degree is primarily an American thing, though other countries are slowly adopting equivalents of it.

The general rule of thumb seems to be that if you need a degree in your home country, you'll need it in another country. My advice? While you're working on getting your first overseas job, get your Bachelors also. For many US jobs, any four year college degree is needed. For many foreign jobs, they'll be looking at what you have a four year degree in. Only research can tell you what your individual situation will entail.


  1. BTW, some degrees can be useless abroad. For example degree in law (because of differences in law systems).

    And as for medical doctor example, as far as I know, in some counties (US, Canada) you may need need to prove your level of competence, by taking some extra academic courses and passing exams before you will be eligible to work as a doctor.

    As for degree in general, I don't think that degree will make you a valuable specialist for foreign company. It's all about experience most of the time.

  2. Also, in many professions you're expected to be able to commuicate in that nation's primary language. Both written and verbally.
    (Some exceptions may exist, though. )
    The dentist working in the commune where my parents live is an attractive(or so I've heard) russian woman, and her Norwegian was pretty much non-existent when she started, and had to fall back to not exactly perfect English. But with the aid of her assistant, she's been able to get the job done.

    Qualified nurses are also in short supply here, but to get a job like that you'd be expected to be able to communicate in Norwegian.

    So a good tip when deciding upon a country is to start learning the lingo as soon as possible.

  3. Ivan, Anthony: I'm loving the fact that others are chipping in to provide more useful information. Thank you!

  4. Other than working for a company here in the US (a little over 10 years ago) that had me traveling the world for work projects, I have never actually lived in another country for work. That said, my experience and opinion relates mainly to the US, but sure some could bleed over to an overseas job.

    I can say this though, in my opinion there are just some professions where you must have a degree. You wouldn't want a brain surgeon who is self studied, would you? What about a lawyer who bought one of those overwhelmingly large sets of books that they reference and decided to forgo the college years? Would you want him defending you? The television show "The Pretender" was quite the concept and even the movie "Catch Me If You Can" was quite entertaining (even if the character himself actually is real and did commit some severe check fraud), lets face it, to fake it as a doctor, lawyer or any other profession where you really need to be schooled is not something one could easily pull off.

    I am not degreed myself. I have only 1 1/2 years of college under my belt and that was several years ago (the college years being cut short by a couple of factors I won't get into here). I have gotten a couple of jobs as a Perl developer and each of them on my own merits and experience. When you are talking about a job such as a developer, I think its more important to be able to know the language(s) you are going to be using and be competent in them, rather than needing a degree. School just cannot provide all of the experience you need as a developer like a real world job can.

    Ok, I will step down off the soap box now. :)