Debating the Career Pathway: Experience vs. Education

As a rush of people flood out of the Westfield Citrus Park mall, a lone figure lags behind. Sticking out from the crowd, the man walks casually with a bright smile on his face . He exudes a level of happiness that contrasts those around him that angrily dash to their cars.

This smile belongs to Jacob Davis, a sophomore studying business at Hillsborough Community College, who is happily finishing up another day of work.

“It’s really amazing,” said Davis. “If you told me I would be doing all this a few years ago I would’ve never believed it.”

Davis does have one issue though. For the second time, he’s had to take a semester off from school.

“I just need a break to focus on work and chasing a few more opportunities,” Davis said. “I don’t necessarily like doing it, but I know in the long run the experience and networking I’m gathering right now will pay off when I do finish school.”

While this sacrifice may seem worthwhile to Davis, others see an emphasis on education as being the true key to success.

The demands for getting into many programs, graduate schools and scholarships requires a high GPA. Many students are only able to accomplish the goals they have set by focusing solely on school.

Many college students today believe that going to school is a full-time job. In many fields, professors recommend spending two to three hours doing outside classwork for each unit of credit taken, according to Cliff Notes.

For a student taking the average 15 credit hours, it means 30 to 45 hours spent each week studying for school. This is equivalent to the time put into a full-time job.

Andrew Main, an associate dean at Bournemouth University, a university in Poole, England, has a great understanding of the business process. He believes that putting this amount of effort in while at college will keep you ahead of those that focus on experience.

“Given the same elapsed time, a course of education will bring a greater depth of understanding than experience can provide,” Main said in an interview with the website Inside Job in February.

The number of students who are just focusing on school is decreasing. One in five students now work full-time jobs while attending school, according to a US Census report.

Employers seem to be focusing on experience as well. Most employers ranked relevant internships or experience as the most important qualification when hiring an intern. Attendance at preferred schools and high academic performance ranked as the lowest qualifications, according to Internships.com.

Alan Balfour, an associate professor at the College of Business at USF and expert in employment relations, tends to agree with this emphasis on experience over education.

“Employers don’t think you learned anything that will help you immediately transition to a job,” Balfour said. “A person’s level of intelligence only translates to a few jobs.”

Balfour explained how experience and strengths, such as conflict management and an outgoing personality, have a much bigger impact on potential employers than someone’s GPA. He stated how when it really comes down to evaluating a candidate, qualities beyond experience and education are the deciding factor.

“Employers are looking for a person they can imagine being successful within the company,” Balfour said.

Gordon Blickle, the director of marketing at Central States Manufacturing, feels that education still plays a crucial role. Blickle feels that the important part isn’t the grade point average either.

“Did they demonstrate leadership in or outside the classroom?” Blickle said, reviewing common questions he ponders when looking over a candidate. “Have they been involved in activities where they had to plan and manage time, money, other resources or other people? Do they have a plan for their life and career?”

Whether education or experience holds greater importance may never really be known. For now, the best option is to get a solid mix of both.

“I know I’m going to be back at school next semester,” Davis said. “I’m not giving up on my goals, I know I need to balance my education and work schedule a lot better. When I finally figure out how to manage both, I feel like then I can truly get to where I need to be.”