You Don’t Need a 4-Year Degree to get a Great IT Job


Let’s say that you are a high school student looking at career choices, or perhaps you’re someone who is unhappy in your current job, and is looking to make a career change. Noticing that there are an astounding number of interesting jobs with good salaries in the information technology (IT) field, you decide to see how long it will take to get the training that you need to work as an application developer, cybersecurity specialist, or network administrator.

Where might you go to find out how long it might take to get into your new career? The extensive data at the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is a place where lots of people turn, including the many counseling and career websites that report the agency’s data.

The BLS assigns hundreds of jobs a Standard Occupational Classification (SCO). They use the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) to determine information related to each SCO. The extensive survey identifies things such as: number of jobs, pay levels, and employment change for each SCO. Below is a snapshot of the information for the job, Network and Computer Systems Administrators.

As you can see, one of the categories that is reported is, "entry-level education." People in each job are asked, "What is the highest degree or level of school this person has completed?" The respondent then checks one of several boxes of options ranging from no schooling, through PhD.

Mode ≠ Minimum Requirement

When you see “Bachelor’s degree” in the “Entry-level education” row of the table above, you might assume that you need a 4-year degree in order to be a Network Administrator. That would be a false assumption.

When it comes to the educational attainment category, BLS reports the mode. The mode is simply the response appearing most often (see illustration below). This is also where the problem comes in, because many people are falsely interpreting this modal response as a minimum education requirement. Here is the actual data breakdown for the Network and Computer Systems Administrators SOC.

As the table illustrates, approximately half (49.4%) of all workers employed in this job have less than a Bachelor’s degree. The individual degree breakdown data is available if you do a slightly deeper dig into the BLS site (the icons below were added by me). Collectively, more Network and Computer Systems Administrators are performing that job without a 4-year degree, than those with a bachelor’s degree.

More Questions to Consider

Since 2009, the ACS has asked respondents holding bachelor’s degrees for the academic discipline of their degree. BLS does not break down what percentage of bachelor’s degrees are in the same field as a generally reported category for each SOC. How many people in IT jobs actually hold bachelor’s degrees in unrelated disciplines? Anyone familiar with the industry can tell you that IT is a field full of people who formally studied academic disciplines other than Computer Science.

Another important detail to know is that the ACS data only includes workers 25 years of age and older. According to the BLS, there are over 8,000,000 full-time workers in the US workforce between the ages of 20 and 25. How many people in the 20-25 age group work in IT? How many have 4-year degrees?

The fact is, there are a tremendous number of unfilled IT jobs that you can excel in with two years or less of training. That includes jobs in the rapidly growing fields of application development, and cybersecurity. So be sure to explore all of your options. You might find that you can save yourself a considerable amount of time and money, and still come away with a great job.