Ask US Is it ever possible to work around degree requirements for promotions?

Is it ever possible to work around degree requirements for promotions? Find out on

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Question: Everyone at my job, including my supervisors, says that I show the knowledge and performance necessary to move up, but my degree is not the one usually required for the position I would be promoted to. I can't afford to go back to school. How much leeway are immediate supervisors usually given when it comes to promoting people without the usual educational requirements? I imagine HR would be the major obstacle.

Answer Paywizard:

That’s an excellent question and one that concerns many American workers. I must tell you, however, that my answer will be incomplete because I’m missing two key pieces of information I need in order to give you the best advice possible: (1) what degree do you have now; (2) what kind of degree is required for your future position?  Having some additional context may be helpful since, in some professions on-the-job experience and demonstration of job performance can indeed help you surmount an obstacle.  However, in some fields such as medicine or accounting, you will clearly be inhibited by your lack of training, credentials, licensure, etc.

 As a general rule, when pursing education with career purposes in mind, you should get as much education as you think you will need to be in the place professionally that you want to be 10 years from now. By following this rule, you will be in a good position at any point in your life and will not risk being either under- or overeducated, both of which can be detrimental to your career prospects. As you already realize, gaining further education involves both monetary (tuition and books) and non-monetary (opportunity costs such as time that would otherwise have been spent working ) investments that should be taken into consideration.

            That aside, how much leeway is given to supervisors depends upon the answers that you give to questions (1) and (2) above and the kind job that you’re looking to move toward.  For example, if you wanted to make a vertical move in academia from say, an adjunct professorship to a tenure track professorship, and you only held a master’s , you would definitely need to return to school to earn a PhD, no question about it.

            However, if you’ve noticed that many people in your target position have MBAs, it may not be necessary for you to return to school, as I doubt that any business credential will substitute for the great deal of knowledge and experience that you’ve gained on the job.

            If the job that you want to move up to requires a Juris Doctor (law degree), then you may encounter a more difficult time because law school graduates have specialized knowledge that is very difficult to acquire outside of the context of law school.

            As for advice on what you should do, if further education is an absolute necessity, ask your supervisors if there are any online distance learning courses that you could take or even courses offered by your local universities that would help you get that promotion. Petersons provides an incredible resource for online education programs.

Your concern that you cannot afford to return to school is shared by many.  Let me suggest that you not assume this financial constraint prematurely.  After all, many firms fund their employees’ education as an added “perk.”  If you viewed as having such potential within your organization, find out what kind of reimbursement programs are available for employees interested in continuing their education either part-time or full-time.  Even if your employer does not offer tuition assistance, using the Paywizard's Salary Calculator, you can gain a sense of estimated future income with your new degree in contrast with your current one.  Perhaps it will be a good investment in your long-term earnings to make the near-term investment in your education, particularly if you would enjoy this.  If this is not the case, at least you will be making an informed decision.

Best of luck movin’ on up!