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Perhaps you want to work for a big tech company like Apple or Microsoft, but you’re worried that you lack the educational qualifications. Do these tech giants want you to have a degree? Can you land a job with just your skills, even in entry level positions?

That’s a pressing question for many technologists, and one that Emsi Burning Glass (which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country) and Harvard Business School recently tried to answer in a big study. The bottom line: You still need a degree for many jobs, but things are also changing pretty rapidly at some companies.

At companies such as Oracle, some 90 percent of job postings still require a degree. But at Google and Apple, the percentage of those jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher has dipped over the past few years. At Apple, the percentage of postings requiring a bachelor’s degree declined from 88 percent to 72 percent between 2017 and 2021; at Google, it’s down from 93 percent to 77 percent during the same period. IBM claims it’s stripped bachelor’s degree requirements from more than half of its job openings. 

Other tech giants (notably Microsoft, Intel, and Meta/Facebook) have announced a relaxing of degree requirements, but haven’t yet followed through in their actual job postings. “These firms have not materially reduced the number of actual positions requiring [a] degree,” the report added. “In fact, Intel has seen a material increase in its reliance on degree-based hiring, with the percentage of IT postings specifying a bachelor’s degree or above now up to 96 percent versus 87 percent in 2017.”

That gap “suggests a lag between corporate rhetoric and practical implementation of skills-based hiring strategies,” the report added. “There appears to be a significant opportunity for more companies in the technology sector to follow through on implementing broad policy changes that revise the requirements for specific positions.” 

Companies have long disregarded degree requirements for technologists who’ve mastered in-demand skills. In early 2020, for instance, Elon Musk announced that he wanted A.I. developers and researchers to join Tesla—and educational background was “irrelevant” so long as candidates could pass a “hardcore coding test.” And in 2019, Apple CEO Tim Cook said he was “proud” of the fact that half of Apple employees don’t have a degree. Companies’ need for these kinds of skills is often just too great for hiring managers to wait for a candidate who checks off every box. 

Bottom line: If you want a job at a big tech company, having a degree opens more job opportunities. But lacking a degree also doesn’t shut the door completely—so long as you have the right skills and a willingness to learn.