Which jobs do Americans think should require a college degree?

Taylor OrthDirector of Survey Data Journalism
April 19, 2023, 4:19 PM GMT+0

As higher education and the job market continue to evolve, so does the answer to the question of whether a college degree is essential for specific occupations. To gauge public opinion on this issue, a recent YouGov poll asked which jobs Americans believe a college degree should be required. The poll included jobs in a variety of sectors, including education, health care, sales, and law enforcement.

Of the 20 jobs asked about, a high school teacher was the one for which the largest share of Americans said that a college degree should be required. Majorities also favor college degrees for careers that directly affect public safety or health, such as airline pilots and dental hygienists. On the other hand, traditional trade jobs such as electricians (34%), plumbers (18%), and truck drivers (15%), were less likely to be seen as requiring a degree.

College graduates are more likely than people without a college degree to believe that certain jobs should require a degree. The largest gaps are for journalists, stockbrokers, data analysts, airline pilots, and paralegals.

Age also divides views on the subject: Younger adults are more likely than older ones to believe that certain jobs should require a college education. The jobs with the biggest age gap — with more adults under 45 than older adults thinking they should require a degree — are administrative assistants, production supervisors, home health aides, truck drivers, and sales representatives. Older adults, however, are more likely than younger ones to say a college degree should be required for high school teachers.

The poll also asked Americans who work either part-time or full-time whether their current job requires a college degree. Examining responses to this question among demographic groups, we find that workers who are most likely to say this are ones with a postgraduate degree (81% have a job that requires a college degree) and people with a college degree only (64%). At least half of adult workers who are under 30 (53%), live in cities (52%), or are Democrats (51%) say their current job requires a degree. While 42% of all workers say their job requires a degree, people with a high school degree or less are half as likely to say they work in a job that requires a degree. Just 24% of workers in rural areas say their job requires a degree, as do 25% of part-time workers.

— Carl Bialik and Linley Sanders contributed to this article

See the results for this YouGov poll

Methodology: The poll was conducted among 2,000 U.S. adult citizens on two separate surveys from March 21 - 23, 2023 and March 23 - 26, 2023, with each survey taken by 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 28% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 2%.

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