I am looking to get into photography as a career and was wondering if you had to have a degree or not?
I would guess that most photographers do not have any formal training in photography these days (whether by school or apprenticeship)...camera and lens technology is cheaper than ever and post-processing skill is almost irrelevant as the tools themselves get smarter and pre-packed action-sets or filters are used.
What this means is, there are an absolute ton of hobbyists that have flooded the profession with good images and they'll take little money for them. See the death of photojournalism and nature photography for good examples.
What this leaves you with, if you want a career in photography, is playing to people's need for photographs of themselves. Weddings and portraits are the best types of photography to run your business on. For these types, a portfolio means more to your future clients than your degree.
That being said - the ability to control light is what makes a good photographer great. There are an absolute plethora of shooters out there that don't know the first thing about flash, studio lighting, or mixed lighting. Almost ironically, these are exactly the things you'll learn during a photography program.
So, while it is absolutely possible to shoot professionally without a degree - I would say it's highly advisable to make sure that you self-teach all of the topics that you would find in a class syllabus.
As an aside: I began working in a studio in high school and started college as a photo student. I quickly switched to business marketing, having realized that I was getting more tutelage at the studio than I would get in school. Having run a photo biz - I can absolutely advise going down this path. There's a whole lot about running a business...finding leads, writing contracts, accounting, etc...a whole lot more to it than you'll know no matter how much you prep.
A portfolio is always better than a degree, but it can depend on what areas of photography you want to work in. If you're working for private clients and individuals, then nobody is going to ask you for a degree, they just want to see your work. If you're working as a photographer in a higher-end studio or for a major fashion magazine, then it might help.
If you're wanting to work freelance or own your own studio, I think a business degree will be much more valuable, and you can fill your electives with photography classes.
David Hurn is the grandfather of photography education and a member of the Magnum cooperative. He devised and ran the now legendary School of Documentary Photography in Newport. Despite his pedagogical background, I saw David speak about a month ago at the Photographers' Gallery in London. His advice now is to apprentice yourself to the best photographer in your chosen field you can convince to take you on, or attend their workshops and teach yourself. He thought the benefit of a photography degree was not now worth its cost, unless you specifically need a degree for some reason. And, if you don't know what field you want to work in, he advises self-funding an extended round-the-world tour, shoot lots and lots of photographs and at the end see what you enjoyed shooting the most and go with that. I'd say it is good advice. You can find more-or-less everything David said at the Photographers Gallery in this interview with Huck magazine
I've done my fair share of photography and had no formal training - I was able to comfortably shoot catalogue items for customers, then moved into shooting real estate imagines for extra money on weekends and after hours.
I would also say it depends on your equipment, It's like any skilled profession, if you are passionate about it it will show in the end result, in saying that I then took a corporate shoot for a customer I was working with and the end result showed as the shots were beautiful, but definitely not at a truly professional standard.
Consider the following scenario. Suppose you need to have a degree but you violate that law and go on to become an illegal photographer who is very successful, who has won many prizes. Then you are found out, you never actually got a degree allowing you to practice photography. All of your photography works suddenly become worthless, and you are sent to jail for having illegally practiced photography and defrauded the legal photographers. After all, unlike the other legal photographers, you won many contests on the basis of only your photography skills, not on the skills needed to pass the exams needed to get your degree.
Several of these posts mention getting a good portfolio and then you are ready to go to work and this may be true, but I would suggest finding a sub field of photography and getting good at that. 10 Years ago virtual photography (full 360 panos) was a field where you could write your own ticket. Now it is getting harder as there are apps that make it something that can be done on at least on a basic level by hobbyist. Still can make a living with it though.
I am confident there are other such sub fields, you just have to find them. While having a degree may help with basics, often these fields are going to be so specialized a general photography degree would not help much vs knowing the basics and then studying your particular part of photography.