Going back to school after being out of school and in the work force for several years can be a cumbersome proposition for many would-be students. People go back to school for various reasons: personal enrichment or achievement; to increase their salary; or to change careers. The thought of going back to school with nothing to show for years of work is troublesome for many. However, this is where college degrees based on work experience factor in. There are a small number of colleges that offer these types of degrees, but before you dive into such a program, carefully consider all the pros and cons.
Examine carefully any claims made by schools you are considering for obtaining a work-experience degree. Schools that will offer you a degree based entirely on work experience with no additional coursework are likely to be "diploma mills," or "schools" that sell degrees with no real value. Consider the case of Chester Ludlow, the dog that received a life-experience degree for $499 from Rochville University. This was reported by Get Educated in September 2009. Any school that will let you simply pay tuition and offer you a degree based on life or work experience will provide you with nothing but a fake degree. Instead, look for schools that have been accredited by an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Schools accredited by these agencies are generally recognized as legitimate institutions of higher learning within the academic community, as are the degrees they offer. Regional accrediting bodies that are a part of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) are the most authoritative in academia.
Consider some of the schools that offer a blend of work experience and online degree programs. There are four schools that have been recognized by Get Educated, one of the Internet's few legitimate sources for evaluating online degree programs, as legitimate "work experience" or "learning assessment" schools. They are: Thomas Edison State College in Trenton, N.J.; Excelsior College in Albany, N.Y; Western Governors University in Salt Lake City, Utah; and Charter Oak State College in New Britain, Conn. Get Educated provides potential students with unbiased reviews of colleges and degree programs. The website is a consumer group started by a professional educator and is a part of the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility organization. Examine each degree program, and find one that meets your educational and vocational needs.
Submit applications to each school. Be prepared to provide documentation of your work experience. For instance, at Thomas Edison State College, you must provide Army American Registry Transcript System (AARTS) and Sailor/Marine American Registry Transcript System (SMARTS) transcripts for military service. You can also gain work experience credit for professional training that has been evaluated by the American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service or by Thomas Edison State College itself.
Complete additional exams to earn credit. Schools with work-experience degrees will allow you to also take an exam to test your knowledge of a subject to determine whether you know enough to earn college credit.
Finish your remaining coursework through online classes. You may not earn your entire degree through work experience, but you can earn a significant amount of credit for it. In the end, you will come out with a degree that has value in the job market.
Jared Lewis is a professor of history, philosophy and the humanities. He has taught various courses in these fields since 2001. A former licensed financial adviser, he now works as a writer and has published numerous articles on education and business. He holds a bachelor's degree in history, a master's degree in theology and has completed doctoral work in American history.