Credit for life experience


I have owned a restaurant and have management experience but never finished my college degree in hospitality. Is there such a thing as credit for life experience?

– Restaurant Manager, New York City


Many restaurateurs and managers eventually decide they need to get or finish their college degree.  It may be to change careers, to apply for a job like teaching that requires the credential, to advance within a corporate structure, or even for the personal satisfaction of being a college graduate.

As a professor, I get this question a lot. The answer is the famous “it depends.”  Yes, in most institutions some credit can be given for professional experience, but it is usually at the discretion of each program chair and on a case-by-case basis.  In some instances, credit is not given but requirements are waived, allowing you immediate entrance into advanced coursework.  Schools can award professional experience credits in a few different ways:

Blanket credit for professionals.  Some programs, especially those tailored to working adults, give a certain number of elective credits (perhaps equivalent to one semester) to professionals working in the field with a certain number of years of experience at a supervisory level.

Testing out. Often a school will let you take an exam similar to the final exam for a course to “test out” of a class.  For example, a working chef seeking a hospitality management degree may be able to earn credit for the introductory culinary courses by passing the written and practical exam for the course.

Course-by-course petition. Often you can present an advisor or department chair with a portfolio or letters documenting your relevant experience to have courses waived.  For example, in our culinary program I see many career changers who come from fields like IT, accounting or finance.  Obviously, I wouldn’t make a programmer take our required Intro to Computing class.

TA-ing. Even when credit for professional experience is not awarded, have a conversation with the professor.  I went to college for hospitality management after culinary school, with experience as a chef.  When I did not get credit for some cooking classes, I offered to volunteer as a teaching assistant (TA) while enrolled in the course—giving me an “A,” making things easier for the professor, and starting me on my career path to culinary education.

Finally, beware of some programs where you pay hefty fees to earn life experience credit or where credit for life experience is a major point in their marketing materials.  Check to make sure your program is regionally accredited. If the offer to grant you a huge number of credits sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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