Recently I’ve noticed a lot of discussion on the Internet criticizing the value of a Life Experience degree. It seems like there is an active effort to discredit this form of education, which is disappointing to me because I’ve experienced many benefits directly from this method of learning. I hope that sharing my personal story will offer a different view than the biased rhetoric offered by traditional colleges that view innovative education techniques as a threat to their enormous profits.
The fact is my Life Experience degree has led me to much professional success. I think the reason for this is because achieving this degree is a result of tangible workplace accomplishments and considerable knowledge obtained from direct experience in the field. I attempted traditional classroom learning, but after two and a half years at a local four year university I couldn’t keep pouring thousands of dollars into something that wasn’t giving me practical experience. I left school to work for a small business in their sales department and eventually settled in to a sales career. I gained a lot of practical insights into how develop valuable business relationships, as well as how to promote products and services. While I enjoyed my work and learned a great deal, my career advancement had always been stalled without a degree.
With my professional expertise, I applied to Almeda University to be considered for a Life Experience degree. These degrees are not simply handed out to anybody as critics would suggest. I was required to detail my specific accomplishments and all professional responsibilities. My practical experience and previous college coursework was evaluated and converted into credits that allowed me to receive a Bachelor of Science in Marketing in 2005. I realized immediately this was not regarded as something inferior, as prospective employers remarked to me that they were impressed my degree was a product of real world experience rather than simply textbook theories. I accepted a management job in the field of Marketing and Special Events Planning, a job that is exciting, financially rewarding, and beneficial to my career development. My success is not unique, but confirms research that indicates Life Experience degrees are recognized and accepted by the vast majority of employers (for example, vault.com reports 67% of all corporations accept Life Experience degrees).
This is a dramatic difference from what I experienced as a traditional student, where I was required to take many irrelevant large classes where the professors never knew any of the students’ names. Grades were mostly determined by multiple choice exams of approximately 50 questions. Each class usually had 3 of these standardized exams for the semester. My professors were very intelligent people, but most had spent their entire lives in academia and couldn’t provide the corporate world examples I was looking for, and the classes didn’t provide any hands on experience.
Coming from a single parent lower-middle class background, I couldn’t rely on my mother to pay my tuition, and without a large scholarship I realized I would have to go deep into debt with student loans to pay for this education. I deliberately selected a moderately priced school because I believed this would minimize expenses, only to find out later that the listed tuition was only part of the cost of attending college. I’m not talking about the massive prices of living in the dorms, because I lived at home in order to avoid this expense. I learned that the advertised tuition price only applies directly to your credits, but virtually every other service is funded with an additional fee to the student. This includes SEPARATE fees for parking (even though there were half as many parking spaces as students), health services, technology, athletics, student activities, library, and facilities maintenance. These fees added several thousand dollars more to the bill – whether or not you use the services they fund – and you can add almost a thousand dollars more in an academic year for outrageously priced textbooks.
I could no longer justify paying thousands of dollars essentially to have someone test me on books I read. I feared the label of “college drop out” but I knew I couldn’t afford to bankrupt my future to meet the university’s high costs with no promise of a good paying job after graduating to help offset this expense. For awhile, I felt like a failure. Although I’ve enjoyed my various jobs in sales over the past 10 years, I’ve spent much of this time feeling bad thinking about the tens of thousands of dollars in debt I had accumulated with nothing to show for it. I did some research and found that nearly one half of all freshmen entering a 4 year college will not graduate, while a full 25% will not even return as a sophomore (www.act.org). It not only seems like business as usual to the school, but almost as if they design the process this way, evidenced by the lack of facilities to accommodate students for four years (as with less available housing for seniors than freshmen).
I have no doubt that degrees from traditional colleges have value for those who can commit the time and afford the expense that comes with this education. But the facts are clear: traditional colleges come at an enormous cost with no promise your investment will lead to a legitimate job, and are designed so that half of all students leave before graduating. I left school with a student loan payment of $150 per month for 15 years, which I’m still making payments on, and I feel I have literally nothing to show for this ordeal. By contrast, I spent $600 for all costs associated with my Life Experience degree last year and this has been the single greatest accomplishment that has opened doors of opportunity for me to advance professionally, an avenue I’ve felt has been closed to me for many years.
A Life Experience degree represents hard work and professional expertise that will help your entry and advancement in the corporate world. I wish I knew the value of this alternative before wasting so much money on a traditional education. Please don’t accept the attacks on Life Experience programs waged by traditional schools. They are threatened to realize their revenue base is dramatically decreasing as employers recognize that nothing is as valuable as practical experience. I guess that there are things we sometimes have to learn in life that come through tough circumstances. I only hope my words are able to reach others who are faced with this difficult decision so that they need not suffer the same consequences I did.
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