Getting into Grad School
February 8, 2005 1:22 PM   Subscribe

I dropped out of elementary school, junior high, high school, and three colleges. Despite this, I've managed to always get good jobs and earn a fair amount of money. My question is this:

How do I get into grad school (Masters, Ph.D., M.D., whatever) without having any other sort of degree? All semi-reasonable ideas would be awesome.
posted by thethirdman to Education (56 answers total)
I am pretty sure any accredited instution will require the previous degree before you go on to the next level. For high school you can take an equivalency test, but I don't think there are such things for college level studies. It is not completely impossible that if you are applying for some kind of math degree, you would be able to take a bunch of tests as equivalency credits, but I think you would still need to fulfill core requirements, etc...

If you never went to college, what makes you think you want to go to grad school? What do you want to study?
posted by mdn at 1:29 PM on February 8, 2005

Some ideas:
  • Obtain some really good (and honest) letters of reccomendation.
  • Get to know some people in high places.
  • Know the stuff you're expected to know in your chosen area of study.
That's a start, at least.
posted by pmbuko at 1:29 PM on February 8, 2005

but mdn does have a point about the intermediate steps, namely an undergrad degree.
posted by pmbuko at 1:30 PM on February 8, 2005

This sounds deeply impossible to me. They call it grad school for a reason.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 1:38 PM on February 8, 2005

I am sure that while this might be possible (if you followed pmbuko's advice), but it would be really, really hard as you would be competing for spots with people who have 3.75-4.00 GPA undergraduate degrees.

I ran just this question by one of my prof's that I do some work with, and he told me that even if it was possible (lots of fine print to read over to find out for sure, no precident in his experience), he would not take you on because you aren't a proven commodity.

However, I would contact the grad school office at the university you want to apply to and get their take on this, as I don't think this kind of thing would be locally specific.

That being said, there is precident for people getting PhD's without a Masters degree.
posted by Quartermass at 1:38 PM on February 8, 2005

If your field of interest is mathematics, just settle some long outstanding problem and pretty much any grad school in the world will be glad to have you. Just getting a bachelors degree might prove slightly quicker and easier than proving the Riemann Hypothesis, though.
posted by Goedel at 1:41 PM on February 8, 2005

err, I ment to say that this kind of thing would be locally specific.

Being an Undergraduate is fun, being a Grad student - not so much. Doing an undergrad degree allows you to try out different things, until you are positive you are in the right field.

Even then (in my experience), pursuing a graduate degree in the field you think you wanted to explore turns out to be a lot less exciting when it becomes your life. In my own experience, I loved Sociology as an Undergrad, but now wished I had pusued my MA in Cultural or Media studies.
posted by Quartermass at 1:45 PM on February 8, 2005

What field are you interested in? For example, a number of art/MFA programs occasionally accept applicants lacking a degree if their art/writing/etc shows tremendous potential.
posted by rockstar at 1:53 PM on February 8, 2005

Quatermass: had you pursued your MA in cultural or media studies, you probably would have wished you went for sociology instead. I'm sure you know that, though.

The answer to thethirdman's question depends on a lot of factors. It will definitely be much, much harder without the bachelor's; and I can say for certain that it helps to know the right people. It might help you get a more specific answer if you can provide some more context -- Question one is: why in God's name would you want to go to grad school? And question two, is: what field?
posted by casu marzu at 1:54 PM on February 8, 2005

Your question may ruffle the features of some academics here, but there may be some degrees within your reach.

Some online MBA programs weigh an applicant's work experience and management experience rather heavily when considering them for admission. What degree specifically do you have your eye on? Some respondents mention mathematics as an example, but your question on Ask appears quite open-ended.

I would suspect that some grad degrees will be out of question (for example an MD in North America - though an MD in other countries may be possible). However any grad degree that takes into account /relevant/ work history may be possible. It may also cost a lot of money.

My key question to you is: do you have the mental stamina and time commitment to pursue this degree to its logical end?
posted by seawallrunner at 1:55 PM on February 8, 2005

Hmm, you may be able to get into a grad program for professionals or adult education. Some MBA programs carefully consider your past work experiences.
You could also complete a Bachelor's in evening and weekend classes, and then apply for a grad degree.

I don't think you'll be able to get into an academically-oriented degree such as economics, mathematics, physics, literature, etc..

But degrees which are trade oriented could possibly consider you if you really know how to sell yourself.

Also, you don't need any qualifications to take a GRE or GMAT exam.
I reckon you have some sort of a chance if you excell at that (like, 99 percentile), plus have many relevant experiences, killer letters of recommendations, a strong statement of purpose, willing to sit an interview, etc..
posted by ruelle at 1:56 PM on February 8, 2005

A programmer that I worked with for a while told of how he was in grad school and went to talk to someone about something (sorry, details fuzzy) and was told that he shouldn't be there because he never completed his undergrad. I got the impression that this was after at least a full year of courses. YMMV
posted by FlamingBore at 2:01 PM on February 8, 2005

Advice: If you are thinking about going to graduate school in some area that you have considerable work experience, you might be able to argue that this experience can substitute for schooling. Many graduate programs are open to this sort of thing and will make exceptions if they think you offer something especially unique.

Admonition: You've been to school six times and dropped out each time. What makes you think that you will be able to hack it at your seventh? With that track record, it is extremely unlikely that any program will accept you. Check out this thread, which should give you plenty of pause about graduate school.
posted by googly at 2:02 PM on February 8, 2005

Get published in your area. Or donate enough to the university to have a building named after you. That's pretty much the only thing I can think of that could possibly offset your utterly dismal (sorry, brutal honesty is called for here) academic record. Most reputable places wouldn't give your application a second look.

Undergrad educations are packaged products- you pay X dollars for 4 years, take Y classes, get your diploma, and move on. Hopefully, you donate.

Grad school is seen as a long-term investment in you by the college. Read Quartermass's first comment, then read it again. Then go get your undergrad degree.
posted by mkultra at 2:07 PM on February 8, 2005

Don't take a space that someone who has sweated blood for years in undergrad school is competing for. That's just not fair - given your track record you will probably give up on this, too. Why not just pursue independent study or an internship of some kind? Why force someone else who could have gotten into one of these programs to do without, just because you need to drop out of another program?
posted by luriete at 2:16 PM on February 8, 2005

Judging by your username, you may be interested in philosophy graduate school. Many schools will take a serious look at you, probably even without a degree, if you publish one thing in a major journal. If you publish two, I'm pretty sure you could get in somewhere, but it would be a lot of trial and error.

The major problem isn't actually the degree, but you'd need recommendations for graduate school. Those count for a lot more than the actual degree, since everyone is just assumed to have it.
posted by ontic at 2:18 PM on February 8, 2005

I've tried cycling but it's really hard and sweat is gross. Is there some way I can win the Tour de France without having to compete? Hee, hee. I suppose a Rosie Ruiz is out of the question here.

I dropped out of high school in what would have been my senior year, except that I had flunked and I was repeating 11th grade. OK grades, too many absences. I was supposed to go to night school and day school at the same time and I would have been able to graduate with my class but it was kind of embarrasing so I just bailed.

I got a GED, which was such a fucking joke that should have just done it when I was 16 or whatveve the minimum age was. I think I got like forty points for signing my name.

I then got in to college, but had to take what would have been 12th grade algebra and English for no credit my first semester. Four years later I graduated with honors. I was accepted to an MBA program a few years later, but never finished. I sincerly doubt that you are gonna get accepted to a grad progam, but best of luck.
posted by fixedgear at 2:31 PM on February 8, 2005

diploma mills.

get your PHD for a few thousand dollars and a 20 page paper.
posted by Stynxno at 2:31 PM on February 8, 2005

Other then an MBA (and even in that case, you'd be hard pressed) it's just not going to happen. They call it graduate school for a reson.

However, most collage classes let people sit in. In theory you could gain all the information by reading the books and doing the work on your own.

Also, you can sign up as an undergrad and take grad level classes. That's what I'm doing now. I have a CS degree, but I re-enrolled and now I'm taking a graduate level class (computer science 573) that I didn't have time for before. Taking the class won't get me anything, but it's stuff I want to learn about. (and now that I'm a highly paid computer scientist, the tuition is nothing. :)

See if the collages you're intrested accept "for fun" students and then take whatever classes you want, and sit in on others.

If you're looking for a title, well, then you're going to need to complete an undergrad degree. You can probably get one in two or three years if you really want.
posted by delmoi at 2:37 PM on February 8, 2005

Why not just find a school with a grad program you like, and enroll there as an undergrad? If you know your stuff, picking up the BA won't be that hard, really, and if you get to know the faculty that will help you big-time if you apply to that grad program.
posted by COBRA! at 2:47 PM on February 8, 2005

luriete, your comment is out of line and totally obnoxious. What do you know of thethirdman's track record, and why should it matter?

thethirdman, I think you can get a graduate degree. Come up with a portfolio of some kind for what you are interested in and meet with some people from the school. Try and pick an alternative type of school.

The truth is, if you're willing to pay money to get your grad degree - some school is going to take you if you give them a good enough of an excuse.
posted by xammerboy at 2:54 PM on February 8, 2005

Response by poster: This was more of a curiosity question than anything else; there's nothing I'm doing or would want to do that would require a graduate degree. It would be interesting to study advanced subjects, though, and especially interesting to do the research I do daily in a more academic environment.

Here's a little more about me, for anyone who is curious. I home schooled through elementary school, so saying I "dropped out" is a little bit disingenuous. I started studying classical music when I was 11 (I played the French Horn.) I got a viral pharyngitis in late 8th grade, which knocked me out for the rest of the year and made me too weak for gym class my Freshman year of high school. After taking exclusively honors/AP classes in high school, I was informed that I would not be allowed to graduate unless I took freshman gym. So I said, "fuck it" and decided to not graduate high school.

Senior year, I did my auditions, and I got into both of the schools I wanted to- Indiana University and Juilliard. Two weeks before I was about to go to school, my parents' marriage disintegrated and I decided not to go. Then I applied to a small local school, and didn't go to that either. I then went to Evergreen for 2 years, but quit that to work at what was then a teeny online bookseller. Those are the 3 colleges I've left.

I guess you could say I quit a 4th, too, since I taught CS at a local college for a year- but I just meant quitting as a student.

Now I work in an office of exclusively Ph. D.s, doing computational biochemistry. There's a lot of advanced math, a lot of hard problems, and so forth. I really want to make video games for a living, (independently- I worked for a few years as a programmer on a team) and there's no grad degree required for that.

I like biking a lot- I bike all over the place. I don't think that being in grad school, given the fact that I have a track record of doing hard things and being at least fairly good at them, is like the Tour de France.

Thanks for everyone's comments, and I'm sorry if I ruffled anyone the wrong way- I was just curious if people ever went straight to grad school, and if there was an established path for such a thing. I wasn't belittling college degrees, or even suggesting that I was totally set on doing this- just curious.
posted by thethirdman at 2:57 PM on February 8, 2005

it completely depends on the field of study and secondarily on how that might relate to your "life experience." if you are a published writer, you could get a job as an f'ing professor (not to mention enroll as a student) in a creative writing program without any academic credentials. if you have ten years of programming experience in four or five languages, you might be able to get into a CS program without an undergrad degree. on the other hand, if you want to go on to be a molecular biologist, they'll probably want to make sure you've taken pchem or whatever. in that case, COBRA!'s suggestion makes a lot of sense, and a sympathetic faculty member might even allow you to use "independent study" to do some of the work that will lead to your graduate degree, reducing some the time you'll have to spend in the big house. because, on the third hand, thethirdman, graduate school sucks (YMMV).

on preview. you wrote another long post that i didn't read. disregard as necessary.
posted by nequalsone at 3:03 PM on February 8, 2005

It's definitely possible: I knew a guy who has a PhD in Materials Science or something similar who's a professor at Brown who never got his undergrad degree. He didn't even go to undergrad at all IIRC. Also, I'm pretty sure Chomsky got a PhD without getting his undergrad degree.
posted by jeb at 3:09 PM on February 8, 2005

on review: sometimes i wish i new if i was helping someone make a life-changing decision or just satisfiying an idle curiosity before i spend a lot of time writing out an answer. oh well, no big deal.
posted by nequalsone at 3:12 PM on February 8, 2005

Response by poster: It's not just *idle* curiosity, nequalsone; it's just that it's not a fully formed idea- it's curiosity because I haven't committed to it yet, as opposed to foolhardy devotion.
posted by thethirdman at 3:17 PM on February 8, 2005

That being said, there is precident for people getting PhD's without a Masters degree.

I've never heard of this. Usually if you are accepted into a PhD program w/o a Masters, you are given your Masters after your first couple of years/after you earn it.

Grad school is often about working for a specific professor, and they will only take you on if you are a proven commodity. What I learned in undergrad was the ability to stay with something, the practice of studying, and a certain amount of discipline. That made me want to continue on to grad school, but without it I could not imagine going on. I agree with everyone here, seawallrunner, googly, and basicchannel.

Reading your latest post, it seems like your work experience is applicable. However I think it is applicable to an undergrad degree and not an advanced degree. Apply to a school with a great math department and no core curricula where you can do advanced work and finish early. I think you would need this experience for an advanced science degree considering the HIGH degree of competition in the field. Also, there are a lot of schools doing advanced video game research.
posted by scazza at 3:19 PM on February 8, 2005

I was going to suggest, first, that as others have said, that you're highly unlikely to get in. I say this as a person who has served on a grad school admission committee.

As I see it you would have two problems: First is the "why should we let you in if you quit other places?" I think that's actually fairly to get past (not the part where you didn't graduate, but the part where you left). You explain it and that's it. There are people in my department who's undergrad degrees were epics involving several schools.

But they do have undergrad degrees...Not having one is your second problem (along with potentially not having letters). Grad schools (the bureaucrats), screen for basic eligibility requirements. The pile of file's that goes to a department's admissions committee has already been emptied of people who do not meet the requirements to apply. They will remove your file whether you've published or not. If the school uses a system where you send your application directly to the department, a member of the administrative staff will do the culling.

The only thing I can think of that might get you past your big barriers (and that, based on your clarification, might serve your purposes better than going to grad school anyway) is to go to grad school as a "special student". These are admitted to grad school basically on condition that they're not working towards a degree and that the school will not count any credits they earn towards a degree. This is generally intended precisely to give people with storied academic pasts a chance prove themselves. The requirements are fewer and more flexible, and the department is taking less of a risk by letting you in. You can take courses, participate in research, etc., but they're not promising you anything.

If you so choose, you can take your "special student" transcript (and credits) and apply it towards an undergrad degree (they are credits!) and subsequently apply to grad school. Also, you'll have built valuable relationships that might have a small chance of getting you past the bureaucrats if you want to try applying without an undergrad degree.

Oh...and on preview...You can get a Phd. in my department without a Masters. You can get a masters after fulfilling the first few requirements, if you request one. But you don't have to and if you never request a Masters Degree they'll happily give you a PhD. when your thesis is done, anyway.
posted by duck at 3:24 PM on February 8, 2005

i guess i interpreted "there's nothing I'm doing or would want to do that would require a graduate degree" as "i'm not really going to do this. i'm just interested in it as a sociological phenomena and wanted to see what you all would say..." but i also see you could mean its a course you're somewhat interested in pursuing even though it is not required for your current career path. anyway, i think i just got my own wires crossed a bit reading the thread in which the poster with depression with suicidal intent and paranoia was asking for advice concerning going into a mental institution. i didn't post in that thread, but it musta had some sort of totally inappropriate florence nightingale effect on me. i plead temporary insanity. please carry on.
posted by nequalsone at 3:28 PM on February 8, 2005

To clarify what I said can take you special student credits and transfer them to apply them to an undergrad degree somewhere else. As mentioned, the school you get the credits from has granted them on condition that they will not count them towards a dgree.
posted by duck at 3:28 PM on February 8, 2005

Based on what you've written here, I'd say you have a pretty good chance, should you decide to do so. I work in a somewhat similar field to yours (it's computational, anyway), and there are people with a wide variety of educational and vocational backgrounds. The best resource you have right now are the people you work with. If they are recognized within your research community, and they are willing to put in a good word for you, and especially if you have some publications with them, you have a very good chance. If you are thinking about this, you should talk to them. Many of them will have contacts in academia -- colleagues or friends from grad school. Don't underestimate the value of this. Work your contacts. I have a friend who came back to grad school after working in an industry research lab. His undergrad record was dismal (though he did get a degree). However, his supervisor at the lab was a grad school buddy of the department's graduate chair. That helped a lot.

Also: have a frank discussion with the chair or some other faculty member at any department you are interested in. They should be able to tell you point blank what you need to do to fill in any gaps in your resume. If you need to take some undergrad classes, taking them in the department you are interested in will go a long way. So will getting to know any faculty member you are interested in working with.

All that being said, it's not clear that you should go to grad school. It's sounds as if you're reasonably happy where you are, and the videogame thing doesn't depend on degrees as you note. Academic research will be quite a bit different from what you're doing now. There's a lot more specialization. As others have noted, you might grow to hate it. On the other hand, if you like where you are and your company would pay for you to get a PhD while still doing some work (perhaps substantial work, or even your dissertation) there, that might be an option.

Also, scazza: it depends on the department. In some places the Masters is just a milestone, in some places it's terminal (You just failed your quals! Thank you for playing!) and in some places it's a completely different track and the PhD students don't bother with it.
posted by casu marzu at 3:30 PM on February 8, 2005

p.s. now that i've invested so much time in this thread, i'm gonna stay until i find out if you make something of yourself after all!
posted by nequalsone at 3:31 PM on February 8, 2005

Judging by your zip code, you are in Portland where both public and private universities abound. If Portland State is near your office, why not try a class or two? PSU is known as more stringent academically than Uof O and OSU and might be better for retaining your interest. Also, the Silicon Forest corporations have encouraged PSU to present relevant courses. They could tell you definitely if your life/work experience would suffice for HS diploma, and perhaps put you into advanced classes instead of 101 level.
You may not miss having "the paper" until someone younger than you who has degrees is promoted past you.
posted by Cranberry at 3:35 PM on February 8, 2005

like others said above, it would be helpful if we knew why you wanted the advanced degree. grad schools want to know too; it's in all applications/statement of purpose guidelines. if it's because you "want to/love learning," as quartermass said above, go to undergrad first. it's fantastic. grad school is supposedly meant to make you a top researcher and teacher in the field you discover you're obsessed with as an undergrad, and comes with a lot of hardships that, from what i understand of it, are not easy to bear unless you have lots of passion for the subject you're studying. that's precisely why the ba/bs is required to attend--they want to know you've taken enough courses to know what to expect (though undergrad, as others say, isn't anything like grad school) and to have enough knowledge of the field to know you'll still like 7 years and thousands of pages of research later.
posted by ifjuly at 3:49 PM on February 8, 2005

I was going to say "listen to duck" but I think more accurately, talk to some real school officials. Check out local schools and other schools you are actually interested in (I know Stanford is doing a lot in video game research and of course math, and judging by your Julliard acceptance, I don't think it is out of your reach), talk to the people who are in charge of the decisions. This deserves expert advice.
posted by scazza at 3:50 PM on February 8, 2005

I didn't graduate from high school, not even a GED; I dropped out the moment I was old enough. I did, however, get a bachelor's with PBK/SCL from a top 25 university. How did I do that? I lied. Noboody ever checked. It's worth a shot. (I've earned two master's since then. I am sure I wouldn't have been admitted to grad schools without a bachelor's; they'd check).
posted by TimeFactor at 4:02 PM on February 8, 2005

Scazza: "talk to people" is far better advice than "listen to duck". Especially since others' experience seems to indicate that it varies greatly by field.
posted by duck at 4:03 PM on February 8, 2005

I've been to three grad schools, and served on graduate committees, and know of people with PhDs and no other degrees. Here's an example in CS, the guy who took down Kevin Mitnick. Here's an example in math.

In many disciplines you arrive at grad school knowing who your thesis advisor is to be, and they pay for you. So if you find someone and can convince them that you're a good risk, you're probably in. Easier said than done, obviously!
posted by Aknaton at 4:17 PM on February 8, 2005

I've never heard of this. Usually if you are accepted into a PhD program w/o a Masters, you are given your Masters after your first couple of years/after you earn it.

There's also honorary doctorates, which are given all the time to people who generally deserve them in whatever particular field they've practically proven a mastery over.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:30 PM on February 8, 2005

There's also honorary doctorates, which are given all the time to people who generally deserve them in whatever particular field they've practically proven a mastery over.

Bill Cosby? I'm just sayin'- as he has a bunch..
posted by fixedgear at 4:35 PM on February 8, 2005

Ooh, how I do love seeing those ruffled academic feathers!

I've only heard of this happening in MBA and MPA programs. I've been trying for a long time to find a place that will let me get an MLS sans bachelor's, with no luck, despite the fact that I have several years of experience in the field and that the MLS isn't building on anything in undergrad (seeing as the number of undergraduate LIS programs in the US can be counted on one hand). Can't let the barbarians through the gates, I suppose.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 4:59 PM on February 8, 2005

Aknaton, you seem to be the only person who knows of people who have done what thethirdman wants to do. Can you elaborate any further?

I have only heard of honorary doctorates being valid when you are on the campus that gave it to you, although Wikipedia has nothing to say on the matter.
posted by scazza at 5:03 PM on February 8, 2005

You can take graduate-level courses while you're an undergraduate. You'll almost certainly need special permission, but if you have the ability to do heavy lifting because of your work experience, you'll probably get it.

As discussed in this question [by a 35 year old thinking about going to college], you also can get (undergraduate) college credit by passing exams rather than actually sitting through classes where you already know the subjects.

Graduate programs don't want to enroll casual students. They have only a limited number of spaces (and teaching faculty). Students never pay the full cost of their education (because state subsidies, financial aid, fundraising, etc., cover much, often a majority of costs) -- so there is no incentive to let in as many qualified students as might be interested.
posted by WestCoaster at 5:10 PM on February 8, 2005

While I have never known any grad students without an undergrad degree, I have known many older grad students who took some time off. In this case, I understand that recommendations from your employers, relevance of what you are doing, etc. play a much more important role. You can also take the GRE.

Also, as to taking grad classes: if you are enrolled in a community college in some places (at least CA), and they don't have courses that you want, you may be able to take them at nearby state schools. I know of one person who was in grad classes in my department because of this. If there was some particular thing you didn't like about undergrad (e.g. having to take geneds, or whatever), this might be a way to avoid this.

Many schools will take a serious look at you, probably even without a degree, if you publish one thing in a major journal.

While this is certainly true, the standard of quality for a journal, especially a major one, is much higher than anyone is typically prepared to provide without two or three years of grad school already. It is not uncommon to not get a journal paper until after finishing, and then it's a spin-off from the dissertation. Also, if you try to take this route, be aware that the time-span to get a paper published in a journal measures in years, in some fields (though hopefully not in all). You definitely can't expect to understand the sociology of the field before this point. If it is not accepted on the first round of publication but isn't rejected outright, you might expect 5 years total before it actually comes out. It would be faster just to do the undergrad thing again.

Admonition: You've been to school six times and dropped out each time. What makes you think that you will be able to hack it at your seventh? With that track record, it is extremely unlikely that any program will accept you.

I second this - also, the attrition rate in grad school is much higher than in undergrad, high school, etc. Grad school certainly does not require less discipline than undergrad.

luriete, your comment is out of line and totally obnoxious. What do you know of thethirdman's track record, and why should it matter?

Luriete's comment is out of line in the sense that it doesn't answer the question. However, I have to second the sentiment. In a lot of fields, there is very limited funding for grad students. When those who are serious see it taken up by those who, in all probability, aren't, it upsets them quite a bit. Not only should the poster think about this, they should expect (if they manage to make it to grad school) to be on the receiving end of this sentiment. In all likelihood, an academic who knows about this record won't view them as someone who is likely to stick around, and therefore, as a waste of good funding that should have gone to someone who would.
posted by advil at 5:33 PM on February 8, 2005

Bill Cosby? I'm just sayin'- as he has a bunch

True, although perhaps not the best example. He also has an "honestly obtained" Ph.D. from U.Mass, I believe, in Education.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:57 PM on February 8, 2005

Last year a good friend without a BA but with tons of experience in nonprofit management and grassroots organizing got accepted to a dual BA/MA program in urban studies. The school specialized in nontraditional students, and I think is pretty much unknown outside of that very specific field she applied to (where it's a very good school).

Also, I've had a lot of luck sitting in on classes, and was able to take a few grad classes as an undergrad (& could've taken more if I'd been a more responsible/proactive student). If you just want to take a grad class, talk to a professor about it & bring tons of supporting material (papers/etc, maybe even a rec from one of the PhDs you work with) to prove you're not just some jerk off the street.
posted by soviet sleepover at 6:07 PM on February 8, 2005

Re: the journal thing.

In many computational fields (including, I believe, the one that thethirdman is interested in), journal publications are not the end-all, be-all that they might be in other fields, especially the arts and humanities. In most computational fields, publications at major conferences cover the cutting-edge research and are best representative of what a candidate can do. Journal articles are essentially retrospectives of finished, frequently out-of-date work -- and this is precisely because of the length of the publication cycle. The bottom line is, don't get to caught up in journal publications and their long cycles -- different fields place different emphasis on when and where publications take place.

Not that journal publications ever hurt, mind you.
posted by casu marzu at 7:45 PM on February 8, 2005

Medical and law degrees are still technically considered to be undergraduate degrees, even in the United States. From the AAMC informational materials that I've seen, a very small number of people are accepted into medical schools without a Bachelor's, though I'm sure that in many cases they completed a substantial fraction of a degree or at the least undertook a good amount of preparatory coursework on an ad hoc basis. This isn't the real bar for a nontraditional student though- as others in this thread have noted, graduate schools will need a really, really, good reason to accept you over someone with a prior degree. This would probably mean demonstration of knowledge at a level above that of a recent graduate mixed with some compelling demonstration of commitment to the field. In the sciences this would be some large body of original research, but in the humanities and professions it could be something else entirely: for example, I remember hearing a piece on NPR narrated by an AIDS activist and filmmaker who was accepted into the MD program at Harvard on a nontraditional basis. In general, it seems that if you can come to a school with a strong case for yourself they will not dismiss you out of hand, but you will face a level of scrutiny that goes far beyond that experienced by other applicants.

Reading back over the thread, I see that you are not particularly serious about this question. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but if you do start to consider this more seriously I think that you will have to undergo a very serious self-assessment. Don't take this as an accusation- from your post above it seems like you had good reasons for why you never completed a formal degree, and it seems that you're in a work environment where an MS or PhD would be an asset- but you need to make sure that your primary motivation is not making up for your present lack of a degree.

If you do find that that is the case, then why not consider completing a Bachelor's? A large number of schools offer them, and you often can get a great deal of credit for courses taken from earlier starts (and, yes, sometimes from life experience.) Most of these programs are not focused in the sciences, but I'd imagine that you could complete a CS degree fairly rapidly. You could even concievably fill the degree requirements with graduate courses, should you be beyond the ugrad level knowledge-wise.
posted by monocyte at 9:45 PM on February 8, 2005

Graduate programs don't want to enroll casual students.

This is crucial. Students often tell me "I want to go to grad school, but take a year off first." I tell them "That's fine -- but apply now, and beg for deferment later. Otherwise you're as good as telling them 'I'm not particularly motivated, and unlikely to finish a degree, so don't waste your and my time by accepting me.' Incidentally, are you sure you want to go to grad school?" Quite often they figure out that they do, in fact.

The examples I cited above are, I admit now, possibly not useful for the original questioner. I'm not sure how old Shimomura was when he got his PhD, but I believe Friedman got his at 18 -- he skipped out on the previous degrees because he wanted a faster track, evidently. Mainly I was annoyed by all the "you can't possibly do that" posts, particularly the assertion that this question would ruffle academic feathers. Send me someone who knows what they're talking about, and (saying this as someone who has sat on grad committees) I don't give a damn what degrees they have.
posted by Aknaton at 11:16 PM on February 8, 2005

Sorry if I offended. I see a lot of people who need financial aid getting passed up because rich jerks try to squeeze all they can out of the rest of us, and many more who are not serious about sticking with it taking up spots in a program that other people would give their eyeteeth for. This looked like one of those situations, from the poster's self-professed track record, regardless of his brilliance or any other measure of his person.
posted by luriete at 11:39 PM on February 8, 2005

Response by poster: Once again, thanks for all the advice. I am not sure that the grad school option is for me, now or ever, but I've taken a weird path through things, so I have to be a little curious if there's a way to do this on a weird path too.

I think the ultimate result is that not only do I not need a grad school degree right now, I'm nowhere near the point where I could get into a grad school without undergrad. That's fine, and certainly getting an undergraduate degree is something I'm considering too- but I know how to get into an undergrad program.

I'm not offended by luriete's (or anyone here's) post because, when it comes down to it, I definitely have flaky qualities, and I might be ill-advised to go to grad school- I just want to know what's possible in the world.

posted by thethirdman at 11:57 PM on February 8, 2005

You might consider the UK's Open University, which offers a number of taught Master's courses in IT related fields, including one in software development. Study is largely by distance learning and the university is fully accredited by government on the same basis that all other UK universities get their accreditation. (I'm not sure as to what the reaction would be to distance learning in the US job market, I've heard disparaging remarks on MeFi in the past about such degrees, in the UK it's largely regarded as being valid; the Open Uni was devised specifically to allow people with non-standard experience and qualifications to get access to higher education.) You will have to pay fees, which I would estimate will come to about £3000 (~$5600 at current exchange rate) over the whole course.

A number of other UK Universities also offer postgrad courses in the area of computer games.
posted by biffa at 3:15 AM on February 9, 2005

I should add that the OU course allows you to pick and choose courses over time, so that you can take breaks as you like/if you get fed up and the credits stay with you.
posted by biffa at 3:16 AM on February 9, 2005

all we need is more spam here, but:

don't do it!

okay I'm done.
posted by blacklite at 4:44 AM on February 9, 2005

The person who has impressed me most with their sheer brilliance & mental horsepower told me the first degree (including high school diploma) he ever got was his Ph.D. -- but this was in the context of being a child prodigy. Reccomending that path would be like saying "be a genius."

I have served on graduate school admission committees and I have to say, you would have to provide us with absolutely spectacular non-formally academic credentials before we took a chance on you. Even then,chances are we would require a qualifying semester or two of undergraduate work.

However, departments like creative writing and fine arts are full of professors without graduate degrees, but they got there usually in middle age after a substantial career. Whether they admit students w/o undergraduate degrees into their graduate programs I don't know.
posted by Rumple at 1:35 PM on February 9, 2005

PSU is known as more stringent academically

Apologies, but as somebody familiar with the university, AHHAHAHAHAAHAAA. But Portland State does have a fairly diverse student population, including older/non-traditional students who have come to higher education by more circuitous routes, and they would probably be sympathetic to your situation. I don't remember if they have a GED/HS diploma requirement, but I think they have an "explain yourself" portion on the application that might get you special consideration. Alternately, you may wish to try a school like Marylhurst, which gives you academic credit for life experiences, and go from there.
posted by calistasm at 8:02 PM on February 9, 2005

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