Credit for work experience saves graduate time and money on degree

August 31, 2015

Mary Hughes had built a career as a project manager—but she didn’t have the educational credentials to move her career forward.

Law school interested her, but without a bachelor’s degree, it wasn’t a possibility. As a single homeschooling mother who worked full time, the thought of going back to school was overwhelming, until she learned about a program that would make all the difference.

Q. What is your background?


A. I’d long wanted to be a project manager and lawyer. I was fortunate enough to have worked in several New York law firms where I developed great project management skills. Then I relocated to Atlanta, where I was laid off from my job eight months later.

It was a different environment there. I had the skills and experience, but it quickly became clear to me that without the educational credentials, it would be hard for me to find work, never mind look for promotions. I was about 40 then and didn’t think I’d ever go back to school. I didn’t want to be a 50-year-old getting a degree.

But then a friend said to me, “You can either be 50 without a degree or 50 with one.” I decided to at least look into it.

Q. Why did you choose Capella?


A. I did a Google search on “Bachelor’s in Project Management.” When Capella University came up, I was intrigued by the idea of an online degree.

When I called, the enrollment counselor I spoke with mentioned PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential. I liked the idea of getting a PMP® before doing a bachelor’s and was curious to learn more. Then she told me about Capella’s Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) program, which would give me credit for my certification and extensive work experience.

It was just such a logical thing to do—work on the PMP® and apply for the PLA. And I never would have imagined I could do any of this before I talked to Capella.

Q. What was the PLA process like?


A. Initially, it sounded too good to be true, but it wasn’t! It was amazing. It’s exactly what I was told it would be, no hidden red tape. It’s intimidating at first, but that incentive of being able to get to the bachelor’s so much more quickly is a big motivator.

There were people in the PLA lab providing feedback and support. Within two years, I had my bachelor’s. That saved me a great deal of both time and money.

Q. How was your Capella experience?


A. It was phenomenal. I’d been out of school for 20 years and had never taken an online class. It’s daunting at first—it’s like independent study, you’re the master of your day. But the program is structured, there’s a roadmap laid out, and there are great resources.

My favorite part was the feedback from my professors. That was critical. They spoke to me directly, took the time to give me tangible, useful information. They would commend me when the work was good and redirect me when it needed additional attention. I always gave every assignment my all, and they supported me in that.

Q. Any advice for others seeking certification?


A. Absolutely look for the opportunities to find certifications or a PLA program. Contact your university and ask what certifications they offer in your field. Then find out if you can use the certification along with your prior experience to accelerate your progress towards a degree like I did. Both have been essential to my career.

Once I got my PMP®, before the bachelor’s, I got a promotion at work. Since I received my undergrad degree, all kinds of opportunities are open to me that wouldn’t have been without it. And I did this as a single mother who homeschools her son while working. If I can find the time and energy, someone else can do it too.

Q. What’s next in your career?


A. I took the LSAT in February and have applied to three law schools. [At this writing] I’ve been accepted to one and am waiting on the other two. But no matter what, in August I start law school.

I’m not sure what form of law I want to practice—possibly family law—but my project management experience and degree can be carried across to any area of work. I could work on the legal end of a project management office, or I could help develop plans to help families succeed. Getting my PMP® and bachelor’s really opened up a whole new world for me.

But once I’m a lawyer? The next step is becoming a judge.

Find out more about Capella’s BS in Business, Project Management degree and PLA program.

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