Interested in a Formal Education


I’m going to give you a quick history on my work and education:

I have been working in or around UX for about 5 years. The first year I spent as a web developer, putting together designs and working front and back-end in Node. I am self taught with books, online tutorials, and a few friends.

I have no bachelor’s degree, though I do have some credits. I mostly audited Sociology and Philosophy courses for 3-4 years very frequently, as though I was a student. I would register for full-time courses and never pay, but keep attending. I worked full time in masonry through this, modifying my work schedule as much as I could to make it all fit. That was in the mid 2000s.

For the past ~4 years I’ve been in a hybrid Project Management (PjM) and UX role at a ~20-30 person agency. I want to move on… to work at a bigger company, learn more from others with more experience, work with reputable clients, and expand my context for comprehension.

I am also self taught in PjM and UX. I read or scanned a lot of books, lots of articles, and started fitting things into my work where there was a need and business case. I’ve built some complex stuff, and I’m proud of the transition from mixing mortar to designing user facing systems for large web apps, and with so little support. But I can’t say I feel like i killed it, and I feel like my approach to these things is quite patchy.

  1. I feel like that patchy’ness shows in my UX and PjM
  2. And I feel like this, and my lack of any credentialed education, is making it harder for me to find work elsewhere. I have gone through phases where I apply a lot, but haven’t had an offer in 4 years.

I have been wondering how I might get any kind of credentialed degree without having to go through an entire bachelor’s degree - and I stumbled onto Micromasters (via edX: which can be used towards getting a Masters at a number of universities… and I believe these can be done without a bachelor’s degree.

I think this might be helpful in both acquiring those credentials, but also help give some structure to the things i’ve come to learn, and help fill in the gaps.

There are a few which seem more or less relevant to my interests and experience.

  • business fundamentals
  • digital product management
  • design thinking
  • UX Research and Design
  • managing tech and innovation

I am curious how you might frame my situation, how you might proceed, what options you might see that I haven’t noted.


I reckon I’d like to know what you think you’d gain in a formal education setting that would be different from what you’ve learned on your own. What specific gaps are you trying to fill?


i would expect the information is provided in a more structured and comprehensive way - more so than me learning and adapting anything relevant I can get my hands on, usually right when I need to know how to do it, or sometimes even afterward. I mean I get a lot of shit done but I feel like I’m constantly underdogging it.
So, going through things like research and interaction design in greater depth. eg: how have others come to elicit, ideate, design, and map a system, say, like myspace?

< story >
I remember interviewing for a UX manager position, and the hiring manager was telling me that they were working with a complete human factors lab, that she had a PhD in Human Factors Engineering or something like that. I didn’t understand exactly what was involved in a human factors lab except some very basics, and the experience felt condescending… even though I think the interviews (there were four of them) went pretty well overall, I think the initial ambiguity around this company’s lab and capabilities broke the deal. They never responded to my follow up.


Bear in mind: there is no non-academic organization that grants any sort of UX Certification. At most, you’ll get a certificate of completion, indicating you attended class and completed tests. The quality of the education you’ll get from these organizations is variable, sometimes even by where in the country a class is being held.

edX doesn’t appear to be any different to me than any other non-degree granting organization. Your value here is in the learning you’d achieve, which you’d apply towards practical implementations of your skills.

From a job prospects perspective, a degree from an accredited university will always trump any sort of certification you’d get from these sort of groups. UXMastery has a great list of available degree-granting programs, which is worth looking into.

Personally, for someone in your position, I’d advise you to get more practice, not more formal education.

  1. all i have is practice, i have no accredited education since highschool.
  2. my assumption is that an edX Micromasters can open the door to a Masters from an accredited university like University of Michigan, Rochester Institute of Tech, MIT, etc

with that said, I am looking for other opportunities to get new kinds of practice.

I remember long ago, browsing that list of related programs, thinking I would message them individually and see if there was any possibility of entering a program without a Bachelor’s


So, my hopes are dashed. It seems MIT might be the only University involved with any MooC that provides this in road to their Masters program - none of which related to UX.


‘patchiness’ can be minimised by using a more robust UX methodology. User centred design, design thinking or double diamond do good jobs of providing a solid framework to sell to clients/recruiters. Maybe for your next project, follow one of these frameworks, and you will get your structure.

I’m also not entirely convinced that a lack of a degree is your main reason for not being able to land an offer. It could be anything - portfolio, interview technique, work experience etc. And you say you went to an interview where they talked about PhDs? They wouldn’t have wasted their time interviewing you if you didn’t pass their minimum criteria.


We have an Ask the UXperts webinar coming up which is focused on this topic.

It is scheduled for * 11pm Tuesday 13 November PST or 6pm Wednesday 14 November AEDT so put that in your calendar. More info coming to our blog soon.