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At the age of 21 I entered an (UK) M.Sc./Postgraduate Diploma Programme in Software Engineering.

I entered without an Undergraduate degree based upon modules I undertook in a distance learning Masters Programme from a reputable UK University that required no formal entrance requirements (very unusual situation that I took advantage of).

Out of a cohort of 40 students on the new M.Sc. course I was the only one without an Undergraduate degree although I had Postgraduate credits as mentioned. Again this was unusual.

I graduated with a UK Postgraduate Diploma (but not an M.Sc. as I could not fund the remaining twelve week/3 month project), however my marks were excellent.

Here I am twenty years later with no degree. I wish to undertake further study in Software Engineering and am at a loss to effectively know where to start. I am way too late to go back and do the three month research project to get my M.Sc.

[For those outside the UK a Postgraduate Diploma is effectively the taught/exam component of an M.S/M.Sc. and usually compromises 75% of the course. It is an M.Sc. in all but the three month research project. Most students complete the project but some do not, usually due to funding or academic reasons. My reason was purely funding.]

I am not qualified for an Undergraduate Degree in Software Engineering (effectively a waste of time as I'm somewhat beyond that syllabus) as I do not hold School level University entrance qualifications and I'm not qualified for an M.S/M.Sc. ironically (even though I previously were on an M.Sc!) as I have no first/Undergraduate degree.

If I had finished the extra 12 weeks I'd be qualified to enter a Ph.D. programme but the failure to do the twelve weeks (wholly due to the fees at the time which were huge for the Project) makes me qualified for nothing even though I hold a formal Postgraduate level qualification.

What to do?

  • All the universities I know well allow for admission in "special cases" (typically related to having a lot of work experience but missing a formal degree). This is usually up to either the dean of studies or an admission committee. Have you talked to somebody at the university administration about this yet? – xLeitix Oct 9 '14 at 6:31
  • Is moving country an option? From a random PhD announcement in Sweden, entry requirements are quite lax: "1. taken a second-cycle qualification 2. completed course requirements for at least 240 higher education credits, including at least 60 second-cycle higher education credits, or 3. otherwise acquired essentially the same knowledge in or outside Sweden." – Davidmh Oct 9 '14 at 7:57
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    I am quite puzzled by your question. You do not have an undergraduate degree, you do not have a MSc degree (which you did not finish) and you want to do a PHD, 20 years later? Why? – Alexandros Oct 13 '14 at 15:07
  • As Alexandros says, it would be good to know "why?". That's because the best answer for you, will depend on the reason why you want to study. Is it for formal accreditation for some specific purpose, or just to learn, or to begin an academic career, or ...? – EnergyNumbers Oct 13 '14 at 15:30
  • Have you completed a research project ever? I know you didn't complete the masters project, but have you completed another? I know in my part of the world this is almost required for PhD entry. Whether it is a Master's thesis, honours thesis, undergraduate research project, or otherwise. I am fairly sure you can also count publications, and if you prepared a R&D whitepaper for a company, you could probably count that. Admissions will want something that proves you can write things and do research. – Lyndon White Nov 13 '14 at 2:05
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I can't vouch for the UK, but here on the other side of the puddle, once you've been out in the Real World (TM) for some number of years, your classes start mattering less and what you've done with them starts mattering more. A school's concern, if you're coming back for an advanced degree, is whether you have enough knowledge to cover the prerequisites and enough aptitude to complete the degree in a reasonable amount of time with a reasonable grade. (In other words, whether you'll be a student whom they're good for and who makes them look good.)

For PhD there may be some bias toward folks who are already researchers, but "research" comes in many flavors, not all academic.

(I could have gotten into Columbia in NY for a MS simply on the basis of "you can't be an idiot or IBM wouldn't have hired you" -- plus having aced a few of their extension classes. Can't imagine things are very different there.)

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I'm going out on a limb here, but if you would like to get into academic research, perhaps you could manage to get a paper or two published on your own. My understanding is that if these are well-received, they could make up for any missing formal qualifications.

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It is very unfortunate that you miss your project, especially since you do not have an undergraduate diploma either. A project is very important, not only for your ability to do research, but also for your ability to write a long coherent document arguing your research questions. I tend to ask for any thesis from prospective students to verify their abilities.

Lacking a project, you should endeavour to compensate. You should have some long-form written document that may compensate and demonstrate your abilities. This could take the form of a research paper (even unpublished). Your best bet of getting in (assuming you're good enough - a PhD is not for everyone) is to do a thorough review to identify your research group and possible supervisors. Then try to contact them personally, and convince them you're worth their effort. They should be able to guide you through the rest of the process.

Be aware though that academics tend to get lots of unsolicited emails from "prospective PhD students" of varying quality. These tend to be especially from the middle east due to government sponsored scholarships without entry requirements on the sponsoring side (if students get accepted they get the scholarship - if they fail, they often have to pay back the scholarship).

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