Is there any possibility that I could be awarded a Ph.D. degree based on my work or life experience and good educational background?

Can you guide me to any institution offering such Ph.D.s?

  • 50
    Short answer: Not from a reputable institution. Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 10:55
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    Not unless your life experience includes several years of cutting-edge research. And even then it would be difficult to get.
    – Bitwise
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 12:59
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    If you are rich or famous and adding your name to a roster would benefit an institution, you sure can get an honorary degree by donating a large sum to an institution and asking for one and maybe they will bend the rules for you and your cash donation. Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 22:01
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    Just to be clear: You do mean awarded a PhD, rather than accepted onto a PhD programme, don't you?
    – Tom W
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 8:23
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    I have seen this referred to as an "extra muros" PhD, but institutions that grant them are rare. Columbia University used to but recently stopped.
    – giaour
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 21:35

7 Answers 7


Ph.D.s and other academic titles and degrees awarded for "work experience", "life experience" and so on are products of diploma mills. You pay a lot of money (thousands of USD) for a piece of paper that is completely worthless.

Employers know these worthless "titles". Such a "Ph.D." will not help you get a better job, and it will in particular not help you in an academic career. Instead, using such a "degree" in an application will brand you as naive at best or a fraud at worst.

Depending on your jurisdiction, using a "degree" "awarded" by a non-accredited institution, as these diploma mills usually are, may be illegal.

Nobody here will direct you to an institution that engages in such practices.

  • 5
    Ideally your answer would be correct. But in the real world, some people have used such diplomas to further their careers. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laura_Callahan We can say that she was naive or a fraud but "she continued to draw a six-figure DHS salary".
    – emory
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 21:46
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    @emory: The full quote from Wikipedia is "she continued to draw a six-figure DHS salary until her resignation on March 26, 2004." And Wikipedia doesn't list any occupation after that. It seems like this episode ended her public career. As it should. Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 7:18
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    She "earned" more than $100,000 June 2003-March 2004 for doing absolutely nothing. As a juror, I would be hesitant to convict for fraud. Did she misrepresent or did her employer - the government - fail due diligence? Apparently the government does not want to find out. This "worthless paper" got her some easy money and is a keep out of jail card. It was very worthwhile to her. Your answer represents what I hope the world to be, but in reality the OP might find diploma mill paper to be a worthwhile investment.
    – emory
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 10:04
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    I thought many prestigious universities awarded degrees for lifetime experience? For example, Harvard (harvard.edu/honorary-degrees) and Yale (secretary.yale.edu/governance/honorary-degrees). It seems more notable for a university to not award honorary degrees.
    – Rob P.
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 12:27
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    I have the feeling that this answers misses two things. (1) It's perfectly possible to be awarded a PhD based on previous research. You do need to demonstrate you have done substantial research work and to have published or publishable material (not merely vague “life experiences”) but it does exist, it's legit and it can actually help an academic career (i.e. people who have worked in industry or as researcher for a long time but need a PhD to meet the formal requirements for a professorship), especially in applied disciplines like engineering or design.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 14:55

Many universities award honorary degrees, such as a honorary doctorate. These are not PhDs, but might still be relevant to your question. I have often seen these types of degrees being awarded to people that have contributed a lot to a scientific field from outside of academia (but sometimes for far less, also see this wiki-section on controversies over honorary titles), usually for work that has been connected to the awarding university. Since they are awarded for many different types of contributions, the formal criteria for when to award them is also relatively vague. In all cases I know of, they are also awarded based on external nominations, and not self-nomination. Finally, recipients should usually not use the PhD or Dr titles. An honorary doctorate definately do not carry the same academic weight as a PhD, but can sometimes still be valuable, especially if they are from a reputable institution. As an example, this page provides further information on how the title of honorary doctor is used in Sweden (in this case at Uppsala University).

Also note that besides "legitimate" honorary degrees from reputable universities, some fraudulent insititutions or diploma mills also use the same title for their degrees.

  • 23
    Honorary doctorates are rare enough that this is a bit of a cart-before-the-horse situation. If you're reputable enough to be awarded an honorary doctorate, you're almost certainly reputable enough that earning one isn't very important. It's a very nice recognition, yes, but if you're being considered for one you've already arrived.
    – chmullig
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 16:26
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    I was under the impression that most people awarded honorary doctorates had a PhD already, albeit in a different but related field.
    – kleineg
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 17:44
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    @kleineg, I think it depends on the field: so that e.g. many D. Litt. recipients will be successful authors (J.K. Rowling has six at the last count, although her highest studied degree is a B.A.), whereas probably nearly all D. Math. recipients will have a Ph.D. in maths. Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 18:43
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    @chmullig I agree that a honorary doctorate is mostly an after-the-fact thing, and it seldom serves as an important addition to the CV. In my experience, they are often given to non-PhDs, but this might be field and country dependent. Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 19:57

In the UK, there is such a thing as a "PhD by publication/portfolio/published work". This requires firstly that your "work or life experience" has generated novel work of academic value comparable to that of a doctoral thesis. Depending on subject, this might mean publications in academic journals, or non-academic publication of research you've done in industry. If you're in an artsy subject, then sometimes you can get a PhD by publication of literature, fine art, architecture, and so on, that meets the institution's criteria of making a substantial contribution to the field.

It may additionally require substantial new work to review and tie together your existing published work, or at least to put it in the correct context.

This doesn't seem to be so much of a thing in the USA. That might be because the USA doesn't take the same view as the UK that the sole qualification for a PhD is a satisfactory thesis. US universities typically have other requirements in their doctoral programs, passing certain courses and whatnot, that are considered part of the qualifying criteria. They might be disinclined to let you skip that part. Or it might just be that US institutions don't consider it a worthwhile use of their time...

So, your options depend primarily on what country you're interested in, you'll have to check out the situation wherever you are in the world. If you have done work of the right kind and sufficient value, and can work with a university in the UK, then just search "PhD by publication" to find examples of institutions that offer them. Many but not all reputable institutions do.

Unless you count on the one hand honorary doctorates, or on the other hand worthless qualifications from unaccredited diploma mills, nowhere can you get a PhD for "life experience". PhDs are for doing research, they aren't an assessment of your educational background, and certainly are not for having interesting or educational things happen to you ;-)

  • Do you know examples of well-known academics who have gotten a PhD this way?
    – Kimball
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 10:04
  • @Kimball Ludwig Wittgenstein? Similarly, in France, it's possible to be awarded a PhD based on previous publications and I have an acquaintance who go a PhD from a prestigious Dutch institution in a few months. She had worked on the topic for ~10 years and had written a lot of material before, but not as a candidate within that school's PhD program.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 14:45
  • @Kimball: no, I don't know any examples. Wittgensten didn't use a specific "PhD by publication" route of the kind I'm talking about, it's just that the rules were such that nothing barred him from submitting as a doctoral thesis a work he'd published that just so happened to be acceptable. So the effect was the same, but I don't think Cambridge offers that routinely, they just "dealt with" his case as necessary to appoint him a fellow. Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 10:34
  • Someone who plans all along to be an academic very likely wouldn't even consider this route, there'd have to be some reason that at the point where they could have enrolled in a typical PhD program, they instead did research in a different way. If an example exists of a noted academic whose PhD is by a specific program of this kind, it'd probably be someone who switched careers, or who like Wittgenstein never graduated for personal reasons despite doing good work. Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 10:36

Not as such... at least from a reputable university. I have known a few people to gain a PhD without having to do a full PhD program. However, these people have undertaken a sufficient body of work themselves that, with some additional work, would qualify for a PhD. The people I am thinking of are all 50+, and have had long-term jobs in their field of study. They have already been working alongside academics in the Universities during their career, often contributing to research being produced. They have also had to attend some classes, put together a thesis (which itself requires significant work), do their PhD defence, and any other course requirements. This process still takes years.

On a side note, I would wonder why you want a PhD without putting in the work. Part of the PhD experience is the joy (and at times pitfalls) of conducting your own research.

  • There are exceptional people who achieve a PhD by publication at a younger age than that. E.g. Ramanujan was only 29. Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 18:48

I do know one chap who, being interested in a certain piece of technology that he uses at work, approached an academic at a reputable university and asked whether he could do research on it. The academic agreed and the last time I spoke to the chap he had been working on his PhD for three years, whilst carrying on his job, and it was going well. That is a case where work experience and original research were very close but the PhD, if granted, will still have been earned with original research.

A PhD is not like a master's degree - that is just a statement that the person in question has mastered a subject and could, in principle, be awarded simply by examination. In my opinion mastering a subject is undervalued in the academic community but that is another matter. A PhD should be awarded for original research only, but how and where you do that research should be open to flexibility, as in the case of my acquaintance.


A Ph.D. is not awarded for just knowing a certain body of knowledge or taking a specific number of courses. You must perform and document original research and defend it. Also, a Ph.D. is not lost if one does not continue doing research (although one's reputation as a scholar might be lost). Because of ethical conduct (plagiarism, falsification of data), a very small number of Ph.D.s have been revoked. I believe this can be done only by the University that originally awarded it. Anyone else can just fire or shame the miscreant.

  • How does this answer the question? Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 7:15
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    I think the first two sentences are meant as an answer, but the rest seems to be a comment on PyroTiger's answer, and should be posted as such. Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 15:29

In my experience, you won't get a Ph.D. degree with just work experience. You need to contribute to the community by producing journal articles and research papers. So as long as you have significantly contributed to the academic or social environment and the university recognizes your talent, yes you can get a Ph.D. on successful review of your publication.

Note: Ph.D. award is given for your contribution alone, not as a company or as a team.

  • 3
    Can you please give an example of where this is true? This does not fit with my experience with reputable American institutions...
    – jakebeal
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 15:35
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    @jakebeal timeshighereducation.co.uk/features/looks-good-on-paper/… Most of the results for "PhD by publication" are UK oriented, so maybe this is not a reputable route in the US.
    – MJeffryes
    Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 15:41

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