There’s no question that a bachelor’s degree in hotel management is valuable for aspiring hotel managers. Although not having this degree won’t necessarily prevent you from reaching your career goals, the lack of formal education – and the knowledge and skills you gain from this education – may be an obstacle that holds you back. Here’s what you can expect if you approach a career in hotel management without a college degree, and with a college degree in a different subject, compared with the path to a management role with a bachelor’s degree in hotel management.

Can I Get a Job as a Hotel Manager Without a Degree in Hotel Management?

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Hotel Manager Prospects With No Degree

Is a college degree absolutely mandatory for hotel managers? It is possible to run a hotel without going to college, but reaching senior-level leadership roles will be an uphill battle, especially at high-end luxury hotels. If you choose to pursue a lodging manager role with only a high school diploma, you will typically need several years of work experience in non-management hotel roles, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). These roles are often low-paying jobs, and there may be no clear path to advancement other than working hard and taking every opportunity to show supervisors that you have the initiative and leadership skills to do more. Without a degree to attest to your knowledge, it becomes even more important that you exude the most important qualities of a hotel manager, which the BLS identifies as problem-solving skills, interpersonal skills, listening skills, customer service skills, organizational skills, leadership skills and business skills.

The majority – 72 percent – of lodging managers have a bachelor’s degree. This four-year degree is required for most management roles in full-service hotel chains, the BLS reported, but even in hotels that have fewer rooms or amenities and offer rooms at lower rates, certificates and associate’s degrees in hotel management are common.

Opening your own hotel is an option if you want to work in hotel management without a degree. You would be in good company, since 28 percent of lodging managers are self-employed, the BLS reported, but you still need the skills to make your hotel profitable.

Degree Options Other Than Hotel Management

Suppose you plan to go to college or already have a degree, but not in hotel management specifically. Having a bachelor’s degree is valuable, but the amount of help it will be to you in quickly breaking into hotel management depends on how relevant your major is to the skills needed for hotel management.

Many students choose a program in hospitality management rather than hotel management. Hospitality management programs have a somewhat broader focus than degree programs in hotel management specifically, but they have a lot of similarities in curricula. A hospitality management degree is slightly more versatile, allowing you to work in different areas of the tourism and hospitality industry while still equipping you with a foundation in the principles of operating a hotel, restaurant or other facility. If the school you are considering has only a hospitality management program, rather than a hotel management program, the slight differences shouldn’t negatively affect your job prospects at all – especially if you make an effort to gain hands-on experience and professional connections in hotels.

Other majors aren’t as relevant to this career path as hotel and hospitality management, but you may still be able to leverage these degrees to find a job as a hotel manager. Generally, you want your degree program to help you develop the skills required for the role. Majoring in business, accounting or finance can help you develop the technical business skills needed for roles in revenue management of hotels. A culinary arts education equips you with the cooking or baking background to work in a hotel kitchen or restaurant. More general programs like liberal arts, psychology or sociology can also be an asset if you use this education to develop the soft skills and personality traits needed for success as a hotel manager.

Without an academic background in hotel or hospitality management, you may need more hotel work experience to fill in the gaps in your formal education. It may take you longer to advance to a hotel manager role when you are coming from one of these backgrounds.

The Benefits of a Bachelor’s Degree in Hotel Management

Your career prospects are better with a bachelor’s degree. In a field like hotel management, where the overall job outlook is somewhat discouraging, this is an important factor to consider. The BLS is predicting a job growth rate of only one percent for lodging managers over a decade. That means just 600 new jobs across the United States are likely to emerge in that entire time period – far fewer positions than there are candidates aiming to attain them. The competition is likely to be especially strong for sought-after positions at upscale and prestigious hotels, where managers tend to earn considerably more than those at budget and mid-priced hotels. Earning a  bachelor’s degree in a highly relevant subject – hotel management or hospitality management – will help improve your marketability and make you a more appealing candidate for the best hotel manager positions, the BLS reported.

Aside from making you more likely to get the job you want, having a degree in hotel management will also better equip you for the work in that role. Because these programs of study focus narrowly on developing the skills that are most valuable and practical for this occupation, you won’t be missing crucial concepts and proficiencies that you might lack coming from a less relevant background, like general business administration or liberal arts.

You also have the chance to develop a fuller array of skills and knowledge through a hotel management degree program than you would with no degree but simply experience working at hotels. Unless your hotel has a management trainee program, your on-the-job training is likely to focus primarily on the job duties you must perform at your level of employment, not on equipping you with the skills for advancement into new roles with a diverse set of high-level responsibilities. Students of hotel management programs take specialized courses such as resort operations, travel and tourism, risk management in hotel and hospitality management, convention services and sales, hospitality design, spirits and wine lists, event and entertainment planning and the traditional and modern hotel industry.

The hands-on components of a hotel management degree program, such as laboratory coursework, experience in teaching hotels and hotel management internships, are more valuable than merely gaining experience in an entry-level hotel job role.

Additional Resources

What Degree Do I Need to Become a Hotel Manager?

Am I Better Off Getting a Job at a Hotel or Going Straight to Getting a Degree in Hotel Management?

What Personality Traits Are Most Important for a Career in Hotel Management?

What Is the Difference Between Hotel and Hospitality Management?