5 Non-Degree Ways to Continue Your Education
Education is inherently part of our existence. We go to school for thirteen years (oftentimes more when you consider pre-k or college), take dozens of classes in a multitude of subjects throughout the course of our life, and sprinkle in electives and extra-curricular activities that suit our fancy at various seasons in time. We all begin our human experience in a constant state of absorption, and that continues not just within the arena of formal education, but also through our culture and environment. It's no secret that this perfectly-crafted system is designed to usher us straight from lockers and lunchables to endless emails and salads at our desk, and in adulthood - throughout the monotony of your daily routine that blurs the months into years, you may wake up one day with an urge to feel the process of structured, curated learning again.
You could always go back to school and acquire another degree, but with grad school costing $35,000 a year on average and taking anywhere from two to four years to complete, it can be quite the life detour to satisfy the itch for new knowledge. So, for those who either aren't able or simply don't want to disrupt their current phase of life with the time and money commitment of formal education, check out my 5 Non-Degree Ways to Continue Your Education below!
1: Certificate Program
Certificate programs are a fantastic way to gain vast knowledge about a topic, area of study, or skill in a formalized setting that will take a quarter of the time and a fraction of the cost of a degree. Certificate programs are often non-application open admission, and mirror the structure of an academic calendar (semesters). Most of them are remote, too! Anyone can ~create~ a certificate program though, so be sure to do your research and make sure that you are pursuing an accredited institution. The purpose of certificates with regard to your career are two-fold: not only will you be learning from professors with decades of experience and reading materials that compile the latest, industry-leading knowledge and discoveries, but you'll also include this on your resume, and if you choose the right institution, that association could do a lot of heavy lifting for you.
In researching certificates, you'll first want to decide what you want your area of study to be. (Project Management? Personal Branding? Education?) Then, search the internet for the best schools in the country (or the world) that your area of study exists within. For example, for a certificate in Project Management, I might search for the top 5 business schools in the US, and research the certificate program offerings of each to see if any align with what I'm trying to do (as well as compare cost). For a creative and progressive area of study like Personal Branding, I'd pivot away from a business school and search for something more streamlined, like this Certificate Program at FIT. In an area like Education, I would search for something more specialized (such as ESL certifications, music certifications, or SLP certifications, just to name a few) and make sure to find a program that was administered by my state's Department of Education.
Certifications are a densely informative, yet efficient way to continue refining the knowledge of an industry you already work in, or to introduce yourself to a new area of interest in your professional life! There is no limit to the amount of certificates one can possess, and the information gained from each one of them will make you a better, more well-rounded expert in your profession.
2: Taking Advantage of Your Resources (Books, Podcasts, TedTalks)
We live in a time in history where nothing is not easily accessed. If you want to know how tall an actor is, your answer is but a couple letters typed into a search engine before it predicts the rest of your question and quickly gives you the result. With ubiquitous paths to knowledge that exist all around us (the majority of them more or less free), there's no excuse to not take advantage of it. Do some research on the most recommended books in the area in which you'd like to learn more about. Read them! Find people you admire professionally and see if they have a podcast (they probably do). Listen to it! Keep abreast of industry leaders within your arena and scour the internet for recordings of TedTalks or lectures they've given. Watch them!
I have a new rule for myself where, every time I find myself *wondering* something, I pursue the answer. I wonder what other shows have been in this Broadway theater? I wonder what the inside of the International Space Station looks like? I wonder how a lightbulb is made? We have the ability to find the answers for our every curiosity - HELLO?!?!??! Take advantage of it!
3: Informational Interviews
Informational Interviews can be especially helpful/accessible if there's someone in your proximity who is doing something you wish to know more about the mechanics of. Email them and ask if you can steal a half-hour of their time (via Zoom or in-person, whichever is easiest for them) and ask them questions about what they do. Ask them about how they got their start, ask them what they wish they knew when they were more junior in the industry, ask them what challenges they are facing both in a personal professional capacity and also as a member of their field at large. This isn't networking (I hate that term), because the goal of the interaction isn't to establish a connection (though that's likely to happen as a happy byproduct), but rather to gain a better understanding of the ins and outs of the area you wish to know more about.
We all start somewhere, and the down-to-earth people in your industry will understand this and want to help you also climb the ladder. The non-down-to-earth people will just feel their ego inflate by the fact that someone wants to ask them questions about their life. Either way, you get your answers, you get exposure, and you get additional knowledge and advice on next-steps.
4: Enroll in a Course, Webinar, or convention
If you're craving a more formal lecture-style learning experience and don't want the commitment involved with a full certificate program, you can always take a confined course, stream a webinar, or attend a convention. There are so many online programs that allow for exploratory learning. You can learn a new language with Duolingo, take a financial literacy course on EdX, learn how to operate a DSLR camera with skillshare, and probably anything else of interest with a quick Google search.
Many webinars cost money to view if you are simply getting them through a preliminary search engine scan, but if you sign up to be on the mailing list of academic institutions (such as Harvard Business Review), you'll get notices for upcoming webinars as well as have access to the archive. You can also scour Eventbrite for any upcoming free webinars on areas of study that you find to be of interest!
Conventions vary widely on the spectrum of exclusivity. Sometimes registration is open to anyone willing to pay the price of registration, and other times it's restricted to only people already employed by a company associated with the industry. With that said though, it's worth researching to see if you have access to any (they are starting to return more and more after being entirely eradicated due to COVID). Conventions are not only a great place to download a lot of knowledge and information in one very dense day or weekend, but it's also usually incredibly inspiring to see large numbers of people congregate to discuss the very topics you are passionate about.
5: Check Your Ego
Don't roll your eyes at this one! It's very important. The easiest and most cost-effective non-degree way to continue your education is to realize that you do not know everything (you will never know everything), and that learning exists in a 360-degree scope. As we age and ascend in our careers, the people ahead of us (older than us/more senior than us), begin to dwindle, and the pool of newbies and young people grows exponentially behind us. If you are only looking above for ingenuity, information, and innovation, you are majorly discounting yourself the wealth of knowledge and information that exists right beneath your nose. Yes, the boomer who's been at the company for 35 years may be a better source for assessing market trends, but can they create and launch a TikTok campaign? Probably not. Each person in your life and in your profession brings a different background and perspective to the table - a table that you are also sitting at with them - and that diversity is an asset, it's knowledge waiting to be accessed.
I hope you enjoyed these 5 Non-Degree Ways to Continue Your Education! I feel that we as a society have become too reliant on higher education as the ONLY means of continued knowledge, which is just simply not the case. I hope that in exploring one, a couple, or all of the above, you're able to refine your intellect, curb your curiosities, and become a better advocate for yourself in the context of your job, your industry, and/or your life.
Did any of these in particular strike your fancy? Let me know in the comments below or DM me on Instagram @kelgurk!
Thanks for reading, and see you next time!