It’s probably nice to be able to write a bunch of acronyms after your signature. If nothing else, it shows you’ve put in the time, that you’ve ostensibly invested a lot of money in getting smarter.
For some, it pays to be able to hang extra diplomas on office walls. But in today’s fast-paced digital world, calling yourself an MBA or a Ph.D. won’t mean much if you can’t deliver.
Think about it. Who would a boss rather have on her team: The guy who spent 10 years in the pretentious world of academia or the one who’s spent the last 20 months working 60-hour weeks for a successful tech startup?
How are Your Finances?
If you’re thinking about heading back to school, you’ve got to consider your wallet first: The average graduate student leaves school over $57,000 in the hole; 25 percent of them leave with nearly $100,000 of debt. (Together, U.S. students have $1.1 trillion in outstanding loans, a figure that’s led many to predict higher education will be the next “bubble” to burst.)
You wouldn’t be alone if these high numbers scare you. Enrollment in higher education has dropped steadily in recent years, as more grads have decided it makes more sense to rack up real-world experience than it does to pursue formal education and the accompanying price tag.
But truth be told, you don’t need to pay for a piece of paper in order to expand your intelligence, and you don’t need an extra degree to command a fatter paycheck either. Here are three ways you can advance your career without taking the often regretted plunge into even more debt:
1. Get a job, and get another one.
If you’ve got a full-time gig, make sure you don’t let it stifle your professional development. Unfortunately, not all companies are willing to invest in your education. But at least your employer doesn’t control your entire day (apologies to those who can’t relate).
Be on the lookout for extra opportunities wherever they arise. You might even actually find that freelancing isn’t so bad after all. Either way, you’ll undoubtedly learn something new, whether that’s a new skill, a new platform or a new business contact. Doors will open as your skill set broadens.
2. Embrace auto-didacticism.
The Internet is a wonderful thing. If your government doesn’t suck, you can access pretty much everything you’re looking for (along with, unfortunately, everything else) with even rudimentary Google skills.
It’s safe to say that not everyone who has an advanced degree is worth their weight in salt in a professional environment. But people who can actually produce are invaluable.
Don’t force yourself into thinking you need to pay for education. You can instead take an auto-didactic approach and teach yourself. Just take Tommy Nicholas’ word for it. Using Codecademy, a free, web-based digital learning school that teaches users how to write code, he transformed his career—by just investing his time.
You don’t have to be a programmer, though, to learn at no cost. You can also use the Internet to teach yourself how to play your mandolin better, knit better scarves or build better furniture—and whatever else tickles your fancy.
3. Invest in yourself.
The decision to go back to school would likely send your career on a different trajectory as it is. Why not test your hand at being an entrepreneur? It can be very rewarding to work for yourself; consider these tips should you choose to go out on your own.
Of course all this is not to say grad school doesn’t make sense for some people—it does, for some folks. It’s certainly worth considering an extra degree if yours is a specialized field.
But the world doesn’t need any more poets who hold masters’ degrees. There are enough baristas who cry while reciting Baudelaire and steaming lattes.
Education is crucial to the evolution and advancement of an intelligent society. But learning no longer has to take place the old-fashioned way.
If you do happen to find yourself in the exclusive needing-even-more-official-education club, though, consider this advice from Lifehacker prior to reentering the realm of academia.
Good luck—you’ll need it.