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4 Low-Cost Alternatives to Grad School

Wide shot of a school library.

One of the best ways to grow in your career is to continue on a path to personal and professional development. While many of us would love the opportunity to pursue another degree, for some, the cost of going back to school can be prohibitive.

If you find yourself itching for additional education but you’re in search of more affordable options, we have some suggestions for where to find your next learning opportunity.

Take free (or low-cost) online courses

No matter what you want to learn, there is likely an online program that fits the bill.

A number of companies offer massive online open courses (or MOOCs) for free, and many modules offered through sites like Coursera and EdX are developed in conjunction with some of the world’s largest universities. Along these lines, some universities like MIT and Stanford have launched their own MOOC sites, where you can enroll in courses for free. Some courses are offered synchronously (you complete the course on a set schedule with other enrolled students), while others let you complete the material at your own pace.

If you are interested in learning new technical skills, sites like Udacity and Udemy have you covered. Courses offered through these providers require small fees to access, but these sites have frequent sales—and it’s still less expensive than an in-person class.

Most online course providers also offer “nanodegrees.” These online credential programs prioritize skills development by teaching new concepts and then asking students to complete related projects. Nanodegree programs also come with certificates of completion that can (and should!) be added to your resume.

Head to the library

If you haven’t set foot inside your local library since you were a child, now is the time to dust off your library card or apply for new one.

Not only can you check out books on professional development, but many libraries now house a whole host of tools and resources. Some even have entire sections on their website devoted to job seekers. If you are interested in learning new skills, many libraries also offer one-off classes on a wide variety of topics, from computer software to resume writing and job readiness.

In addition, almost all libraries now provide free internet access and give you a quiet and place to study and review coursework. Never again will you need to spend money at a coffee shop for limited internet access!

Look to your community

While offerings will vary from place to place, most cities offer community classes through recreation departments or community centers, and many are either free or reasonably priced. You'll often find options for adult learning that range from resume writing workshops to learning to operate new technology.

If you happen to live in a community that is close to a college or university, that institution likely partners with the city to offer free courses or subject lectures. An online search for options in your city or a quick visit to your city hall can help you get started exploring local learning options.

Apply for a fellowship

A fellowship can be a great opportunity to go do something extraordinary that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do because of financial or logistical limitations. If you are interested in returning to school to get a formal degree and are looking for money to help pay for it, an academic fellowship or scholarship can help support you financially.

Professional fellowships are often available for mid-career professionals, and can offer a chance to get some real-world experience working in a new field. While you won’t necessarily be making the same salary as you would in a full-time role, the professional development, mentorship, and alumni network that fellowship opportunities provide can be invaluable in your efforts to jumpstart a career transition.

About the Author | Bri Riggio is an NCDA-certified career advisor whose goal is to help others find personal success and fulfillment through career exploration and coaching. She has specific knowledge of careers paths in international affairs, public policy, and education and is an avid writer, storyteller, and gamer.

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