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Professional Development Instead of Grad School

If you are looking to further your education but unsure if enrolling in graduate school is the right next step, consider your professional development opportunities. Professional development can take many forms. Often there are workshops or classes offered by technical assistance providers, foundations, and community groups. These workshops are typically a single training or weekly session to develop a specific skill set or knowledge base, external to your local academic community.


Benefits of Workshops

Workshops can be a concentrated time to learn an important skill relevant to your work. Compared to enrolling in a university course, a certification program, or a graduate degree program, attending workshops now and again as needed is less expensive, requires less time, and may be more immediately applicable to your community and career goals. If you’re looking to make a career transition or play a new role at work (for example, you’d like to begin writing grants in addition to your work as program manager), taking professional development workshops can also demonstrate your interest in and commitment to build new, necessary skills. Having the right workshops under your belt may help you make the case for the transition.

The best workshops include highly relevant, practical information and are also great opportunities for networking. Fellow attendees are likely to be professionals in similar fields and it can be helpful to make connections with colleagues and peers learning the same skills. Many workshops have a hands-on practice component, which allows you to try out a new skill under the guidance of your instructor before having to perfect the skill on the job. For example, a workshop on conflict resolution might involve role-playing a mediation in which you could practice mediating two conflicted parties.


Who offers professional development workshops?

Workshops are offered by a variety of organizations and groups which may include but aren’t limited to:

  • Management support or technical assistance organizations that focus on supporting nonprofit professionals
  • Local foundations
  • Professional associations
  • Alumni associations
  • AmeriCorps or other service alumni groups

Organizations will often advertise workshop offerings on their website or through their newsletters. Information about upcoming workshops in your area can also be found through community calendars and postings. Be sure to also tap your network for ideas about opportunities.


Workshop Types

Workshops can come in a range of forms depending on their size, host, and the scope of their audience. Some workshops may be in-person workshops or webinars and it’s important to think about your working style and schedule to determine what is going to work best for you. You’ll also want to think about what kind of professional development is going to be most helpful for you in your career. There is almost an endless list of workshops themes and topics. We included a list of some examples below to help start your thinking:

  • Specific programs for platforms like Excel, Photoshop, or Salesforce
  • Public speaking or presenting
  • Digital marketing
  • Managing and leading teams
  • Fundraising and development

Some workshops may also cater to specific professionals. For example, a workshop for teachers to integrate new science curriculum or a web development workshop for female entrepreneurs. 


Professional development workshops are a great way to grow professionally and learn new seek skills relevant to your work when you don’t feel you need or currently want a degree, certification, or a semester-long course. Workshops can also offer opportunities to tune-up throughout your career and stay on top of best practices and advances in your field. Additionally, researching and attending workshops may help inform your decisions about what kind of graduate school may be the best fit for you in the future.