Master’s degrees are the new bachelor’s, according to a recent article in the New York Times, which notes a growing trend of many more people graduating with master’s degrees these days — more than double the rate in the 1980s.
If you’re one of the people trying to beat the competition and ensure your resume stands out by pursuing an advanced degree, then you’ve probably explored the program costs and know they’re pretty steep.
Student loan debt has skyrocketed in the U.S., and while it is often worth investing in your education, you don’t want to start your adult life with a large debt burden. It will limit your options. With too much debt, it’ll be tough to accept lower paid work even if you enjoy it or to cover the expenses of switching careers or moving.
But there might be no need to shell out tens of thousands of dollars for another degree or professional qualification. Here are some suggestions from career experts:
Hit the library
Yeah, it’s obvious, but it’s surprising how often we forget that nearly everything you’d learn in a high-priced class is available for pocket change on Amazon or zilch at your local library. It’s a principle Josh Kaufman understands well. As the founder of The Personal M.B.A., Kaufman claims that you can get a solid business education on your own through his carefully selected reading list. Personalize his program to your specific areas of interest or simply look through online syllabi for reading lists from prestigious universities.
Take a mentor to lunch
Book smarts will only get you so far. Navigating office politics, networking effectively and moving up in your industry are best learned from experienced insiders. So find a professional role model or mentor and take him or her to lunch for bargain career development advice, suggest the folks at Get Rich Slowly.
Harness the power of the Internet
Sure, there’s no shortage of cute cat pictures or social media distractions online, but the Internet can nurture your brain as well as melt it. Just look at the wealth of free online courses from world-class experts. Need to brush up on how financial markets work? Learn from Yale professor Robert Schiller. Forgot your calculus? Go back to school with MIT.
College is, of course, not always a bad idea. It is often a way to flee the hard work and uncertainty of your early career for the structure and validation of the classroom. And plenty of big names including Seth Godin and Peter Thiel have questioned whether it’s a waste of time.
So prospective master’s candidates: think carefully about whether you want to write that check. A bit of hard work and creative, cheaper career interventions might serve you better. The options above are just the tip of the iceberg — affiliations with professional organizations, attendance at conferences or good value e-courses could also help you advance without getting you into debt.