17 Ways to Continue Your Education Without Breaking the Bank

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It’s a well-known fact of life that those with more education usually earn more. Those with college degrees earn 56 percent more over their lifetimes, which can add up to over a million dollars in earnings. Those with education beyond a bachelor’s degree take home even more. Masters and Ph.D. holders earn $92,525 on average each year, while those with a bachelor’s earn $65,482 on average.

So when it comes to education, it’s clear this is one case where more is more. Unfortunately, that also goes for the expense of education. A four-year degree at a public in-state university costs around $40,920. Despite the earning potential that college education creates, the upfront cost for many is too steep.

Aside from the money, setting lifelong learning goals and growing in your profession are keys to a fulfilling life. Going back to school is a way for many to change careers and figure out what they’re truly passionate about. So if you find yourself among the many who want to grow or make a change, but want to continue your education without spending a fortune, there are many options out there.

Getting additional training doesn’t have to be expensive to be effective. Spending a fortune or going into debt won’t always be the best way to gain the skills you want. Get started on your learning with some of the best free and low-cost options available to you below or skip to the infographic.

Table of Contents: 

Get In the Right Mindset

Before you embark on your educational journey, realize that no matter your background, self-guided education takes a serious commitment of time and energy. To ensure your success, get familiar with the goal-setting technique that works best to keep you on track. Connect your education goals with your long-term values and you’ll find staying motivated is much easier.

If you’re fitting your learning around a full-time job or other commitments, it’s likely it won’t always be easy to find time to teach yourself. Be realistic about what you decide you’d like to learn by focusing on one or two topics at a time. Use your time wisely through the concept of deliberate practice. Practicing deliberately means fighting the auto-pilot we go into during repetitive tasks, instead breaking every element into tiny chunks that can be perfected. This can be applied to writing, music, and many more disciplines. This helps maximize the time you have to spend learning.

Start Your Own Venture

Before embarking on a course or paying for training, you may find the best way to pick up the skills you need is to hit the ground running. This works best for skills that develop from real-world experience. If you know nothing about accounting, it may not be the best idea to start your own freelance tax business, so use your best judgment on where to start. Though these take the most initiative, they also can actually earn you money. Here are some ideas:

1. Create a blog

Whether you’re into creative writing, journalism, or helping others, a blog can be a great place to hone your skills and get feedback from a growing audience. Either way, consistent practice in writing is one of the best ways to get better. In the beginning stages, you may choose to hire an editor who can help you identify ways to improve.

2. Work on a passion project

If your interests don’t exactly align with a blog, there are still many practical ways to hone your skills. Try creating videos, starting a podcast, or putting together an online portfolio of your work. Simply following through on your interests can open doors to further learning opportunities.

3. Get on Kickstarter

For ventures that require a little more funding, consider crowdsourcing the starting costs. Maybe you want to develop a line of dog leashes, but need the materials to begin. Or perhaps you know someone whose Kickstarter project needs someone who can advocate and market for their campaign. Launching a campaign can help you learn valuable skills and enable you to further your skills in your chosen project.

Leverage Low-Cost Training Online

The internet has enabled billions of people with diverse skills and interests to connect and collaborate. As a result, there are numerous platforms and websites perfect for continuing your education.

4. Multitask with podcasts

With over 850,000 podcasts out there, there’s sure to be an interview, essay, or lesson that covers something you’d like to learn. If you’re learning a language, podcasts can be a great resource to hear native speakers in normal conversation. Plus, you can listen to them anywhere you go. That means even if you’re too swamped for a sit-down lesson, you can catch up on some history or language skills while you commute.

5. Learn from video platforms

Since learning from short videos has become so popular, many platforms have arisen specifically aimed at cultivating and sharing educational content. While these may not always have any coursework associated with them, they are often mostly free. Here are a few of the most common educational platforms:

  • YouTube: Every minute, 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube, and it’s where 51 percent of users turn to learn something new.
  • TED Talks hosts lectures on a variety of topics from innovative thought leaders.
  • Skillshare offers some free access to courses, as well as memberships starting at $15.
  • DO Lectures shares inspirational talks and stories to keep you motivated.
  • Lynda is a subscription-based platform that gives you access to videos on a broad range of topics from $25 a month.

6. Utilize online courses

There’s a growing movement of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. For slightly more in-depth online videos and lesson plans, these websites are a great option to advance your education.

  • Khan Academy is a free resource with videos, assignments, and assessments in math, science, and humanities.
  • Udemy allows you to purchase online courses in business, design, and more, ranging from $20 to $200.
  • CodeAcademy is an online platform designed specifically for learning to code, with some free content and a pro plan starting at $20.
  • Alison provides a range of free online videos across many disciplines and professional development.
  • FluentU is designed specifically to help you learn and practice foreign languages, and starts at $30 a month.

7. Learn from established universities

Universities also offer their own versions of MOOCs, which may also be accredited. While some are free, others may cost upwards of several thousand dollars. Depending on your educational and professional goals, it may be worth it to invest in a certification or credit at a fraction of the traditional cost.

  • Coursera aggregates courses from universities on a subscription basis, and often offers certificates and specializations.
  • Academic Earth gives you free access to courses from top universities like Stanford and MIT.
  • edX is a collaboration between MIT and Harvard that offers free courses and verified certificates for their completion.
  • Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative is an initiative committed to keeping course costs low and they start at just $10 a course.

Look Into Local Resources

There are many opportunities available in your community. Check out some of the groups, organizations, and classes in your area to grow your skills and network.

8. Audit a class

Some universities allow you to unofficially sit in on classes. This means you don’t get credit or grades, but still can participate in discussions and learn from lectures. Most universities require you to be a student in order to audit a course, though. It’s best to get approval from a professor and institution before simply walking into a lecture to avoid being charged with trespassing.

9. Check out your local library

You’re probably already paying for your local library. The average household pays around $7.50 a year to fund the library — and it’s well worth it. Take advantage of the books, classes, and knowledge of the librarians to dive in-depth into any subject you’d like. Many libraries also offer online ebook check out that allows you to access the materials you need without ever leaving your home. Your library may also offer classes and discussions led by locals.

10. Join a professional organization

If you already know what career you’re interested in, or simply want to add a few certifications or skills, try joining a professional organization. These organizations often provide resources to their members when studying for a licensing exam or certification.

11. Go to meetups

Whether you’re into woodworking or learning a language, there’s a good chance there may be a meetup in your area of others interested in the same. Though more informal, these meetups allow you to swap ideas and lessons, while practicing the skills you want to hone.

12. Volunteer your time

It can be hard to gain experience in the real world without knowledge to begin with. That’s why offering your time and services for free is a great way to find opportunities. There are many nonprofits looking for extra help across a variety of fields, so even if you don’t see an open call for graphic designers or event planners, reach out to local nonprofits to offer your time.

13. Attend workshops or conferences

While these do often have some entrance fees, a workshop or conference can offer great value for your money. That’s because not only do you get to learn directly from experts in your field, but you get the opportunity to network with others who may be the ticket to your next learning experience.

Consider Paid Options

There are more options available to you if you prefer to receive degree credit or certification. Often these will cost some money, but they may also have greater returns.

14. Sign up for an online certificate program

Many reputable colleges and universities offer lower-cost continued education, certificates, and masters degrees online. Though these take more time and money, the courses can be spread out over time, and you may qualify for financial aid.

15. Take intro classes at a community college

If you’re just entering college or exploring a subject, community college classes may be a better fit for you and your budget than you realize. The average year at a community college costs just $3,660 — and over half of students in the last year reported their grants and aid covering the full amount. So whether you have time for a full course load or just a single class, look into local community colleges for programs that could be perfect for you.

Take on Larger Investments

If you feel you need a more traditional learning environment or want to be able to gain a degree or credit, it may make sense for you to spend more money on extensive programs. Here are a couple of ways to reduce the financial burden of this option:

16. Apply for continuing education scholarships

Unless you’re a teacher continuing your education, Federal Pell Grants aren’t available after your undergraduate degree. That doesn’t mean there aren’t scholarships and aid available if you’re returning to school, though. There are many opportunities at organizations like Return2College that offer scholarships for those returning to college. Additionally, your state may offer special grants or programs. Check out the additional resources section for more continuing education scholarships.

17. Get your work to sponsor your development

Certain workplaces may reimburse you for qualified professional development courses. If there’s a certificate or course that would help you excel in your profession, talk to your boss or HR director about sponsoring a course or conference.

Craft Your Coursework

Mastering a subject will come from an interdisciplinary application of all of these resources. Don’t be discouraged if you still feel like you have a lot to learn after dedicating time across the board. Think of your self-guided education like course requirements, and set goals across multiple resources. Here are a few sample education paths to get you started.

Additional Resources:

25 Additional Free Online Education Sites 

Returning Student Scholarships

Non-traditional Learner Grants

Grants for Adult Students

How to Mention Online Courses in Your Resume

Sources: Huffpost | Wisebread | MentalFloss | TheMuse | StudentGrants | ClassCentral | AffordableCollegesOnline | NCES

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