College is often talked about as a path to higher pay and a more fulfilling career. It’s also usually considered an investment that should lead to a high post-college ROI.
But for some students with a love of learning, education isn’t a means to and end — it’s the goal itself.
“If you are borrowing to pay for college, there is a presumption that you will be able to afford to repay your student loan after graduation,” says Mark Kranowitz, publisher and vice-president of strategy for scholarship site Cappex.com.
However, if you want to continue your education because of a passion for learning, your cost considerations will likely look different. Mostly because you aren’t counting on a pay increase later to give you a return on the investment.
Here’s how to continue your education and follow your passions — on a budget.
1. Earn cheap college credits to transfer
Attending college with no clear plan of how you’re going to put a degree to good use is a waste of tuition money. Or worse, a waste of student loans.
If you don’t have a clear vision for your college career, or simply want to learn about a topic that won’t lead to great pay, get started with cheap college credits instead.
“Find colleges that accept transferable college credit and use online course providers to get the same college education at a dramatically reduced price,” says Adrian Ridner, CEO of online course provider Study.com
You can also opt to attend a local community college, where classes tend to be cheaper compared to a four-year school. Then the valuable credits you earn can later be applied to an undergraduate degree, saving you potentially thousands of dollars on tuition costs.
2. Enroll in free courses online
“Learning does not have to cost a proverbial ‘arm and a leg,” says David Levy, an editor for Edvisors. Especially when you have access to thousands of hours of free courses online.
In fact, you can gain access to class materials like quizzes, lectures and other assignments from some of the most elite college and universities worldwide thanks to Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. These are usually provided through various online platforms.
“Popular platforms include EdX founded by MIT and Harvard University and Coursera which features institutions such as Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University, and Duke – to name a few,” Levy states. Both offer classes that are absolutely free to access.
Typically, these free online courses don’t grant college credit. But you can work toward a certificate or specialization, Levy says.
“Even then, the fees associated with such programs will be extremely affordable when compared to the costs of completing a degree,” adds Levy.
3. Find continuing education courses in your community
Continuing education courses are another low-cost option for exploring an area of interest. Or for gaining a specific proficiency.
“You can find a class in just about every interest under the sun – from gardening to marketing to legal studies to video editing,” Levy says.
These continuing ed classes often last a quarter to a semester and are often held throughout various locations in the community. To find these classes, check your local community college’s catalog.
Continue ed classes are perfect if you’re busy but prefer learning in person. And many are offered during evening hours or on the weekend.
The price tags for these classes usually run well below traditional classes. While you may not earn actual college credits, some programs do offer a certification program, Levy says.
4. Get a mentor
Finding a mentor can be a smart way to get valuable, real-world guidance and coaching.
“If there is something you are itching to learn or understand more fully, why not enlist the help, insights, and feedback of a trusted mentor?” Levy asks.
Often, a mentor brings experience and know-how to the table. They can also point you to the most valuable resources to invest in yourself and your career.
Or, maybe you find a mentor to help you pursue a passion, such as a writing critique partner or an experienced hiking buddy. Either way, they can help you bypass learning by trial-and-error through their own guidance. You then, in turn, can effectively apply their advice.
Just make sure there’s some give and take.
“Be willing to pay it forward,” Levy advises. You could offer your expertise in another area to your mentor. Or, try serving as a mentor to someone who’s not as far along on their learning journey.
5. Watch tutorial videos
From nailing an interview to perfecting a liquid liner cat-eye, video tutorials will teach you how to do it. YouTube alone provides millions of videos to walk you through a new process. You can also get a refresher on info you’ve already learned.
Use video tutorials to build skills and explore different ideas in a way that’s free, easy and flexible.
I recently turned to YouTube looking for ideas to secure the slumping front bumper to my borderline-beater car. The solution delivered by an amateur car enthusiast was simple but obvious (and cheap): zip ties!
6. Read an instructional book
Lastly, try picking up a book — it’s a straightforward, effective, and cheap way to learn.
I’m a big fan of visiting local libraries, too. You get access to more informational and instructional books than you could hope to read in a lifetime. Plus, librarians offer in-person help and can locate just the title to suit your educational needs.
No matter which method of learning you prefer the most, there’s a free or cheap way to access it today. Take the time to do a little digging online and you’ll come away with the most cost-effective way to receive a well-rounded education in no time.
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