Building the career you want takes constant improvement, whether you’re hoping to advance within your field or transition to another industry.
One path to build your desired credentials? Returning to college to earn an additional degree.
While an advanced degree can open the door to more career opportunities, it comes at a steep cost. The average Master of Business Administration (MBA) graduate, for example, owes $42,000 in combined undergrad and grad school debt. A Master of Arts graduate averages more than $58,000 in student loans.
Before jumping back into school, check if there are other ways to build your credentials and hack your career — without getting into debt. Here are some alternatives to beef up your resume more quickly, easily, and cheaply.
1. Think outside the degree
If you’re thinking of returning to college to earn an additional degree, determine what you hope to gain from that experience.
Some careers are accessible only by earning certain credentials, as is the case for lawyers and doctors. But if you’re eyeing an MBA to start your own business or a master’s degree in creative writing to write a book, consider how you could accomplish these goals without a degree.
If you’re excited about learning from experts in your field of interest, for instance, finding a mentor could be effective — and much cheaper than the cost of college.
Build connections with such professionals through networking events, mutual contacts, or social media. If you establish a good acquaintanceship with them, see if they’re willing to provide guidance or share their expertise.
2. Earn an accreditation or certification
Whether you want to change career paths or take your qualifications to the next level, look into certifications that can help you get there.
Perhaps you’re considering a second bachelor’s degree in computer science to switch to a programming career. You might be able to make that leap with a smaller investment of time and money through a coding boot camp instead.
Some certifications in certain fields can be completed in hours. Others might require months of study or a big exam to get certified. Explore different programs to see what could be an option for you.
3. Develop new knowledge and skills
You don’t have to earn college credits to continue your education and improve your professional skills.
Some online courses offer a certification of completion that can boost your resume.
4. Volunteer to do the kind of work you’re eyeing
Maybe you aren’t yet qualified for the job you want — at least, not enough to get a paid gig. But if you’re willing to work for free or take on extra tasks at your current job, you could accumulate hands-on experience in a new field or develop a new skill.
For example, you can “volunteer in your community and in your company on projects outside of your department,” Salemi suggested. Or you could do freelance work at a steep discount to build your portfolio.
5. Become involved in your professional community
Networking is a smart move to build your career, but it also can help enhance your resume. Seek out ways to become involved with professional conferences and groups in your current or desired career field.
In the process, you could gain some accolades to add to your resume or cite in job interviews. Here are some ways to do so, according to Salemi:
Submit your work in professional competitions or apply for awards.
Volunteer to work on the boards of local clubs, chapters, or organizations for your profession.
Organize a workshop or make a presentation on a subject at a seminar.
Submit proposals to participate in a panel at a professional conference or convention.
Start blogging and posting on social media about topics related to your career.
Engage other experts online and in person to build credibility in your field.
6. Reframe your existing qualifications and skills
Sometimes you don’t need more skills or experience; instead, you can demonstrate the connection between the work you’ve done and the job requirements of an employer.
Start with your cover letter and resume. “On [your] resume, even if you don’t have a specific skill set an employer is looking for, highlight experiences and your abilities to show that you’ve done something similar,” Salemi suggested.
If you get an interview, make sure you’re prepared to make your case. “When you speak about your skill set during a job interview, clearly articulate how you would be able to still do the job,” Salemi said.
Before you start planning a return to college, consider if you might already be more qualified than you think. Building the credentials you need and filling any gaps in your qualifications often can happen faster and be done more cheaply than earning an advanced degree.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2018!
|1 Important Disclosures for CollegeAve.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or Nationwide Bank, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Information advertised valid as of 11/1/2018. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
2 Important Disclosures for Discover.
3 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.
* Application times vary depending on the applicants ability to supply the necessary information for submission.
* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.
4 = Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
5 Important Disclosures for PNC.
PNC Bank is one of the nation’s largest education loan providers. For over 40 years, PNC has been committed to helping students and their families make possible the adventure of college.
6 Important Disclosures for SunTrust.
Before applying for a private student loan, SunTrust recommends comparing all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships, and both federal and private student loans. To view and compare the available features of SunTrust private student loans, visit https://www.suntrust.com/loans/student-loans/private.
Certain restrictions and limitations may apply. SunTrust Bank reserves the right to change or discontinue this loan program without notice. Availability of all loan programs is subject to approval under the SunTrust credit policy and other criteria and may not be available in certain jurisdictions.
SunTrust Bank, Member FDIC. ©2018 SunTrust Banks, Inc. SUNTRUST, the SunTrust logo and Custom Choice Loan are trademarks of SunTrust Banks, Inc. All rights reserved.
7 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Additional terms and conditions apply. For more details see LendKey
8 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
A government loan is made according to rules set by the U.S. Department of Education. Government loans have fixed interest rates, meaning that the interest rate on a government loan will never go up or down.
Government loans also permit borrowers in financial trouble to use certain options, such as income-based repayment, which may help some borrowers. Depending on the type of loan that you have, the government may discharge your loan if you die or become permanently disabled.
Depending on what type of government loan that you have, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness in exchange for performing certain types of public service. If you are an active-duty service member and you obtained your government loan before you were called to active duty, you are entitled to interest rate and repayment benefits for your loan.
A private student loan is not a government loan and is not regulated by the Department of Education. A private student loan is instead regulated like other consumer loans under both state and federal law and by the terms of the promissory note with your lender.
If your private student loan has a fixed interest rate, then that rate will never go up or down. If your private student loan has a variable interest rate, then that rate will vary depending on an index rate disclosed in your application. If the interest rate on the new private student loan is less than the interest rate on your government loans, your payments will be less if you refinance.
If you don’t pay a private student loan as agreed, the lender can refer your loan to a collection agency or sue you for the unpaid amount.
Remember also that like government loans, most private loans cannot be discharged if you file bankruptcy unless you can demonstrate that repayment of the loan would cause you an undue hardship. In most bankruptcy courts, proving undue hardship is very difficult for most borrowers.
9 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|3.94% – 12.78%1||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.06% – 13.06%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.34% – 12.99%2||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.25% – 11.10%*,4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|5.03% – 11.23%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.12% – 13.13%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|5.62% – 10.01%7||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|3.93% – 9.81%8||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.26% – 12.13%9||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|