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 2020!
|* 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.
1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
(1)All rates shown include the auto-pay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
(2)This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.
(3)As certified by your school and less any other financial aid you might receive. Minimum $1,000.
Information advertised valid as of 11/4/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
3 Important Disclosures for Discover.
Discover's lowest rates shown are for the undergraduate loan and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.
4 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restrictions. Loans are offered through CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS #1175900).
5 Important Disclosures for Citizens.
Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of December 1, 2019, the one-month LIBOR rate is 1.70%. Variable interest rates range from 2.80% – 11.06% (2.80% – 10.91% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. Fixed interest rates range from 4.72% – 12.19% (4.72% – 12.04% APR) based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. Lowest rates shown requires application with a co-signer, are for eligible applicants, require a 5-year repayment term, borrower making scheduled payments while in school and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change. Please note: Due to federal regulations, Citizens Bank is required to provide every potential borrower with disclosure information before they apply for a private student loan. The borrower will be presented with an Application Disclosure and an Approval Disclosure within the application process before they accept the terms and conditions of the loan.
Please Note: International Students are not eligible for the multi-year approval feature.
|2.84% – 10.97%1||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|2.87% – 10.75%*,2||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|2.80% – 11.37%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|3.52% – 9.50%4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|2.80% – 11.06%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|