Continuing education, Part II: Alternatives to graduate school

There are plenty of resources out there to help you determine if you should go to graduate school. But if you don’t want to go to graduate school, there are still plenty of options for you to explore. Check out the following continuing ed alternatives:

Certificate courses

If you’d like to enhance your skill set or beef up your resume in a particular area without committing a ton of time or money, consider working toward a certificate.

A certificate program is usually a vocationally-focused set of courses in a specific field that leads to certification status or a license to practice. Prerequisites for certification can include any combination of: coursework, an existing degree, passing exams, or successfully completing an internship or other experiential learning component. Professional certification acknowledges to peers and potential employers that you have focused on a certain field intentionally and have attained a certain level of expertise in it.

Certification can be an alternative or a complement to a graduate degree. Many certificate programs are offered through two and four-year colleges and grad schools, but you can also attain certification through professional associations, online degree-granting institutions, management support organizations, and government agencies.

Individual classes

There are many reasons to take individual classes at a community college or university. Aside from lifelong learning for the sake of it, participating in individual courses can help you prepare for a degree program you’d like to pursue in the future, master material better and faster than you would by reading on your own, discuss ideas with others, brush up on a subject, or understand the principles of a field more clearly. They are also a useful way to test the waters in a subject you’re interested in without making too big an investment of money or time.

Community classes and workshops

These can be an ideal way to increase your knowledge in a specific area and meet people in your local nonprofit community while generally paying a lower fee than at a college or university. Most cities and towns have organizations that offer nonprofit-specific classes and workshops; they’re usually led by local experts and often take into account the local nonprofit landscape within the scope of the topic. Classes offered by community-based organizations range from traditional nuts and bolts of the nonprofit sector to topics that are relevant for all sectors. For example, the Nonprofit Association of Oregon facilitates peer networks and trainings for nonprofit leaders, workshops on a variety of topics of interest to the broader community, and an online learning series for nonprofit staff and volunteers. Additionally, many organizations such as Skillshare allow experts to teach courses online and offline at affordable prices.

You can find out about community classes in your area by contacting your local nonprofit association. (The National Council of Nonprofits can help you locate yours if you don’t know them yet.)

Experiential learning   

Keep in mind that, while it’s great to be able to put courses, certificates, and degrees on a resume, real-world experience is often as (or more) highly valued than academic achievement in the nonprofit sector because of the hands-on nature of so much of the work.

For this reason, remember that you don’t need to confine your educational path to the classroom or coursework-based options. Experiential education opportunities such as term-of-service programs, travel adventures, board service, interning, and volunteer commitments can help you gain skills, knowledge, experience, and professional opportunities, as well as strengthen your professional network.

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