I used to think higher education was only for geniuses or people with lots of money. I was working two jobs and barely getting by, and if someone hadn’t helped me figure out how to make use of the educational resources at my disposal, I would still be living paycheck to paycheck rather than building a career.
The truth is, it is easier than ever to get educated, and cheaper too. There are loads of resources at your fingertips if you know how to find them. But for many people, that is the sticking point: you have to know what you have access to in order to get an education, but if you aren’t in the educational system, chances are high that you don’t know what you have access to.
Of course, not all knowledge comes with a degree, and not all degrees come with all that much knowledge. There are plenty of degreed and degree-less options and plenty of jobs that value demonstration of skill above a degree. Depending on your goals and interests, a combination of the two is likely the best bet for most people.
Almost all degree courses cost money, but not all degrees guarantee a well-paying job, or even any job, while there are plenty of self-taught people working for leading companies all over the world.
You can take classes online, now more than ever. Most colleges in the U.S. recognize the value and convenience of the virtual classroom to teachers and students, although few offer full degrees online. Some classes lend themselves to a digital platform (like computer sciences) while others are more difficult, though not impossible. I took Spanish 101 online using video chatting software (like Skype) to communicate with my teacher and classmates, and it was difficult, though not impossible.
YouTube is the only thing that got me through a college algebra class with a bad teacher. Math is not my strongest suite (which is why I am an English major!), but I found a wealth of tutors on YouTube teaching everything I needed to know. I found one who explained things in a way that made sense to me and then watched whichever of his videos corresponded with what I was learning. I also found YouTube tutors for Spanish and learning Adobe Photoshop. The best part is that if they are moving too fast for you to follow along, you can pause or rewind the video.
- Crash Course is a channel owned and operated by John and Hank Green (the Vlogbrothers) and a team of experts, aimed at providing an easy-to-follow and entertaining overview of topics like world history, biology, physics, literature, and more.
- Sci Show is another channel by the same people focused on topics in science.
Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) are courses offered online (mostly for free) through some of the best universities, like Stanford, Harvard, MIT, John Hopkins, and University of Michigan. Some offer a certification at the end of their courses—which, while it isn’t a degree, is at least something tangible to show your hard work. But a few do also offer actual college credit, which can be transferred to the school of your choice.
You can learn about data science, robotics, programming, business, social sciences, take foreign language classes, and more.
- Coursera also offers four Masters Programs entirely online for a fee and intends to add 15 to 20 new degree programs by 2019.
- edX is very similar to Coursera, so if you can’t find what you are looking for on one site, check the other.
- Udacity is partnered with Google, Amazon, IBM and other leading tech companies to offer—surprise—training in the cutting edge technology of tomorrow. If you want to program websites, work on self-driving cars, develop artificial intelligence, or work with virtual reality, this may be the site for you. Some courses are free, some cost money. But all promise to set you up with real-world skills you can use to get into a career.
- Kadenze is focused on the arts, giving students a footing in the software they need to create music, art, and design projects. It also allows students to access many of their resources for free, but a $10/month membership fee unlocks all the features of an actual online learning experience, as well as all the classes and a certificate of completion. That’s the cost of a Netflix membership!