7 Inexpensive Ways to Continue Learning After Graduating From College

There's a lot to miss about college: classes that don't start until noon, living with all your best friends, not having to worry about adult responsibilities—but do you ever just miss being a student? And no, we don't mean finals week and those insane all-nighters.

Fortunately, one perk of post-college life is that you can continue learning—on your own terms—and without sinking further into debt (we’re looking at you, student loans). You may not technically be a student anymore but don’t hold your inner nerd back from learning, whether it’s for your field or just for fun. Here's how:

1. Join a mentorship program

Talking to people who have been where you are currently will give you a behind-the-scenes look at your industry and give you more confidence in yourself.

“It’s always free to get advice,” says Brittany Galla, the Director of 30-Minute Mentors at Ed2010, a program that matches recent college grads who want to work in the magazine media industry with junior editors who are already working.

Think of mentor programs like dating websites: you are matched up with someone in your field whom you admire or who has your dream job in the hopes that you two will hit it off. “There are always new people coming into the industry and people moving around in companies,” says Galla. “There’s always someone new to learn from.”

Being a part of a mentorship program early in your career will not only provide you with great connections (yes, it really is all about who you know), but it'll also give you the chance to openly ask questions and learn from someone else’s experiences.

2. Attend networking events

Going to a networking event such as an industry happy hour can certainly be intimidating. The key to having confidence when you walk into an event is knowing how to talk about yourself and being genuinely interested in hearing about other people.

“You have nothing to lose but everything to gain,” reminds Galla. Your nerves will clear once you are at the event and even if you mainly listen to people share their stories rather than focusing on selling yourself, you are still learning valuable information. “You just never know who you are going to meet,” adds Galla. “You could meet someone who is in the same boat as you. It’s exciting to see where people are going.”

Whether you’re in it to talk to a more senior person in your field or just want to meet a new friend in the same industry, networking events can teach you something you can’t learn in the office—or in school, for that matter.

Related: What Career You Should Really Pursue Based on Your Zodiac Sign

3. Take online classes

Signing up for Lynda.com or Coursera.com could help you hone the skills you learned in college or even venture into something new.

“[Lynda.com] has a lot of videos about different programs and systems that I didn't learn in school, but it may be useful in your adult job,” says Alyssa Cooney, a recent graduate of Rowan University with a job in event planning.“It's a good resource because it's accessible, has a variety of topics you may want to learn about, and it keeps you learning even when you're out of school.”

The best part? You can take these classes on your own time and learn from home. Being fairly new to the work world can be a difficult adjustment in itself, so this could be a good fit for people with a tight schedule. Plus, taking these online classes could be your ticket to another job that requires a different set of skills or a position that wants someone more advanced.

4. Follow company leaders you admire on social media

For some of us, the first thing we do in the morning is go on Facebook or Twitter. While you’re scrolling past the unavoidable Bachelorette memes and watching the latest Trump drama unfold, tailor your newsfeed according to your interests. Following executives in your field will allow you access to their personal lives.

Based on what people share, you may learn more about a company or pick up an insider tip that could help you. There’s no excuse for not making the most of this close-up access we have to industry leaders... and let's be real, your social media stalking skills are A+. Want to even go a step further? Join a professional association dedicated to your career. You’ll stay abreast with the latest in your field, have the opportunity to network with some of the most experienced people, and attend exclusive events and workshops.

Related: How to Keep Moving Forward Your Second Year Out of College

5. Sign up for workshops

Whether your company requires you to attend or you find one that peaks your interest, workshops run through a local college or even your own company will feel similar to the college classroom setting. Some may cost a fee, which your company might be willing to pay for (doesn’t hurt to ask!), but keeping up with the latest information in your field is vital.

“Continuing to learn after college is so important because things around you are always changing,” says Lianne Rossi, a recent graduate from Felician University with a nursing job. “Also, it helps to re-learn things that I learned in school because it's impossible to remember everything.” She attended two 8-hour classes, which taught her important tips but also gave her the opportunity to meet nurses at different stages in their careers. Sneaky networking!

“I met other new nurses at the class and had the chance to find out about the floor they work on and how their experience has been so far,” she says. Going to these events can be both enlightening and reassuring. You’re meeting people in your field and learning valuable techniques to keep you moving forward.

And what if you actually want to go back to school? Seek jobs, or inquire/negotiate at your current job, about a tuition assistance plan. Some companies will pay a portion or all of the tuition to get their employees a masters degree. Think about it; higher education will help you advance your knowledge (and most likely your position on the pay scale) while also helping your company stay ahead of the competition with the most in-the-know employees.

6. Listen to podcasts

If you’re looking for a way to make good use of all that time you spend commuting, consider swapping out your latest playlist or the radio for a podcast. There are segments covering everything from life and relationships to sports and politics, so choose something that interests you.

“Individuals of all ages need to be aware of how important lifelong learning has become,” says Karen McKenna, founder of career planning company, CareerVisionary. “[I] encourage [people] to spend time learning as much as possible to remain current in their respective fields, (or broaden their knowledge to other fields), which will allow them to compete for jobs more effectively.”

And podcasts are also a great and easy way to learn about what’s going on in your industry, sometimes straight from big players themselves. No matter the topic, you’ll be keeping up with the latest news and opinions.

Related: An Introvert's Guide to Standing Out in The Office

7. Take freelance work and side hustles

“It’s harder than ever to find a job. You’ll only get it doing the groundwork, making connections and getting experience on your own,” says Galla. “Immerse yourself in any way you can, for free.”

It’s hard to juggle your work life and personal life as it is, but taking on a small side project or fostering a skill that isn’t related to your field helps keep as many opportunities open for you as possible. We are all more than just the career we chose, so let’s use all of our skills to their greatest potential.

In college, getting an education or focusing on a certain career path was the main concern. Suddenly, after graduation, when you are no longer required to go to a class or hand in assignments, it’s easy to focus solely on your career without advancing your knowledge in general. Whether you consider yourself a philomath or just want to do something more productive with your spare time than watch Netflix, keeping yourself up-to-date on your field and pursuing personal interests will leave you feeling knowledgeable and well-rounded. 

Editor's Note

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