5 Ways To Keep Learning Without Pursuing a Degree

Learning and self-improvement are about more than just a piece of paper.

Photo by Sound On from Pexels

In the midst of this global pandemic, a lot of would-be college students have been left in the lurch. COVID-19 unceremoniously hijacked their senior year of high school last spring and many were faced with the question of whether or not to pay full-price tuition for Zoom University, or risk infection on an actual campus.

Needless to say, enrollment for first-year students went down this past fall.

This drop has coincided with high levels of unemployment, student loan debt, and an increasingly unforgiving job market. For years the conversation of “Is a college degree still worth it?” has been raging on. For anyone stuck in the crosshairs of that particular debate, it’s worth considering some alternatives, especially if you’re more interested in the knowledge than the accolades.


Libraries are a vital part of many communities because they offer so much more than just books. Career services, language tutoring, cultural events. If you’ve never taken the time to see what your local library has to offer, I highly advise you do so. With resources like Libby and OverDrive, ebooks and audiobooks are also widely available for free through many libraries. Some states even have their own apps for free library books.


Some of the most practical work experience I’ve ever gotten has been in volunteer positions. Sometimes the only way to learn is by doing, and there is never a shortage of nonprofits looking for assistance. Pre-COVID, I started volunteering by looking up a nonprofit with a mission I believed in, walking into their office, and asking if there was any way at all that I could be useful to them. As a budding designer, I made sure to emphasize my willingness to design materials for their events.

Translating that to a digital domain, you can accomplish the same thing by emailing organizations, especially ones that are local to you. A lot of nonprofits will have a volunteer coordinator that’s more than happy to put you to work.

Online Classes

The prevalence of high-level and reputable online course options has been growing for years. Skillshare, Coursera, UDemy — the market is ripe with course options for people looking to pickup new skills or explore potential career interests. With prices ranging from totally free to less than $100, they’re an attractive option when compared to tuition rates. And several are offered by colleges and universities themselves on these platforms.

Non-matriculated courses

If your interest lies more in the content than the recognition, consider taking non-matriculated courses at a four-year school. These are specifically for people who want to take a class or two but do not intend to pursue a degree, and most universities offer them in some capacity. If you’re on the fence about a particular school or program, a non-matriculated course can be exactly what you need to make your final decision. It’s also a good option if you just want to work on a very specific skill.

Conferences, Seminars, and Summits

Zoom conferences are at an all-time high, and in the past year most major conferences, seminars, and even some festivals have pivoted to an online space. If you’re looking to just get a sense of a particular field or industry culture, these can be a great option that requires less commitment than a full course. Tech conferences are among the most prevalent with several national and international ones taking place each month.

None of this will substitute the full college experience, which is often as much about getting away from parents and being independent as it is about learning. However, the options are expanding as traditional education encounters new roadblocks. There’s never been a better time to take advantage of the great ways innovation has made learning new things easier than ever.

How are you learning these days?



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