General Education

Unsure About Grad School? Try These Online Classes Instead.

Unsure About Grad School? Try These Online Classes Instead.
Want to continue your education, but not sure where to start? Image from Unsplash
Lillian Stone profile
Lillian Stone August 26, 2019

Grow your skills and connections without investing thousands of dollars and years of your life. 

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If you've ever seen a dog latch onto a particularly desirable chew toy, you'll understand my tendency to revel in new possibilities. I'm someone who thrives on exploring new ideas—sometimes to a fault. That's how I found myself two years out of undergrad, tucked into a cubicle at my unsatisfying day job and frantically researching screenwriting MFA programs.

I've always had a passion for film and creative writing, and a few weeks of particularly frustrating corporate encounters had me ready to pursue something new.

In a few hours, I had scheduled a time to take the GRE, reached out to former professors for recommendation letters, and compiled a list of the most prestigious screenwriting MFA programs in the United States. It didn't take long for me to realize that I needed to slow down.

For a lot of young professionals, a graduate degree is a must to advance in their chosen field—fields like medicine or social work. On the contrary, I had yet to meet anyone with an MFA in screenwriting, and there was no guarantee that the six-figure investment would propel me to winning my first Oscar.

After coming to terms with the considerable expense, I decided to press pause on continuing my education. Still, I missed the classroom, and I knew I wanted to sharpen my skills as a writer. Eventually, I discovered The Second City's online writing classes. I completed one—and another, and another—from the comfort of my home in southwest Missouri. While those classes weren't as prestigious as a degree from, say, California Institute of the Arts, they were instrumental in my growth as a freelance humor writer.

If you're interested in growing professionally—but not quite ready to pursue a graduate degree—online classes are a great option. Not sure where to start? These classes will get you off on the right foot.

If you're interested in: MFA programs

MFA programs can be an excellent option for writers, artists, and other creative professionals who are ready to grow their skills and networks. However, these programs can be extraordinarily costly and time-consuming, and often require students to relocate, which isn't realistic for many. If you feel drawn to a writing MFA, consider a class through Catapult or The Second City.

Both programs offer online options that coach students in personal essay writing, screenplay best practices, and more. If you're interested in another creative pursuit—like graphic design, for example—websites like and Khan Academy offer thousands of video tutorials that cover everything from Photoshop 101 to full-scale computer animation. Khan Academy is completely free, while a premium Lynda membership costs $35 monthly.

If you're interested in: MBA programs

It's no secret that an MBA degree can make you more competitive in the job market—not to mention, more likely to secure a cushy executive position down the line.

While some companies help with the cost of their employees' MBA tuition, you may have to pay for it yourself. In which case, you might want to have additional work experience—and savings—under your belt before you invest in your education.

Fortunately, many colleges and universities offer free online courses. Take Columbia University, for example, a school that uses the edX platform to host online classes at ColumbiaX.

Students have over 30 courses to choose from, with curricula spanning corporate finance, risk and return, cash flow analysis, demand and supply analytics, and more. Massachusetts Institute of Technology hosts OpenCourseWare a web-based publication of virtually all MIT course material. The platform's most popular courses include studies in linear algebra, algorithms, probability and statistics, and microeconomics. 

If you're interested in: mastering a new skill

Want to continue your education, but not sure where to start? Try an online boot camp through General Assembly or Coding Dojo. Coding Dojo is specific to computer programming. General Assembly offers an array of full- and part-time courses on everything from web design to digital marketing, product management, and python programming. The best part? You can complete these courses in a matter of weeks. 

If the prospect of learning slightly less practical skills draws you in, check out Masterclass. This program delivers beautifully-shot video lessons featuring instruction led by some of the world's most groundbreaking minds. Want to predict the future of space travel? Astronaut Chris Hadfield has expert insight. Are you looking to shoot with natural light? Legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz shares her approach. Can a video of Serena Williams teach you tennis? Probably not. However, watching her serving speed average 108 miles per hour is worth the platform's $15 monthly fee, and then some. 

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