If you want to further your education without paying the big bucks, consider creating your own master’s program.

Getting a master’s degree has probably crossed your mind if you have been thinking about furthering your education.



When it comes to career development, continuous learning will give you a huge advantage in the workplace. Not only does it set you apart from other professionals in your industry, but also you’ll have knowledge about the latest skills and trends.

The problem with continuous learning is many young professionals think the only way they can learn more is if they go back to school, which costs lots of money. While this seems like a logical perception, there’s actually an easier (and cheaper) way you can advance your career.

If you’re looking to further your education without paying the big bucks, you should consider creating your own master’s program. This obviously isn’t the same as an accredited master’s degree you’d earn from an educational institution, but it’s a great way to enhance your skills without paying a lot of money.

How exactly do you create your own master’s degree?

Employers seeking applicants with master’s degrees require those degrees to be from accredited institutions. Unfortunately, what I am suggesting here is not an appropriate substitute. However, if you’re simply looking to continue your learning in your own time, creating a master’s degree program will provide you with the knowledge and experience you want to gain.

1. Set your goal.

When thinking about pursuing your master’s, decide how it will help you advance your career. Do you want to learn a new skill? Are you looking to build more credibility for yourself as a professional? Whatever your goal is, use it as a starting point for your master’s degree.

Once you figure out a goal, decide what exactly you want to learn. For example, if you’re a marketing professional looking to expand your skills, you might want to become more experienced with SEO and content marketing. This will help you figure out what classes you need to take in that field.

2. Determine how you’ll accomplish that goal.

Once you’ve figured out what you want to accomplish by pursuing your master’s, determine how you’ll follow through with your goal.

First, ask yourself what you need to learn in order to advance your career. Next, ask yourself what you’d like to learn in order to build upon your current passions and interests. The answers to these questions will help you find a combination of classes to accomplish your goal.

3. Start building your degree.

After determining what you want to learn, research different options for your education. Since you’ll mostly be working independently toward this degree, there’s a lot of flexibility in how you pursue your master’s.

For example, you can earn your degree through taking a series of online classes or webinars. On the other hand, you can attend in-person workshops or even work as an apprentice. Whatever your learning style is, find the best environment that suits your needs.

If you’re thinking about taking your classes online, there are dozens of resources available. Here’s a list of free online classes and resources that can help you build a customized master’s program:

  • Harvard Open Courses
  • edX
  • Udemy
  • Udacity
  • Muse University
  • Coursera
  • MIT Open Courseware
  • Stanford Online
  • Khan Academy
  • UC Berkeley
  • Duke
  • UCLA
  • Open Yale
  • Carnegie Mellon

4. Attend your classes.

After you’ve determined what resources you’ll take advantage of in order to earn your master’s, you’ll need to plan the timeline for your education.

Create a syllabus with a timeline that’ll guide you as you pursue your master’s. Your syllabus will include an overview of the the different projects, papers, and assignments you’ll do for the duration of your master’s program. You should also include a detailed schedule of when your classes take place and the number of hours you’ll commit to your continuous learning.

5. Plan your capstone project.

To wrap up your master’s degree, you’ll need to create a capstone project. This is your opportunity to summarize everything you’ve learned and achieved while working toward your master’s.

As you plan your capstone, consider doing it in conjunction with an official accreditation within your field. For example, public relations professionals can become accredited in public relations (APR). By aligning your master’s with an official accreditation, you’ll accomplish goals for both projects and design a capstone that’ll be useful for your portfolio, too.

Ideally, your capstone should highlight your strengths and what you’ll offer to an employer. If you decide not to align your capstone with an official accreditation, there are some other options available. For example, you could write a book about your experience, create an online portfolio displaying your accomplishments, or even complete a research project that relates to your field.

6. Determine your grades.

Although your master’s degree will be mostly based on pass/fail grades, you should create a system for keeping record of your accomplishments.

Determining the grades for your master’s will help you track important milestones and how you performed throughout your education. Especially when you’re taking online courses, it’ll be a good idea to record your progress and whether you gained anything from those classes.

7. Prepare for graduation.

Just because you’re earning your master’s degree in an unconventional way doesn’t mean you shouldn’t celebrate your accomplishments.

Upon finishing your master’s, think about how you want to share your achievements. Do you want to host a ceremony with close family, friends, and colleagues? Do you want to be your own commencement speaker? Figure out how you want to share your accomplishments and start planning your big day!

Continuing your education is priceless when it comes to advancing your career. If you’re looking for a way to differentiate yourself from the professionals in your field, creating a master’s degree can make you stand out without having to invest a large amount of money and time.

Photo credit: dimespring

Via Heather Huhman/LinkedIn