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Advice / Career Paths / Training & Development

School's Not Out: The Importance of Continuing Education

When we hit our 20s, it seems like we’ve spent our entire lives in a classroom. We’ve slowly transitioned from grade school to high school to the final home stretch of college or a graduate program. For 16+ years, we’ve been educational sponges, absorbing information from classes, lectures, and seminars on dozens of diverse topics.

And then, it stops.

Like many students, I spent the better part of my academic years falling asleep in classes that were neither stimulating (Politics and the Constitution, 1867 to the Present anyone?) nor practical in everyday life. So I still remember being thrilled as I finished the final sentence of my last college paper, thinking “There! I’ll never have write an essay or go to school ever again!”

But of course, I was wrong. After entering the workforce, I’ve realized that learning is even more important now than it was back in my dorm room days. For one, Humanities 101 definitely didn’t prepare me for the skills I need to further my career—skills like how to negotiate my first salary, how to present in front of a large crowd, or even how to budget and invest for the future.

So I went back to the (figurative) classroom, and started learning again. It turns out that learning something new not only helps the brain function more effectively, but improves focus, overall confidence, and self-esteem. It’s also a great way to get social, meet new friends, and expand your professional network!

So if you want to kick your career into overdrive, consider going back to the classroom. Here are four great ways to continue your education:

1. Get Your Geek On

You probably put together a couple of PowerPoint presentations in college, but most majors don’t teach you other valuable tech skills—basic HTML/CSS or Photoshop, for example. And no matter what field you’re in, boosting your knowledge in a couple of computer programs will be both useful for your job and attractive to future employers.

To brush up on your skills or learn new ones, try take a class through your local college. Or, browse Meetup (nationwide) or (NYC) for tech-related events, workshops, or lectures.

2. Become an Industry Expert

Attending conferences and networking events that cater to your industry niche are a great way to learn the ins and outs of your field and, at the same time, meet potential clients or business contacts. Conferences can be expensive, but they often allow you to get the first glimpse at new products and witness speeches and presentations by industry leaders.

Networking events will usually start with an educational seminar or forum highlighting new advancements or trends in the industry and then move to drinks and mingling. Both are a great way to continue learning about topics specific to your field.

Find events in your area by browsing industry association websites, or at Eventbrite or Meetup.


3. Speak Like a Pro

Does the idea of asking for a raise or leading a meeting send chills up your spine? You’re not alone—and that’s why there are classes out there for professional skills such as negotiation tactics, public speaking, or how to effectively market your company. Many classes will have you practicing what they preach: By participating in role-playing with a peer or speaking in front of the class, you’ll get hands-on experience before you have to use these tactics in the real world. (Bonus: if your class partner's company is hiring, you may just happen to role-play your way into a new job!)

NYC ladies should check out Women in Wireless’ educational series this fall—covering topics in negotiation tactics, public speaking, and more. Or, look for similar courses at networking organizations or community colleges in your city.

4. Check in at the Hobby-Lobby

Yes, picking up a new hobby is fun—and it also can improve your skills at work. Studies show that investing some time into the arts sparks areas of the brain that improve cognitive skills such as memory and concentration—and adds up to seven points to your IQ score! Plus, taking up the violin, learning a new language, or taking a cooking class at your local community center or college could uncover a hidden talent (or at the very least, put something tasty on the table!).

Browse for a class that sparks your interest, whether that’s learning Mandarin or making jewelry or Wine Tasting 101.

You shouldn’t stop learning once college is over: It’s key to your career success. It doesn’t have to be in a traditional classroom, and it doesn’t need to burn a deeper hole into your student debt—you can find classes starting at around $10-20. And I promise, it’ll be far more fun than junior year calculus class.

What’s a continuing education course that you have taken and would recommend?

Photo courtesy of Joi Ito.