It is not easy going back to school once you hit a certain age, however more and more people are going back to earn professional certifications or finish that Bachelor’s Degree they never quite earned. Having at least a four-year degree these days is the equivalent of what a high school diploma was 20 years ago – it is the base minimum education required to obtain a decent paying job. Well, with the exception of a few extraordinary people like Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg who dropped out of college and still managed to become billionaires. But, let’s face it, most of us will never be these people. Just like a high school diploma was never really enough education to get you a higher paid position, the BA alone is not enough to move up the ranks at a corporate job. So, what are most people doing to supplement education and stand out? A PhD seems quite excessive, unless you plan on becoming a professor. And while an MA is guaranteed to earn you a higher paycheck in some professions like the educational field, it is virtually worthless in others. An MS may take you a bit further in the business world, but it is the professional certifications that most businesses are looking for. So, unless you are going back to school to become a doctor, lawyer, teacher or professor you are better served spending your time and money by earning professional certifications.

You may ask what this entails. Well, some professional certifications can be earned by simply taking a test. Often times these tests have prep courses associated with them that should be included in the calculation of time and cost to obtain the certification. Other certifications are earned at the end of a series of courses taken, such as in a community college certification program. And yet other certifications can be acquired by partaking in a Bootcamp.

My route… Eight years after earning a Master’s Degree in Philosophy and Political Science, I decided to change professions (or at least add an entirely new set of tools to my tool-belt). I decided to learn to code and earn a certificate in web development. Coding Bootcamps seemed to be really popular. Many of them boasted a 2 to 4 month program that guaranteed a job upon graduation. The short length and job placement were definitely enticing offerings, however this came at a cost, a hefty cost – most of the programs were asking tuition fees in the $10,000+ range for just a few months of school. Keep in mind that these were not formal institutions with transferrable credits either. I then looked into universities. Many universities offer 4 year degrees in computer science, but there are few schools that offer majors in Web Development. Upon further research, I found the community college route. Many community colleges offer certification programs at a fraction of the cost of formal 4-year universities and Bootcamps. While the certification program length at a community college is a compromise between a Bootcamp and a university degree program taking between one to two years to complete, the additional time is well worth the extra financial savings compared to a Bootcamp. Community College truly does seem to be the perfect compromise for someone looking to earn a professional certification in just about any field.

I was able to earn a Certificate in Web Development and Design within one year for under $2,000. Half of my classes were online and almost all of the rest were nighttime classes. I was able to work a full-time job while attending school full-time! Most Bootcamps are intensive, requiring you to be in a classroom everyday for the 3-4 month duration. It is virtually impossible to hold a job while attending a Bootcamp. Additionally, the program at my local community college focused not just on coding, but also on how to design a website. My program taught the entire Adobe Creative Suite! This is something you do not get at a Bootcamp either. Most Bootcamps focus on coding only.

If you feel like community college is only for recent high school grads that could not get into a four-year university, guess again. The community college certification program is becoming the new MA. Many of the certificate programs are geared toward adult career changers. I found that I was certainly not alone in age or educational background. What a refreshing change from my younger years of higher education. I learned an extremely practical skill set in a fairly quick period of time without having to take out a loan or go into debt.

If you are looking for a certification program in coding, web development or any number of fields I highly recommend checking out what your local community college has to offer. Out of a total of seven years of higher education, I feel that I attained the most practical directly applicable skills from community college. Not to mention I made many new friends and professional connections.