BY BRIDGET HILTON
The globalization of the internet has broken down barriers to information previously reserved for the uber elite. Today, a college diploma is not the key to success like it may have been years ago. The world has changed dramatically, but the education system has not caught up.
Graduates today currently hold the highest level of student loan debt ever. Americans owe more than $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among about 44 million borrowers. In fact, the average class of 2016 graduate had $37,172 in student loan debt, up 6 percent from the previous year.
However, the world and business have never been more competitive. Therefore, investing in yourself has never been more important. There are ways to do it without spending four-plus years of your life in school and incurring a lifetime in debt. Since I didn’t attend a university, I have studied a myriad of free and cheap resources to improve my skills as a business owner and marketer in addition to being able to start my company earlier in life. Here are a few ways you can do the same without racking up loans.
1. Take online courses.
If you desire some sort of formal training or learning, there are plenty of free or inexpensive options online. Want to learn about being an entrepreneur in emerging economies? Interested in the fundamental principles of architecture? Harvard has these programs on their website at no cost. Want to work in entertainment and learn how to craft amazing stories? Pixar partnered with Khan Academy to inspire young people to get creative. Want to learn one of the most crucial skills in today’s job market? CodeAcademy will teach you how to code — for free. Online courses have helped grown my skillset, and that of my team, in many different areas.
2. Listen to podcasts.
A great way to pass the time in traffic or on a plane in an educational way is to expand your mind with free podcasts like Foundation by Kevin Rose and the Tim Ferriss Show. The guests range from Elon Musk to Arnold Schwarzenegger. The in-depth interviews with world-class performers will change the way you think about life and how you are living it, while exposing you to subjects you may have never thought about before. It’s basically like having a mentor without ever meeting them in real life.
It has never been easier to access books. You can purchase from a bookstore, Audible or Amazon, borrow from a library, or use free and legal public domain books from Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Google Play or iTunes. Don’t know where to start? Best-selling author Ryan Holiday publishes a comprehensive monthly book recommendation email that I highly recommend signing up for. Set a goal. For example, try to read one book per month and work up to a book a week to become a more educated, well-rounded person.
4. Have a game plan.
Writing a “future you” resume (or LinkedIn profile) does wonders in motivating you to follow your dreams. It helps you visualize who you want to become and the steps to take to get there. When I did this, my personal goals were to exit the corporate life, start a company that helps others, land on 30 Under 30 lists (such as the one by Forbes), and travel the world. Write it down, figure out what you need to do to accomplish your goal, and most importantly, get started!
Travel is the single most important thing to do if you want to grow as a person and experience other cultures. Travel teaches tolerance, independence and confidence. While travel can be expensive, experiences are a good way to spend money and there are many ways to cut costs depending on where you are visiting. Letting work or the fear of falling behind at your job get in the way of an adventure once in a while is a recipe for stress and being stuck in a life you do not want. Personally, travel has been the most vital part of growing our business and ourselves as entrepreneurs.
The moral of the story is that you should not let money, or the absence of it, deter you from becoming the best you can be. If you do all of these things or a combination of any, you will find yourself closer to the person you aspire to become — without a fortune in student loan debt.