It’s not easy to set yourself apart from the pack of ceaseless, brand-building undergraduates that scour the job market before they even near graduation. Every college student is looking for resources that will help them get ahead both in and beyond the classroom, but more often than not they find their schedules and wallets at odds with their ambitions to boost their credibility in worthwhile yet inexpensive ways. Even people beyond academia have trouble finding opportunities to build both their personal brand and base of experience in ways that do not overshoot their budget. However, I have come to find that there is a multiplicity of widely untapped resources available to almost anyone that can greatly augment their skills or interests in exciting fields. These resources can be employed whether you are a formal or informal student on the subject. Here are some of the resources I myself have found to be most helpful in building my credibility where my time and money fall short:
- Skills: edX
Edx is an open online course provider that offers thousands of high-quality certificate courses from some of the best institutions in all disciplines. From an aerodynamics course offered by professors at MIT to a philosophical idealism course offered by professors at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, to a course on the rise of superheroes by researchers at the Smithsonian Institute to a human rights course by lawyers at Amnesty International, there is a course available to satiate anyone’s desire to learn more about these fields.
While every edX course offers the option of pursuing a verified course certificate for $49, it makes virtually no difference in credibility to pay for a verified certificate compared to simply earning an audited certificate. Almost all of the courses are free to audit and many of them are self-paced so students are able to work on course modules whenever they please. Certificates in any professional domain will jazz up your LinkedIn profile and guarantee a resume boost!
- Experience: HelpX
Since studying abroad is typically a one-time deal in college and difficult to financially justify for leisure in adulthood, many experiential learners on a budget are left unable to continue authentically learning about their fields and interests in ways apropos to the countries that specialize in these areas.
HelpX is a comprehensive, safe alternative to a costly trip abroad relying on pricey hotel to pricey hotel. Help Exchange, or HelpX, is an online database that provides an extensive list of volunteer positions available at homestays, organic farmstays, non-organic farmstays, ranches, lodges, hostels, and even sailboats around the world. In exchange for work, volunteers are provided with food, living accommodations, and practical experience with their host, hostess, or host family free of charge. It is free to browse opportunities and only costs 20 Euros, or around $22, for a premier membership to contact hosts, and the length of your stay is usually negotiable.
- Money: Student Development Funds
Depending on eligibility, students are able to apply for financial assistance grants through their school’s office of merit awards, career center, or office of development and alumni relations that will essentially compensate them for a variety of expensive conferences and unpaid positions. Most accredited universities offer a professional student development fund that allows their students who receive a Pell grant in their financial aid package to attend a conference related to their intended career path free of charge. Many of these grants will cover the registration fee, travel expenses, and even the purchase of professional attire in preparation for the event. With regard to unpaid positions, many schools offer internship funds to students who financially qualify for compensation for their commute and time spent. Check with your school’s office of merit awards, career development, and endowment offices for more information on what is available for students and alumni.
- Opportunities: Subscriptions to Newsletters
Some of the best networking and job opportunities that I have had have come from attending the events advertised in the monthly newsletters, event notices, and on the website homepages of organizations that I admire. Since most of these events are free and open to the public, you are able to deliberately place yourself in the same room as someone who you hope could be a mentor to you one day. When I was a new student at American University, I was invited to attend a discussion on the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 in the Dirksen Senate Building. Because I subscribed to event updates from the Migration Policy Institute during my first semester, I was one of the youngest people in the room listening to some of the most influential voices in immigration policy discuss their views, and I was able to set myself apart as a result of it. I spoke to dozens of professionals from around the country and made many contacts that I never could have imagined had I stayed in my dorm and worked on homework. I have learned that it is not enough to just follow along with what your ideal future employer is working on; you must step out of your comfort zone and be a presence in the discussions that you really care about when you are afforded the opportunity to do so. Just clicking that ‘Subscribe’ button is the first step.
I can always suggest going to the library or sending an email to a well-known philanthropist in the hopes that they may fund your next aspiration. But there are ways to boost one’s credibility even further than isolated learning or empty calls for help. I have earned certificates in complex topics, lived nearly for free, and attended conferences all around the world just by doing my research and keeping up with my emails. Opportunities are out there for the aspiring young professional looking to save a few bucks; you just have to know where to look.