The Master’s is the new bachelor’s, as the saying goes, and thanks to the internet, today’s graduates have more options than ever to get the real-world skills many feel they may have missed in college. Here’s a brief overview of three of the different opportunities available for continuing education today.

Master’s Degrees
The traditional way to get targeted skills beyond your B.A., a master’s program provides an intensive period of study in a specific discipline. In some fields, like counseling or law, an advanced degree is practically mandatory, but even in other professions it can significantly boost your lifetime earnings. According to The Washington Post, the median salary for people with a master’s was $69,100 versus $57,600 for those with a bachelor’s.

The problem is that that boost can come with a hefty price tag— anywhere from $30,000 to $120,000, depending the the school and length of the program, and that’s not even factoring in the cost of not earning a paycheck for a year or two if the program is full-time.  Plus, not all master’s degrees are created financially equal; while a master’s in mechanical engineering may add an extra $14,000 or so to your starting salary, a master’s in social work may only add $8,000, and the reputation of the master’s program you choose can also highly influence the types of jobs you get coming out.

A master’s can be a great choice for some people and professions. Before you commit years of your life and a significant chunk of change to a master’s, make sure that the program you are choosing will help you follow your dream and find a job that makes you happy.  

MOOCs
MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses that are offered via the internet from colleges all over the country, are skyrocketing in popularity. In 2011, there were less than 10 MOOCs available worldwide. A new study by the MOOC aggregator Class Central reports that there are now more than 4,000, in subjects ranging from Aerodynamics to Aristotle.

MOOCs are usually either free or much cheaper than equivalent college course, and they can be taken from anywhere, making them a popular option for those who want to quickly learn a new skill or explore a subject that they’ve never explored before. But they also may be less effective in getting students to stay connected—the percentage of students who complete a MOOC is fairly abysmal, and educators question whether they can work effectively for all types of classes and skillsets.

For now, the jury’s still out on whether MOOCs will ever be able to replace traditional higher education, but they do allow students to supplement or enhance a skill or expose them to classes they may have never otherwise known existed.

Bootcamps
Bootcamps are intensive programs that can be full or part-time and focus on teaching a particular skill. The idea comes from Silicon Valley, where they attract would-be software engineers motivated to spend 10-hour days for several months in order to learn to code. Bootcamps may have only been around for the last four or five years, but they are exploding in popularity because they are designed to fit employer demands. This year the number of graduates from such programs is expected to hit 16,000, up from 6,740 in 2014, according to a recent survey by Course Report. And with prestigious universities lending credence to this new form of education, bootcamps are poised to grow even more rapidly in the coming years.

Bootcamps occupy a sweet spot in continuing education options: cheaper than master’s programs, but more intensive than MOOCs, and potentially more likely to get you real, applicable skills. But all of these options emphasize the wealth of choices students have for continuing education. Whether you want to retool for a completely new career or just brush up on your current skills, a master’s program, MOOC, or bootcamp may be your answer.

 

Master’s MOOCs Bootcamp
Length of Time Anywhere from 10 months to 3 years. Anywhere from 4 weeks to 6 months. 2 to 4 months.
Type of Learning Theory intensive Self-guided Experiential
Cost $30,000 to $120,000 $0 to $50 $0 to $18,000
Networking Lots of in-person networking and events. No in-person networking. Varies by bootcamp
Job Search Tools Career center; recruitment fairs; university resources. None. Employer introductions, job fair days; sometimes a talent placement manager.
Teachers University faculty in the classroom. Recorded lectures by university faculty; possibly online chats with faculty or TAs. Professionals in the field.
Projects Internship or practicum projects. Sometimes projects, either self-graded or evaluated by TAs or peers. Projects built into experience.
Final Result Diploma Certificate Certificate & Project portfolio
Good for People that enjoy immersive, theory-rich learning and need a structured, traditional environment, or those in careers that absolutely require the degree. Self-guided learners who can design their own curriculum; people who want to learn more about a specific subject but don’t need the degree. People who want to learn a directed skill in a structured environment or who need to quickly retool their careers by building up new skillsets.