Why I’m Pursuing A $5K Certificate Program Instead Of A Pricey Graduate Degree

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I graduated from a big state university in May with a dual major in history and archaeology. Although I’ve been told that those fields aren’t guaranteed jobs after undergrad, I’ve had great internship experience and have a decent resume for a recent graduate. For months, I thought I was in line for my dream job (in a field other than the one I studied), but after talking to the company, waiting for the business to start up, and feeling like the job was a sure thing, I found out that they offered the position to somebody else. I was devastated and felt like that was my only chance at getting a job (the opportunity was very unique), since there are just no archaeology jobs being posted that I actually qualify for. I’m feeling really, really hopeless and, although I was planning on going to grad school in a year or two, I don’t want to end up at the same spot I’m in now, with even more student debt.

Instead, I am looking into certificate programs. My alma mater offers a certificate in GIS (geographic information systems)  and I feel like having that as a supplement to my background in archaeological excavation and survey would make me a much more desirable candidate. I am really tech-savvy and have a basic understanding of GIS already, so I feel like I would definitely be able to handle the program. I’ve looked around a bit and I think that getting this certificate can only help me. I would like to continue on to grad school one day and, though I am not sure about what I want to specialize in, I’ve seen GIS get utilized in a variety of ways in both history and archaeology, so I can shape it as I need. It also could provide me with a decent fallback if I decide to switch gears from archaeology. I can’t afford an unpaid internship, and I’m not qualified for most jobs in my field without higher education. Seeing as graduate school isn’t an option for me in the near future, for financial reasons, I feel like a certificate would look great on my resume, and give me more options.

While I understand that I can’t get my archaeology dream job right out of college, there are certainly jobs in archaeology that you could get with a bachelor’s, mostly as a “shovelbum” working for cultural resource management firms. But I had been applying and not even getting interviews, and it didn’t help that I was applying right at the end of the field season. I needed to get a job quickly to start paying off my student loans and it became apparent how unqualified I would be for other jobs if I decided to take a non-archaeology route one day. But this is what I love and what gives my life meaning, so I felt wary about “selling out” and giving up.

As I sat on my bed with my laptop open to 15 tabs of receptionist job postings and articles on unemployment rates, I felt so trapped. My student loan bills were approaching, I could feel myself growing in depression from my current living/employment/relationship/life situation, and I was still mourning the loss of my dream job. I was so on top of things in college, and it was the first time I truly felt like a failure.

But when I found this certificate program, it made sense. The use of GIS is growing in almost every field, the humanities included. I would be learning about 3D mapping and landscape modeling. I’m genuinely excited about going back to school but I’m mainly getting it as a resume-builder. After getting the certificate, if I just needed to get any job, I could get a job working for the city, or a consulting firm, and make a decent salary. But it would also be such a useful skill for a future in archaeology, since so much of the discipline is studying how the artifacts and material remains interact with the landscape. I’ll have to take out more student loans to pay for the tuition, but it’s a few thousand dollars, so much less than a graduate degree, which is very appealing right now. Additionally, I’ll be able to defer my student loans while completing that program.

As of now, this certificate program is the first thing I’m excited about since graduating into this dismal post-grad life. However, if this is really the next step for me, I need to figure out how to pay for it. I live at home, so rent is free, and I work at a coffee shop that pays about $12/hour. Currently, I have $11,000 in student loans, and monthly payments of about $100 that will start in December. 

As for certificate-related costs, my boyfriend still lives in my college town and I could hopefully live with him and his roommates for about $150/month, which would be a great way to save. The certificate would take two semesters at about $2,400 each, so the program would cost about $5,000 total. I would not be eligible for federal aid. I would work part time while doing this program and hopefully make at least $700-$1,000 per month. I bike pretty much everywhere in my college town town, and can be pretty frugal if I need to. 

Living in post-grad wasteland, and trying to figure out a next step when the job market for your ideal job is nonexistent and likely requires a grad degree, shakes your confidence. However, I feel strongly about starting this certificate program, because it will further me as a professional, and allow me to save (by putting off graduate school, or possibly taking the place of it). I currently hate my coffee shop job, I don’t love living at home, and I don’t want to be in this situation much longer. I think I can get into this program starting in January, and if not, I would just have to figure out another job until I can do it in the fall. I’m torn, because I don’t want to have another $5K in loans, though working while I’m in the certificate program would, of course, help. At the end of the day, I think it would be a good investment. I’m just not going to be able to find a good job with my degree right now and this certificate program would mean living a life I enjoy more, and it would allow me to get a job I’m more passionate about, and make a lot more money, after the program.

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  • Lane Pickett

    I went through something similar after graduating this past May. I interviewed for a position where I interned and they ended up offering the position to someone else. I was so devastated after that and it really took a while for me to shake it off. I struggled so much with getting a job after graduating, and now I work as a receptionist (something not related to my field.)

  • saltwaterlily

    I can tell you that GIS skills are SO IN DEMAND in my field (marine biology) — and almost no one has them. That certificate will take you far.

  • Shamira West

    I went through a similar experience after graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in 2011. Job intereview after job interview all I got was “we need someone with a little more experience” mind you, the jobs I applied for were entry level positions. After three years, I finally got the position of my then 21 year old dreams! However, I decided that my skills can be used in other places without stressing over trying to climb “the corporate ladder” so I am currently studying for a certification too. I can’t wait to see where it takes me.

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