15 Ways to Treat Everyday Life Like a Master's Degree

The millennial generation? More like the master's generation.

A story by Nick Anderson in the Washington Post describes how young professionals are funneling into colleges and universities at a record pace for advanced diplomas. Anderson says that from 2000 to 2012, the number of master's degrees rose 63%.

A plain ol' bachelor's won't cut it anymore. Millennials need specialized skills to enhance our resumes and land positions with higher salaries.

Then again, a degree is just a piece of paper. A master's might lead to a new job or pay increase, but once you're in the work world, how do you stay one step ahead?

The answer: treat every day of your life as a master's degree.

1. On Your Own

In the real world, no one is handing out grades or tabulating GPAs. You are now seeking your post-master's degree, and there is no curriculum. All that counts is how hard you're willing to work on yourself.

2. Look It Up

There is a how-to blog post for just about every piece of technology or trick of the trade. Don't get frustrated and give up; just Google it.

3. Find What Matters

Use job postings (ex: Craigslist) in your industry to understand what employers crave. The more specific, the better. Here's a list of optimal skills for a programmer at a travel company in DC:

C# experience strongly preferred; Proficiency in data analysis & development with RDBMS, MS SQL(CRUD, stored procedures, views)

If you want to be a programmer — or work in Web development — then you may need RDBMS, MS SQL, etc ... How do I know? Because Kirk McDonald said so.

4. All On You

You are now the student, TA, professor, and dean of your lifelong master's program. If you drop out, you're only letting yourself down.

5. Work For Free

Accept the fact that you'll need to learn a lot — and usually for free. You can't make money doing the work until you first know how it's done.

6. Joy Of Knowledge

There is deep fulfillment from grasping a subject that once seemed foreign to you.

7. Glean From Co-Workers

Find yourself asking this question in the office: "Can you show me how to do that?"

8. Be Prepared

Prepare for a client presentation the same way you crammed for finals. Except this time, get a good night's sleep.

9. Repetition is Key

After you learn something new, do it 25 times over. Then 50 more. Once isn't enough to make the lesson stick.

10. Soak It Up

In your 20s (and the rest of your life), you must be a sponge. Remain open to and fully absorb new skills, especially those that intimidate you. The daunting tasks often carry the greatest reward.

11. Be Curious

Find yourself asking this question at networking events: "Which skills are most in-demand right now?"

12. Read Every Day

Read something every day. A chapter of a book, an article (here are a bunch), a blog post. Anything.

13. Use Time Wisely

A master's degree, while valuable, is expensive. Your free time, while valuable, is essential. Think of your down-time as 'class in session.'

14. Only the Start

Understand that a master's degree is the start, not end, of your education.

15. Pay Attention

Always be ready to take notes.

Six years ago, I earned my master's in journalism from the University of Maryland-College Park. From then on, I have been pursuing my lifelong master's degree. This time around, there is no graduation, commencement speech (like this one from a 26-year-old), mortarboard or tassels. I am still enrolled and have no plans of quitting. A devotion to new skills is the only way up.

Congrats to the 2013 master's graduates. Now let's get to work.