Design Your Own Master’s

Written by Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool and founder of Steady Mom

A note from Jamie: I know, I promised to write about cleaning today. But then my husband went overseas on an important work trip. For six days. Enough said. So enjoy this repost, which originally published on January 17, 2011.

For years, I’ve dreamed of earning a Master’s in Education one day. It’s been on my list of future goals for quite some time. I’m specifically interested in studying alternative education and the philosophy and history of education. Not surprising, since I’m one of those crazy homeschoolers, you know.

Recently, I was comparing my list of goals with my available free time–trying to compute how they would ever fit together.

I am a busy mama, just like you. On top of my mothering and homeschooling, I’ve been blessed with a unique and wonderful dream job as a writer here in the blogosphere. I also hope to begin another book later this year.

So just when am I going to squeeze in this master’s program?

Researching potential degree options, I felt a rush of giddy feelings exploring the required reading list. All those educational books are like candy in a candy store to me. But when I imagined receiving the list of assignments for the semester, my giddy feelings turned to nausea.

Then I realized something amazing–I don’t really want a master’s.

I just want to learn.

There’s no reason I need to complete a degree so someone else can deem me “educated.” I have no plans or desire to ever teach in the traditional system. I don’t need a teaching certificate to enable me to homeschool. The program that interests me most is currently unaccredited anyway.

John Holt, founder of the unschooling movement, helped me with this epiphany. Recently I’ve been reading a selection of his letters that were published. In one of them he writes the following to a fellow educational reformer:

“I’ve been told many times by well-meaning friends that I would be more ‘effective’ if I had a post-graduate degree in education. I don’t agree with them.

I think the fact that I can do useful work in a number of fields, and that I am invited to participate in a great number of different kinds of professional conferences in spite of not having academic qualifications, is a very powerful argument against the necessity of those qualifications in the first place.”

There’s never been a technologically superior time to design your own master’s. Check out this amazing list of 12 Dozen Places to Educate Yourself Online for Free.

Continuing our personal education is a powerful way to set an example for the little ones we teach at home. Without a doubt, there is a place for educational institutions in our world, and many people want or need that seal of approval to fulfill their goals in life.

But what a blessing to know that we need never stop learning, no matter where we crack open the books.

What would you love to study? Do you need an official degree in the subject, or is there a way you can get started now?

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. I really like this, and so agree!

  2. I never finished my BS (Biology/Environmental Science), but I have continued to self-educate over the years. One of the things I love most about homeschooling is the ability to continue to learn while my son learns! Things I’d forgotten or just never got around to learning, I get to hear about all over again! And sometimes the questions that get asked dive us both into much greater research!

    I love the idea of doing the reading and research for a master’s program on your own. People have asked me over the years if/when I will go back for my BS – my answer is ‘probably never’ as I don’t have a reason to have it. I don’t need it for homeschooling – and my interests and experience have gone beyond what I was studying. But I love the idea of knowing I’ve worked through a program like that.

  3. Great post… I just love that list!!! Before we began homeschooling I nearly signed up for another degree because I was so desperate to learn something, anything really!!! And then we began homeschooling and I began learning in earnest again… did I ever learn!!! History fell into place for the first time, science was fun… even writing in a journal became my fun alongside the kids, while they did theirs. I read somewhere that if you are filling your kids with too much school, and that is very easy to do in a homeschool… just one more learning experience and another and another interesting thing and what about this and what about that, anyway if you find yourself packing your children with way too much educational goodness… then it is time to learn something yourself. I have done tons of personal studying because of this!!! Giving my kids the air to breathe and discover while I follow a rabbit trail of research!!!

  4. Jamie, this is such a great point and comes at a really important moment for me. I’m dying to go back for another master’s degree, but because of my current status, I’d be considered an international student where I’m living and can’t possibly afford it right now. I still do crave the school environment, but just because it’s not an option at the moment doesn’t mean I can’t find ways to educate myself anyway–especially since I’m a former educator myself, having taught college/university for six years. Sometimes it takes someone else to help you think of the most simple and obvious thing :).
    Two Chicks and a Hen’s latest post: How to Make an Outdoor Ice Bunting

  5. Thanks so much for posting on this topic, and especially for the link to online educational resources. I’d love to go back to school to study nutrition, among a long list of other things, but working my way through some of these resources may give me an idea of what courses would be worth the investment in money and time. I’ll let my 12 year old daughter peruse them as well. Though she’s pretty firm in her desired career, it will be interesting to see what coursework she finds appealing.

  6. Jamie, we are so much alike it’s scary. Every post you write resonates with me. I wish you still lived in E. Texas so we could hang out. As you know… it’s a different world out here! =)

    (Nandini’s Mom)

  7. Oh, you have warmed the cockles of my heart with this post!

    You could not have elicited a bigger AMEN from me if you tried.
    Jessica’s latest post: Sorry- Holy Spirit- for all the cellulite

  8. I love this. with homeschooling my kids and the activities I have and my husband in law school already we could not afford to put me in school right now and I don’t want to go any way. I just want to learn more things. My sister and I are doing a bible education curriculum for the two of us for the year and a couple of our girlfriends are thinking of joining us. We made up our study plan and share what we learn every week.

    I have been to that site you share and it is AWESOME. That site has so many wonderful things to discover and explore. Great post Jamie!
    Rana’s latest post: A Day in the Life

  9. Thanks for a great post and links. I’ve really never contemplated the idea of informally continuing my education in a more formal way. I like this idea!

  10. Love these comments, ladies!

    I also wanted to mention this blog post by author Timothy Ferriss of the 4-Hour Work Week. It’s called How to Create Your Own Real-World MBA:

  11. Wow! Thank you! This puts into words exactly how I feel about education. I just recently finished my Bachelor’s, and I’m constantly being asked what I want to do with it. I’m always stumped. I never planned that part; I just really wanted to learn.

    Truth be told, instilling the love of learning in my future children is the whole reason I’m even thinking about homeschooling. I don’t necessarily think there is anything wrong with the current education system; I just want my children to understand that learning looks like a lot of things: museums and cooking and long afternoons spent in a book. It does not have to look like paperwork and schedules and letter grades. People spend so much of their education focusing on those first few letters of the alphabet that they don’t realize there is the whole alphabet to learn, and a world beyond that.
    Jennie’s latest post: Interjectional Thoughts Or Why I Decorate With Books

  12. I love this post! I DO have a master’s degree in education and I can assure you it has NEVER helped me in any way to homeschool my child. As a matter of fact, I’m not really even sure it helped me in the classroom when I was teaching public school. I really think experience, curiosity, and the desire for knowledge are the best teachers in life! After all, the Bible says all we have to do is ask and He’ll give us wisdom (no student loans to worry about)! 🙂
    Laurie’s latest post: Snow Days- Breakdowns- and Changes

  13. Yes! I had the same realization two years ago. I’d always wanted to go back to school, but it seemed counterproductive to our family’s larger goals. I went to a free guest lecture up at Cornell and realized I don’t have to pay tuition and take tests to learn….I can just LEARN! It was such an amazing feeling.

    I went home and spent $100 on Amazon buying a slew of books I was interested in and I can’t tell you the opportunities that have come from the things I took the initiative to learn by myself.

    Loved this post Jamie 🙂

  14. How wonderful! When I was newly married (no kids), I “audited” classes at a local private university for pennies. It was an amazing experience – two years of studying exactly what I wanted, with no ties to choosing classes based on my track. I was so motivated to go and participate 100% because it was my *choice* to be there everyday. Hurray for self-education! A paper means very little.
    Rachel at Stitched in Color’s latest post: a Winner &amp a Laugh

  15. Eventually I would like to obtain a Fine Arts degree in writing or the visual arts. Currently I “self-educate” myself at home. 🙂 Reading, writing in a journal, or exploring different art mediums with my kids. We are military family and we move every few years. It’s difficult to attend a college. At some point will be in one place and I’ll start then. For now thank goodness for a plain old piece of paper/pen and the library. 🙂

  16. Was just talking to a fellow homeschool mom about the fact that I have NO desire to return to the classroom for my Master’s. I have too much to learn, and too much to experience to spend that kind of time, and money, for another degree.

    I have also gleaned a lot from Tim Ferriss’ book and blog. It was nice to see you mention it.

  17. Great epiphany! Along the lines of mine as well. After I was done with my BS in Interior Design I thought to myself that I would like to get my masters as well after the kids are older/grow up. Then about half a year ago I realized just how pointless that piece of paper is. I am all for educating oneself, but not for $10,000+ a year (more like $30,000 a year if you’re looking at prestigious schools). I am actually starting to think that putting that time and resources into your own business/freelancing is a MUCH better idea! 🙂 I am looking forward to reading John Holt’s books once they are back at our library.
    Anastasia Borisyuk’s latest post: A Glimpse into Eco-Babyz 21- 2010 in Pictures

  18. I so agree w/ this…thanks for writing about this.
    I’m so glad you found something you desire and love that works well for your life right now- yeah, exciting!

  19. ITA. Here’s to learning for the sake of knowledge, instead of artificial reward systems. Thank you!
    Magic and Mayhem’s latest post: MLK- making routines work and more

  20. love this! i think this is crucial especially for those that take the unschooling path with their children, because how can we expect our kids to design their own curriculum and life learning, unless they have models (us) to show how it’s done! i have been on a similar path myself, with many of the things i’ve been wanting to learn being things that aren’t necessarily taught in school (permaculture and gardening, herbalism, sewing and knitting, etc.) and some that are or could-maybe-be (field ecology, plant biology, ornithology, etc.), but not necessarily… i did get a masters, in biology, and it seemed key for the career i (thought i) wanted… let’s just say, i feel so much more alive now that i have taken it upon myself to just go and learn what i want, rather than submit to someone else’s course outline and busywork.
    mb’s latest post: women

  21. Love this idea! Thanks for sharing those resources. There’s also a book by Josh Kaufman called the Personal MBA that is based on the same principle of self-education.

    I’d love to hear more about how your “masters” program goes, what resources you’re using, etc. I hope you’ll revisit the topic in later posts. Thanks!
    Caitlin’s latest post: Wednesday Web RoundUp 1-19-11

  22. You seem to have the gift of impecable timing.

    I’m back in my Leadership Education book this month and reading through the transition and scholar years, which are fast approaching. It’s been impressed upon my heart once more how I need go deeper with my own education. “Me not them” and “inspire not require”.

    And then I read your post and it’s just more confirmation and encouragement from another mom who feels that same way (kindred spirits). Your post has been percolating all week in my brain.

    Now I just have to figure out how to downsize all our possessions and move to another country in the next 4 months, start the book I want to write, manage our home, blog, homeschool and up the ante on my own education – ack! Too much good stuff to do all at once. But it’s good to feel so alive and excited about living and opportunities for growth.

  23. Good for you for realizing that it’s not so much the piece of paper that you’re after as much as the learning. Me — I went and got that piece of paper when I had a couple of years of being out of school after getting my bachelors. I don’t know why I did it now. And, sure, it’s fun to be able to say I have a masters degree, but I could have learned much of what I learned through self-study (and it would have been a lot cheaper!).
    Angie @ Many Little Blessings’s latest post: 7 Quick Takes- January 21- 2011 Vol 67

  24. What would I love to study? Bah! That’s the problem! Everything! I switched majors a bunch of times and never finished. So for that – studying everything – no, I don’t need a degree lol.
    Mothering From The Maelstrom’s latest post: ADHD For You And Me

  25. Great post! I’ve been going down this road for several years now (having already gotten my bachelor’s and discovering I hated the planned course load). Following your own interests is so much more effective use of your study time! Plus, it’s how “real scholars” work, right?

    Two challenges I’ve discovered, though:

    — without that “assignment list”, it’s easy to settle into just the observation phase of learning — simply reading, and never actually digesting what you’ve read. You must ask yourself questions about it, then dig up those answers (interpretation phase). Even better, go forward and produce some sort of output — an essay or paper, usually (synthesis phase). Those of you who are familiar with classical education may recognize the grammar-logic-rhetoric phases — they’re not just for kids!

    — you do miss out on the community of scholars. Having someone else to discuss the ideas you’re encountering is very useful in clarifying your thinking. Fortunately, it is possible to find such things online. You may find a dedicated discussion forum, or you may find a half-dozen blogs to follow and comment upon.

    My suggestion is to start a blog of your own (or become a contributor on someone else’s). Gets you that necessary writing component and feedback as well.

    Now, go forth and study!

  26. Nancy Gonzalez says:

    I love this post. I have a B.A. in Child Development and Family Studies and have previously worked as a preschool teacher. However, for the past two years I’ve been a SAHM. I am CONSTANTLY being asked (especially by MIL) when I plan to go back to school for my masters. I always say “oh, maybe in the future.” but honestly I have no desire to go back to school. These past two years I’ve been reading the books I want to read and taking classes I always wanted to take but never had the time for (like sewing). I feel like I’m becoming more of my authentic self by simply pursuing things that I am truly interested in.

  27. I do absolutely agree that continuing self-education is important, great fun and a wonderful role model for our children. Recently, however, I did decide to go back to school in a more formal way. It is a distance-ed program, though, which allows me to be home/homeschooling while learning more about a field that I am interested in (and have been studying on my own over the past years anyways). Compared to my previous 6 ys in university, the cost is low – about $3500 for the two year program. Dishing out the $ did cause some stress at first but now I don’t care if I ever do anything formally with this diploma or not. People put that $ out all the time for vehicles, leather sofas, winter vacations to Mexico.We do not. I feel so good about making this investment in myself – just because I love learning.
    Kika@embracingimperfection’s latest post: February & Poetry

  28. Oh……….I would study philosopy in depth. I enjoy learning about abstract sciences and math proofs also. In fact, my last post just a few days ago was about just that, my love of math and science. MIT now has all of their degree programs online – FOR FREE! Complete with syllabus, readings, and assignments. You cannot earn credits from these programs, they are available for self study. Khan Academy is my personal favorite. I am working my way through the math section. This shift toward free education for everyone is wonderful.
    Becky @ Sowing Little Seeds’s latest post: The Science of Home Management or In Which I Reveal My Geekiness

  29. I dropped out of my Master’s program when I got pregnant with my daughter and people are always asking me if/when I’ll go back. I usually give a vague answer but the truth is, if I do ever go back to school it will be a long long time from now. I love learning and I always loved school. But I’ve also realized that my desire for a formal education is strongly rooted in my own pride. I believe this is one of the reasons transitioning to motherhood was so difficult for me: there’s no report card or instant feedback to inspire confidence. Ouch, that’s hard to even write.

    This is actually one of the reasons I want to homeschool our daughter. I want to show her (as I keep learning it myself) that her worth does not come from the letter on top of a paper or the feedback of one teacher or her ability in one subject. Life is so much bigger than that. I want my daughter to learn that her worth comes from being a child of God. Period. And that learning and competence can happen without a syllabus or a degree hanging on a wall.
    Steph’s latest post: Mindset for Moms: Chapters 1-5

  30. I love, love, learning!!! I wanted to go to college so bad because I just wanted to keep learning! I was talking to other moms who moan the fact that they need college classes in order to get brain stimuli, and I laugh a bit!
    I am constantly learning, stimulating my brain! I read medical books, books about birth, Montana history, diaries of homesteaders, history of Europe, and much, much more. If you check out my blog, you will see lists of books of many topics and varied subjects that I am learning on, from being a better to teacher to deep historical topics.
    I feel highly educated, yet I do not have a degree!
    Martha Artyomenko’s latest post: Winter Promise by Martha Rogers

  31. I started a grad program in medieval art history but quit to have more babies and only work part-time. I also realized that I didn’t really need the degree for my career path but that I just loved the material. I don’t plan on ever going back to grad school but I’d love to be more serious about studying what I love!
    Haley’s latest post: Earl Grey and Dinosaurs

  32. I actually just had this same epiphany. Educating my own children doesn’t require the piece of paper. I’d love to know where you are getting your booklists and program ideas from. The link with ideas doesn’t really include any in education.

  33. Well, I am incredibly late to the party, Jamie, but since this is the first time I’ve seen this post, I had to respond anyway. I so agree with you. In fact, I wrote an article for Natural Life Magazine about my own experience; I like to say that over the past twenty years I’ve homeschooled my MFA in Creative Writing!
    Here’s a link to the article, if you’re interested.
    In the article, I come to the same conclusion that you do: one of the best reasons we should peruse our own learning is to model self-directed learning for our kids.
    patricia’s latest post: the magical, motivating writer’s workshop

  34. Jamie,

    I’m glad you’ve decided not to pursue a Masters in Edu. I have a Master’s in Edu and believe me, if you just read all the great books and articles out there already and participate in all the wonderful forums out there and attend online workshops and seminars, you’ll be getting an even better educational experience than I did- and you wont’ have to pay back $50,000!

    I’m glad I taught because it led me to where I am now – a passionate advocate for interest-led learning. I know my calling is to write and speak about this topic for as many people that will listen.

    Also, you’re so right in that you can customize your own learning program. You can get in touch with thousands of experts through Twitter and Facebook who are more than happy to help you structure and plan your own learning.
    Christina @Interest-Led Learning’s latest post: 10 Unusual Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day

  35. Thank you so much for writing about this. I really loved this

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