If you're looking to gain a competitive advantage in workplace, you'll need to distinguish yourself from the competition. Continuing your education is one way to achieve that goal and pursuing an online degree provides you with a flexible, convenient way to advance your skill sets and expand your knowledge. Although online degrees are becoming more common, some people still avoid them, thinking that they're somehow less valuable because they're not earned in the classroom.
In reality, if the employers you're interested in working for only want to see degrees from Ivy League business schools, then yes, an online degree would be less valuable--but so would any degree that's not issued by Harvard or Yale. However, most employers really just want to know that you have the skills, talents and abilities to get the job done and pay little mind to where you studied, making online degrees a viable option. For you, the real difference comes down to making a well-informed and well-researched choice of degree program.
Choosing a Degree Program
Like traditional colleges and universities, you'll want to find a degree program that's accredited. The accreditation process isn't formally regulated in the United States and, as a result, a host of fake accreditation agencies are out there along with degree mills that essentially provide you with a degree as long you pay a fee. So how do you make sure you're choosing a legitimate degree program?
Start by checking the school and the degree's accreditation, which is a statement of the validity of the institution and the program. Accreditation agencies are privately owned and operated, but reputable agencies are recognized by the US Department of Education or the Council of Higher Education. Be sure to take the time to understand whether the degree program meets any licensing requirements you'll need to fulfill to work in your field. Checking with your state's licensing board will get you a list of recognized online schools and degree programs.
In some cases, well-known schools may offer a blend of online and classroom work. If you want the convenience of online degrees as well as a reputable university brand on your resume, these degree programs offer the best of both worlds, but you won't get the same amount of flexibility offered by online degrees.
The cost of online degrees varies from school to school. Find out the cost per credit for the online degree you want, and compare it between several reputable schools. Beware of online degrees that reward life experience, as this can be a sign of a poor program and you'll probably still need to pay for a portfolio assessment to get the needed credits.
Some online degrees qualify for student loans and financial aid from the US government. If you can't afford full tuition for online degrees, find out which financial aid programs you qualify for, then check with the schools to see what assistance they offer. Check with your employer, too, as online degrees related to your current job might be eligible for tuition reimbursement.
Finally, find out the computer requirements for online degree coursework. You'll likely want a high-speed Internet connection, and you'll need word processing software, an up-to-date Web browser and instant messenger software to communicate with your instructor and classmates.
A Flexible, Virtual Campus
Each online university has its own minimum requirements, but with online degrees you can typically study course materials at your own pace, take tests online and chat with instructors and other students via e-mail or in interactive discussion forums.
Online degrees let you complete a degree program you started in college, get a higher-level degree (such as a Master's), prepare for a career change or simply enhance your skill set. Fields that value practical or technical knowledge, such as education and computer programming, tend to be more receptive to online degrees than fields that require practical experience, such as nursing. Some of the most popular online degrees include:
- Criminal Justice (Cybercrime, Court Reporting, Homeland Security, Forensic Science)
- Education (Elementary Education, Special Education, Instructional Technology, Library and Media Technology)
- Engineering (Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Biomedical Engineering)
Employers and Online Degrees
College degrees and advanced training look good on a resume, but even though they are growing in popularity, some employers might not put as much weight on online degrees as traditional degrees from four-year, physical campus colleges. You won't convince every potential employer that online degrees are valuable, but there are some steps you can take to get the most from an online degree.
Look for one of the better known providers of online degrees. DeVry and The University of Phoenix are two schools with established reputations. Choose a school that's been in business for a few years, as online degrees from these schools are more likely to have a track record in the workplace.
Investigate well-known schools that offer online degrees. Some of the best-known schools in America have courses that blend on-campus coursework with online coursework, while others offer online degree programs. A diploma from one of these schools is identical to the one you'd get if you'd attended classes on campus.
If you're looking to further your education and stay in your current job, discuss online degrees with your employer. Point out the benefits of a flexible class schedule and let your employer investigate the programs you're considering.