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BLOG POST (see all posts in 'Choosing Schools')

Are Online Degrees As Valuable As Classroom Degrees For Your Occupation?

What's the Prevalence?

Online courses and degree programs are here to stay. Nearly 7 million students nationwide enrolled in at least one online course in 2012. Online enrollment numbers are also growing faster than traditional campus schools.

According to Eduventures, a Boston-based research firm, online bachelor's degree programs in the following eight areas were most common: Business, Information Technology, Criminal Justice, Nursing, Education, Healthcare, Communication and Psychology.

But What are the Problems?

A college degree should provide you with knowledge AND give you credibility, so that an employer will hire you into your chosen field. Fairly or unfairly, online degrees sometimes suffer from credibility problems, as employers perceive them as being less "legitimate." The problem is compounded when they see job applicants with degrees from online schools who don't present themselves well (e.g., having resumes with spelling/grammatical errors). These things give the employer the perception that the candidate is not credible.

A Good Rule of Thumb

Having no college degree is the worst. Having an online college degree is better, but having a college degree from a recognized, reputable traditional college/university is the best.

career personality test research image

Our Recommendations

Because of schedules and economics though, many people can only get a college degree via an online program. So the question is: which college degrees make the most sense if you're going to go this route? The answer: targeted online majors/degrees that prepare you for a specific occupation make the most sense as online degrees.

  • Criminal Justice: I recommend this because you are likely to work for a government agency than a business. A government agency is more concerned about you having a degree than they are about the quality of the institution in which you received your degree (as long as it is accredited).
  • Business/Accounting/Marketing: Most people will work for a business and having knowledge of how a business operates puts you in a good position to make decisions and move into leadership roles, down the road.
  • Computer Information Systems or Information Technology (IT): The IT field continues to be hot and a source of job growth. Technical degrees in this field will pay immediate dividends.

Online Majors that Don't Make Sense

Are there online degrees that won't likely help you land your first job? Unfortunately yes, particularly in these fields:

  • Psychology
  • Art
  • Liberal Arts
  • While it is good to have knowledge in these areas, you shouldn't expect the degree to pay off in immediate employment.

I also don't recommend getting an online degree in a subject area where credibility is particularly important, such as:

  • Nursing
  • Teaching/Education
  • Counseling
  • If you're going to pursue these occupations, you should try to figure out how to get the education from a traditional university setting.

Additional Thoughts

Believe it or not businesses are more apt to scrutinize your degree more than a government agency. So there is opportunity. But you should also look to balance your education. If you have an undergraduate online degree and are thinking of getting a graduate degree, you should strongly consider a traditional college/university campus. If you already have an undergraduate degree from a traditional college, getting an advanced degree from an online school will look fine on your resume.

Does this help? Read more about the top degrees for careers

POSTED: 7-12-2015 at 2:51 PM (EDT)

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