For most college students, a job – or a better job than the one they have now – is the goal. This tends to hold true regardless of whether we’re talking about traditional students or students pursuing their degrees through nontraditional means – the number of which continues to grow.
The need to find cheaper, more convenient ways to earn college degrees, combined with new technologies that allow people to communicate with one another across great distances (Skype, Google Hangouts, etc.), has led more and more people to online education and degree programs.
Clearly, online education is here to stay. But have employers caught up with this trend? There is no clear answer here; response to online degrees from employers have been mixed at best.
So, if you are contemplating earning your degree through an online program, here are seven things you need to consider before you make any decisions:
1. Reputation of the School
A few years ago, Congress investigated a number of for-profit private colleges, both brick and mortar and online. The concern driving the investigation was that students were borrowing large sums of money to earn degrees that were pretty much worthless, as far as employers were concerned.
As a result of the investigation, many for-profit schools closed their doors, and the survivors have had to make significant changes to their operations. Some of these survivors have added career-placement services and partnered with businesses to design industry-relevant curricula that would actually help students land jobs.
This was a much-needed clean-up effort, but the poor reputation of online degree programs remains in the minds of many of employers. Online degree programs offered by well-known universities have more credibility than those offered by for-profit colleges, so think about this as you make decisions about where to pursue your degree.
Many accrediting organizations exist in the U.S. These are important, because they ensure that schools meet rigorous standards and deliver truly valuable, worthwhile educations to your students. Make sure the degree program in which you enroll has been accredited by an officially recognized accrediting agency.
3. Area of Study
Some areas of study lend themselves well to online education – e.g., computer science, business, teacher education (as long as field experiences are included), social sciences, and English, to name a few. Science and engineering courses – not so much. So consider the degree you are pursuing before you sign up with a little-known college that insists your science labs can all be completed online.
4. Employers in Your Career Field
It’s difficult to know which employers have embraced online education, which are lukewarm, and which are fully opposed. You might want to check out if the school you are considering has partnerships with any business and industry leaders that could be future employers for you. Getting a job with an online degree can be tricky, but if you do the research on both the school and your potential employers, you will have a far better chance of seeing career success.
5. Motivation and Personal Responsibility
Online educational programs require a high level of organization and lots of self-motivation. When you are not required to be in class on schedule, it becomes very easy to procrastinate – especially if you are in courses that are completely self-paced. With no one to hold you at least a little accountable, it’s easy to blow things off.
If you’re not confident that you have the self-discipline to treat your online degree program just like you would treat a traditional class, then eLearning may not be right for you.
6. Your Learning Style
Some students are well-suited to independent learning – others are not. If you are the type of student who has always done better in a social environment with other learners physically present, than online learning is not for you.
7. Handling Your Degree in an Interview
This can be a concern, and you need to be prepared to answer questions about your coursework and how you got your degree. For example, if you received a degree last year from the University of Missouri and you have obviously lived and worked in Texas for the past 10 years, you will definitely be having a conversation about that. Be prepared to speak to the value of your online program and the great system that the university had.
As with anything else in life, there are pros and cons to an online degree program. Fortunately, they are far more acceptable today than they were even five years ago. If you think it through and are careful about your selection and program, you can be a highly competitive job candidate – no matter where your degree came from.