Think going to school online is just about having a flexible schedule? Think again. Here are five online degree programs that offer all kinds of unexpected benefits.
You've heard it before: If you want to further your education, an online degree could help you pursue your goals in your spare time.
But flexibility to study when you want isn't the only benefit offered by an online degree.
First of all, online programs give you options and access to more schools, says Michele Messenger, instructional design consultant for online learning at Rochester Institute of Technology.
"Participating in an online degree program allows students to choose from many schools of the highest quality and ranking that they would not otherwise be able to attend for geographic reasons," says Messenger.
And that's not all. Online education brings together a diverse body of students from all over, which can have huge benefits. Students "will be learning with and hearing the perspective of other students from many regions of the state, nation or, hopefully, the world. This is very powerful and allows for true critical and creative thinking and learning to take place," says Messenger.
Students could also learn to develop self-discipline and time management skills. How? They learn to manage their time as they develop their own study schedule and balance the demands of their lives, she adds.
Of course, that's not to say that online education is right for everyone. It's hard work and likely different from the kind of educational format you grew up with.
But if you want the scoop on what an online program is really like, keep reading to find out why these five degrees make sense for online study.
If you're eager to learn how to analyze financial information, enrolling in an online bachelor's degree in accounting might be the best way to explore this subject.
Why Online? Technology has provided instructors new tools they can use in online accounting programs. For example, they "can hold synchronous live office hours that allow students to ask interactive questions and see how they create documents," says Dani Babb, professor and founder of The Babb Group.
Advances in home spreadsheet software (computer programs that allow accountants and bookkeepers to organize and analyze financial data) have also made this bachelor's degree great for online study, she adds.
More About the Degree: And these tools could come in handy in any accounting program. According to the College Board, an organization that promotes equity in education, accounting majors might learn how to gather financial information and create balance sheets. You also might study tax law and learn how to prepare tax filings.
Potential Careers: With a bachelor's degree in accounting, you could pursue a career as an accountant or auditor. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, "most accountant and auditor positions require at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field."
How could studying something like health care administration online possibly be a good way to go? In addition to enjoying the flexibility you need, an online program could have other unexpected perks.
Why Online? Studying a bachelor's degree online might be a good way to develop your writing skills, says Babb. These skills are important in health care management roles, as a lot of the communication in the business takes place in writing. Health care managers don't just write simple memos, they write letters to regulators, business partners, and other health care facilities, adds Babb.
Online students drastically improve their ability to write down thoughts and articulate positions that would usually occur in a discussion format, and this practice pays off in the workplace, says Babb.
"I have interviewed hiring managers in health care for my book 'The Adult Student,' and over 60 percent found that the writing skill of online graduates was higher than that of traditional students."
More About the Degree: In a health services administration program, you could also learn the ins and outs of managing different heath care facilities, such as nursing homes, hospitals, or rehabilitation centers, says the College Board. You might also learn about the laws that affect the health care industry and study key issues such as Medicare and Medicaid.
Potential Career: A degree in health care administration could prepare you to pursue a career as a medical or health services manager. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, "prospective medical and health services managers have a bachelor's degree in health administration."
If you're eager to learn a whole lot about computers, studying for a bachelor's degree in computer science while on a computer might be the best way to go.
Why Online? Studying computer science online is very similar to working in the field, says Babb.
"The online learner has practice working through complicated problems and often lab assignments on their own with only forums and discussions to help them, which is almost exactly how 'real life' information technology works," says Babb.
More About the Degree: A computer science degree could also prepare you for the working world by teaching you real skills. According to the College Board, as a computer science major, you could also study different programming languages, such as Java or C++, and learn to design and debug computer programs.
Potential Careers: One way to pursue a career as a software developer or computer programmer is with a bachelor's degree in computer science. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, these professionals usually have a bachelor's in computer science or a computer-related subject.
Do health issues affecting the nation interest you? An online master's degree in public health could give you the opportunity to study these issues while attending to other responsibilities.
Why Online? "You get a much more diverse and experienced cohort with the online public health program, partly because people can continue working in their field, from their geographic location, while doing the program," says Kimberly Vergez, program coordinator of online learning at UC Berkeley Extension.
This means you get a more uniquely experienced group of students, each bringing his or her vast knowledge to the peer group and making it a much more robust program than its on-campus counterpart, she adds.
More About the Degree: And having so many perspectives might come in handy in a graduate program where, according to the College Board, you'll study how government actions affect treatment and prevention of diseases. Your coursework could cover issues such as preventive medicine, epidemiology, and biostatistics.
Potential Careers: Earning a master's degree in public health could help you prep for careers as an epidemiologist or medical and health services manager. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, epidemiologists have a master's degree in public health with a specialization in epidemiology or a related subject. A master's in public health is also one common degree for pursuing a career as a medical or health services manager.
Chances are if you have a passion for graphic design, you're fairly used to spending hours upon hours alone, so why not earn an online bachelor's degree while you're at it?
Why Online? Studying an online degree in graphic design is great practice for professional opportunities that require graphic designers to work independently, says Babb.
More About the Degree: But knowing how to work on your own isn't the only thing you'll learn. In general, graphic design majors "learn the design and computer skills necessary to create the look for books, magazines, CD jackets, websites, and more," says the College Board. You may also get a head start on putting together your portfolio and trying to work on real-world projects.
Potential Careers: A bachelor's degree in graphic design is typically required for positions as a graphic designer, reports the U.S. Department of Labor. You could also pursue a career as a desktop publisher, in which you might design layouts for books, newspapers, and other items for online publication. In fact, one common way to prepare for a position as a desktop publisher is by earning a bachelor's degree in graphic design, adds the Department of Labor.
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