Want to put your career on track, but need to go back to school to do it? Why not earn a degree online and carry on with your busy life at the same time?If you want to advance your career or are looking to get back into the job market, hitting the books might be the path to realizing your dreams.
And a flexible online degree program might be just the thing to help you realize your educational goals despite hectic work or family obligations.
What's more, some online programs could even offer unexpected benefits. For instance, faculty in any well-developed online program could provide the latest developments in their field, says Brian Cameron, professor in the College of Information Sciences and executive director at the Center for Enterprise Architecture and Technology at Pennsylvania State University.
Just keep in mind that while it may sound like the perfect way to go to school, studying from the comfort of your home isn't for everyone; it takes hard work and a lot of discipline.
Still interested? If you're ready to make an effort toward advancing your education, here are five flexible online degree programs to earn from home that education experts say offer great benefits.
How It Works Online: In addition to traditional lectures, online business courses often use experimentation and active learning to teach material, says Debra Barger, dean of the Center for Regional and Continuing Education at California State University, Chico.
For example, students might use online gaming to explore different simulations of business situations so various outcomes can be assessed, says Barger.
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Potential Careers: If you get excited about stocks and bonds, a degree in business administration might help you pursue a career as a financial analyst. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, many financial analyst positions require a bachelor's degree in a related field, which includes business administration, finance, and accounting, to name a few.
And as a financial analyst, you'd be doing a lot more than passing along stock tips, as the Department of Labor explains that these financial professionals offer direction to businesses and individuals making investment decisions.
How It Works Online: Online courses in computer and information technology offer practical and hands-on knowledge, which is especially attractive to working professionals who may be eager to apply knowledge directly to their current job, according to Cameron.
What kind of practical knowledge? In these online classes, case studies often focus on problems students face at work and discussions center around how the student might handle a real world experience, says Cameron.
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Potential Careers: If you would like to pursue a career as a network and computer systems administrator, consider what the U.S. Department of Labor has to say: "A bachelor's degree in fields related to computer or information science is most common." As a network and computer systems administrator, you would be tasked with running the computer networks for a company, which could entail setting up and providing daily support for local area networks, intranets, or wide area networks, says the Department of Labor.
How It Works Online: Online students in criminal justice programs often bring life and work experience to their courses, according to Shaun Gabbidon, distinguished professor of criminal justice at Penn State University in Harrisburg.
And if you want to learn about social order and public safety at the local, state, national, and international levels, then an online program in criminal justice might be what you're looking for. At Penn State, notes Gabbidon as an example, "we have students from all over the world. As such, our online program has a more national and international discourse."
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Potential Careers: With a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, you could be prepped to pursue a career as a probation officer. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, "A bachelor's degree in social work, criminal justice, psychology, or a related field is usually required."
Probation officers help rehabilitate offenders in order to keep them from committing more crimes, says the Department of Labor. They do this by holding meetings with offenders and their families, setting up treatment plans, and monitoring their progress.
How It Works Online: If you already have experience in a clinical setting, an online nursing program may give you the opportunity to demonstrate and get credit for your competencies, says Barger.
Another advantage? Global reach. For example, online programs and certificates allow rural and international students to keep up with advancing technology, growth in science and medicine, and changing health care regulations, which is necessary to effectively function in the complex health care settings of today, says Madeline Fulcher Mattern, coordinator of outreach programs at the Penn State School of Nursing.
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Potential Careers: According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a bachelor's in nursing is one avenue for pursuing a career as a registered nurse. The other two paths involve either an associate's in nursing or a diploma from an approved program, notes the Department of Labor. Registered nurses are also required to be licensed.
Registered nurses work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, physicians' offices, and patients' homes. They provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients, and provide advice and emotional support, says the Department.
How It Works Online: A well-designed online public administration program will build its coursework around a very diverse learning environment, says Jeremy Plant, professor of public policy and administration at the School of Public Affairs at Penn State University, Harrisburg.
Why is a diverse learning environment so essential? Online courses in public administration often emphasize a social learning community, where students have ample opportunity to participate in group projects that allow them to interact with, form relationships, and learn from the varied experiences of peers in their program, says Plant.
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Related or Potential Careers: Ready to make a difference in your community? Consider pursuing a career as a social and community service manager, one of the potential careers with a bachelor's degree in public administration. A bachelor's degree in social work, public administration, urban studies, or a related field is typically a minimum requirement for this career, the Department of Labor notes.
Social and community service managers coordinate and supervise social service programs at organizations that may work with a wide variety of populations, such as homeless people, children, or veterans, the Department says.