To make the best possible choice from all the distance learning programs out there, start with the basics. What level of education do you have now? In most (though not all) cases, it determines whether you’re a candidate for a bachelors, masters, MBA, Ph.D. or other graduate program. Not all college level programs require that you’ve finished high school. But in most cases, you’ll need to have completed high school to pursue a college or masters degree.
Since you’re probably looking at online learning education to improve your career prospects, you’ll need a particular degree that matches your goals. Online learning has grown so much that currently, there’s virtually no type of study you can’t get through the internet (summary of webinars, timed and untimed courses and the definition of online courses). The good news, however, is that a very large percentage of the online courses are designed for real career advancement.
If you simply want more training in an area you work in, there are limitless certificate programs which can be valuable, even though they may not give you college credit. If you’re seeking a degree, you’re likely to be looking at three basic choices:
Associates Degree: Usually requires 60 credits or “semester hours.” While these types of degrees originally became popular at community colleges with students who did not have time for a full 4-year degree, they are now considered a good foundation by employers, as more older students have used them to re-start their careers. The two leading associates degrees are the A.A. or associate of arts and the A.A.S. or associate of applied sciences. Students often transfer the credits from an A.A. degree to another school, where they finish the additional two years’ study needed for a full bachelors degree in liberal arts. The A.A.S. degree, with it’s technical orientation, often leads to immediate employment in a mid-level technology job.
Bachelor’s Degree: Usually 120 credits, this is the degree most college and university students obtain through their four years of on-campus study. While some science-oriented bachelor’s degrees offer courses only in one specialty, the tradition is that B.A. (bachelor or arts) and B.S. (bachelor of science) students get both general and specialized training, giving them a broad education that can be applied to various career areas. Generally, students must declare a major by the end of their second year of study toward a bachelors degree. A wide variety of studies have shown that people with bachelors degrees earn far more – up to a million dollars more in a lifetime on average – than those who don’t get one. The B.A. or B.S. is also needed for graduate study. You’ll need to have your bachelors degree completed before you can pursue high-level professional training in law or medicine. See a list of the many other specialized bachelor’s degrees available
Master’s Degree: Anywhere from 30 to 60 credits, depending on specialty.. A Master’s degree is designed to equip you for more senior-level work in a profession. Some students today look at their career paths and realize that they want to “custom design” a master’s degree that will give them special skills in their profession, rather than sticking to one of the traditional degrees. This is very possible to do with online study, though it usually requires a bit more direct communication with your school before starting than a standard master’s degree. The best known career-oriented masters degrees are the master of business administration (M.B.A.), the master of education (M.Ed.) and the master of fine arts (M.F.A.). Master’s degree programs, but the way, often involve far more individual project work (including, possibly, a thesis) than undergrad programs.
Be aware that you do have to “get in” to most degree programs. The grades you’ve had in your past education matter. Online colleges and universities tend to accept more applicants than old-style programs, but you won’t want to waste time applying to Harvard online if you were a C student in high school. (Learn more about how to initiate a distance education course.)
Here’s a rundown on the cost of online college courses