Keys to why an employer may or may not think your online degree is valid:
You’re considering an online degree to boost your job prospects. But, like lots of other folks, you worry about whether or not anybody will want to hire you when you graduate? Will your online degree be taken seriously by employers – or will it be looked down upon?
Here’s a list of the top things to think about if you’re trying to decide if an online degree is worth the money for you:
1) Surveys & Quotes: Do Employers Think Online Degrees Are Legitimate?
A 2018 survey of hiring leaders at American employers done by specialty website Inside Higher Ed reported findings including:
- 71 percent of HR officials say they’ve hired a candidate with a degree that was earned 100% online.
- Over half said they feel that in the future, the majority of advanced degrees are going to be earned through online schools.
Are online master’s degrees taken seriously?
In a related article, Inside Higher Ed noted that enrollment in online master’s degrees is growing strongly, with over 31% of all post grad program students now taking 100% online degree programs. A chart in the article illustrates the grown in pure online grad degrees:
A “Job Outlook” study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers in 2017 showed that many of the key skills employers want to see on a resume could result from either online or traditional education.
- 59.8% of employers wanted applicants with “Technical Skills”
- 67.5% wanted to hire those with “Analytical/Quantitative Skills”
- 82.9% wanted to see “Problem-Solving Skills”
- 80.3% wanted applicants with “Written Communication Skills”
2) Selling Point: Your Tech Expertise From an Online Program
Companies are constantly complaining about the lack of job applicants who have strong technology skills. It’s worth keeping in mind that you’re probably ahead of the curve in that department if you went to college over the internet. The connection between online learning a crucial digital skills was highlighted as a Barcelona, Spain conference hosted by Devex in January, 2020, where University of Southern California Professor Dora Vertenten said online degrees are uniquely good because students get a strong technology experience in addition to learning the subject they are mastering in: “You’re learning the curriculum of the program but also learning how to use the platforms by submitting homework assignments and giving feedback online.” She went on to say online learning is a great teacher of digital teamwork, which is key in almost all businesses today, and that online courses tend to introduce students into a very diverse group of other students, adding:
That ability to develop a cultural competency — the sense of working in diverse environments with diverse people — is a really critical benefit that the online program offers that most campus-based undergraduate and graduate educations can’t offer.”
The Society for Human Resource Management (SRHM) found in a survey as far back as 2009 that employers were showing that online degree holders were gradually being more respected:
– Over 50% of the 573 HR professionals surveyed told SRHM that they felt courses taken online were about equal in quality to courses in traditional classroom schools.
– 76% of those surveyed said “online degrees are viewed more favorably” than they were five years earlier.
The sheer numbers of students taking courses or full degree programs online has continued to swell. Numbers from the Center for Education Statistics show that in 2017, the most recent year measured:
- There were a whopping 6,651,536 students enrolled in college distance education courses.
- From this number, more than 2.7 million were taking all of their courses online.
- For-profit schools played a relatively small role in the overall picture. 4.6 million of all online learners were studying at state or other public universities, 1.1 million were at private schools, while less than 800,000 students were studying at for-profit universities.
3) Which Jobs Can You Get With An Online Degree?
A 2019 piece in U.S. News & World Report outlined some “Great Jobs You Can Get With An Online Degree.” Included on their list were:
- Nurse Practitioner – median salary $103,880.
- Market Research Analyst – median salary $63,230.
- Computer Systems Analyst – median salary $88,270.
- Cost Estimator for Construction Projects – median salary $63,110.
In a linked article, U.S. News went on to say “Most employers today accept online degrees.”
Online forums have debated this topic widely, but the view toward online degrees has gradually warmed over the years. To note one quote from Sandra James on Quora,
In recent years, thanks to the rising popularity and efficiency of the Internet, more and more people have accepted the concept of distance learning and online education.”
4) Accreditation Is A Deal Maker or Deal Breaker With Employers
Accreditation may be the #1 key to employer acceptance of your online degree. It’s importance was underlined by a comment from Beth Sears, a staffing professional at Robert Half, one of the biggest and best known recruiting firms in the world, who told Business Finance in 2018 that “In our experience, degrees that are earned online can work in the job seeker’s favor. As long as the programs are accredited, earning a degree online can speak to the work ethic and dedication of the individual.”
How To Do A Fast Check On Any School’s Accreditation
Here’s how to quickly check the accreditation status of a school, before you sign up for a program. You can get a quick overview of an American school’s accreditation status by going to the U.S. Department of Education’s “Database for Accredited Postsecondary Institutions & Programs” page. You can search this database by entering the name of a school you’re interested in, by searching for all schools in a state or by finding schools that have been approved by a specific accreditation agency.
Be aware that some schools may be accredited for specific programs only.
The key accreditation agencies you need to know about are:
- The New England Commission of Higher Education
- The Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
- The Higher Learning Commission
- WASC Senior College and University Commission
- Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges
Accreditation isn’t always easy to understand for you, the student. You need to remember that regional accreditation is generally the top standard, not national accreditation. That may sound backwards, but it’s how the very old-world system of accrediting American colleges and universities still works. There are, however, just a few exceptions. If you take a very career-specific degree in an area like nursing, your school is going to need accreditation from a professional group in that specialty (although some nursing schools are nationally accredited, most get their credentialing from one of two national groups – the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Online nursing master’s degrees and BSNs tend to be well accepted by healthcare employers. But these types of companies – hospitals, clinics and other types of care centers – are very knowledgeable about accreditation. If you don’t have a degree from a school that’s properly accredited, it’s unlikely that you’ll get hired. (More accreditation resources here)
5) Watching Out For Life Experience Degrees and Other Fakes
The big trap you don’t want to fall into in terms of accreditation is taking the easy route and getting a phony credential from a degree mill. A few caveats to keep in mind to avoid getting a worthless degree:
– Call the online school you want to enroll in. If there isn’t someone there to answer the phone during normal business hours, you should consider it suspicious.
– Ask for a sample of the kind of transcript your school will send to an employer after you’ve graduated. If it doesn’t look like it came from a real school, this will look bad in your job hunt after graduation.
– Avoid “life experience” degrees, from schools that sell you a degree with no real academic study. They’re a waste of money.
What’s The Best Online Degree Major To Get A Job?
Acceptance of online degrees also varies by the age of the hiring manager, and by their familiarity with the internet. Fields like technology, where young, web-savvy people dominate, are likely to feel completely comfortable with hiring someone who went to school online. More traditional fields like law, or companies where you’re working with an older hiring manager, may feel a little less comfortable with your online degree. In a study done by job board Vault, Inc, researchers found that the employers who are the most skeptical of online degrees are the ones who don’t seem to know much about them.
Presenting yourself as a candidate who has the right training for the job that’s open is the most important thing. Vault’s survey also noted that when employers were asked if they met a job candidate who had all the right attributes for a job but had only a degree from an online school, 91 per cent said they would go right ahead and hire the person.
Figuring The True Cost Of Your Degree
A great way to determine what the cost of your degree is going to be is to use FinAid’s tool to determine what your actual net fees will be after all discounts and grant awards. It’s a bit complex to use, but it gives you a chance to do a very careful comparison of how various schools will stack up against each other on price. See FinAid’s Calculator Here
Another tool that allows you to compare more in-depth quality information as well as cost of one college versus others is available here from The College Board
Handling an Employer’s Questions About Your Online Degree
To begin with, you are generally under no obligation to tell an employer on a job application or a cover letter that you got your degree online. But if it comes up, it’s important to realize that you can make a big difference in an employer’s perception of your degree if you learn to talk about your school, your motivation and your career goals in a way that makes you look like a smart candidate.
How does an employer verify your college degree?
First and foremost, an employer will confirm that your degree has a basic value based on whether or not your school has good quality accreditation and on the general reputation and name recognition of your school.
But employers today are doing deeper and deeper background checks on people before they are willing to hire them. It’s possible that a hiring manager may simply contact your school to get a copy of your diploma or transcript. But some employers actually use third party services to do educational background checks on job candidates.
Either way, it’s likely that your potential employer will see your grades, which courses you took and how long it took you to complete your degree. That’s why nowadays more than ever, it’s a very bad idea to misrepresent anything about your education on a job application or in an interview. You’re very likely to get caught.
Develop a “pitch” to tell them why you believed that an online degree was an excellent choice and the unique skills it’s given you. Some key points can help you make the case that your online degree was worth it:
Are Online Degrees Too Easy?
This is a question an employer may not ask directly, even though he or she may have it in the back of their mind. But you should be well qualified to deal with this issue. After all, you learned in classrooms during high school and may have taken some classroom-based college courses before starting your online program. You can compare your own experiences of online and traditional learning and let the employer know that you feel your online degree program was rigorous and taught you what you need to succeed in the job world. Showing a positive attitude about your degree can have a real impact on the attitude of the person interviewing you.
Learning Discipline and Time Management in An Online Program
According to National Center for Education Statistics, only about sixty percent of American college students who start a bachelor’s degree finish it – and that’s within six years, at residential or online schools. If you were able to complete a degree online, it shows you have a good deal of self-discipline and time management skill. After all, when you take a degree program online, there’s nobody standing over you to make sure you pay attention or get to your classes. And if you’re an adult with a job and children, as many online learners are, your degree can offer strong proof that you know how to manage your work and life commitments effectively. Employers may like to hear, for example, that you’re used to handling work issues that come up outside normal business hours when the need arises.
Is Online College Worth It?
Online degrees used to be a novelty. But over 300,000 students now taking pure online bachelor’s and master’s degree programs each year. You are probably not going to walk into any job interview and be the first online grad the company has ever talked to. In fact, because companies do so much employee training over the internet nowadays, the odds are that the person interviewing you will have taken some computer based courses at some point.
Do Employers Discriminate Against Online Degree Graduates?
The answer is certainly yes – but only in limited cases. You’ll still hear a comedian make a joke occasionally that “my brain surgeon learned how to operate at The University of Phoenix,” and it’s true that there are certain job categories where an online degree probably won’t get you hired. But particularly in job categories where there is a shortage of qualified candidates, an online credential is seldom an obstacle to employment any more.
Generally, employers are familiar with online schools, so much so, in fact, that many of them pay for their workers to take various courses or earn degrees via web learning. A key issue to consider is how similar your curriculum is at a traditional versus digital program. There’s no reason you can’t take exactly the same courses for an MBA, for example, at a traditional or web-based school (that’s illustrated by the fact that many schools now offer some types of degrees either via in class or over the internet, offered exactly the same courses to both types of students). There are some degrees in areas like nursing where all students need to do some hands-on clinical learning. But online schools deal regularly with this issue by setting up practicum or other type of hands on teaching for students where they live, regardless of the location of the school.
Will Employers Consider Non Degree Online Education Acceptable?
Certificates, particularly at the graduate level, were among the first online credentials to gain very wide acceptance in the job market. Top institutions like Georgetown and Wharton have long offered targeted certificate programs designed for busy professionals who can’t take a break from work to study.
Some employers are actually taking a stance that having a complete degree doesn’t matter any more as long as you have learned the skills they need. According to a recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management, 9 out of 10 employers say they’re ready to hire people who haven’t finished a typical four year degree if they have acquired the right skills. 66 percent of those surveyed said they would hire, a candidate with a certification while almost 50 percent said they would consider hiring someone who has gained a degree from a MOOC or massive open online course website. (See SHRM survey here)
Do Employers Care About An Online MBA?
If you have been working since you finished your bachelor’s degree, you may not really have a choice on whether to take your MBA online or in a classroom. The online approach is the only real option for many working adults who can’t afford to stop working to live and study at a business school for two years,
It’s probably not realistic to think you’ll end up working for Goldman Sachs with an online degree. The big Wall Street firms tend to still bring on grads from Harvard, Wharton and other famous schools, most of which still don’t offer fully online MBAs. But there are many, many employers out there who either have a positive attitude toward an online business degree or simply don’t care which format you did your learning in.
Whether or not your online MBA will be taken seriously is likely to hinge on two key factors: 1) the reputation and accreditation of the school you attended and 2) your ability to talk about the high quality of your courses, professors and overall learning experience. It’s best to go into a job interview expecting to encounter at least some skepticism about your online graduate degree. That way you’ll be ready to talk about it without getting flustered during your interview.
A good tip: Choosing an online MBA program at a school that also offers traditional campus-based grad degrees can be a good choice, since the school’s traditional degree programs may enjoy a positive reputation with hiring companies.
What Is A Kaplan Degree’s Credibility?
It’s no longer possible to get a degree from Kaplan because the school was purchased in 2018 by Purdue University, a respected public research university that’s been in Indiana since 1874. All of the Kaplan programs were taken over by a new entity called Purdue University Global. Kaplan had seen a number of bad publicity incidents based on student complaints, giving the school a negative or perhaps even worthless image in the eyes of some. Purdue Global continues to deliver adult career-focused programs, and almost certainly benefits from the reputation of this very old school. Other large for-profit schools like Capella and University of Phoenix have evolved significantly in the past 10 years, in some cases working directly with large companies to train graduates to fill specific positions. They have continued to flourish largely because of their strong focus on career-oriented degrees.