Your Guide to the Most Popular Online Degrees

Your Guide to the Most Popular Online Degrees

Online schools have made an impact in higher education because the needs of working adults who want to expand their career options and meet professional goals are being addressed. The Sloan Consortium 2010 Survey found that the “21% growth rate for online enrollments far exceeds the 2% growth in the overall higher education student population.” As the growth of online schools continues, so too does the variety of degree programs. The most popular online degree programs include business, psychology, criminal justice, education, healthcare, nursing, and information technology. Each of these programs offers a variety of specializations and the choice you make will determine your career options and earning potential. If you are considering a degree in one of these fields, this is the place to begin.

Online Business Degrees

1. Business administration

An associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in business administration will introduce you to the basic principles and theories of business. Coursework may include management, human resource, organizational behavior, marketing, business law, ethics, business communication, computer science/information systems, operations management, research, and quality control. A master’s degree extends the depth of coursework and provides advanced knowledge that entrepreneurs and small business owners need to successfully manage all aspects of their business.

Because this is a degree that is generally focused on business basics there are several jobs that this degree relates to. You may be able to apply this degree to the field of banking, consulting, human resources, public relations, retail, and school administration. Students with a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) have significantly more options available to them, including small business administration.

A degree in business administration is not associated with a particular career field or industry. However, overall the U.S Bureau of Labor and Statistics 2010 report predicts that “business sectors will increase by 23.3 percent until 2016. This increase could potentially create 4.1 million jobs for individuals with business administration degree graduates.”

2. Business Management

This degree is more specifically focused on the knowledge that business managers need. The class list includes many of the same courses as a business administration program, with a stronger emphasis in business strategy, research methods, human resources management, leadership, and organizational psychology. With an online class you will find opportunities to talk about real-world issues related to business management because your instructors are often working in a related field and students are generally working adults as well.

Because this is a specific degree type the job possibilities are more specific. Career options may include office manager, human resources manager, retail store management, general manager, and marketing manager. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that “employment of general and operations managers is expected to remain steady in coming years.” The fields that have experienced the most growth for business managers are healthcare and information technology. Research by has determined the following average salaries:
“¢    Retail store assistant manager: $33,520-$49,108
“¢    Retail store manager: $35,016-$53,056
“¢    Restaurant manager: $36,198-$54,776
“¢    Operations manager: $48,447-$74,883
“¢    Human resources manager: $49,796-$69,815

3. Accounting

This is a very specifically focused degree with clearly defined career choices. You’ll find that the coursework will most likely include economics, income taxation, ethics, business law, financial reporting, cost management, and strategic analysis. It is important to consider that the courses and jobs associated with this degree require a high level of analysis and detail, along with a strong mathematical aptitude. If you are detailed oriented and enjoy working with numbers, this is a degree for you to consider. At first this may seem like a difficult class to take online; however, there is a greater degree of one-on-one instructor involvement, which means that help and guidance is readily available. In addition, you are taught how to apply the principles to real life scenarios.

Your career options include work as an accountant, auditor, underwriter, and loan officer. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that “graduates who earn an accounting degree may expect continued job security in the foreseeable future. The field of accounting is expected to grow significantly as businesses globalize and worldwide economies improve.” The average starting salary according to The National Association of Colleges and Employers is $48,691. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2010 BLS report indicates an average salary of $68,960 for accountants and auditors. Accountants with a CPA certification have additional employment opportunities and a salary range of $78,210 to $102,380.

Online Psychology Degrees

Most students who choose a psychology degree do so because there is a particular job or career field they are interested in. Areas of specialization often include child, clinical, executive coaching, forensic, and sports psychology. Students general start with an associate’s degree to gain foundational information and continue on to a bachelor’s and master’s degree to expand their career options. Typically the primary associate’s degrees are related to Early Childhood Education Psychology. Bachelor’s degrees include: BS Psychology, BA Applied Psychology, BS General Psychology, and BSCJ Forensic Psychology.

Master’s degrees provide more specialization and include:
“¢    MS Psychology (specializations – Clinical, Counseling, Industrial/Organizational, Leadership Coaching, School, and Sport Psychology)
“¢    MSPY General Psychology
“¢    MA- Mental Health Administration
“¢    MA-Executive Coaching
“¢    MS Criminal Justice
“¢    MA Sports & Performance Psychology.

Another Master’s degree option available: Executive Coaching (MS) (specializations include: Evaluation, Research, and Management – Industrial/Organizational – Leadership Coaching – Training and Performance Improvement)

The most common doctorate degree in psychology is the Ph.D. and you’ll find the following specializations: Addiction, Educational, General, Industrial/Organizational, Training & Performance Improvement, and Sports and Performance. Most students make a choice between clinical psychology and counseling psychology.

If you are interested in a psychology degree it is important to consider the advanced educational requirements of specialized careers. There are also licensing and credentialing aspects that you should research ahead of time.
“¢    Associate’s degree – there are limited jobs available and the associate’s degree is often viewed as a stepping stone for a bachelor’s degree.
“¢    Bachelor’s degree – you can often obtain employment as a case manager, career counselor, or rehabilitation specialist.
“¢    Master’s degree – the career options include academic advising, counseling, developmental specialist, rehabilitation counselor, social services manager, and a drug and alcohol specialist.
“¢    Doctorate degree – With a terminal degree, students can enter into private practice or teach and conduct research at the university level.

The 2010 BLS report indicates an average salary for the following positions:
“¢    Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors $40,810
“¢    Educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors $55,970
“¢    Mental health counselors $41,360
“¢    Child, Family, and School Social Workers $43,850

The benefit of taking online classes is that you can work while attending school so that you are gaining experience along with your education. The number of job choices increases as you complete each type of degree. Many students try to find entry-level work in a related field while they are completing their coursework.

Online Criminal Justice Degrees

Students often select a criminal justice degree because it is a requirement for many positions. Coursework usually includes forensic science, criminal procedures, criminal psychology, criminal behavior, police operations, and institutional corrections. The benefit of taking these classes online is that you’ll find your instructors are working in a field related to criminal justice and you gain valuable perspectives, insight, and knowledge from their real-world experience.

As to career options, you’ll find that a bachelor’s degree is required for most police-related jobs, including investigations, corrections, and other related fields. There are often opportunities available within criminal justice and corrections, forensics, law enforcement, and public safety. The 2010 BLS report found that “job prospects in criminal justice related fields range from favorable to excellent.” Graduates with a criminal justice degree earn $35,000 per year to $66,000 per year. There is an expected growth rate of 22% through 2018.

Online Early Childhood Education Degrees

One of the most popular education degrees that students are taking online is in the field of early childhood education because of the expected growth rate of jobs in this field. Coursework may include early childhood education and development, curriculum planning, safety, health, nutrition, activities, observation and assessment, general psychology, physical education, legal issues, and behavior management. For advanced degrees the coursework expands to include developmental disorders, inclusive classroom, autism, interventions, technologies for performance support, and multimedia instructional design.

As you can see from the list provided, a bachelor’s degree is required in order to teach. The more advanced degrees offer additional opportunities.
“¢    Associate’s degree – teacher’s aide, tutor
“¢    Bachelor’s degree – teacher (elementary or special education)
“¢    Master’s degree – teacher (middle or high school), administrative jobs (superintendent, vice principal)
“¢    Doctorate degree – principal (elementary, middle, high school), instructor (vocational schools or colleges)
Teaching certifications are also required and the requirements vary by state.

There is good news for students seeking an education degree. The National Center for Education Statistics reports “a massive demand for quality educators as population increases, technology advances, and educational standards improve.” The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects “job growth for special education teachers to increase by 17 % through 2018 at a faster than average rate in comparison to other occupations.” The 2010 BLS report also reports the average salary for the following positions
“¢    Education administrators (preschool, childcare center/program) $50,410
“¢    Special education teachers (preschool, kindergarten, elementary) $55,220
“¢    Special education teachers (middle school) $56,500

If you want to get started right away with a degree in education, an online degree program provides you with the flexibility necessary to complete your classes while also working.

Online Health Care Degrees

Online schools recognize the need for students to obtain a degree in a field where there is continued job growth. If you are considering a degree in healthcare, there are two primary areas of specialization for most online schools that offer these degree programs. Be sure to contact the schools are you are interested in so that you can determine the specific requirements for the degree and job or career field you are interested in.

1. Nursing

Educational options:
“¢    Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) (one year associate’s degree)
“¢    Registered Nurse (RN) or Associate Degree Nursing (AND)
“¢    Bachelor of Science Nursing (BSN) or Registered Nurse (RN)
“¢    Masters of Nursing (MSN) programs, Advanced Practice Nurse (APN) or Nurse Practitioner (NP) programs.

Career options include:
“¢    Associate’s degree – nurses’ aide, medical assistant
“¢    Nurses – jobs within hospitals, physician’s offices, home health care facilities, and nursing care facilities.

Job trends: The 2010 BLS report reports the average salary for the following positions
“¢    RN $67,720 (nurses average annual range $51,640 to $76,570)
“¢    Nurses’ aides or medical assistants $23,700 to $33,050
“¢    Nurses (working in physicians’ offices) $59,210 annually.
“¢    Nurses (working within home health care services) $58,740
“¢    Nurses (working within nursing care facilities) $57,060
“¢    Medical supervisors (hospitals, physicians’ offices, home health care services, or nursing care facilities) $62,170 to $104,120
“¢    University instructors, executive healthcare positions $67,717 to $121,800

2. Healthcare administration

A career in healthcare administration involves planning, developing, and coordinating the operations of health care facilities and other organizations. Most administrative positions require a master’s degree. Coursework may include patient records, claims, billing, coding, finance, healthcare language, intro to biology, and budgeting. Advanced degree coursework includes strategic management, financial management, and health information systems.

The type of degree you choose determines the career options that are available:
“¢    Associate’s degree – medical administrative assistant, medical transcriptionists, medical records technicians, and medical secretaries.
“¢    Bachelor’s degree – office managers
“¢    Master’s degree – community health managers, public health managers, and health service managers
“¢    Doctorate degree – health educators, public health administrators, and college instructors

While the healthcare field continues to grow, there are two job categories that are experiencing significant growth. The U.S. Department of Labor and Statistics “expects job growth for medical and health managers to increase by 16 percent through 2018 at a faster than average rate in comparison to other professions.” The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the following salaries to help you assess the potential of earning a healthcare degree:
“¢    Health educators $50,270
“¢    Health services managers: $62,170 to $104,120
“¢    Medical secretaries: $29,680 to $36,090
“¢    Medical records specialists: $29,680 to $36,090
“¢    Graduates with a Master’s degree: $38,400 to $71,670
“¢    Graduates with a Doctorate degree: $41,600 to $83,960

Online Information Technology Degrees

Online schools offer information technology degrees with core coursework in computer hardware and software, software programming, web development, and network administration. There are specialized courses depend upon the degree type you have chosen:
“¢    Associate’s degrees include: AAS in Health Information Technology, AAS in Information Technology, AASBA – Information Processing
“¢    Bachelor’s degrees include: Bachelor of Science in Business – Information Systems, Bachelor of Science in Health Administration – Health Information Systems, Bachelor of Science in Information Technology
“¢    Master’s degrees include: MBA – Information Technology, MS in Information Technology, MS/Management – Information Technology, MSIT – Information Security and Assurance

These online degree programs provide students with an opportunity to gain knowledge, develop specific skills, and practice the development of real-world projects and simulations. Some of the possible career options include computer programming, database administration, computer systems analysis, software design, and computer research. There are additional certifications that can be sought independent of these degree programs through specialized vendors and one of the largest trade associations for professional certification is CompTIA.

Current research finds that “one of the most employable degrees continues to be in computer science””a field that will have more available positions than qualified graduates.” According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “employment for computer network, systems, and database administrators is expected to grow much faster than the average, and job prospects should be excellent, with a projected increase of 30 percent between 2008 and 2018.” The 2010 BLS report reports the average salary for the following positions: computer system analysts $81,250, computer programmers $74,900, and computer support specialists $49,930.

If you have career goals that have not yet been realized and you are ready to make a commitment of time to earn a degree, you will find many online degree options available in the field of business, psychology, criminal justice, education, healthcare, and information technology. These degrees also offer a variety of jobs that are in demand and have strong projected growth rates.

Your career potential, which includes future potential earnings, is proven to increase with a college education. According to the Fall 2011 Salary Survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers the “overall average salary offer to Class of 2011 graduates has risen 6 percent over last year’s average from $48,288 to $51,171.” By enrolling in an online degree program you can obtain a quality education, meet your professional goals, and balance other responsibilities you have as a working adult.

By Dr. Bruce Johnson

Photo © Ocean/Corbis


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