Juggle Responsibilities to Boost a Career
But before they enroll, prospective students with jobs should consider these 10 facts about balancing their career goals with an online education.
1. Online education is ideal for career changers.
Online learning's flexibility allows working adults, wherever they live, to switch careers, Melissa Venable, a Saint Leo University and University of South Florida online instructor and course designer, told U.S. News.
Before online education, "You would say, 'I'm going to switch and go to school on the weekends,' or 'I'm going to have to save money so I can stop working and go to school,'" Venable says. "It was a bit more risky."
2. Non-degree credentials offer a faster career boost.
Experts say a degree isn't always the most time- and cost-efficient credential to advance a career. An online graduate certificate, for instance, enables students to more quickly gain job-specific skills.
3. "Stackable" credentials also speed up job growth.
In some cases, online students can earn several smaller credentials as they build up to a degree. This enables immediate career advancement as they also pursue long-term goals.
"Employers are showing trends of paying more attention to those levels of education and completion," Deborah Seymour, chief academic innovation officer at the American Council on Education, told U.S. News.
4. Time management is key to balance.
Experts say working online students need to effectively divide their time between their job and education. It's important to stick to a schedule and avoid procrastination.
While working, "It is highly unlikely that you will be able to take a course load comparable to a typical full-time student," John LaMar, an online bachelor's student at Oregon State University Ecampus, wrote on the U.S. News Online Learning Lessons blog last year. "Each situation will require a different balance."
5. Working online students need self-discipline.
With no in-person instructor to motivate online students, attending class after work can be tough. Online students need to take full charge of their learning, Debbie Morrison, a digital education consultant, told U.S. News.
"It's going in with the thought process of, 'I'm in charge, I'm going to be seeking out the information I need, asking questions if I'm not clear on something,'" she says.
6. Some companies pay for employees' online degrees.
"Make sure the employer knows that this institution is regionally accredited and that you have looked into the quality of the program they offer," Pamela Tate, president and CEO of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, told U.S. News.
7. You shouldn't hide your online education from an employer.
In many cases, experts say, employers support workers who are also juggling an online education -- especially if the employee clarifies how that education might benefit their job.
"You are making yourself more valuable to the business by finishing a degree online, and as long as there is proper prioritization, both parties can benefit," LaMar, the OSU Ecampus student, wrote on U.S. News.
8. You can instantly apply what you learn to a job.
Online students say they are often surprised at their online program's immediate relevance to their current careers -- and vice versa.
"Your readings and your work and the assessments you do for the program relate completely to what you do in your everyday job," Lara Bersano Calot, an online master's student in public relations and corporate communications at the Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies, told U.S. News in a video.
9. Online learning teaches relevant virtual collaboration skills.
Today's workplace requires interaction with colleagues around the world, and online learning teaches those skills, Darwin Green, an online bachelor's alum from Pennsylvania State University--World Campus, wrote on the U.S. News blog.
"Written language becomes a primary form of communication, and in place of nonverbal cues and gestures come emoticons and other symbols," he wrote.
10. Virtual career services can be useful.
"In general, we have live 'face-to-face' conversations, if not phone conversations, that replicate the in-person conversation for career counseling," Kyle Whitehouse, assistant director of learner services at OSU Ecampus, told U.S. News.
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