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Top 10 Advantages of an Online College Degree

Chris Perry, June 13, 2012

Post-secondary education can be critical to career advancement and successful career change. However, it can be both physically and financially challenging for professionals to go back to college or grad school to earn their degrees while juggling work and family.

Online education has become an increasingly popular option for working professionals, as well as for stay-at-home parents planning to reenter the workforce, because it offers them choice and flexibility to earn the degree they want at their own pace.

In fact, online education offers many more advantages than professionals may realize. Here are the top ten:

1. Choice of Schools and Degree Programs

Many universities and colleges now offer a variety of online degree programs and single courses across all areas, including business management, computer programming, marketing and communications, nursing, law and more. In addition, students can choose to pursue online degrees at all levels, including associate, bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees. Having the choice of so many different schools, areas of study and degree levels allows prospective students to find the program that will suit their career needs and preferences.

2. Degree Credibility

Many nationally known, top-rated universities, including the University of Wisconsin System, offer online degree programs and courses that are fully accredited. Because online college degrees are still relatively new compared with traditional classroom education, some employers may be skeptical of the credibility and validity of an online degree. As a result, it is always important that prospective students consider the reputation of the schools and programs before applying. In fact, diplomas from some online degree programs, like those from the University of Wisconsin System, do not differentiate between online and traditional degrees.

3. Lower Costs

While not true of all online degree programs, the tuition for online education is sometimes lower than that of traditional programs. In addition, the extra costs associated with traditional programs, such as relocation, room and board, commuting and/or childcare, are not required in an online learning environment.

4. Schedule Flexibility

Online degree programs offer students extreme flexibility, allowing them to learn, study and work when, where and as quickly as they want. Students are able to plan their class and study time around their work and families for when they can be most productive. This is ideal for professionals who must remain employed to support themselves and their families, live too far from traditional programs and/or have children to care for and wouldn't be able to attend classes otherwise. In addition, online coursework can be completed at one's own pace, allowing students to take on more or fewer courses to speed up or slow down their education.

5. Work-Life Balance

Thanks to the schedule flexibility that online education offers, it is easier for students to maintain a job and/or complete an internship during business hours while pursuing their degree. This ability to remain employed while enrolled not only helps the students financially, but the additional work experience is often an advantage for students once they start seeking new job opportunities.

6. Smoother Workforce Reentry

For students who have children and plan to reenter the workforce in the near future, online degrees can help them stay informed about recent industry and technology changes in their chosen field. Also, earning a degree while at home can demonstrate to prospective employers one's career investment and commitment, and can make it easier to get hired.

7. Credit Transfer

With online education, students can choose to earn some of their course credits online and some in a traditional college setting. This can be very helpful for students who need to take classes over the summer, but who live too far from campus and/or are employed during summer break.

8. Core Job Skills

Working in their online degree programs, students gain the ability to leverage technology to communicate effectively and accomplish goals. In addition, the most successful online students are those who remain self-motivated, organized, resourceful and independent learners throughout their programs. Ultimately, successful online students are able to hone many of the soft and technical skills employers are seeking to drive their organizations forward.

9. Personal and Professional Development

Online degree programs give students a unique opportunity to network with a diversity of top professors, guest lecturers and fellow classmates from all over the world, something that traditional programs cannot always offer.

10. Program Effectiveness

According to a 2009 meta-analysis issued by the U.S. Department of Education, online education has been found to be more effective than face-to-face instruction when it comes to teaching and learning. The study found that students who took all or part of their academic instruction online performed better, on average, than those taking the same coursework through face-to-face instruction alone. Successful learning is driven by effective student engagement, and online education often provides this greater level of engagement.

While online education is not for everyone, its advantages make it an effective option for professionals to successfully advance or change their careers, an opportunity which otherwise may not be available.

Chris Perry,is a Gen Y brand and marketing generator, brand marketing manager, personal branding expert and the founder of Career Rocketeer, MBA Highway and multiple other ventures.