Online degrees have only been available since the late 1990s, but the idea of distance education has been around for more than 125 years. It might seem hard to imagine, but an online  degree could really take you places.

Online degree programs

Today, you can enroll in accredited online and continuing education degree programs from anywhere in the world. You can study from home, study part-time while holding down a job, and even study while you travel.

There are even cases where people fighting serious illnesses have gotten their degree while they beat back cancer and other killers. Online degrees offer you incredible flexibility to pursue your interests and goals in the time frame that works for you.

How does it work?

What you need

You will need three basic things to get started: an Internet connection, a way to access it, and discipline. Many schools use specific software platforms that offer apps you can access on a tablet or even phone; though you’ll probably want access to a computer in order to submit longer papers.

Self-discipline may be the most important thing you need. There will not be anyone standing over your shoulder to make you get things done. You have to make time and take the initiative to get things done; and this initiative is precisely what will take you places with your degree.

Online programs can offer you professional certifications, two-year associate’s degrees, four-year bachelor’s degrees, and even master’s degrees. The possibilities are truly endless; but some people still worry whether an online degree has the same cache on the job market as a traditional degree.

How you “attend” class

You enter your class online. In some cases, you may have to sign in at a particular time; but in most cases you can watch pre-recorded lectures at any time convenient to you. You will also have assigned readings.

You talk to your instructor via email or through instant messaging. You interact with other students in the same way, and most of the time you’ll be required to post assignments and then react to other students’ postings by a certain time each week.

Working with other students

Today’s robust classroom software allows your instructor to set up virtual workgroups where you can actually do things with your classmates in real time. You may also be set up in synchronous sessions where you meet live online with other students.

If you live in a very different time zone, you may be assigned to asynchronous sessions where you and other far-flung students interact through non-live sessions. Either way, you can and will spend time interacting with your professor and other students.

Getting grades

Online classes have the same sort of grading systems as live classes. There are interactive quizzes for you to take, platforms for you to upload papers or other projects, collaborative projects, and required class participation.

As with any college class, you’ll be graded on how you participate, how you score on quizzes and exams, and what you produce.

How employers view degrees

In the past, employers were a little suspicious of online degrees. It has taken time for online degree programs to prove they can provide just as robust an education as those a student earns on campus. But times are changing.

Today’s employers value initiative; and sticking with an online degree program shows just that. If you earn your degree online, no one was standing over your shoulder, and you did not have the peer pressure of fellow students to push you. That home center in Easton, PA needs people with this kind of initiative and drive.

Today’s bosses are also more and more likely to have grown up with the Internet. They have a more positive take when it comes to online possibilities than their counterparts even a decade ago.

Jobs you can get with an online degree

These days, an online degree can take you almost anywhere that a traditional campus degree can. With an MBA, might find yourself managing the fleet at that material handling equipment company in Central and Northern NJ. With an online certificate in court reporting, you could be making close to $50,000 a year as a court reporter and transcriptionist.

With an associate’s degree, you could be become a registered nurse working in a fast-paced hospital in downtown Philadelphia or enhancing the lives of grateful patients in a long-term care facility in Knoxville, TN.

Gaining certification or continuing education could help you move up in commercial roofing the Seattle metro area. Or it could make it possible for you to set your own schedule as a traveling radiologic specialist.

What to look for in a program

If you’re considering an online education, there are a few things to look for as you choose your program.

Accreditation

This is the single most important factor in choosing a program or provider. An unaccredited degree may not be worth the paper it’s printed on, and you have no guarantee that you’re even dealing with a legitimate educational institution.

Clarity

What are the fees and tuition like? Look for a school that is upfront about the costs and happy to talk you without requiring you to jump through a lot of hoops, first. Legitimate schools are always looking for ways to help you figure out how best to afford your education.

Success

What is the graduation rate for the online program you’re considering? What is the retention rate? Low retention rates could indicate that students aren’t very satisfied with the education they’re getting. Low graduation rates could mean that the quality of the education is poor or that the school can’t attract quality students. If that’s the case, you should look elsewhere.

Making your degree program a success

Despite the paradigm shift in bosses and their view of the Internet, and the fact that studies have shown online degrees are just as good as ones earned on campus, some people still worry. Here’s what you can do to make sure you can move forward with your degree:

Choose an established school

Surveys of human resources professionals show that they value degrees from institutions they recognize. This could be a school with an established physical presence or an Internet-only school that has been around for a while and has accreditation.

What you want to avoid are the scammers: schools offering a degree in exchange for money without requiring you to do any work. Unfortunately, these do exist. To avoid them, just look for their accreditation and check up on it.

Show your social skills

One of the big concerns people cite about online degrees is that they don’t provide the kind of social interaction that you get from living on campus in a traditional college environment. For some people, this social interaction is key to developing the kind of soft skills necessary for most working environments.

Fortunately, you can easily demonstrate to a potential employer that you have the kinds of soft skills they’re looking for. It’s all in how you present yourself when you apply for a job and how you follow up on an interview.

Bring reinforcements

If you’re really concerned, it never hurts to have some proof that your degree is earned and legitimate. Transcripts can show the kind of courses you took. A letter of recommendation from a professor demonstrates that you took active part in the course.

You can also ask your school for a letter of authenticity or contact the accrediting agency for a letter showing your institution has their backing. You might not need all this, but it never hurts to be prepared.

There are plenty of choices out there that can work with your needs, interest, and budget. Look for accredited programs with clear fee rates, choose the path you love, and then get to work. Your future is waiting.