Jump starting your earning power with a quick online degree has never been easier, and the choices of potential careers offer something for everyone. With the adoption of distance learning, online classes and quick online degrees by many traditional colleges and private institutions, there are a wealth of choices to make. Planning your path to a degree will show you shortcuts, but there are no substitutes for studying and hard work. Being aware of all your options will help you to make the most informed decisions for your future career and financial stability. Degrees do pay off over time, and earning a quick online degree puts you into the job market faster and with less debt than the traditional on-campus route.
Degrees of Degrees: How and Where to Start
It can be a little confusing, trying to figure out the differences between a certification, a technical diploma, and the degrees classified as associate, baccalaureate and master’s. Very often community colleges (also called junior or two-year colleges) and proprietary educational institutions will offer the first three, and colleges and universities the latter two.
- Certificate: Generally issued for a specific technical or vocational course of study without the educational breadth requirement.
- Technical diploma: More advanced than a certificate and with hands on practical instruction. An example would be a nursing diploma issued by a hospital based nursing school.
- Associate degree: Essentially the lower division courses that could comprise the first two years of a baccalaureate degree, with a focus on technical skills as well as general education requirements. For example, an Associates of Applied Science in Accounting.
- Bachelor’s degree: Sometimes called a four-year degree, this is composed of broad general education requirements followed by upper division courses related to the student’s major area of study.
- Master’s degree: Postgraduate degree indicating a specialized area of study and depth of knowledge.
The decision to further your education with one of the many quick online degrees can take you into an in-demand career with good pay, job security and financial stability. However, while associate degree credits can usually be transferred to a four-year institution, a certificate or technical diploma cannot – unless in very specific circumstances such as a nursing diploma RN entering a BSN program later in her career.
A student in a degree program could chose to also pursue a certification in various skills related to or intersecting their chosen field as a way on enhancing their skills and making themselves a more valuable hire. Other cases, such as professional certifications, may also intersect chosen courses of study. For example, a Computer Science major might seek Cisco certifications related to a specific field of area, such as network architecture.
Likewise, credits from undergraduate studies resulting in a bachelor’s degree may be considered during the admissions process to graduate school programs. There are even accelerated programs for a master’s degree where the student starts to take upper division courses that may also be applied toward the core curriculum requirements of the master’s program. Such a program is called the 4+1 or blended master’s degree, as the four years of undergraduate work are followed by only one year of graduate school, instead of following the traditional two year timeframe.
Pre-Admission Testing for Undergraduate and Graduate School
Admission to a college program, even when entirely online, generally requires an application and academic records showing a certain grade-point average, and in many cases scores from the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) or ACT (American College Testing). However, there are exceptions. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing lists more than 800 schools who do not require the SAT or the ACT, and under what – if any – conditions. The list includes state universities, well-known private universities, proprietary schools, religious colleges and even some of the “almost Ivy” colleges such as Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, Swarthmore, Tufts and Wesleyan. Conditions under which an SAT or ACT scores may be required are:
- For accurate academic advising or class level placement.
- For out of state applicants only.
- When minimum GPA has not been met.
- When applying for certain classes or programs.
In some cases, the SAT or ACT may be waived if other college level exams are specified and submitted as part of your academic records by your school, such as those for Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate curriculum or CLEP examinations. Just because a school does not require an SAT or ACT score doesn’t mean it’s not an excellent school, it simply means that the school has other ways of looking at and assessing an applicant’s academic potential.
Graduate schools may require the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), or the GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) for entry into an MBA program.
Undergraduate Education Requirements
Unless you are applying to a strictly technical program at a proprietary school, as an undergraduate you will be required to fulfill a certain number of course hours and pass a minimum breadth requirement before your undergraduate degrees can be issued. These courses represent a higher level of learning from most high school courses, and are considered basic to the body of knowledge an undergraduate, even when you’re going for quick online degrees. These courses are expected to dominate the freshman and sophomore years of a bachelor’s degree, and are as follows:
- Natural Sciences
- Arts and Literature
- Social Sciences
However, there are ways around the requirements that can save time as well as a large amount of money. With the average tuition for a course being about $700 – significantly less in some schools or more in others – why not take an $80 exam that delivers as many as 12 credits in 90 minutes? The College Level Examination Program offers examinations to replace 33 lower division courses and is accepted by thousands of institutions as creditable coursework for the above requirements. However, keep in mind that these are college-level exams, and testers are expected to show command of the course material equivalent to that of a student ending their sophomore year.
Beyond simply saving on tuition, by taking and passing the examinations for courses that require laboratory work, you eliminate the need to commute to those classes.
The Value of a Degree
The value of quick online degrees in a rough economy may not be immediately apparent, there’s the cost of classes, course materials, and the time and effort needed to study and pass. However, looking at the value of a degree – any degree – over time shows that it all adds up. The National Labor Board’s Bureau of Labor Statistics recently conducted research into all full-time workers over the age of 25 across all levels of educational attainment and averaged their pay and unemployment percentages to $827 per week with 6.1 percent unemployment. Here’s the breakdown of the different educational between master’s degree and high school diploma levels below:
- High school diploma: Brings home $651 in average weekly earnings, for $176 less than the average per week, or an earnings shortfall of $9,152 per year. The average unemployment rate is given as 7.5 percent.
- Some college, but no degree: Brings home $727 in average weekly earnings, for $100 less than the average per week, or a shortfall of $5,200 per year. The average unemployment rate is given as 7 percent.
- Associate degree: Brings home $777 in average weekly earnings, for $50 less than the average per week, or an earnings shortfall of $2,600 per year. The average unemployment rate is given as 5.4 percent.
- Bachelor’s degree: Brings home $1,108 in average weekly earnings, for $281 above average per week, or earnings $14,612 per year above average. The average unemployment rate is given as 4 percent.
- Master’s degree: Brings home $1,329 average weekly earnings, for $502 above average per week, or $26,104 per year above average. The average unemployment rate is given as 3.4 percent.
Thinking about those earnings across 10 years of a career can make the differences even starker:
- High School Diploma: Over 10 years, will see $91,520 less than average in earnings.
- Some college, but no degree: Over 10 years will see $52,000 less than average in earnings.
- Associate degree: Over 10 years, will see $26,000 less than average in earnings.
- Bachelor’s degree: Over 10 years, will see $146,120 in above average earnings.
- Master’s degree: Over 10 years, will see $261,040 in above average earnings.
And these numbers are only average, not accounting for career advancement, raises or periods of unemployment. Salaries also vary by specialty, so specific careers could have a starting salary even above the average for the educational level.
So Many Possibilities, and Some Pitfalls
Unless a preferred course of study has significant laboratory requirements, it is possible to attain most degrees online, from wherever the student has an Internet connection. Some of the many possibilities for quick online degrees include:
- Accounting: Finance Accounting, Forensic Accounting and Accounting Information Systems.
- Business: Business Administration, Business Finance and Marketing.
- Computer Science: Software Design, Network Management and Web Development.
- Fashion and Fashion Management
- Video Game Design and Development
- Healthcare Management
- Criminal Justice
- Public Administration
These are a small fraction of the options available for online students, and the only way to find the program you’re looking for is to shop around. Even if you can’t find everything you want at one school, or in one program, so long as your courses are taken from accredited institutions, those credits should be transferable to another school where you may choose to complete the requirements for your degree.
Checking your school’s accreditation and your program’s accrediting bodies is a vital step and should never, ever be skipped for any reason whatsoever. Accreditation means the difference between a valuable degree and a meaningless entry on a resume, or possibly losing everything you’ve worked so hard for to an unscrupulous school. Accreditation means a standard quality of instruction and course materials, accountability, and the transferability of credits earned from that coursework to another degree granting institution as needed by the student.
Should a student who has earned, for example, an Associate of Science in Accounting from a community college want to continue their education and earn a baccalaureate at a four-year state college, or a student from a four-year college wishes to apply to a master’s program, both would need their prospective schools to agree and verify that their coursework and degrees met the standard of their own programs. If the school was not accredited, or had bought accreditation from an accreditation mill, the student could find themselves having to start all over again.
This is where CHEA (Council for Higher Education Accreditation) comes in. CHEA accredits schools and programs at 3,000 degree-granting schools, and 60 institutional and program-related accrediting bodies. Among the accrediting organizations, CHEA recognizes several types:
- Regional Accrediting Organizations: Accrediting a group of schools within a given group of states.
- Faith-Related Accrediting Organizations: Accrediting religious education and theological schools.
- Career-Related Accrediting Organizations: Accrediting distance study programs and proprietary schools.
- Programmatic Accrediting Organizations: Accreditation pertaining to particular majors and career paths.
Checking with CHEA and the Department of Education for accreditation protects you, your investment, and your future potential earnings from fraudulent schools with fraudulent accreditation who would give you what would be at best a worthless degree.
The Future of Degrees
The need of the workforce for highly educated, specialized workers is not going away anytime soon. From nursing to high finance and education to computer science, the degree is becoming as much a qualification for entry-level jobs in growth professions as a high school diploma was in our grandparents’ day. Programs for quick online degrees can put you into a highly competitive workforce faster, and with potentially less debt to repay than a more traditional format.
At the same time, for those with hectic schedules, home life demands, or even those already in the workforce can benefit by choosing classes that fit their schedules, instead of shoehorning classes into an already jam-packed life. Make the most of your time, take steps toward financial and job security, and maximize your potential earning power by starting your search today.