Types of Online College and Graduate Degrees — An Overview

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What Kinds of Online Degrees Are There?

There are four basic types of online college and graduate degrees:

Online degrees continue to gain in popularity and availability, with more college and graduate students than ever before taking online classes or exclusively online degree programs. According to U.S. News & World Report, more than 6.3 million students took at least one online course in 2016. This marked a 5.6% from the prior year and a 14th consecutive year of growth for online degrees.

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Traditional universities, educators, and employers have come to view online degrees with increasing acceptance. As a result, earning an online degree from an accredited college or graduate school can improve your job prospects, salary potential and opportunities for advancement. As with traditional higher learning, each online degree indicates that you’ve reached a certain level of mastery. Generally speaking, the higher your level of degree attainment, the greater your qualifications for certain jobs, career paths, and pay grades. With online college or graduate school, it is especially important to seek an accredited institution and to do extensive research on the background and reputation of your school.

You can get started by taking a look at online degrees by level. Read on for a quick glance at each of the four major online degree levels:

Online Associate Degree

Many community colleges, junior colleges and technical schools provide online associate degree programs. Your online associate degree will require you to earn roughly 60 credits, which is typically a two-year commitment for the full-time student. That said, online schools are often highly flexible for part-time students, which means you may be able to space out your online associate degree courses to accommodate your work, family, and personal responsibilities.

An online associates degrees can prepare you for a wide range of technical and entry-level roles, or it could be a pathway to a bachelor’s degree at a four-year college, either online or on-campus. By spending two years at an online community or junior college first, you could save both time and money in the long-term. In fact, the Department of Education recognizes community colleges as the most affordable path to a higher education.

Start your search by checking out The 50 Most Affordable Online Colleges for Associate Degrees or jumping straight to our rankings of associate degrees by program.

Or, click here to learn more about the Online Associate Degree and how you can earn yours.

Online Bachelor’s Degree

A online bachelor’s degree, also known as a baccalaureate degree, is an undergraduate degree typically offered by most accredited online four-year schools. This can include private, public and commercial online colleges or universities. Most online bachelors degrees will require the completion of roughly 120 credits. This typically requires between four and six years for the average full-time student. That said, you may enjoy greater flexibility with an online bachelor’s degree program, which could allow you to space out your courses to accommodate work, life, and personal responsibilities.

Online bachelor’s degrees are available in nearly all the same academic fields as are traditional bachelor’s degrees. Your online bachelor’s degree demonstrates that you have successfully completed a general education with a focus on a specific major. Once you’ve earned your degree, you’ll gain access to a wide range of opportunities, whether you plan to continue into graduate school — online or on-campus — or enter the job market.

If you know what you’re looking for, you can get started on your search with the The 50 Best Online Colleges & Universities 2019.

You can also check out the 50 Most Affordable Online Colleges for Bachelor’s Degrees or jump straight to our ranking lists to see where you can find the best online bachelor’s degree for your intended major.

Or, click here to learn more about the Online Bachelor’s Degree and how you can earn yours.

Online Master’s Degree

A online master’s degree is an advanced graduate degree that shows a high level of mastery in a particular subject area. An online master’s degree program will demand the completion of between 30 and 60 credits, which typically requires a commitment of between one and two years.

You may choose to pursue an online master’s degree in order to improve your opportunities for advancement in a particular field, to increase your earning potential, or to improve your appeal as a job candidate. Some jobs and leadership roles may require a master’s degree as a minimum qualification for employment. For instance, in many states, a master’s degree is required to earn a license to teach in public school or become a practicing social worker.

Online masters degree programs may be especially appealing because many graduate students are already working in the field. The online graduate program can offer convenience, access, and flexibility if you’re studying to advance a career that you’ve already gotten off the ground.

As an online graduate student, you’ll work to improve your knowledge and technical skills in a specialized area, whether your focus is the arts, humanities, healthcare, the natural sciences, or a host of other fields.

Your advanced online degree may also enable you to bypass entry level jobs in your chosen field and immediately land in higher paying roles with greater opportunities for professional growth. Most senior management and senior professional jobs require an advanced degree.

One important note: there are countless online master’s degrees out there, but not all are of equal quality. Look for accredited online master’s degree programs and make sure you land in a program with a strong reputation.

If you already know what you’re looking for, check out our top Online Master Degrees Programs.

Or, click here to learn more about the online Master’s Degree and how you can earn yours.

Online Doctorate Degree

Online doctorate degrees are available in a wide range of subjects. The doctorate degree is the highest degree you can earn in most fields. Also called a “terminal degree,” this signals that you’ve achieved the highest level of academic mastery in your chosen field, and can work as a professional researcher, a university professor, or in an executive leadership role.

An online doctorate degree demands an enormous commitment of time, energy and (sometimes) money. But in exchange for this commitment, you will achieve a specialized level of authority in your field and opportunity in your profession. A doctorate can lead to greater opportunities for professional advancement and higher earning potential. It’s also the basic threshold for certain advanced professional roles, including the licensed practice of psychology, professorship, or professional research.

In most cases, you will pursue a doctorate while continuing to work in the field. This makes the online doctorate degree an appealing option for professionals who are balancing career responsibilities with a rigorous course of education.

Many traditional universities with doctoral programs will offer parallel opportunities to earn your doctorate online. To get started on your search, check out the The 50 Best Online Colleges & Universities 2019 and find out who offers a doctoral program in your field.

If you’re looking for a doctoral program closer to home, take a look at The Best Online College by State.

Or, click here to learn more about the Online Doctorate Degree and how you can earn yours.

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