How to Make a Career Change This Year With Online Education

How to Make a Career Change This Year With Online Education
Beth Dumbauld

Are you ready to make a career change? If so, online education may provide you with the best opportunity to do so.

While there are several pathways to career success, online learning allows you to get the credentials you need on your own terms, particularly when you need to balance work, family, and your education, says Danika Rockett, PhD, former online professor and currently a partner college manager at StraighterLine.

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On Your Own Terms

According to a 2015 survey of online college students by Aslanian Market Research and Learning House, about 75% of online students seek further education to change careers, get a job, earn a promotion or keep up-to-date with their skills.

“In a ‘traditional’ brick-and-mortar program, you often need an all-or-nothing mindset,” says Dr. Rockett. “Students would often have to choose between degree programs with inconvenient weekend or night schedules, sometimes enrolling in degree programs available close to home--though not ideal for achieving career goals--or deferring their degree altogether in order to continue to make a living.”

Reduce Your Risk

Getting your degree has always been a risky business, but with online education, there’s a better way to manage that risk. “These days,” she says, “students have so many more options. Alternative credit pathways have opened up the door for low-cost, low-risk completion of necessary degree prerequisites. Plus, with so many high-quality colleges offering online programs, students can earn their degree around their schedule.”

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Prior to making a career change, experts recommend taking a look at where you are and defining the steps that will take you where you want to be.

1- Identify the career you want

Prior to enrolling in an online degree program, experts recommend prospective students do their homework first.

If your current position has lost its luster, but you still enjoy what you do, you may want to consider switching employers, not your career. Alternatively, you may be ready for career advancement, which may require more education, rather than a career switch.

That’s what prompted Chris DuBose to go back to school and earn his bachelor’s degree at the age of 42. “I was offered to take on an important new role at our parent company; a big promotion with a raise, in management,” says Chris. “I was all ready to get going, and just needed to complete some paperwork, and that included providing some information about my education, including college.”

But Chris didn’t have a bachelor’s degree. His promotion was put on hold until he could get the required credentials. He had always intended on getting his degree, and realized it was now or never.

He chose now. Once Chris made the decision to go back to school, there was no stopping him. He looked for ways to accelerate his time to degree and found StraighterLine, the low-cost online college course provider. Thanks to its transfer-friendly policies, Chris made the decision to pursue his degree from Excelsior College, a StraighterLine partner college that guarantees acceptance of StraighterLine courses as mapped out through the school’s articulation agreement.

“I work all day from 7:30am - 5:30pm. I have kids. In order to complete my degree, I had to get on a pretty strict schedule,” says Chris who was able to complete his degree at Excelsior at a much lower cost rate through low-cost course transfer.  “But at least with online courses, I was able to come home, plan on taking one of my StraighterLine tests or exams before dinner, and spend some time with my family. After the kids went to bed, I could go to my home office and study. Online education has been essential.”

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2- Identify which academic credential you need

The more clear you are about your career goals, the easier it will be for you pick the right degree.

A great benefit of online learning is that it provides you with easy access to degree programs that are well-matched to your career goals, no matter where you live. From healthcare informatics to cybersecurity to accelerated teaching degree programs, online learners can help you pursue a wide range of careers.

“I was already working full-time in the IT field,” says Meir Goetz, a StraighterLine and University of Maryland’s University College student, but knew he wanted to work in cyber security. “I need a college degree to advance my IT career,” said Meir. “UMUC’s cyber security degree program allows me to earn the right credential for my career goals.”  Plus, UMUC’s program offered Meir enough flexibility so he could take many of his courses online while continuing to work full-time.

Dr. Rockett recommends prospective students consider completing general education courses prior to enrolling in a degree program in order to reduce costs and to prepare for success: “Be sure to evaluate different degree programs in terms of cost and flexibility. A flexible transfer credit policy is a good sign that a degree program is also friendly to working adults.”

3- Choose an accredited degree program

Before choosing a degree program, make sure it’s the right fit for your career goals.

Experts often recommend speaking with employees currently working in the field to see which degrees are preferred by hiring managers. Their advice includes taking a look at the scope of the school’s career services, and identifying job placement rates. Check in with state accreditation boards to ensure your degree will meet required standards, particularly if you are looking to moving into teaching or nursing.

Dr. Rockett advises that students also invest in shoring up foundational academic skills at an online course provider like StraighterLine. “By completing some general education courses online,” she says, “students can gain not only transferable credits but also confidence in their ability to succeed at the college level--and importantly, in an online setting.”

“Students should be sure to do their homework,” she recommends. “Find out if a new career actually fits your aptitude and interests, and if the degree program will get you where you want to be. Research job opportunities in your area, and talk with friends or acquaintances who are currently working in the field.”

Working while earning your degree? Download our free Guide to Working While Going to College

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