For adults juggling jobs and family commitments, earning a degree can seem like a Herculean task.
But it doesn't have to be. By joining the millions of Americans pursuing online education, it's possible to prepare for the next great job opportunity from the comfort of your couch.
"Online learning can do two things: It can lead to advancement in an existing profession, or it can lead to a completely new profession," says Leah K. Matthews, executive director of the Distance Education Accrediting Commission. "It spans almost every field now."
Melissa Marcello, associate vice president of Champlain College Online, says there are some industries where an online degree is particularly marketable. "These include fast-growing occupations such as cybersecurity, accounting or software development, which are projected to have significant numbers of job openings in coming years but face a shortage of highly qualified workers," she wrote in an email.
Marcello adds that online degree-holders are most employable when their degree comes from a reputable academic institution. "Students looking to impress potential employers should seek out career-focused online degree programs that employ practitioner-faculty with significant experience in their fields, offer degrees with clear career outcomes and give students ample opportunity to apply classroom knowledge to workplace settings," she says. "Employers may also be particularly interested in online degrees from institutions they are familiar with. Oftentimes, organizations will hire large numbers of students from particular institutions, or offer tuition discounts to specific schools, because they recognize the quality of the degrees being offered and the caliber of graduates emerging from the programs."
There are certain occupations where online degrees often lead to positive employment outcomes. The following six jobs were pulled from U.S. News & World Report's 100 Best Jobs of 2019 rankings. They earned high marks for employment opportunity, salary, work-life balance and job security, among other factors.
Nurse practitioner (ranked No. 7 out of 100 best jobs)
Median salary: $103,880
For people concerned foremost with job security, a career as a nurse practitioner could be the ultimate elixir. Employment of nurse practitioners is increasing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which anticipates that the number of nurse practitioner jobs in the U.S. will increase by 36% between 2016 and 2026, which is much faster than the average among all occupations.
Computer systems analyst (ranked No. 27 out of 100 best jobs)
Median salary: $88,270
This is not a job for a socially awkward computer whiz. The ideal computer systems analyst possesses a passion for technology and great personal skills. These professionals liaise between the IT department and a client, and are involved with both the budgetary and technical considerations of a project.
To land this job, you'll need at least a bachelor's degree in a relevant field. For instance, Colorado State University--Global Campus offers an online bachelor's degree in information technology, and Pennsylvania State University--World Campus offers an online bachelor's degree in information sciences and technology.
Students wanting to further enhance their earning power can pursue an online master's degree in computer information technology. University of Southern California, New York University and Virginia Tech are just a few of the top programs ranked by U.S. News.
Market research analyst (ranked No. 60 out of 100 best jobs)
Median salary: $63,230
Pepsi or Coke? Mac or PC? A good market research analyst knows what people like and why. These professionals are the ultimate observers, watching people to determine their habits and preferences. Their advice helps clients package, brand and sell products appropriately.
Entering the field requires at least a bachelor's degree, and many who join the profession come from disciplines focusing mainly on math or business.
Those interested in market research could consider an online bachelor's degree in business administration from a program such as the University of Alabama--Birmingham or Arizona State University. Earning an online MBA from Indiana University--Bloomington, University of North Carolina--Chapel Hill or another top program could be helpful to those with an unrelated bachelor's degree or for candidates looking to impress employers with their advanced subject knowledge.
Cost estimator (ranked No. 61 out of 100 best jobs)
Median salary: $63,110
Before the ground is ever broken in a construction project, a cost estimator helps coordinate its technical, mechanical and fiscal requirements. The role requires a person with an analytic, organized mind who is at ease working with engineers, architects and construction managers.
While a four-year degree is not required to enter the field, a bachelor's degree in construction management or building science and related work experience in accounting, finance, business or economics will give applicants a leg up.
If this career piques an interest, consider an online bachelor's degree in business from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University--Worldwide or another highly ranked online bachelor's program.
Information security analyst (ranked No. 40 out of 100 best jobs)
Median salary: $95,510
Due to an uptick in data breaches at major corporations in recent years, demand for information security analysts -- the tech-savvy individuals who safeguard an organization's computer systems -- is growing. Employment is expected to grow by 28.5% between 2016 and 2026, faster than the average among all occupations, according to the BLS.
Entering this profession only requires a college degree in a computer-related discipline, so an online bachelor's degree in information systems security should be sufficient.
Speech-language pathologist (ranked No. 23 out of 100 best jobs)
Median salary: $76,610
Speech-language pathologists, also called speech therapists, help people grappling with communication and swallowing disorders tied to stroke, brain injury, hearing loss and a range of other causes.
The majority of speech-language pathologists work full time and 43% work in schools, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The profession, which requires a master's degree, has seen a pay spike in recent years.
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