Best Degrees to Earn Online


If you're thinking about earning your degree online, check out these popular options.

By Chris Kyle

Are you thinking of going back to school and wondering which degrees are the best ones to earn online?

It's not an easy question to answer, partly because the list of online degrees is such a long one and partly because the technology being used in virtual classrooms is evolving at such a rapid pace.

Eduventures, a Boston-based educational research firm, looked at online enrollment in the fall of 2009 to determine which programs had the most students pursuing a bachelor's degree online.

Among the 2.1 million online students in 2009, the five most popular online bachelor's degrees were:

Keep reading to learn why these five career-oriented degrees are among the best you can earn online.

Online Degree #1 - Criminal Justice

More so than most topics, criminal justice could lend itself to online learning.

When earning your criminal justice degree online, you might take classes on cyber-security and criminal profiling while also studying broader topics like juvenile justice and the legal system.

Click to Learn More About Criminal Justice Programs.

Potential Career Paths: While an associate's degree could be a good first step, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, federal agencies like Homeland Security require a bachelor's degree. By studying criminal justice, you could also put yourself in a position to work for your local fire department.

Online Degree #2 - Business

Business is largely conducted electronically these days so it makes sense that online business degrees - both undergraduate and graduate - have become increasingly popular among students. Thomas Boyd, dean of Kaplan University's School of Business and Management, told the Wall Street Journal in March 2011 that many online students have young children, a sick parent or live in a rural area.

"They do online seminars - chats led by the faculty members - which are required once per week," Boyd said. "...We also emphasize group work and team assignments, which makes up half of the M.B.A. curriculum. It can be very challenging for students who are across different time zones, but it's exactly what's happening in the real world."

Click to Learn More About Business Programs.

Potential Career Paths: Getting an online business degree could help lead to any number of different careers, whether it's in human resources, marketing, finance, or business operations.

Online Degree #3 - Health Care

In recent years, the health care industry has embraced technology to help convert its medical records into electronic form while also delivering and managing patient care efficiently. By taking classes like health care administration and data management systems online, students could be using computers and the latest software to analyze how this transformation is taking place.

One big perk of studying health care online is the flexibility. Many online programs allow more control over when and where you do your class work.

Click to Learn More About Health Care Programs.

Potential Career Paths: Since the health care industry is so massive, this is one online degree that you could potentially take with you in many different directions. Whether you want to prepare for a career as a public health social worker or you hope to work your way up the chain of command at a hospital and eventually transition to a medical manager, studying health care online is a great place to start building your future.

Online Degree #4 - Computer and IT

It's not hard to imagine why computer and IT courses work well online. Study IT online and you'll likely be using the latest tools and technology to design software, practice trouble-shooting, and learn about networking and security issues.

And since you're more than comfortable with a computer, you should be able to get the most out of your school's online education software and its many different bells and whistles, including streaming video and real-time text and voice communication systems.

Click to Learn More About Technology Programs.

Potential Career Paths: Getting an online degree in computer science or a related IT area is great preparation for pursuing computer programmer or data communications analyst opportunities. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, those two occupations have average annual compensations of $74,690 and $76,560.*

Online Degree #5 - Nursing

Want to earn a bachelor's of science in nursing (BSN)? An online education can help make it happen. While it's important to check with each school for details, it may be possible to earn your BSN online if you've already completed enough hours on the job as an RN to have the requisite clinical experience. Any remaining requirements may only involve academic coursework that can be completed online.

Linda Strong, coordinator of Sacred Heart University's online RN-to-BSN program, likes how online education allows working nurses to earn their bachelor's on their own time. "Online is increasingly the option for the student who does not have the ability to get on campus for a traditional course and who needs to balance home, work, and school," she told in February 2011.

Click to Learn More About Nursing Programs.

Potential Career Paths: Getting your BSN could prove helpful as you prepare to transitionto a career as a registered nurse, according to the Department of Labor, which typically offers better average earning potential and greater responsibility than licensed vocational or practical nurse positions.

* Average pay comes from the U.S. Department of Labor, using 2009 median salary information.

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