Degrees You Can Earn on Your Lunch Break

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Here are five degrees that you can work into your busy schedule.

By Terri Williams

If you're like most people, you lead a busy life, and trying to schedule time to go to school may seem like an impossibility. While it may be your desire to earn a degree - or an additional degree - you don't see how you can add anything else to your plate. And quitting your job to attend school is not an option.

Online education may not be the right choice for everyone, but the flexibility online learning provides can be appealing to many busy individuals. "The advent of online education has opened doors to students who otherwise would not have been able to pursue a degree due to time and location barriers," according to Curt Bonk, a professor of instructional systems technology at Indiana University, who points out that potential students may be adults with jobs, families or other demands on their time.

Fortunately, online options could allow you to do coursework during your lunch break, after work, on weekends, or whenever you can find free time.

So if you thought it was impossible to go to school while maintaining your lifestyle, keep reading to discover five degrees designed for your busy schedule.

Online Degree #1: Bachelor's in Computer Science

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You might use a computer all day at work without ever getting to understand its true capabilities. That could all change if you work in computer science classes online at lunch. You could learn about the inner language of computers, including classes in program design and artificial intelligence, according to the College Board, an organization which helps millions of students get ready for college with programs and services like the SAT and the Advanced Placement program.

The Convenience Factor: Why is this one to consider pursuing on your lunch break? Because the curriculum is technology-focused, and the online learning environment is comparable to on-campus classes, says Professor Raghu Santanam of the information systems department at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Computer Science Program.

He explains that students can upload their presentation videos and follow up with interactive discussions among classmates on discussion boards, all of which is convenient for those with busy schedules.

Even if students can only study in short spurts of time, they can still pursue this popular degree. "Since a variety of delivery mechanisms can be used to enrich the learning experience, students can work at their own pace," says Santanam.

Potential Career: Computer Programmer*

Median Annual Salary:
$76,140**
90th Percentile of Annual Salaries:
>$123,490**
10th Percentile of Annual Salaries:
<$43,640**

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, most computer programmers do have a computer science bachelor's degree, or a degree in a related subject. As a computer programmer, you could put your familiarity with computers to use by working closely with software developers to create new software programs; writing code, expanding and debugging existing software, and making use of code libraries.

Online Degree #2: Bachelor's in Accounting

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If you love crunching numbers but you're already crunched for time, you may still be able to calculate some free time in your spare hours to study for an online bachelor's degree in accounting, where you might engage in classes in tax accounting, cost accounting, and auditing, reports the College Board.

The Convenience Factor: And why should you consider studying accounting online? "Accounting also has a heavy emphasis on software and financial models," says Bonk. "And since these software programs can be stopped and started again, depending on the student's availability, information can be reviewed whenever students have time."

Next step: Click to Find the Right Accounting Program.

Since accounting deals with concrete numbers and established practices, it could be a lot easier to pursue this degree in an online format: "An online accounting degree teaches the basics of auditing, taxation, and other financial subjects," says Bonk. These types of classes are ideal for students who cannot commit to large blocks of study time."

Potential Career: Accountant*

Median Annual Salary:
$65,080**
90th Percentile of Annual Salaries:
>$113,740**
10th Percentile of Annual Salaries:
<$40,370**

An accountant position could be the perfect place to bring your number-crunching skills to life. The U.S. Department of Labor tells us that most accountants need at the least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field. Accountants maintain and organize financial records, assess financial operations, compute taxes, inspect account books, and examine financial statements for accuracy.

Online Degree #3: Bachelor's in Elementary Education

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If you spend your workday wondering how you could pass on your knowledge to young minds, consider setting aside time during your lunch break to pursue an online bachelor's degree in elementary education, where you might learn such things as teaching methods, instructional technology, and educational psychology, according to the College Board.

The Convenience Factor: What makes elementary education appropriate for online study? Due to the format of this degree, this course of study is ideal for those in a time crunch. Bonk says that these types of classes don't have labs and they don't involve heavy scientific studies, which would require longer periods of study time.

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Even if time is in short supply, you can still grasp the concepts of this online major, which can also include classes in the history of education, classroom management, and child development, says Bonk.

Potential Career: Elementary School Teacher*

Median Annual Salary:
$53,590**
90th Percentile of Annual Salaries:
>$83,600**
10th Percentile of Annual Salaries:
<$35,760**

Some online learners may decide to pass on their learning to the next generation as elementary school teachers. Elementary school teachers in public education must have a state certification or license and a bachelor's degree in elementary education, says the U.S. Department of Labor. In some states they may be required to major in a specific content area such as science or math. They will also typically take a teacher preparation program at their university for classes in child psychology and education. Some states may require teachers to earn a master's degree after certification.

Online Degree #4: Master's in Business Administration

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If you can execute your business management skills by managing your free time to study, you could pursue an online master's in business administration and potentially prepare to gain a competitive edge in the business world.

Business administration students with a concentration in marketing may study general business and management skills, as well as learning skills in branding, consumer behavior, and advertising, according to the Princeton Review, a leader in college and graduate school test preparation services.

The Convenience Factor: Is an MBA really something to study online? At first glance, it may appear that an MBA is not an ideal choice for an online degree. However, "It's much easier to learn management and leadership skills in an online setting, as opposed to learning medical procedures or another subject that would require a higher level of long-term concentration," says Bonk.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Business Administration Program.

As a result, you can still pursue your degree while juggling your busy schedule. "Students can read and study in spurts, and still be able to grasp the concepts of business administration," explains Bonk. "They can develop business plans, and learn such concepts as team-building and entrepreneurship while working at their own pace."

Potential Career: Financial Analyst*

Median Annual Salary:
$78,380**
90th Percentile of Annual Salaries:
>$152,420**
10th Percentile of Annual Salaries:
<$48,100**

Business skills can definitely be put to good use by financial analysts, who offer guidance to both businesses and individuals as they make investment decisions. The U.S. Department of Labor explains that most positions in this field require a bachelor's degree, with appropriate preparation coming in fields of study such as economics, finance, mathematics, statistics, accounting, and engineering. The Department of Labor also points out that employers will often require a master's in business administration or a master's degree in finance for advanced positions.

Online Degree #5: Master's in Psychology

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If you're intrigued by the connection between the human mind and human behavior, consider analyzing how much spare time you have to pursue an online master's degree in psychology. Master's degree programs in psychology typically have courses such as statistics, research design, and industrial-organizational psychology, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The Convenience Factor: What about the nature of this major makes it suitable for online study? "A master's degree in psychology can be applied to almost any career field and is well suited for online education," says Kristi Cordell-McNulty, assistant professor and director of the M.S. program in applied psychology in the department of psychology, sociology, and social work at Angelo State University. "Since psychology deals with theories, it's the type of information that you can digest in small segments of time."

Next step: Click to Find the Right Psychology Program.

Cordell-McNulty adds that students can review case studies and perform other types of research online, which can then be saved and viewed at the student's convenience.

Potential Career: Industrial/Organizational Psychologist*

Median Annual Salary:
$80,330**
90th Percentile of Annual Salaries:
>$140,390**
10th Percentile of Annual Salaries:
<$49,570**

If you're interested in applying psychological principles to the workplace, you should know that industrial-organizational psychologists do just that, according to the Department of Labor. These workers use research methods and psychological concepts to improve work life quality. A graduate with a master's degree in psychology can work as an industrial-organizational psychologist, the Department of Labor adds.

*All potential careers are from the 2014-15 U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook. The Department of Labor cites the associated degrees as common, required, preferred, or one of a number of degrees acceptable as preparation for the potential career. In some instances, candidates might require further schooling, professional certifications, or experience, before being qualified to pursue the career.

** Salaries are from the U.S. Department of Labor's May 2013 National Occupational Employment Wage Estimates

Next Article: Six Flexible Degrees You Could Earn in Two Years

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