Six degrees that fit your busy schedule


Want to still have time for your job, your friends, and your family when you go back to school? Online education might be the right choice.

By Terence Loose

Are you ready to go back to school to earn your degree but not quite sure how you can "go back" to those days when you had no work or family obligations? Back then, commuting to class, finding parking, then walking across campus to a classroom merely meant a little less time hanging with friends or watching TV.

Now, you have a "real life," and every second counts. That's why online education might be the answer.

"These days, people have very demanding schedules with work, family, and other obligations. For these people, online education is perfect," says Norma Kent, strategic communications consultant and former senior vice president of communications of American Community Colleges.

Colleges are making a concerted effort to have schools fit the students' schedules, not the other way around, Kent explains. Online education gives students from all walks of life the opportunity to earn their degree on their own time, whether that's after the kids have been tucked in or between two part-time jobs.

So we checked out six degrees that are fit for online learning and let you know where these flexible degrees could lead you professionally.

Online Degree #1: Accounting

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If you've crunched the numbers and going back to school for a degree in accounting adds up career-wise but may not work with your busy life, maybe you should factor an online accounting degree into the equation. It's a perfect fit for this medium, says David Bakke, editor at Money Crashers, a website devoted to career and finance advice.

Bakke says the accounting major is well-suited for online learning because it matches the kind of work you'll do following graduation: number-crunching on a computer and meeting deadlines without close supervision.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Online Accounting Program.

What You'll Learn: If you choose accounting as a major, you'll do more than just crunch numbers, says the College Board, a nonprofit research organization that promotes higher education. You'll learn how to gather, assess, and interpret information about individuals' and organizations' financial risks. In addition to accounting classes, the College Board says you could take business law, auditing, and cost accounting.

Potential Career: Accountant. The Department of Labor says that accountants prepare and examine financial records, study financial operations, and help ensure that organizations run efficiently.*

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Online Degree #2: Elementary Education

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You might think that pursuing a degree in elementary education would require a lot of time in the classroom. But this is not always the case, says Bakke.

"If you're pressed for time, or even working a full-time job while pursuing your degree, then getting a degree online in elementary education makes sense because there's generally not as much [in-classroom training] required," says Bakke.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Online Education Program.

What You'll Learn: As an education major, you might study everything from educational psychology to school health issues, says the College Board. You could take courses such as education in a multicultural society, education of the exceptional child, instructional technology, and teaching methods.

Potential Career: Elementary School Teacher. A significant number of teachers retiring from 2010 to 2020 is just one reason the U.S. Department of Labor expects many job opportunities for new teachers. If you choose this path, you'd help our next generation get a solid foundation for their scholastic life by teaching them basic subjects, such as math and reading, says the Department of Labor.*

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Online Degree #3: Business Administration and Management

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If you think going back to school for a business degree would be great for your career, but you can't afford to pause your career to do it, an online degree program might be a practical solution.

"A business administration degree is the perfect complement to an individual already working in that industry, but without that specific education," says Bakke. He adds that the business degree lends itself to online study because there is very little, if any, instruction that has to be "hands-on," as there often is in, say, the sciences, where lab or field experience is a must.

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

What You'll Learn: Are you ready to learn what it takes to plan, organize, control, and direct an organization? The College Board says that's what a business administration and management program could teach you. You'll take courses in a range of subjects, such as business ethics and law, human resources management, economics, and marketing.

Potential Career: Budget Analyst. Budgets might not sound super-sexy, but in business they're crucial. Budget analysts organize the finances of public and private institutions by tracking their budgets and spending, says the U.S. Department of Labor.*

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Online Degree #5: Graphic Design

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If you've got a lot of artist and a little bit of computer geek in you, a bachelor's in graphic design might be a great major for your two sides to make friends. And pursuing your degree online could make a lot of sense, as Bakke says the major is a perfect fit for online study.

"Graphic designers often must work independently, which is exactly what you do when choosing to get your degree via the Internet," says Bakke. He says another benefit is that the computer programs you'll gain skills in will be on your own computer, so you can practice anytime.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Online Graphic Design Program.

What You'll Learn: In a graphic design program, you could learn the design and computer skills to create everything from book covers to websites, according to the College Board. Graphic design majors take classes like Photoshop for designers, typography, and graphic design studio.

Potential Career: Graphic Designer. These professionals combine art and technology to create designs that will communicate ideas, says the U.S. Department of Labor. They help brands stand out and build recognition - just think about Apple or your favorite blockbuster movie poster.*

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Online Degree #6: IT and Information Systems

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Pursuing this degree the old-fashioned way, you'd probably spend a lot of time on computers - but first you'd have to drive away from your own computer at home to get to a college campus. Bakke says that now, there may be a better way.

"IT and information systems degrees are absolutely more suited for online coursework, because that is exactly where you will be working once you graduate - on computers," says Bakke. Also, he says, because of the subject matter, you can bet your instructors will not be hampered by the technology.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Online IT and Information Systems Program.

What You'll Learn: If you sign up for an IT degree, you'll study how computing systems support business, research, and communications needs as well as the complex relationship we have with computers, says the College Board. Typical courses may include computer networking, C++ programming, and ethical, legal, and social issues in information technology.

Potential Career: Network and Computer Systems Administrator. These are the people who keep an organization's crucial computer systems running on a day-to-day basis, and computer networks are a critical part of any business, says the U.S. Department of Labor. So you can bet that these people make an impact.*

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* All potential careers listed from the 2012-2013 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.

** All salary information comes from the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Employment and Wages data, May 2012.

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