Prepare for a New Career Without Quitting Your Day Job

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Online education could provide the flexibility you need to prepare for a new career.

By Chris Kyle   

Want to go back to school but need some flexibility to make it happen? Online education may be the answer.

Thomas Boyd, dean of Kaplan University's School of Business and Management, says online education can be a good solution to a common problem for students in today's fast-paced society.

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"Our students choose online programs for a wide variety of reasons, but the majority of them cite convenience as a major factor," Boyd says. "For people who are working full time, have kids at home, or a sick relative to care for, this flexibility gives them the freedom to do their school work at times that work best for them."

Boyd says that preparing for a new career without abandoning your current one has its advantages.

"Online education helps working adults avoid the two- to four-year hiatus from work that would be required to attend a fulltime program," he says.

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The flexibility to decide when and where you will do your school work and "attend" class is a big reason why people are choosing online education in huge numbers. In the fall 2009 term, over 5.6 million college students took at least one online course, according to the non-profit Sloan Consortium.

"However, people should not confuse convenience with easy," Boyd says. "It takes maturity and self-discipline to do well."

Think online education may be right for you? Keep reading to learn about four popular online degrees and the careers they could prepare you for...


#1 - Online Business Degree

Want to get ahead in the business world without giving up your current paycheck to do it? Pursuing a degree in business online, whether it's at the associate's or bachelor's degree level or as high as a master's of business administration (MBA), can help you advance your education without taking a step backwards in your work life.

"While the degree is desirable to employers, experience is just as, if not more, desirable," says Boyd. "Getting a degree while working provides students with opportunities to apply what they are learning as they learn it, instead of having to wait until they graduate to put their new skills to work."

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Possible career paths: Typical careers for those with an undergraduate degree include payroll clerk and marketing specialist, while those with an MBA might be ready for more advanced roles like financial analyst and marketing manager.

Earning potential: The average starting salary for a grad with a bachelor's degree in business is $41,100, according to PayScale's 2010-2011 College Salary Report.

The U.S. Department of Labor, meanwhile, breaks down average salaries for various careers:

  • Advertising Sales Agent: $53,190
  • Accountant: $67,430
  • Market Research Analyst: $67,500

#2 - Online Health Care Degree

Looking to transition into a health care career but don't know where or how to begin? Immersing yourself in one of many health care fields online is a flexible way to get pointed in the direction you want to go.

Orange Coast College (OCC) in California, for example, has a variety of health care classes and programs for its community college students and is working to increase its online offerings due to increasing demand, according to Jill Golden, OCC's online faculty coordinator.

OCC's School of Allied Health Professions offers medical assisting and dental assisting programs. But regardless of the school you choose, some courses, like patient records and health information technology, work well in an online format. Health care administration is another popular choice.

Click to Find the Right Online Health Care Administration Program.

Possible career paths: Typical careers for health care degree grads, depending on the program of study, include medical assistant, dental assistant, and medical and health services manager.

Earning potential: The average starting salary for a grad with a bachelor's in health care administration is $37,700, according to PayScale's 2010-2011 College Salary Report. The U.S. Department of Labor breaks down salaries for various health care careers. Here are a few, along with their 2009 average incomes:

  • Medical Assistant: $29,450
  • Dental Assistant: $34,000
  • Medical and Health Services Manager: $90,970

#3 - Online Graphic Design Degree

Are you a creative type who likes to think and work visually even though your current career doesn't require it? We have good news: By earning your associate's degree in graphic design online, you could prepare for a creative career in graphic design without leaving your day job.

"Many students don't have the time to travel to school on a specific day or time," says Golden, online faculty coordinator at OCC, which offers a program in digital media arts and design. "Others like to be awake in the middle of the night and do their work from home."

Click to Find the Right Online Graphic Design Program.

Possible career paths: Typical entry-level careers in graphic design include junior desktop publisher and graphic designer.

Earning potential: The average starting salary for a grad with a bachelor's in graphic design is $35,400, according to PayScale's 2010-2011 College Salary Report.

The U.S. Department of Labor breaks down average salaries for various careers:

  • Desktop Publisher: $38,960
  • Graphic Designer: $47,820
  • Art Director: $91,520

#4 Online Degree - Criminal Justice

Working to keep communities safe is a common thread that runs through just about every criminal justice career. If you want to transition into this line of work but can't find the time to enroll in a traditional school, you may want to consider earning your criminal justice degree online.

Boyd says that online learning formats like Kaplan's are helpful in the sense that students can repeat a lesson as often as they'd like until they feel comfortable enough to push forward in the course. "...[W]e provide interactive learning tools that can be useful for a busy adult who also wants to master a concept, rather than just passing an exam," says Boyd.

Click to Find the Right Online Criminal Justice Program.

Possible career paths: Typical entry-level careers in criminal justice include community service coordinators and police officer.

Earning potential: The average starting salary for a grad with a bachelor's in criminal justice is $35,600, according to PayScale's 2010-2011 College Salary Report. The U.S. Department of Labor breaks down average salaries for various criminal justice careers:

  • Security Guard: $26,430
  • Private Detective: $47,130
  • Police Officer: $55,180

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