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Thanks to modern technology and speedy Internet, earning a college degree is more convenient than ever. But higher education is not all about convenience; it's about quality too, which is why online degree programs often include the same curriculum and instructors as their on-campus equivalents. And although courses and degrees allow students to be location independent, most offer plenty of interaction with peers and instructors via chat rooms, online message boards, and forums.

Because of the many perks online education offers, it's becoming a popular option. The National Center for Education Statistics shows that 25 percent of the college-level student population took at least one distance learning course during the fall 2012 semester. Another key finding: Graduate students were more prone to earn their degrees online than undergrads. Many campus-based colleges and universities offer distance learning courses

About the Expert

Dr. Janice Karlen is a professor of business and technology at La Guardia Community College.

How is Online Education Different?

According to Dr. Janice Karlen, a professor of business and technology at La Guardia Community College, the biggest differences between online education and on-campus instruction are:

  • The delivery of the curriculum and coursework
  • The level of independence that students have

Unlike most on-campus students, online students most often turn their assignments in electronically, either by attaching them to an email or submitting them through their school's online learning platform. Tests are often taken via remote live proctoring, which requires students to test under the watchful eye of a proctor through their webcam. Other times, tests are open-book, or schools enact strict time controls that make it impossible for students search for answers.

"The main advantage of online colleges is flexibility," says Dr. Karlen. "Learners may study at any time of day from virtually any location… Many online colleges recognize prior learning from workplace and life experiences while allowing students to customize their academic programs to meet specific interests or needs "

Online students can choose to study full-time or part-time, or even during the weekends and evenings. Meanwhile, students who don't their entire college experience to be online can pick from the many hybrid degree programs that are available. With these programs, students often spend half of their time in the classroom, and the other half online- or split their courses half and half between distance learning and on-campus instruction.

Does Online Education Work Better for Some Degrees than Others?

According to Perry Wedum, Regional Vice President of staffing agency Experis, the answer is yes.

"Areas where specific knowledge is required (Technical, Accounting, Finance, and Healthcare support) tend to be the areas where the related degrees tend to have the most value," notes Wedum. Other popular online degree programs include:

  • Nursing
  • Computer science
  • Business administration
  • Accounting
  • Criminal justice

All of these areas of study have excellent career outcomes, with many of them having above-average salaries and job growth nationwide. While some online degrees mostly help students get started in entry-level positions, others help established workers excel to higher-paying positions within their organization. Here are a few of the most promising positions you may want to consider with an online degree:

CareerProjected National Growth (2012 - 2022)National Annual Mean Wage (2014)
Computer Systems Analyst24.5%$87,320
Registered Nurse19.4%$69,790
Accountants and Auditors13.1%$73,670
General and Operations Managers12.4%$117,200

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014, and Projections Central

But, as with any career, a degree isn't always enough. Whether students earn their degree online or not, Wedum encourages everyone to gain some applicable work experience as well.

About the Expert

Perry Wedum is the Regional Vice President of Experis, a staffing agency.

"Practical experience, either an internship or in an entry level role along with an individual's investment in their education is money well spent as long as the degree or area of study is practical and applicable to their desired area of work," he says. "A degree alone may help, but candidates with related experience receive preference."

How do I Enroll in an Online Education Program?

When it comes to enrolling in online colleges, the process is the same as any traditional school. Start by sorting through your favorite online options to find the perfect fit. Once you decide on an online program, you should take these steps to enroll:

  • Step 1: Reach out to your school and ask for more information. Most on-campus and online colleges offer packets that include a wealth of information on enrollment and financial aid. Call your school and inquire, then read through all of the paperwork you receive.
  • Step 2: Get copies of your high school transcripts or GED paperwork. Most colleges and universities require a copy of your high school transcript with your application.
  • Step 3: Fill out and submit your college application, along with all required paperwork and documentation. While many online colleges have their own application, some schools use a Common Application to streamline the process.
  • Step 4: Fill out a FAFSA form. Filling out a FAFSA form, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, helps state and federal agencies determine what type of aid you qualify for, and how much.

Online education provides a meaningful alternative for students who don't want to earn a college degree in a traditional school setting. Not only does it offer more flexibility than on-campus instruction, but it offers the same level of quality and instruction. If you're considering an online degree program, make sure to check out the college options we've highlighted below. With the right education and training, any career of your choosing could be yours in less time than you think.


  • 5 ways online education can keep its students honest, Gigaom,
  • Enrollment in Distance Courses, By State: Fall 2012, National Center for Education Statistics,
  • Interview with Janice Karlen, Professor of Business and Technology at CUNY - La Guardia Community College, July 8, 2015
  • Interview with Perry Wedum, Regional Vice President at Experis, July 8, 2015
  • Long Term Occupational Projections, Projections Central,
  • May 2014 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
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