Are Online Degrees Worth It? Yes (Here’s What You Need to Know)

Updated on October 22, 2019
By Trish Sammer

Online degrees have come a long way, baby. Sure, once upon a time, online degrees were viewed with a certain amount of skepticism, but those days are long gone. Today, we all take for granted that we can shop online, bank online … even order glasses online … so it’s no surprise that higher education has made the move to the internet along with everything else.

These days, you’d be hard pressed to find a college or university that doesn’t have at least a few online degree offerings. Respected academic institutions, as well as exciting digital-education innovators, are eager to meet the changing needs of today’s students. The result: A smorgasbord of high-quality degree programs that cater to the needs of full-time students and working professionals alike.

From online-only universities to Ivy League schools, there are online degree programs to suit just about everyone. Yes, even Harvard University has an MBA program that can be completed mostly online.

Let’s take a deep dive into the topic of online degrees so you can see if completing your degree online is the right move for you. In this article, we’ll cover:

See also: Here's the Secret to Getting a Cheap Bachelor's Degree Online

Are online degrees respected?

The short answer is yes.

A recent article in U.S. News and World Report reveals that employers are more interested in whether you've earned a degree, rather than focusing on where the degree came from. And, in fact, recruiters say that there's a good chance they won't know that a degree was earned online. That’s especially true if your degree is from a school that also has established campuses.

With the rising cost of college and increasing student loan debt, earning your degree online can be a strategic way to get your education while avoiding or reducing debt. The online cost advantage is significant. There’s no room and board, no transportation costs, and you can work full- or part-time while going to school.

See also: FAQ: Are Online Degrees Respected?

How do I earn a degree online?

There are three main ways you can earn your degree online:

  1. By completing your studies 100% online without ever stepping into a classroom. These types of programs are offered by traditional brick-and-mortar schools, as well as online-schools that do not operate physical campuses.
  2. In a hybrid program, in which you combine online learning with some classroom instruction.
  3. Mostly online, with a “residency” component that requires you to be on campus for a certain block of time each semester (often over a long weekend or two).

Of course, some online degrees, such as those in the healthcare or education fields, will require practical components that might require you to do lab work or do other in-person training. In those cases, most schools have processes in place to allow you to complete those requirements in your local area.

See also: What is the Cost of Online College?

List of online degrees

There is an absolutely massive list of online degree options, for both undergrad and graduate studies. Many of these programs can be completed 100% online, often while you’re working full- or part-time.

However, as we mentioned above, it’s important to note that some majors, especially those in healthcare and education, may require in-person training in the form of a practicum or internship. While you may be able to complete much of your coursework online, be aware that you’ll need to plan to complete other requirements in a specific location on a fixed schedule.

Here are some popular online degree options:

Online Associate’s Degrees

Art and Design

  • Graphic design
  • Interior design
  • Digital photography

Business

  • Business administration
  • Management
  • Accounting
  • Human resources

Criminal Justice

  • Security
  • Law enforcement

Education

  • Early childhood education

Healthcare

  • Nursing (LPN)
  • Medical coding and billing
  • Surgical technology
  • Dental science
  • Nuclear medical technology
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy

See alsoCan I Get My Associate’s Degree in Nursing Online?

Science

  • Biology
  • Chemistry

Technology

  • Computer sciences
  • Engineering

Online Bachelor's Degrees

Art and Design

  • Graphic design
  • General studies
  • Fashion design and merchandising
  • Art history

Business

  • Finance
  • Economics
  • Management
  • Accounting
  • Marketing

Communications

  • Media studies
  • Public relations
  • Journalism
  • Social media management

Criminal Justice

  • Law enforcement
  • Security
  • Emergency management

Education

  • Early childhood education
  • Secondary education
  • Special education

Engineering

  • Civil engineering
  • Aerospace
  • Thermodynamics
  • Technical communications
  • Construction management

Healthcare

  • Nursing (BSN)
  • Physiology
  • Health and human services
  • Mental health and substance abuse counseling

Technology

  • Computer information sciences
  • Cybersecurity

See also: 15 Jobs You May Qualify for With an Online Degree in Marketing

Online Master's Degrees

Business

Healthcare

  • Nurse practitioner
  • Nurse midwife
  • Physician’s assistant
  • Speech pathology
  • Nutrition
  • MBA with an emphasis in healthcare
  • Nurse anesthetist
  • Psychology
  • Social work
  • Health informatics (which deals with health-record maintenance and security)

Education

Law

  • Legal studies

See also: 3 ABA-Approved Online Law Schools.

What is the fastest online degree to earn?

If you’re looking to complete a bachelor’s or master’s program as fast as possible, it may be smart to opt for a degree program that has an accelerated option.

Accelerated programs differ from school to school, but here are some common ways they function:

  • Some colleges structure their courses on terms rather than semesters. Completing a course in eight or ten weeks rather than 16 may allow you to take more classes per year so you can graduate faster. However, it’s important to consider how much coursework you can reasonably take on without burning out. Remember that education is a big investment in both time and money — you want to be sure that you’re setting yourself up for success.
  • If you’re a working professional, you may be able to substitute professional experience for certain required courses. This is more likely to turn up in master’s programs, where students are likely to have already spent time in a particular field, and are looking to advance their career prospects.

Many online business programs include accelerated tracks for graduate programs. Check our top picks for online leadership and MBA programs, where you’ll find several accelerated options to check out.

In the education field, there are quite a few options for accelerated programs if you’re looking to earn your master’s in educational leadership.

What are some quick and easy online degrees?

Associate’s degrees take less time to complete than bachelor’s or master’s degrees, and that’s generally true whether you go to school online or on-campus. However, it’s important to examine your career goals to determine the right educational path. Some jobs require a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

If you’re seeking a bachelor’s degree, you may want to consider majoring in business administration or business management. A business degree can help prepare you for work in a variety of industries, which may give you more career options after graduation. Business degrees can also usually be completed entirely online, which means that you won’t have to worry about in-person labs or practicums. But keep in mind, opting for a program that requires an internship may be a good move so you can gain real-world experience while also making potentially important connections.

If you’re already working as a nurse, an online RN-to-BSN program is a good option for earning additional credentials. While you will have to complete practical requirements for this degree, doing so may be easier if you’re already employed in a clinical environment.

See also: Is it Cheaper to Go to College Online?

What is the best online degree?

Obviously, this is hard question to answer because “best” changes from person to person. However, here are some criteria that can help you come to the right decision for you.

What are your career priorities?

Maybe you know what you want to be and maybe you don’t. Maybe you’d like to base your decision on how you’ll be spending your time every day, or maybe you’d like prioritize having a career where you’re more likely to earn a high-income.

These are all important factors to consider. If you’re floundering to choose a career path, there are a number of online quizzes that may be able to help you narrow down your selection. If you’re still in high school, take advantage of your guidance department. Your counselor probably has multiple resources to help you assess your interests and capabilities.

It’s also wise to talk to people you know who work in fields that you’re considering. Ask them what they like and what they don’t. Ask them if they feel there is room for advancement, if it’s a hard field to get into, and what they would advise someone just getting into their industry.

What is your potential return on investment?

Before you spend money on an online degree, it’s wise to consider how much money you can reasonably expect to make after graduation. Investing potentially tens of thousands of dollars into your education may feel like a bad decision if the field you go into can’t support the lifestyle you were envisioning.

A good resource is the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There, you can view salary and career information on an extensive range of jobs and industries, based on data collected by the U.S. Department of Labor. Click here for an A-Z index of job titles.

If the job that you’re considering doesn’t pay what you’d hoped, you may be able to find related occupations that command higher salaries.

See also: What’s the Best Online Degree to Get? Here are 30 with Good Earning Potential.

How do I find accredited online degree programs?

Doing an online search for “online degree” and the major you’re interested in is a good place to start. Of course, you’ll probably end up with more search results than you can handle. So how do you narrow down your results?

It’s important to remember that the programs that come up near the top of your search page are not necessarily the most reputable — although they may be. It’s best to do a little bit of detective work on your own to ensure that you’re only applying to legit programs that are worthy of your educational investment.

We suggest doing three things to assess programs before enrolling:

  • Check the school’s accreditation. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a Database of Accredited Post-Secondary Institutions and Programs where you can search for any school and doublecheck its accreditation. However, it’s important to note that not all accreditations are the same. Generally, you want to look for schools with a regional accreditation rather than a national accreditation. Regional accreditation is the same accreditation given to most of the established brick-and-mortar institutions that you’ve heard of. Degrees from regionally accredited schools are viewed as legit by other academic institutions and by professional organizations.
  • Read reviews from other online students. Even if a school has a legit-looking web site and their accreditation is in order, it’s still smart to dig deeper into the student experience before you invest your time and money in a particular course of study. Reviews are easy to find. Just type your school name followed by the word “review” into your preferred search engine. Note: Remember that people are more likely to leave a review when they’re unhappy than when they’re satisfied. Take negative reviews with a grain of salt, but keep an eye out for recurring themes.
  • Review the school’s success rate. If you start at a school, you’d probably like to know your odds of being able to finish the program there and obtain your degree. That’s not hard to find out, thanks to another to a handy database by the Department of Education. The College Scorecard can help you gauge how successful a school’s graduates are based on actual numbers.

For a deeper dive in how to thoroughly evaluate online degree programs, see Are Online Colleges Legit? How to Avoid Scams and Find Reputable Online Schools.

Should you earn your degree online?

Earning a college degree is still one of the most reliable ways to increase your lifetime earning potential. A September 2019 article in Politifact crunched the numbers and found that college graduates earn about $30,000 more per year than non-graduates.

Whether you choose to go to college online or on-campus, getting your degree can be a worthwhile investment. With scores of high-quality programs from accredited institutions, online learning can be an efficient and cost-effective way to earn your degree.

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