If you are thinking about enrolling in an online degree program, you will be pleased to know that not only can you enjoy the convenience of taking your classes online, but you can also improve your job prospects if you go on to earn a degree. Those who hold a college degree not only have lower rates of unemployment on average, but they also have higher incomes on average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
However, many people wonder how online degrees are perceived in the job market compared to degrees earned in a traditional fashion and if they will be able to find rewarding employment with an online degree. Those questions aren’t easily answered, as there are several factors to consider.
Do Online Graduates Succeed in the Job Market?
The short answer is yes. However, it’s important to remember that whether you earn your degree online or at a traditional campus jobs are scarcer because of a decrease in available positions and an increase in job applicants. A Huffington Post article looked at the struggles that many college grads are having finding work. Those graduating from online degree programs should not think they will be exempt from this struggle.
However, online degree holders, as well as traditional degree holders, do have access to career services and alumni networks after graduation to boost their chances of getting a job aligned with their degree. In fact, Westwood College, which offers numerous online degree programs, is so confident in the ability of its alumni to find work that they promise to help pay their bills if they do not find employment within six months under the Westwood Employment Pledge.
That said, your chances of getting a job with an online degree may increase depending on your degree level. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that those who get bachelor’s degrees have lower rates of unemployment on average than those who only attain associate degrees. In fact, the same can be said for master’s and doctoral degrees as well.
Your success is also dependent on how you sell your online degree in resumes, cover letters, and job interviews. For example, students can boast that earning an online degree proves that they are independent learners and responsible enough to get through a degree program without the accountability of reporting to a face-to-face class location each week. To employers, this translates to the ability to complete work assignments without a lot of hand-holding.
Highlighting your unique situation as a student is also important. For instance, employers take notice when you explain that you worked full-time and put yourself through school at the same time, or when you’ve earned your degree as a single parent. Not everyone can pull this off as it takes discipline and a lot of hard work. This shows that you are able to establish priorities and complete a long-term goal even when you have other major obligations.
In addition, some fields respect online degrees more than others. For example, those who work in information technology, the Internet, or computers in general may find that earning an online degree actually helps their career prospects. After all, you are earning a degree using the same medium you will be working with day in and day out, which demonstrates you prefer a technology-driven environment over a traditional one.
How Are Online Degrees Perceived in the Job Market?
When considering this question, you must keep in mind that online degrees are still a fairly new phenomenon. Even though they’ve been around for well over 10 years, they have only recently become prevalent, with online enrollment growing at a rate of 17% in 2009, eclipsing the scant 1.2% growth rate for overall higher education, the Sloan Consortium reported.
Some employers will not be familiar with online learning and others may be skeptical since they are not aware of how much the medium has improved over the years. That’s why it’s important to point to your university’s accreditation, explaining that your online college gained accreditation in the same way a traditional school did. You can also explain that your college coursework was every bit as challenging and rigorous as the work you would have done at a traditional college.
A CNN Living article examined what employers think of online degrees, discovering that many did not give them a second thought when considering job applicants, while others did not trust them or were not familiar with them. To some employers, a degree was a degree, whether it was earned online or traditionally. However, a survey cited in the article showed that 83% of executives said an online degree is as trustworthy as a traditional degree.
Colin Murcray, who teaches courses at Brigham Young University-Idaho, Ashford University, and the University of Phoenix, indicated that the bad reputation associated with online schools is largely a thing of the past.
“In the past, online learning suffered from a reputation of being a tool of diploma mills,” he said. “This may have been true in some cases, but certainly not all. Now, we are seeing lots of traditional colleges offering online courses, as well as the online-only schools. I would say that, depending on the needs of the student, online learning is a very solid educational choice. Employers don’t tend to look at whether you earned your degree online. They are more interested in the reputation of the school you attended and whether it was accredited or not.”
Murcray has it right. When considering a candidate with an online degree, employers look at the accreditation of the college, the quality of its graduates, and the name of the college or university giving the degree to determine whether or not the degree is credible, the CNN Living article pointed out. After all, some online schools are better known than others. Some employers are keener on applicants whose online degree came from an online branch of a school with a well-established campus presence, such as UMass or the University of Minnesota, both of which offer fully online degree programs.
Overall, however, it is important to remember that your education is only one part of the overall package. Online students simply need to make sure that they present themselves as experienced, educated, and well-mannered individuals in order to gain a potential employer’s confidence.
In other words, if you have trouble landing a job, it is more likely due to the fact that you do not interview well or do not have the right kind of work experience than because you earned a degree online. Also, keep in mind that you do not have to specify that your degree was earned online, so many employers will not even know that you attended an online university.
What Are Alumni Saying?
While the evidence mounts up in favor of online degrees receiving more positive recognition by employers, it still helps to look to actual people who have graduated from online programs to see if they were able to find gainful employment. Sarah Hoback, an Ashford University alumna and current student pursuing a master’s degree, said the fact that her degree was earned online hasn’t been an issue for her.
“I have had two jobs in the last year just from moving,” Hoback said. “Out of four interviews from two different employers, they were all impressed with my resume and didn’t think twice about the validity of my education, and I got the jobs.”
Jeff Kennedy, who earned his master’s degree from Liberty University Online, is employed as a well-known pastor. Kennedy advises those considering online education to “be sure and pick an accredited institution with a credible reputation.”
However, entry-level jobs in certain industries may be hard to come by, whether or not you have an online degree. Herbert L. Sexton, Jr., a Strayer University alumnus, said his online degree hasn’t been helpful so far in his career, indicating the economy wasn’t helping matters.
“I finished my degree in the middle of the financial meltdown,” Sexton said. “So a lot of the jobs that would have been entry-level have been upgraded to mid-level because the market is flooded with a lot of experienced people looking for work.”
Sexton’s experience shines a light on the severity of the economic downturn and how all recent graduates may struggle to find a career in a job market flooded with people looking for work.
The Bottom Line
Numerous students have completed online degree programs and have gone on to find gainful employment. The key is choosing a program from an accredited college or university with a good reputation and a career services department that is committed to helping you succeed. However, keep in mind that all college graduates face a shrinking job market and should be prepared for a difficult job search. Students would do well to pursue degrees in high-demand career fields, such as nursing and computer science, that will improve their chances of finding work.