Higher education has been valued since time immemorial. In ancient times, students would travel far from their homes to learn from teachers in great halls of learning — and they still do today. Stressing the importance of a college education in today's job market is almost unnecessary, although it is significant to note that many jobs today need higher educational qualifications than they used to. According to a 2018 study by Northeastern University's Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy, 44 percent of employers reported that they increased the level of education preferred for the same job roles in just five years.
However, attending a traditional brick-and-mortar school isn't always possible for individuals who have work, family or other commitments which can make adhering to a rigid schedule difficult. Online degrees can fill this gap, allowing students access to the education they need in order to pursue the careers they want to. Colleges and universities realized this and, to quote Learning House's 2019 report, "swiftly launched online programs that proved popular among adult learners who wanted a flexible program that fit their busy lives". The Learning House reports that 93 percent of online students today enroll in online programs to fulfill their career aspirations.
While online learning can be convenient, it can require tremendous amount of hard work and self-discipline. To help you through this learning curve, we have come up with 10 tips for successful online learning.
Even though online degrees have increased in popularity, the Northeastern University reports that not much is known about employers' perception of candidates holding such degrees nor how they affect hiring policies. And this is why we are presenting below five ways for succeeding with an online degree and how to present your online degree to employers:
1. Show employers you have the drive to succeed
A large percentage of those obtaining an online degree do not represent the 18-22 year old demographic normally associated with residential degree programs. Instead they might be older career changers, veterans, parents returning to the workforce after raising children, or others who have decided to earn a degree after having some other type of life experience (travel, volunteer work, taking care of aging parents, etc.).
These experiences represent compelling stories, and the fact that someone demonstrates the readiness to retool, the drive to earn a degree while shouldering other responsibilities, and the courage to enter the workforce through non-conventional means say important things that potential employers should know about. So in your resume, your cover letters, your interviews, and any other communication you have with potential employers, you should be ready to tell your complete story, rather than just rely on a degree listed at the bottom of your resume to say all there is to say about your experience.
2. Demonstrate Transferable Skills
Apart from knowledge in a particular field, employers also look for 'soft skills' like communication and teamwork in a candidate. Show them how your online degree program helped you develop these. For example, if you worked on a group project, explain to them how you managed to do so remotely, across time and language barriers to finish your project on time. Remote working is becoming increasingly common according to an article on Virgin.com, so it can be a good skill to demonstrate. Other soft skills that online degree programs can help you cultivate include self-motivation, organization, time-management, and problem solving skills.
A paper by McKinsey on the future of the workforce states that along with the soft skills mentioned above, technological skills are going to be increasingly in demand. So if you've completed an entire degree online, it can show employers you aren't afraid of trying out new tech!
A big question is "are online degrees respected by employers?"
The Northeastern University study has some positive news and found that 61 percent of HR leaders firmly believe that online learning is of equal or greater quality to more traditional methods. However, these HR leaders will typically also look at where you earned your degree. Accreditation can play an important role in this case. An accredited school can demonstrate that you have received the education you need to succeed in your chosen field. So, even if the online degree program you enrolled in was not offered by an Ivy League school, its accredited status may go a long way.
4. Be Creative in Your Approach
No, we don't mean fabricating your CV - we mean find innovative ways to get in on the inside track. Because so much of the traditional job application process has become automated, it is very possible that an algorithm or intern might chuck out hundreds of applications (including yours) to create a short-list for decision-makers based on rigid criteria that won't screen in your story, your portfolio, or anything else that makes you unique. Use online platforms like LinkedIn, for example, to network and connect with decision-makers.
Another way to get on the inside in places where you'd like to work is by interning, volunteering, creating something (like a logo or app) that might be useful to them without being asked, interviewing the CEO for your blog or podcast, etc.
5. Career Fairs, Placement Services and Portfolios
Maintain a good relationship with your online school, even after you've earned that degree. Many schools offer career fairs and placement services that can put you in touch with different employers, fine-tune your resume or help you build your portfolio of work. In fact, the 2019 Learning House Survey of online students found that even though a majority of them are employed full-time, they still value and use a number of career services offered by universities like career advice services, job searches on university website, interview workshops, and networking events among others.
Building your portfolio and resume of work can boost your chances of getting noticed too. For example, in fields like design or computer programming, employers may be much more interested in looking at samples of professional work vs. your college transcript. So if you are looking to be a journalist, write something (ideally many things), get published, and include those published pieces on a personal website or blog that shows off your writing chops. If you're a designer, donate your time to non-profits that need logos or posters and use that material to build a handsome portfolio you can share with potentially paying clients or employers. And if you're a programmer — program! Develop apps or other work products that show off your skill and share those (along with your other credentials) via a web page that highlights your talent, creativity, and seriousness.
All of these steps could lead to a job offer that does not require competing with hundreds of other candidates, some of whom might look better than you on paper. But in the rough-and-tumble game of hustling for a job, scissors (i.e., your talent cutting through the noise) cuts paper and can provide the rock upon which to build your career.
- 10 Essential Job Skills You Gain As an Online Student, Saint Leo University, 2016, https://www.saintleo.edu/blog/10-essential-job-skills-you-gain-as-an-online-degree-student
- Clinefelter, D. L., Aslanian, C. B., & Magda, A. J., Online college students 2019: Comprehensive data on demands and preferences, The Learning House Inc., 2019, Louisville, KY: Wiley edu, LLC, https://www.learninghouse.com/knowledge-center/research-reports/ocs2019-research-report/
- Educational Credentials Come Of Age, Northeastern University Center for the Future of Higher Education & Talent Strategy, 2018, https://www.northeastern.edu/cfhets/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Educational_Credentials_Come_of_Age_2018.pdf
- Getting a Job With an Online Degree: 7 Things to Think About, Recruiter.com, 2016, https://www.recruiter.com/i/getting-a-job-with-an-online-degree-7-things-to-think-about/
- How the remote workforce is breaking down talent barriers, Virgin, 2018, https://www.virgin.com/entrepreneur/how-remote-workforce-breaking-down-talent-barriers
- How to Use an MBA in Switching Careers, Work - Chron.com, http://work.chron.com/use-mba-switching-careers-1942.html, accessed September 2019
- Skill shift: Automation and the future of the workforce, May 2018 | Discussion Paper, McKinsey Global Institute, 2018, https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/skill-shift-automation-and-the-future-of-the-workforce