Back to School....in the online world

As summer break comes to an end, conversations begin to turn to all things back to school. For many, this serves as a not-so-subtle reminder that a degree was left unfinished, or a dream job was never pursued. Perhaps you've been thinking for some time about going back to school, either for the first time or to pick up where you left off, but find yourself waiting - year after year- for the right time to commit to a degree program.

The reality is, there will never be a perfect time to return to school. Balancing work, family and life in general will be a factor and things in your life may need to shift to accommodate coursework. But it certainly doesn't mean that a degree is out of reach. In fact, now more than ever, returning students have many choices as they look to find the right program that best suits their path and specific career goals.

Online degree programs provide the flexibility and wide variety of course offerings students need to help them succeed. As a result, online learning is seeing significant growth as today's evolving students opt to pursue a degree on their own terms. A recent study found that the number of students taking online courses grew to 5.8 million across the U.S. and the number continues to rise. Many of those students are also juggling work and family, according the National Center for Education Statistics, who found that 62 percent of students work either full or part time and 29 percent have at least one dependent. As a result of this growth and changing student dynamic, there are now many flexible options for returning students as well as a number of proven resources to help students along the way.

Online Learning for Career Advancement

Many students heading back to school are hoping to advance their careers in some way. Whether it's completing a degree, securing a certification or elevating their expertise with a master's degree, online learning can help unlock successful career changes or provide an advantage when being considered for a promotion.

"I was able to find a degree program that feels tailor-made for me," said Anthony Bothwell, Graphic Information Technology student at ASU Online. As a Graphic Information Technology major, the coursework merges my personal passions with the right training and content for real world application. This program will enable me to advance in my career and do so with enhanced skills and a greater impact than I would have otherwise had."

For some students, the potential for increased earning power is a significant incentive to pursue or complete a degree. And for good reason. College graduates earn $1 million more over the course of their lifetime compared to those holding only a high school diploma, according to a study conducted by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce

Finding the Right Online Degree Program

As a first step, conduct research to ensure you're considering an accredited degree program. Look for programs that are associated with a reputable university and offer the same curriculum and instructors as the ground schools. Online rankings of universities and colleges such as U.S. News and World Report can be helpful resources with insight into the quality and prestige of the program. Using the available tools online, and by asking colleagues and friends about their experiences with online learning, will help you find the degree that fits your needs.

For those that are on a specific career path, consulting with a school's academic advisor may a good first start. They can help ensure that you are focused on which courses you need to take to help you achieve your goals. Finding a program with a strong support structure for online students is essential. At ASU Online, students are paired with a success coach that provides ongoing support and guidance throughout the journey. From helping to set academic goals to providing time management tips, success coaches are there to connect students with the resources they need to ensure they cross finish the line.

The decision to head back to school is not to be taken lightly. However, with the support provided by many online programs and the flexibility to earn a degree on your own terms, the back to school window is a great reminder that a degree is within reach.

"The hardest part is taking the first step, it's 90% of the challenge. The rest is keeping the momentum going. It doesn't matter if it's 3 credits or 15 credits, make a plan and get it done, " said Jesse Hamilton, BA in Organizational Leadership student.

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