The Most Popular Online Degrees

The popularity of online degrees and programs continues to grow, and for good reason: distance learning allows students to enroll in a program or class they may not be able to take otherwise. Flexible scheduling, a wide variety of program options, and the ability to attend class from anywhere are main reasons why online learning is so popular.

But what about specific programs? What makes tens of thousands of students flock to them each year? Some online programs typically have greater enrollment numbers thanks to job prospects, how easily they translate to online education and of course, and the convenience of learning options. Let’s discuss some of the more popular online degrees and touch on why so many students are taking advantage of online learning.

10 of the Most Popular Online Degrees

In today’s economy, a handful of industries stand out for their winning combination of job security and salary potential. Each year, young professionals start their career paths in healthcare, business, and psychology (among others) with the goal of landing a safe job that pays the bills and them some. But where did they start and what did their educational journey look like? Here’s a look at ten of the most popular online degree programs today, from entry-level bachelor’s degrees through advanced two-year master’s.

1 Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

What to Expect: Given the inherent hands-on nature of nursing, most online nursing programs at the bachelor’s level will combine online learning with in-person instruction. Most online nursing programs also allow these clinical requirements to be satisfied at healthcare facilities close to the student’s location — as long as those facilities are approved by the nursing program administrators. For students who are already registered nurses, the clinical requirements may be reduced and replaced with a capstone project.

Curriculum/Degree Requirements: The typical nursing student can expect to take a combination of classroom and real-world instruction. Typical classes include healthcare statistics, pathophysiology, nurse informatics and a capstone project. The real-world instruction will usually be met by completing several practicum courses; these often involve supervised patient care or skills exercises in simulators.

Potential Careers: Registered Nurse – $70,000 and Health Services Manager – $98,350.

2 Bachelor’s in Business Administration (BBA)

What to Expect: Many business degree programs can be completely online. Most traditional on-campus programs only have classroom instruction, so in the vast majority of cases, translating this to distance learning is seamless. Any group sessions or collaborative learning can be handled through technology such as videoconferencing and online chat.

Curriculum/Degree Requirements: In addition to the general education requirements, business students will take a variety of courses, such as marketing, management information systems, finance, accounting and business law.

Potential Careers: Personal Finance Advisor – $90,640, Financial Analyst – $84,300 and Sales Manager – $121,060.

3 Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Engineering

What to Expect: In contrast to computer science, computer engineering places a greater emphasis on hardware and practical design considerations. As a result, in addition to typical online instruction of video lectures, quizzes and tests, many computer engineering programs include a capstone project. This project forces students to apply their knowledge in a hands-on manner. Students often complete this in a team or group setting.

Curriculum/Degree Requirements: Besides completing the general education requirements, students take courses such as computer networking, microprocessors, C++ programming, electronics lab, calculus and a capstone project.

Potential Careers: Computer Hardware Engineer – $115,120, Computer Research Scientist- $114,520 and Computer Network Architect – $104,650.

4 Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education (ECE)

What to Expect: In some cases, this degree can be delivered 100% online. Many programs have a hands-on requirement where students must interact with children under the supervision of an early childhood education professional. Students also need to obtain necessary certification; given how each state has its own requirements, most programs help students navigate their respective state’s licensure requirements. Even if a program doesn’t have a hands-on curriculum requirement, it may be necessary to obtain that experience to become licensed in a particular state.

Curriculum/Degree Requirements: Given the nature of early childhood education, students may find the general education coursework more useful than others, who might take these courses simply to meet graduation requirements. Besides these general courses, early childhood education courses include child development, early literacy, family, child and community, child development and field experience.

Potential Careers: Preschool Teacher – $28,990, Special Education Teacher – $58,980 and Childcare Worker – $22,290.

5 Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology

What to Expect: In addition to traditional classroom instruction, students often supplement their curriculum with internships, service learning and collaborative research projects. However, in-person curriculum requirements may be optional, with the ability to obtain the degree completely online. Many online psychology programs offer a variety of specializations, as well, including behavioral analysis, addiction, and social psychology.

Curriculum/Degree Requirements: A psychology degree at the bachelor’s level requires general education coursework, such as literature, mathematics, composition, and history. In addition to these basic classes, psychology-related coursework can include research methods, introduction to psychology, statistics, and a senior seminar or capstone project.

Potential Careers: Market Research Analyst – $63,230, Substance Abuse Counselor – $43,300 and Training and Development Specialist – $60,360.

6 Master of Business Administration (MBA)

What to Expect: Some online MBA programs have limited on-campus requirements,
which can include meeting fellow cohorts and a weeklong intensive at the beginning of
the semester. However, many MBA programs are available completely online because many students have full-time jobs and families. To further accommodate these students, many programs provide opportunities to accelerate learning, such as course credit for real-world experience or competency-based learning that allows skipping through some requirements within a specific class to complete it faster.

Curriculum/Degree Requirements: Given so many potential concentrations, the curriculum can vary widely. Potential classes include healthcare decision-making, business strategy, leadership, marketing management and managerial finance. Many curricula also include a capstone project.

Potential Careers: Human Resource Manager – $110,120, Chief Executive – $183,270 and Financial Manager – $125,080.

7 Master’s in Public Health (MPH)

What to Expect: The vast majority of an online MPH program can be completed without visiting campus. However, there is typically a practicum component that provides hands-on experience at a public health agency or related facility.

Curriculum/Degree Requirements: In addition to practical course requirements that provide supervised experience, students may complete a capstone project where they demonstrate understanding and synthesis of public health knowledge. A sampling of classes includes health policy, public health research methods, principles of epidemiology, and leadership in public health.

Potential Careers: Health Educator – $53,940, Epidemiologist – $69,660 and Postsecondary Teacher – $76,000.

8 Master of Computer Science

What to Expect: Many of these programs will be completely online, so students don’t need to worry about traveling to campus for in-person requirements. The course material is presented like many other online programs and includes video chats, audio lectures, online texts and assessments, such as tests and quizzes. Some programs offer some of their coursework through MOOCs (massive open online course) like Coursera.

Curriculum/Degree Requirements: Students who obtain a master’s degree in computer science are expected to be proficient in an object-oriented language. Therefore, their curriculum includes courses such as security of computer systems, artificial intelligence, databases, advanced networking and machine learning.

Potential Careers: Computer Systems Analyst – $88,270, Computer Programmer – $82,240 and Software Developer – $103,560.

9 Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

What to Expect: Though much of the MSN coursework can be taken online, practically all programs have a clinical requirement. These typically consist of students working under the supervision of an experienced clinician. The exact nature of the hands-on experience varies depending on the student’s chosen specialization. Areas of focus include pediatric nursing, critical care nursing, and operating room nursing.

Curriculum/Degree Requirements: In addition to clinical requirements, students will take a variety of courses that depend on the particular area of specialization. Some courses can include biostatistics, healthcare management, application of research principles to evidence based practice and advanced pathophysiology.

Potential Careers: Nurse Practitioner – $103,880, Nurse Anesthetist – $165,120 and Nurse Midwife – $100,590.

10 Master of Social Work (MSW)

What to Expect: For specializations at this level of social work, much of the curriculum will be fully online. When it comes to hands-on learning, students complete their field experience requirements at an approved social work agency. Program coordinators work closely with the student to find a suitable agency near the student’s physical location.

Curriculum/Degree Requirements: In addition to obtaining the necessary number of field experience hours, students can expect to take the following courses: professional social work, large group theory, social work research methods, introduction to social work administration and agency management. The exact curriculum depends largely on specialization. Many programs also require the completion of a thesis or portfolio project and comprehensive exam.

Potential Careers: Healthcare Social Worker – $54,870, Child Social Worker – $44,380 and Mental Health Counselor – $43,300.

Popular Online Colleges

School rankings make it easy to compare schools. How a school ranks based on popularity depends on a variety of factors, such as types of degrees offered, name recognition, cost of attendance and method of course delivery. See how this breaks down in the following college rankings.

THE BEST ONLINE COLLEGES OF 2018
THE MOST AFFORDABLE COLLEGES OF 2018
TOP ONLINE COMMUNITY COLLEGES
BEST RETURN ON INVESTMENT COLLEGES

What Makes an Online College Popular?

Online learning is popular for college students for a number of reasons. Here are just a few of them.


  • 1. Flexible class attendance

    At a traditional college, students attend class on-campus at a particular time and place. But with an online college, students can usually attend class from wherever and whenever they want. This is an example of asynchronous learning. If students must abide by some schedule, such as attending the class at a particular time, this is an example of synchronous learning. Even with synchronous learning or regular deadlines, online learning offers flexibility that is unparalleled by traditional on-campus coursework.


  • 2. Self-pacing

    In addition to flexibility in terms of when a student attends class, the vast majority of online programs offer flexibility for completion as well. Online courses make it easier for students to complete courses as quickly or as slowly (within certain limitations) as they choose. Students can take one course at a time and take several months to complete it or take several courses at once and get them all done in a few weeks or months.


  • 3. Cost of attendance

    In many situations, online learning is cheaper than on-campus education. There are no commuting or moving costs; students can stay at home and attend a school across the country or avoid commuting to class across town. There is also no room and board expense, since students will not be living on campus. The tuition per credit hour can be cheaper, since many schools charge online students the in-state rate, no matter where in the world they are. Besides that, it’s typically cheaper for schools to provide an education through the internet. There are no buildings to construct or maintain, no additional instructors to hire and no extra costs of managing a high concentration of students in a campus setting.


  • 4. Mainstream acceptance

    Before accreditation standards and top universities entered online education, many providers focused more on profit and less on product. Yet today, that stigma is gone, and the number of high-quality online programs reflects this change. In 2006approximately 3.5 million students took at least one online course in the fall semester. Ten years laterthan number rose to 6.3 million students. Now, even the elite Ivy League schools have hundreds of online courses and programs available.


  • 5. A balanced life

    With the greater flexibility of an online program, college students have the ability to meet obligations outside of school, whether it’s working full-time or taking care of a household or loved one. This makes online learning perfect for busy parents, those working their way up the career ladder, or those with unusual circumstances, such as dealing with a chronic illness that makes sitting in a traditional classroom impossible.


  • 6. Greater course selection

    With traditional courses, not every course will be available to every student each semester. There only so many classrooms and professors available to teach the courses. But there is no such limitation with online classes, where the only thing holding back the learning is the bandwidth of the school’s network and servers.


Additional Resources

  • 1. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Occupational Outlook Handbook
    An excellent resource where anyone can look up information about specific professions, including median income, educational requirements and future job outlook.
  • 2. O*Net OnLine
    Sponsored by the US Department of Labor, O*Net OnLine serves as an online resource for those interested in specific careers, including how to find work in those professions and industries.
  • 3. Peterson’s – How to Choose an Online School
    Provides various articles on getting an online degree, including how to choose the right program and how to make the most of an online education.
  • 4. US Department of Education – Accreditation
    A degree isn’t worth getting unless it’s accredited. Before enrolling in a school, prospective students can learn more about the different types of accreditation, how it works, what it means and how to find out if a particular school is accredited.

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