Want to Get a Degree Online? Get Ready to Work Just as Hard.

By Candice Choi
Associated Press
Sunday, February 1, 2009

NEW YORK -- One way to get an edge in this job market is to earn an advanced degree. Just don't assume that doing it online will be easy.

Online master's programs are often cheaper and more convenient than traditional ones, but they also present challenges.

"You're home alone and have to motivate yourself. It's not the same as sitting in a classroom, where you have a social support group," said Michael Lambert, executive director of the Distance Education and Training Council, an accrediting agency based in the District.

Online education is nevertheless becoming more widespread. In 2007, more than 3.9 million students took at least one online course, a 12 percent increase from the previous year, according to the Sloan Consortium, an online-education advocacy group.

Regardless of how you earn your degree, remember that it's not a ticket to a six-figure paycheck or job security -- consider the slew of MBA casualties on Wall Street in recent months. But if you think it will give your career a kick, here are a few points to keep in mind:

ยท Picking a school: Many traditional universities also offer online courses. At some schools, such as Duke and Columbia, select master's programs are entirely online.

If you're not set on getting a degree from a traditional institution, online-only schools can be viable options. For instance, the University of Phoenix offers master's programs in business, education, health care and psychology. Other career-focused schools, such as DeVry University, also offer master's programs online.

Beware of any online outfits promising quick and easy degrees. These so-called schools might ask for $1,000 or more in tuition and have names that echo those of prestigious universities. Mailing addresses are often post-office boxes.

"It's tempting when the economy is tanking and the unemployment rate goes up," said Alison Southwick of the Better Business Bureau.

If you're not sure about a school's credentials, the U.S. Department of Education maintains a database of accredited schools at http://www.ope.ed.gov/accreditation. You can also check the site of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, http://www.chea.org.

Traditional universities generally apply the same admissions standards and deadlines for online students as for everyone else. At online-only schools, admissions are typically on a rolling, monthly basis.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company