If you have made the decision to study for an online degree, you need to make sure you choose the right online school and course. Of course, this will be determined by your ultimate goal, for example entry into a specific career or access to an educational course at a higher level, such as a master's degree.
The first step therefore is to write down your long-term goal. So if it's a high-powered job in a particular industry, your first job within the sector is likely to be a graduate trainee position or internship. You then need to ask: Is the online degree I'm considering good enough to get me that post? If you make a mistake at this stage, you could cause yourself a lot of heartache and expense. Studying for four or more years only to find you have the wrong qualification is something you'd rather avoid.
How do you know that your chosen course will prepare you adequately for entry into your preferred career? The first thing you can do is make sure that it is properly accredited, whatever your end goal. Even if you aren't looking for a high-powered job now, you might have a change of heart further down the line. And it's always a good idea to aim for the best education you can get. So before you look more deeply into things, confirm that the course has accreditation.
Once you've established that an online degree has proper accreditation, you need to find out if it is going to take you one step closer to your goal. So if you want to work in a particular industry or company, will this degree give you a place on an internship program or at least a foot in the door?
Check out the educational background of people already doing the job if you can. If you happen to know someone who is already doing it, this is a great opportunity and you should take them to lunch. However, most people aren't so lucky and you might have to do a little digging around first. Try looking at company websites and checking out their recruitment strategies. Which posts are they advertising and what qualifications are they asking for? If you can, talk to someone in HR about the type of degrees and the universities they deem acceptable. It might even be possible to arrange a meeting or a chat with a graduate trainee.
If you can't manage to find someone prepared to chat to you face to face or on the phone, get hold of job applications, which are usually downloadable from the organization's website. This will give you some good clues well in advance, enabling you to choose your course of study wisely. If you are entering a profession which has a regulating body, their website is likely to be the best source of information for your needs and you should also be able to contact them with questions by email or phone.
If there is no professional body you can turn to, other sources of help are careers advisors, and specialist careers libraries. Alternatively, you can find information about most careers freely available online. You'll find an article with some useful websites here: How to find careers information. Whichever source you choose, make sure that your information is up to date - as technology progresses, qualifications are changing rapidly.
© Waller Jamison 2007
Waller Jamison is a careers advisor and teacher. Find out how to check if your college is an accredited online school. And get some free tips on effective essay writing.