Online Degree Differences

How Your Degree Impacts Salary

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Are you ready to take the next step in your education? There are several avenues available, whether you’re honing your job skills through an online certification program, ready to earn your bachelor’s or associate’s degree online, setting your sights on an online master’s, or pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree online. We've outlined the major online degree differences so you can choose the right degree for you.

Online Certificate and Diploma Programs

The average salary increase for certified professionals is 17 percent more than professionals holding the same jobs but lacking certification, according to CFRE International.

There are many reasons to choose a certification program. If you’ve always wanted to learn the ropes of a specific job like web design or legal assisting, earning a certificate is the quickest way to go. Or, if you’re eager to take your current job to the next level, a certificate in, say, business management or executive coaching might pay off with more interesting work and a heftier paycheck.

Certification in a wide variety of fields, from plumbing to accounting and web design, can generally be earned in one year from community and junior colleges, vocational schools, technical schools, online programs and some 4-year institutions. While earning the roughly 20 to 40 credits needed to complete a certification program is often the quickest way to jumpstart a new career, graduates are often placed in entry-level positions and must work their way up to more advanced work and higher salaries.

Online Associate’s Degree Programs

If you’re looking for more in-depth technical or vocational training than a certification program can offer, you may be interested in earning an associate’s degree. This type of degree, which generally takes about two years to complete, is offered at all junior and community colleges, as well as online and through vocational, technical and 4-year colleges.

There are many different types of associate’s degrees to be earned, but here are the most common:

  • Associate of Arts (AA) degrees can be earned in humanities and social science fields such as health administration, advertising and psychology.
  • Associate of Science (AS) degrees apply to science and technology programs like software engineering and web design.
  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree is awarded to graduates of technical and vocational programs like accounting and tax specialist, cosmetology business and information technology.

Online Bachelor’s Programs

An associate’s degree isn’t a prerequisite for a bachelor’s degree, although you can apply associate’s degree credits towards a bachelor’s degree. Many ambitious individuals, however, sidestep the middleman and go straight to work earning their bachelor’s degree. Here’s why: a bachelor’s degree earned at a college or university or online is the most common and well rounded undergraduate degree available.

These degrees usually take about four years or roughly 120 credits to complete. While there are many types of bachelor’s degrees, here are the most common online ones:

  • Bachelor of Arts (BA) degrees pertain to humanities and social science professions, such as English/professional writing and psychology.
  • Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees are earned in scientific and technical fields such as animation, fashion and retail management, and information technology.
  • The Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree provides opportunities in fields such as marketing, health care management and finance.

Not only does a bachelor’s degree open up more career opportunities than faster-earned associate’s degrees and certificates, but the overall pay is better too. In addition, a bachelor’s degree lays the groundwork for an advanced degree such as a master’s or doctorate.

Online Master’s Degree Programs

Once you’ve completed your bachelor’s degree, you have the option of entering into a graduate program. Master’s degrees, like associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, are nuanced.

  • Master of Science (MS) degrees are awarded in fields such as education, nursing and electrical engineering.
  • Master of Arts (MA) degrees are given in art history, English and other humanities fields.
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees can be pursued in entrepreneurship, finance and global management.
  • Master of Public Administration (MPA) degrees are earned in criminal justice and other government and non-government organization (NGO) professions.

While entrance into graduate schools and choice programs are often competitive, the post-graduation benefits are attractive. After roughly two years of course-based work and individual research or study, master’s students walk away with a degree that will earn them (on average) $180,000 more over their lifetime than people in the same field who hold a bachelor’s degree.

Online Doctoral Degrees

If you’ve decided to make your education a career of its own, pursuing a doctorate—the highest academic degree available—is a great career goal. Online doctoral degrees take anywhere from three to 10 years to complete and demand a varying number of academic credit requirements depending on the subject. The degree usually culminates in an intensive written exam and/or a doctoral thesis or dissertation presented (and defended) to a body of distinguished academics.

Common doctorates include:

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), awarded in fields such as public health and psychology
  • Doctor of Education (EdD), earned by students in fields such as special education, counseling psychology and every level of education

While it is difficult to estimate the earnings of doctoral degree holders in various fields, take note: doctoral degrees bring prestige, more career opportunities and, in many cases, higher wages for their holders than any other type of degree.