7 Educational Options for the Working Professional

Working mom looking at online learning options

Professionals are expanding their skillset by furthering their education.

In today’s job market, skilled employees are in high demand. Consequently, many working professionals just like you are going back to school to advance their skillsets for new jobs, for advancement, or, in some cases, to maintain their current positions. Take a look at these educational options for working professionals and find out which can help you advance your career.

Start off with an associate degree. This type of degree is comprised of 60 semester (90 quarter) credits and usually takes two years or more to complete. Associate degrees are offered by local community colleges, technical colleges, vocational schools, and some four-year colleges and universities. This can be a good degree to start with – it’s cost effective and can be a stepping stone toward a bachelor’s degree.

Dive into a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree might be a requirement for many professional careers, and may take working professionals longer than four years to complete, given the program length (120 semester credits/180 quarter credits). But it can be worth it – with a bachelor’s degree, you’ll generally have higher earning potential, better employer-provided benefits, higher job satisfaction, increased opportunities for the future, and job security.

Move on to a master’s. If you’re looking to advance within your field and/or hold a managerial or supervisory role – especially in research or academia – you’ll probably need a master’s degree. This type of degree can take anywhere from one to four (or more!) years to complete. However, some colleges and universities offer joint programs (commonly referred to as 4 + 1 programs) that make it possible to complete both a bachelor’s and a master’s in as little as five years. The benefits of earning a master’s degree include higher pay and increased job responsibilities.

Go back to school for a doctoral degree. Before considering a Ph.D., you’ll have to earn a bachelor’s – and usually a master’s – degree in a field related to your potential doctoral field of study. Some schools offer programs that give students the opportunity to start a doctoral program with a bachelor’s degree and earn a master’s mid-way through the program. A Ph.D. usually takes at least four to six years to complete, and many students end up taking seven to nine years. In addition to an increased salary, a doctorate can also give you more career opportunities, improve your writing skills (after completing a lengthy dissertation), and help you build useful interpersonal skills.

Explore MOOCs. If you aren’t interested in a degree program, but want an alternative academic option, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) might be your solution. These four- to six-week-long programs are considered “free on the web,” are offered by universities and organizations like Udacity, edX, and Coursera, and offer the flexibility of distance learning, often from top-tier schools like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and MIT. While MOOCs are great for personal growth, they don’t come with university credit or a transfer option, and are often only resume-worthy in very specialized industries.

Enroll in a certificate program for a quick, short-term solution. Are you looking for short-term training, leading to immediate employment? A certificate program might be your best option. This type of program can also transfer into a full degree program if you decide to continue.

Consider a certification. Whether your employer requires you to hold a certain certification or you’re looking to boost your skills or knowledge in a specific area – usually in industries such as healthcare, finance, IT, or business – this type of credential can help you do so. Certifications are usually offered by professional organizations or companies that specialize in particular fields or types of technology. To complete a certification, you’ll need to pass an exam or a series of exams to show mastery over the content. There are many different ways you can continue your education with the ultimate goal of advancing your career. Take these seven options into consideration and figure out what will work best for your needs and objectives.