Six Things to Know before You Choose a Degree Program

By Susan Hoffman, Contributor, Online Learning Tips, American Public University

At the university, you have a choice of several online degree programs: associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral. But it’s not always easy to determine which degree to pursue, so choosing a particular program requires careful thought and effort. If you have it in mind to further your education, here are six tips to consider as you’re choosing a more advanced degree:

Think about how much time you’ll need to devote to your studies. You’ll need to set aside some time each day for forum posts, research, weekly assignments, mid-term papers, final projects and other related classwork. However, the time demands on you will vary by course, instructor and academic program.

Courses at the undergraduate level commonly require 15 to 18 hours a week for an eight-week course and eight to 10 hours a week for a 16-week class. At the graduate level, you’ll need 18 to 22 hours a week for an eight-week course and 10 to 15 hours per week for a 16-week course.

Review the program of your choice in the catalog. Do the classes offered in the program you are considering sound exciting and interesting? Do they fill in gaps in your current knowledge? Pursuing a degree will involve several years of work, so it helps to have curiosity and a passion for learning new ideas.

Consider your other responsibilities. As an online student, you’ll need to balance your current career, family and education. Can you create blocks of time for study purposes? Are there any commitments in your personal life that could impede your ability to do classwork, especially the extra work required for a master’s or doctoral degree?

Advanced degrees such as a master’s degree or a doctoral degree place even more demands on your time. For a master’s degree, you will be required to write a thesis for a capstone course, participate in an internship or practicum, or complete an intensive written examination, depending on the options available in your program. A doctoral degree program will require an international trip or a presentation at an academic conference, as well as other high-level work.

Research your industry to see what degrees are considered commonplace. Some industries require job candidates to have at least a bachelor’s degree, while others prefer more advanced degrees. Review job ads on sites such as Indeed, CareerBuilder and Monster to see what degrees employers seek in new employees, especially if you’re changing careers.

Remember that academic advisors are ready to help you. If you’re having difficulty choosing between one degree and another, our academic advisors can provide expert advice that can help you with your decision.

Pursuing an academic program requires time, dedication and hard work. But in the end, it is worth the satisfaction of receiving your diploma in the mail and walking across the stage at Commencement.