In today's ever-changing, always competitive job market, expats must strive to make themselves as marketable and employable as possible, constantly honing skills and adjusting with the times - and an online degree could provide a great opportunity to do so. Going back to school is usually a smart way to climb the career ladder, but does the same hold true for expats
The quick answer? Maybe, depending on your situation.
But before we get to how to figure out whether pursuing an online degree would be right for you, let's talk some basic facts about distance learning. Make no mistake: online education is more popular than ever. In the United States, the number of students taking online courses doubled to 3.9 million between 2003 and 2007, which was faster than the growth in traditional university settings by 12%.
These numbers probably aren't surprising to those of you from the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, though, where distance education by respected universities has been around for decades; in fact, in 2000 - nearly 10 years ago - 14% of Australian university students took part in distance learning.
How do employers feel about online degrees? Well, times they are indeed a-changing. Distance learning is increasingly gaining more respect from employers, who understand that not everyone can take time off from work--or in the case of expatriates, relocate to a new country--to attend school full-time or even part-time.
Now, in order to determine whether pursuing an online degree would be a smart choice for you, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Will an online degree actually help increase my career prospects and salary potential?
Generally those with advanced degrees have more career opportunities and can command higher salaries, but not all industries are created equal, so it's time to do some research.
Investigate your chosen career field to determine whether a degree will actually improve your job prospects and salary potential. An extremely useful site particularly for those based in the United States is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Do a search for your job or career field and then read up on educational requirements, how various educational levels make a difference in income, and what areas are expected to show the most growth over the next 10 years or so.
Also look at the websites of professional associations, organizations, and groups in your industry for employment statistics and salary information.
2. Will an online degree be accepted by employers in my current market?
This will take a bit of asking around, but keep in mind that even if your employer or future employers won't officially accept an online degree, you will still have gained all the knowledge and experience required to earn that degree; perhaps your employer could give you other credits toward promotions, etc. Don't be afraid to ask!
On this point, it is especially important that you make sure the online degree program you pursue is accredited; although such accreditation may not be accepted worldwide, you have a much better chance of having your online degree respected if it comes from an accredited program. Note that many large, well-known colleges and universities now offer online programs, so don't feel like you should only stick with online schools.
Now, if you're an entrepreneur, this question doesn't exactly apply, so you're back to evaluating whether an online degree will help you advance your own business, add skills and knowledge that will make you even more successful, and otherwise be to your professional advantage.
3. Do I have the time, energy, and money to commit to an online degree program?
Online degrees take just as much (if not more) time and energy to complete as traditional degree programs. Most times, you're entirely on your own as far as studying and completion of requirements, so you will need excellent organizational and time management skills as well as a strong commitment to earning your degree.
On the bright side, though, online degree programs are generally much less expensive than traditional ones, and you also may be able to stop, start, and otherwise adjust your schedule according to your available time and budget; be sure to check out financial aid options as well, including employer tuition reimbursement programs.
Final Thoughts on Online Degrees for Expats
Taking into consideration the above three points, you should be able to come up with an answer as to whether an online degree is a smart idea for you; of course, don't discount the sheer pleasure of learning and personal enrichment that comes with earning online degrees as well. Even if your online degree may never come in handy in the workplace, it still just might be worth it to you personally.
Also remember that you can take individual online courses without pursuing a degree, although if you have the idea to eventually earn a degree, make sure your credits would count toward that.
Overall, when deciding whether to pursue an online degree, do be honest with yourself regarding your motivation; once you know what you want to get out of an online degree, you will have a much easier time selecting the right one for you--and also lessen the chances of being disappointed in the results.