Earning a degree online is easier said than done. The first task is figuring out which online program fits the degree you are looking for and the important part of that search is making certain that the college or university is accredited by the state to confer a degree.

The California State University system offers online degree programs in many fields. The University of California offers online coursework, but its degree programs do require brick and mortar attendance. Private universities, such as National University, offer accredited degree programs, 70 of which are 100 percent online. Carrington, University of Phoenix and DeVry are private universities that offer online degrees. There are many others to choose from as well.

For anyone who is working full time, an online post-grad degree may be the only path to earning the advanced degree. Furthering one’s education is critical to career advancement in most fields. A B.A. or B.S. degree may mean entry into a career, while an M.S. or M.A. may be the path to moving up the food chain in a chosen career path.

Sara Wilson-Parker (credit: Charles Ferris)

Sara Wilson-Parker (credit: Charles Ferris)

For Sara Wilson-Parker, who works for the US Forest Service, the online approach is the only viable way to earn that advanced degree. Cameron Parker, a teacher in Sacramento, also took the online approach. Sara is pursuing a masters of natural resources degree from Oregon State and Cameron earned a master of sports management degree from the University of Central Missouri.

For both of them, pursuing the advanced degree was necessary to become more competitive in the workforce. The advanced degree also means a better paycheck, promotions and perhaps, a better job.

Sara chose Oregon State because it as one of the few schools that offered the degree in her major with an online format. Oregon State is also a “highly respected university for natural resources/forestry,” she said.

Cameron Parker (credit: Charles Ferris)

Cameron Parker (credit: Charles Ferris)

Cameron chose the University of Central Missouri because it had the exact major he wanted, didn’t require a GRE and, as a not-for-profit university, he thought it would be more respected by future employers.

The cost of the online courses leading to the Masters, according to both Sara and Cameron, was a “little bit more” than it would have been to go the traditional route. But Cameron couldn’t afford to stop working while pursuing the degree, and Sara can’t either.

Sara says the cost to simply stop work and attend the university would be too great in a couple of ways. Financially, it simply doesn’t work. She would also lose her seniority and benefits, and opportunities for a promotion.

Parker had to work to be able to afford the coursework. What he knew then, and still knows, is that the online version offered him the opportunity to bend the work around his schedule. While this sounds easy, it isn’t. He said that although not having to attend class on campus was a big plus, the downside was not being able to interact face-to-face with other students and professors very often. You are “pretty much on your own,” he comments.

They both say that poor time management is the most likely issue to get in the way of online coursework, along with poor communication with the professor or university. Self discipline is a must when it comes time to tackle the coursework online.

While Sara and Cameron both say it isn’t a cake walk, dedication and the drive to improve make it all doable. An advanced degree earned online isn’t for the faint of heart, but it is the path that many have and are taking to gain that valuable experience and degree.

Charles Ferris is a freelance writer who has lived in the Sierra, halfway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, for the last 37 years. He retired from teaching after 36 years in 2010. He and his wife hike, kayak, cross country ski, snow shoe, ride mountain bikes and road bikes, year round. His work can be found at Examiner.com.

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