By the time you hit your 40s, you've got experience — but one thing you may not have is a graduate degree. Pursuing an online graduate degree for lifelong learning could be a good go-to plan for taking things to the next level. If that's the case, as you ready yourself for the next chapter in life, it's important to know what to look for in a university. That way, you're working toward a degree that works for you.
Unquestionably, online programs can be an appealing choice for working professionals, and there are plenty of reasons why. The thing is, not all of them are created equal. It's important to consider five key criteria when considering where to apply.
1. Choose an accredited college.
The decision to pursue a graduate-level degree shouldn't be taken lightly, since it's your time and money that are on the table. For those reasons, it is essential to attend an accredited college. Enrolling in an accredited institution helps ensure that you receive a quality education, secure useful course credits and get degree recognition for what you've earned. Accreditation is voluntary, and it is important to note that the only legitimate accrediting organizations are ones the United States Department of Education recognizes. It's further important to note that if a school is not accredited, it is unlikely they'll participate in federal and state financial aid programs. (Learn more about the process of accreditation here.)
2. Find a program that's flexible.
Life is busy, especially when you're a working professional with a family. Embarking on a graduate education is a big commitment, and it's one you'll have to fit into your existing schedule. An online program that enables you to complete schoolwork anytime and anywhere can make the process less stressful, and it allows you to continue doing what you need to do while working toward your learning goals. It may seem like an uphill battle, but the hardest part is getting started.
3. Make sure faculty are industry specialists.
Reading books is all well and good, but nothing compares to real-world experience. That is certainly true when it comes to your online graduate degree. Learning from faculty who are industry specialists means you can gain valuable, of-the-moment insight into your chosen field. This is integral since — like everything in life — industry demands, trends and technology change. Learning from a professional with industry experience gives students insight into the profession and a much more reliable, experience-backed pathway to success. It's one of the best ways to ensure that the hard work invested in pursuing your degree produces the desired results.
4. Enroll in a program that respects your knowledge and experience
Heading back to school in your 40s is a smart choice on many levels, whether it's to advance your existing career or carve out a new one. The bottom line, though, is you shouldn't waste your time. Life, after all, is busy enough without repeating unnecessary tasks. Therefore, selecting an online degree program that respects and acknowledges your prior learning credits is important. When considering your approach to lifelong learning, look for an online degree program that offers credit by exam, accepts transfer credits and gives credit for military experience, among other options.
Considering going back to school to earn your online graduate degree? Download our guide, 3 Steps to Take Before Pursuing Your MBA.