You might think that going back to school doesn’t fit into your life or your schedule. You might worry that the effort required to get a degree will either force you to give up your current job or reduce your job performance by half while you attend classes. A degree, in other words, might be one step forward and two steps back. But if you want to get ahead in your career, you’re going to need that master’s degree, or to turn that associate’s into a bachelor’s.
Cast aside your doubt for a moment. There are some solid education options that don’t require you to set foot on a campus. The university experience today is not what it was even five years ago, and institutions of higher learning have embraced online education in a big way. I’m not talking about scammy pseudo-schools who advertise on late night TV. Advanced degrees in traditional fields from accredited, highly regarded universities are a real option.
These programs are taught by the same teachers as traditional degree programs, using the same material. As long as you can meet your deadlines, they generally allow flexible schedules that won’t take you away from the office. (And you’re a professional. Of course you can meet your deadlines!) So what schools offer such degrees, and in which subjects? And what jobs can those degrees score? Read on.
1. Electrical Engineering (University of Southern California)
Electrical engineering is one of those fields ever in demand in the defense industry, for reasons that must be obvious: strong national defense demands that our guys stay ahead of their guys. Accordingly, more than 900 job listings on ClearanceJobs list electrical engineering as a requirement. Well over a hundred of those jobs want a master’s degree, or reduce the experience requirement if said degree is held. University of Southern California, founded in 1880, is the oldest private research institution in the state. Once you graduate, if nothing else, at alumni dinners you might bump into George Lucas or the ghost of Neil Armstrong.
2. Aerospace Engineering (Iowa State University)
Want a job in space surveillance? Aircraft vulnerability engineering? Hypersonic design? Then you’re going to need a degree in aerospace engineering. Iowa State University offers a master’s degree in the field. If you plan to do research while working on your degree, you’re in luck. Iowa is one of 52 national space grant research institutions in the United States.
3. Library and Information Science (University of Southern Mississippi)
The Library and Information Science master’s degree from University of Southern Mississippi is blessed by the American Library Association, meaning that if you leave the land of the cleared and decide to take up life in the stacks of America’s libraries, you’re in good graces from day one. But what could you possibly do with such a degree in the world of defense contractors? How about cybersecurity and any number of cyber-related fields? The ability to organize, understand, and drill into information is paramount in our new world of Big Data.
4. Electrical and Computer Engineering (Oklahoma State University)
Over 1,000 job listings on ClearanceJobs involve computer engineering, from undersea cable engineer (which could involve anything from espionage to building the backbone of the Internet) to foreign instrumentation signals analyst (definitely espionage, so don’t forget to bring along your TS/SCI). Because Oklahoma State University is home to one of the top ten online engineering master’s programs in the nation, you can expect a little extra attention when applying for those thousand jobs.
5. Bachelor of Science in Accounting (University of Louisiana)
Why a bachelor’s degree in accounting? Because a staggering 20 percent of the federal budget goes to national defense. That’s a lot of money, and somebody has to be able to keep track of it all. University of Louisiana offers that very degree, which can be used when applying to such companies as Booz Allen Hamilton, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon.
6. Software Engineering (Kansas State University)
Kansas State University offers an online master’s degree in software engineering, and there are over 1,300 job listings on ClearanceJobs involving the field. Do the math (or write a program to do the math for you) and you can write your own check.
7. Criminal Justice (University of Louisiana at Monroe)
I’m not going to lie: “countering violent extremism senior law enforcement advisor” is a pretty impressive job title. Digital forensic analyst? Yep. FBI data analyst. Oh yes indeed. University of Louisiana at Monroe offers a master of science in criminal justice, which is a prerequisite for a business card with any of those jobs listed on it. Is it easy? Nope. But it is highly regarded and inexpensive, listed in Affordable Colleges Online’s “best online criminal justice degrees” survey for 2015.
8. Psychology (University of Arizona)
Computers aren’t getting easier to use because we’re getting smarter. They’re getting easier to use because they’re designed for our primitive brains. And it’s the job of psychologists to bridge that gap. University of Arizona is one of the most prestigious science institutions in the world, and in recent years they’ve gone all-in on online education. They now offer a bachelor of science in psychology. And while you won’t get the chance to live in gorgeous Tucson, you will get the same respected education.
9. Construction Management (Indiana State University)
What’s the difference between a mechanical engineer and a civil engineer? Mechanical engineers build weapons. Civil engineers build targets. Indiana State University offers an online bachelor’s in construction management, which means you can build targets all the livelong day. (Of course, these are American companies and you’ll be building American buildings, so hopefully our mechanical engineers are working on countermeasures.)
10. Political Science (Arkansas State University)
What do intelligence analyst, cultural adviser, legislative affairs, and counterterrorism lead have in common? A requirement that applicants hold a degree in political science. Thankfully, Arkansas State University has you covered, offering a bachelor of arts degree in that field. And this is where online degrees shine: if you were to pursue the degree through the traditional route, you would almost certainly have to give up your current job and start racking up student loans. After all, 120 hours is a long time and a lot of work. An online program gives you the best of both worlds.
The only question is how ready are you to make a change? A new year is upon us. Go for it.