College education takes all sorts of shapes these days, as students more often choose nontraditional routes to a degree. Many people of different ages, backgrounds, and career goals are now looking to online education programs. Here's why one person chose an online degree.
Bill Chamberlain has traveled a variety of educational routes. After dropping out of high school, he joined the U.S. Army in 1986, and there, earned his GED. Toward the end of his seven-year military career, Chamberlain began taking a variety of night classes for college credit. When he opted to leave the Army, he took his random assortment of credits from night courses to Charter Oak State College in Connecticut, which helped him transfer the credits into the beginnings of an online bachelor's degree in general studies.
Chamberlain earned his undergraduate degree from Charter Oak in 2009, but says it was tough for him. Not only was there more coursework than he expected, but in the five years he spent taking classes, he also worked 45 hours per week as an electrician and raised two children with his wife. After receiving his degree, Chamberlain realized that continuing as an electrician would be too physically demanding as he got older. He thought back to his days of teaching military specifics in the Army and decided to become a teacher. Chamberlain earned the teaching certificates that allow him to teach electrical technology classes in vocational high schools, which is what he does now, and next he's pursuing an online master's degree in education.
Online program: California University of Pennsylvania
Degree pursued and graduation year: M.Ed. in technology education, expected June 2013
Why an online degree: "I'm one of these people who has to be the best at everything they do," Chamberlain says. "And the next step in my career as a teacher was to get my master's degree." Chamberlain first tried to earn that master's degree through an on-campus program at Central Connecticut State University, but says that driving from home to the high school where he worked, to the university, and then back home was just too much. Plus, the classes that he needed to take were sometimes only offered during the day, when he was teaching. So Chamberlain chose to pursue his degree online, so he could learn on his own time.
Degree impact: "A master's degree is going to allow me more choices for employment," Chamberlain says of the advanced degree that will allow him to teach at any public school in the state, as opposed to his current certificate, which only permits him to teach at Connecticut's 17 vocational schools.
Biggest challenge of earning an online degree: "The hardest part was realizing that when you're at home, you still have a schedule. You have to block out time, and you have to sit down, and you have to do the work," Chamberlain says. "It's too easy to go home, turn on my computer, and get lost playing a video game or something."
Advice for future online students: "Really do your research and figure out exactly what's involved before you try [to] do it," says Chamberlain, who took 400-level classes as a Charter Oak freshman because he didn't research the program. And, he says, "don't think it's an easy degree; understand that it's a lot of work."
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