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When the Work at Home Job is a College Class

November 26, 2010 · 29 comments

in Life, Personal Finance, Work

Telecommuting has proven to be a two edged sword for some companies and an elusive goal for many of us who believe that we can accomplish as much or more at home without the distractions of the office.  Some people have the discipline to be productive at home, and all of us that end up working at the kitchen table have to learn to balance work with family.  But for close to ten percent of our population, work of any kind isn’t an option, and for too many of those people, the jobs they once held no longer exist in this country.  Add to that the millions of workers that are underemployed, driven to work whatever jobs they could find, and the people that the Department of Labor no longer counts as unemployed because they’ve quit looking, and you’ve got the makings of a major job shortage.

All of that hardly comes as news; but one of the interesting developments in this protracted job slump has been the resurgence of the back-to-school movement that once was driven by the need for two income households.  Today it is driven by the need for new job training or additional job training and in response to that fact hundreds of schools have developed online masters degree programs that are designed for people who need a mid-career academic upgrade or a midlife change in career direction.  Finding time at home to study is a little different than finding time at home to work, and here’s why:

Certainly the requirements for creating the time and space for you and your computer to work together are the same with either working at home or studying at home.  But when you’re juggling family obligations and (hopefully) work obligations, creating time for taking an online class is perhaps going to be a stiffer challenge because it will likely come at the end of the day when supplies of energy and ambition have been depleted.  It’s also true that the goals associated with working towards an online degree are a little less tangible than turning out daily work product for an employer.   Thoughts like “Do I really need to do this night after night?”,  ” Will the degree actually provide me with career opportunities?”, and “Is draining the bank account for an additional degree a wise decision?” pop into your head.

All of these questions plague even the most resolute back-to-school adults; but if it’s something you’re considering, here are a few facts that may provide a degree of comfort over the decision to move forward.  Online education can mean many things today, but the most important thing to understand is that distance learning has gone mainstream.

1.      Virtually every community college in the nation has online courses and/or online degree programs.  Check out yours.  In some places you can complete the academic work online for a nursing degree or an associates in police science.

2.      Traditional universities have gotten into the online degree format in large numbers.  Penn State offers 60 degrees online; Northeastern University offers 70.  University of Massachusetts, University of Southern California, University of Florida – Stanford!  That’s a sampler of the established universities with online programs today.

3.      You can separate solid online degree programs from the diploma mills simply by checking accreditation.  Do a little research with the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and you’ll quickly learn how to separate the real schools from the scammers.

4.      There are some excellent masters degree programs designed for mid-career professionals who are still working.  There are MBA programs available online and professional degrees in accounting or finance or management.  Credit transfers can shorten some of these programs substantially.

5.      There are also online programs for career changers.  You can switch into teaching with no prior academic experience in education through a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT).  The Master of Science in Nursing Bridge program can take you from no medical background to a career in advanced practice nursing and for some specializations you can do the academic work online.

None of these options are a substitute for a job, either at home or in an office.  But if you must make a career decision and it requires additional education, there are ways to accomplish that goal frugally and with research, you’ll know if your career path is one that has good job prospects upon graduation.

This is a guest post from Bob Hartzell, who has been writing about education for five years for a number of websites.  He has written extensively about the transformative elements affecting graduate education today at Masters Degree Online.com

From Kris:  Have you ever taken online courses?  Did you have a hard time balancing work and home?  I personally work from home, and I know at times I have a hard time turning work off since that computer stares at me all day.  You have to find what works for you in order to accomplish all your goals for work, school, and family.  However, it definitely can be done!

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

First Gen American November 26, 2010 at 7:51 am

I work from home and I love it. My kids are not home during working hours so it’s easy to be productive. Due to my job though, I do travel quite a bit, so that’s less easy to juggle.

I never ever had luck studying at home though. I would always have to hit the library or some other place without distractions of tv or food or chores. Even chores seem like more fun than studying.

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Kris November 26, 2010 at 5:24 pm

I went straight through to get my MBA because I knew I would be a terrible student at home. I was engaged at the end of undergrad, so I knew kids wouldn’t be too far down the road. I am not the most disciplined student, so I made the right decision for me!

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Kevin@InvestItWisely November 26, 2010 at 9:25 pm

I’m much more effective at the library for studying. There are just way too many distractions at home… especially now as a blogger! Just uninstalling my games doesn’t do the trick anymore! 😛

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Moneycone November 26, 2010 at 10:59 am

Did both before I had a kid! Can’t say that now!

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Kris November 26, 2010 at 9:21 pm

I work from home now, but my kids are all in school when I work. (I am usually done by noon.) Summer is admittedly much harder.

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DoNotWait November 26, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Either it is studying or working, I think it takes two major things to success at home: motivation and organization. None is easy, but if you keep a good balance between the two, things will probably work out well. However, some just can’t do that and need someone who looks over their shoulders once in a while.

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Kris November 26, 2010 at 9:23 pm

I agree. Some people also just hate working in isolation. I personally do not mind at all. I am a social person, but I get a ton done when I work at home compared to being in an office. (It is too easy to chat at work.)

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Kevin@InvestItWisely November 26, 2010 at 9:32 pm

For me it’s a bit of both. At home it’s isolated so less distractions from chatting, but my office is a very quiet place anyways. I don’t know, having a work space really helps me be productive. That’s something I’m missing right now and maybe that’s what it’s about. At home, my desk is one of those compact IKEA desks and it’s in the middle of the living room, with the kitchen table close by and the TV next to me. It’s really not a home office at all, but I think with a home office I could get more into that zone.

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Kris November 26, 2010 at 10:11 pm

Having a home office makes it so much better. When we bought our previous house, it had four bedrooms and one of the bedrooms was going to be an office. However, a third child arrived within 11 months and that home office became a nursery. When we bought this house, it had four bedrooms and a home office, and it is still an office 9 years later! It makes a world of difference to have a place to store your bills, statements and do your work. I find a home office almost a necessity, or at least an area that can be carved out of the living space that can be used as an office.

You will have your new place soon!

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Money Reasons November 26, 2010 at 12:50 pm

I never have, but I’ve thought about it a lot.

Unfortunately, my kids are getting old enough where they want to do more and more with ole Dad… Which is great 🙂

Perhaps some day when the kids are off to college, I’ll consider online classes again…

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Kris November 26, 2010 at 9:25 pm

MR- if you have enough education, then you don’t have to worry about it. It is great to have a place set up at home that is easy to do either schoolwork or work-work.

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Roshawn @ Watson Inc November 26, 2010 at 2:52 pm

I think I’m done with classes for a while, but think this is definitely a good option, especially for professional who really need the content and some context for that career boost.

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Kris November 26, 2010 at 9:26 pm

Shawn – I am done with schooling too. I probably don’t have the attention span to study these days! 🙂

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Kay Lynn @ Bucksome Boomer November 26, 2010 at 7:11 pm

I’ve done online learning and found it harder than courses taken in the classroom. There’s a lot more writing and interactivity required; I guess because they can’t see cheeks in seats!

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Kris November 26, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Kay Lynn- it is good to hear from someone who has done some online learning! I think it would be more difficult for me as I tune out too darn easily if I am not in a classroom setting. But that is just me and my own issues!

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Ken @Spruce Up Your Finances November 26, 2010 at 7:22 pm

I took some online courses in the past and it was really helpful since there is no time constraints. I can log-in at anytime and participate on discussion on my own time. I do not have to deal with the parking, traffic, and trying to make attendance associated with off-line.

A lot of community college are already going the online route as well to cater for the working individuals.

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Kris November 26, 2010 at 9:29 pm

I think it is a great option. Technology has been helpful in so many ways. Like you said, no driving is a huge plus. Also, you can still ‘attend’ if under the weather.

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Kevin@InvestItWisely November 26, 2010 at 8:12 pm

Interesting guest post. I find it distracting to work from home, so I think I’m more productive at work itself, though the benefits of not having to commute shouldn’t be discounted.

Right now I’m taking classes at night, which end next week, and working full-time during the day. Sometimes it’s pretty brutal, but there are plenty of other options like the online courses or weekends. Overall it’s not that bad. You might think that you don’t have time time or energy, but time is often just a question of finding it, which means you might spend only one hour watching TV instead of two: you will be able to find the time, and once you get into the routine, you will find the energy as well, though sometimes it can be tough. 🙂

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Kris November 26, 2010 at 9:31 pm

It is so true, you can almost always find time, even when you think it is impossible. However, I do not envy your situation of working full time and attending class. What are you studying? Will you finish your degree program next week, or just the semester?

I am the opposite, I find it distracting to work at work! 🙂

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Kevin@InvestItWisely November 26, 2010 at 9:34 pm

I’m taking Mandarin classes, and after next week I finish the third course. I feel like I should know more after taking so many courses, but learning a language is tough, indeed. I need one more course to finish the program, but that course is not available at a good time next semester. I might take the time to prepare for my GMAT instead.

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Kris November 26, 2010 at 10:14 pm

That is right, it is the Mandarin classes! Are you going to head over to Asia and immerse yourself once you are done?

So you are looking at an MBA, eh? I took the GMAT twice. The first time, I did not prepare at all and just did ok. The second time, I did one of those prep books and my score went up 100 points. I don’t know what the scale is now for the GMAT, but 100 points was a 20 percent increase, so definitely worth it.

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Kevin@InvestItWisely November 27, 2010 at 12:00 am

Not sure about the MBA, but I figure it won’t hurt to get the GMAT out of the way should I want to do it.

Those English questions are very tricky! The math ones I am just rusty, but the English ones there really seem like they are just trying to make you choose wrong… I don’t see how they’re relevant to an MBA!

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Kris November 27, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Oh my gosh, you speak the truth!!! My math score was the same the second time I took the gmat as when I took the first. Just going over those basic english rules made a huge difference to my score. I hated English in school and loved math, so I had not touched an English class in years when I took the GMAT the first time, and I was so dumb to not do some refreshing.

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Kevin@InvestItWisely November 27, 2010 at 12:02 am

Immerse myself in Asia someday… It will be nice if I can do it as part of work 🙂

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Kris November 27, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Yes, get work to transfer you there for awhile and you can immerse on their dime!

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Barb Friedberg November 27, 2010 at 6:25 pm

I think number 3 is key. So many diploma mills offer degrees that are not respected. So, definitely, check credentials! Also, make sure you are disciplined enough to work without the structure of a classroom. Personally, in a tough market, I think it’s a solid strategy to consider getting another degree!

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Kris November 27, 2010 at 7:08 pm

Barb, you are right, this is a tough economy for sure, and anything you can do to differentiate yourself is so important.

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