After devoting years to a career, it may be difficult for people to admit that they need a change. They may feel like they're obligated to continue the type of work they've been doing and may even think they're a failure for wanting to try something new. However, that is far from the case. In fact, changing careers is fairly common! According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people on average work about ten jobs during the course of their lives.

Making a career change is not necessarily easy, but it doesn't have to be a completely daunting experience. This page covers useful information for those who are thinking about taking the plunge to becoming a career changer — including tips on how to dive into a new career and facts on how online schools can help people get the training they need to pursue a new field.

What is Career Changing?

A career change, also known as a career transition, is the process of moving into a position that comes with a major change in job duties. In some cases, people may change careers while staying at their current company or in their current industry. However, other career changes involve moving into an entirely new field — in some cases, a field so far removed from one's existing skillset that it is important to go back to school in order to earn skills and knowledge that are relevant to this new field.

Why Do People Change Careers?

Although it is not a good idea for workers to stay in a career only because they have already invested time and money into it, the decision to change careers is a very personal one that should not be taken lightly. The reasons people change careers are as diverse as workers themselves. However, there are some common reasons why people consider making this huge transformation in their lives. The following are some of those reasons:

Should I Go Back to School?

Just as with any other job candidate, people who want to change careers are expected to bring certain skills to the table in order to earn a position. In some cases, the best way to acquire these skills is to go back to school to earn a certification or an entire degree.

When weighing whether or not returning to the classroom is the right choice, people should do their homework by looking at job postings related to the career they're interested in to find out what employers are looking for. If you already have skills that are transferable, you may not need to go back to school. However, if you see multiple job postings requiring skills that you haven't been able to build in your current profession, then education may be necessary to rebuild your professional toolbox.

Can an Online College Help You Change Careers?

For many career changers, online colleges are the answer to getting the education they need to begin the next chapter of their professional lives. Online colleges allow students to complete their degree programs even as they continue to work full-time jobs and handle personal responsibilities — like raising a family or taking care of aging parents — because they can enroll in programs that allow them to do coursework at their own pace.

There are hundreds of different online programs in different fields, many with the option to add a specialization or concentration that can help students narrow in on the right career path for them. Taking a degree program online does not change or reduce the degree you earn upon completion, and in most cases, online programs are taught by the same instructors as on-campus programs. As long as you are enrolled at an accredited online college for your degree program, you should be able to feel as confident about the quality of your online program as you would in an on-campus program.

Does Accreditation Matter when Going Back to School?

All that being said, it is crucial for career changers to enroll in an accredited online college if they decide to go back to school — possibly even more important than it is for an on-campus program. No matter what the field, accreditation is a testament that students at that school are being taught the skills that employers in their field expect workers to have.

Some employers may be less likely to hire candidates who did not graduate from an accredited school, as they cannot be sure whether or not the education at an unaccredited school was actually worthwhile. In addition, if professionals are expected to earn licenses or certifications in order to obtain employment, attending an accredited school can be a requirement for being eligible to sit for the credentialing examinations.

How to Choose a New Career

Just because people are transitioning to a second career doesn't mean they shouldn't put as much thought into their new path as they did their first. The following tips can help people considering a new career determine what their next move should be if they're unsure of what they want to do.

Fields You Can Study Online

Not only is it important for career changers to decide whether or not they need to go back to school, it's also important for them to consider what kind of program they should enroll in. Some degree programs are conducted completely online, while others require both online and on-campus work in order to successfully complete the program.

For example, people who want to pursue healthcare- or teaching-related careers — such as nursing, medical assisting, school teaching or special education jobs — are usually required to enroll in hybrid programs because they have to receive hands-on training in addition to their online coursework. That being said, some programs may allow students to satisfy their hands-on training requirements at official facilities closer to home. For example, a student who lives in Arizona but goes to school in California may be able to do their student teaching at a local school in Arizona, rather than being forced to travel to California.

On the other hand, degree programs in the business, liberal arts or information technology fields — such as marketing, library science or computer programming — can generally be completed entirely online, depending on what school students attend. The information for these subjects and others like them is typically more conducive to being delivered online, and hands-on training is not as necessary, making it easier to take classes off-campus.

Tips for Career Changing

In addition to continuing their education, there are several other things that can help people have a successful career transition. Here are some tips that might be able to help make the process easier.

  1. Have realistic expectations. People begin their initial career at the entry-level and work their way up. Despite how much experience they have in their first career, workers should keep in mind that they're very unlikely to be starting their new career at the top.
  2. Make connections. Networking is a great way for people to fully immerse themselves in their new career and get helpful information from the people who are established in the field. As a result, it's helpful for career changers to participate in in-person and online networking activities to make these important connections.
  3. Draw on existing skills. Just because career changers are learning new skills doesn't mean they have to leave the abilities they gained in their previous career behind. People who embark on a new career have a wealth of skills to bring to the table, so it's important to use them. Consider how you might be able to use what you've learned from your original job in your new field. Your unique perspective might be able to catch the interest of a prospective employer who's looking for creative ways to surpass their competition!

Next Steps for Career Changers

To move forward with their career change, workers should understand what new opportunities are out there waiting for them. To find out more about the possibilities, log on to our state pages, which include information about professions around the country in the "Best Careers" section at the bottom of the page.

Alternately, for more information about online degree programs — including how they can be taken online and what kinds of careers they might be able to lead to — visit our program pages, which provide a look at various possible fields of study.