After being in the same position for a while, it's not uncommon for workers to want to spread their professional wings and take on more responsibilities. In some cases, the best way for people to earn this career advancement is to increase their knowledge and skills by furthering their education. Online colleges can be a convenient way for people to get the training they need to advance in their careers, while still handling the current responsibilities of their professional and personal lives. On this page, we discuss how these schools can help professionals move further down the road in their career path.

Similarly, people who want a career change — which involves transitioning into positions that require a major shift in job duties -- can also reach their goals by attending online colleges. For more information about this process, and the role that online schools can play in making the transition to a new career, log on to our "Career Changing" article here.

How Online College Can Advance Your Career

More and more, organizations are demanding that job applicants have a higher education in order to land a job. In fact, according to a study conducted by Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, 65 percent of jobs in the United States may require a postsecondary education by 2020. Chances are, people who want to advance in their careers are going to need to go to college if they don't already have a degree -- or possibly go back to school even if they do.

Employer expectations are not the only reason people should explore a higher education, however. In addition to qualifying for job opportunities, attending college can help workers:

Despite all of these benefits, some people may feel they'll have a hard time fitting college into their busy lives because they aren't able to make it to campus on a regular basis, or because they can't afford to stop working in order to concentrate solely on earning a degree. However, this doesn't mean they can't get the training they need to land higher positions that increase their salaries. This is where online colleges can be a good option.

Online degree programs are a convenient way for workers to fit their education into their schedules so they can continue working as they earn a degree. For example, when students enroll in asynchronous programs, they are able to work on assignments at their own pace -- making it easier for them to juggle their coursework with the rest of their responsibilities.

In addition, online programs can be more affordable than traditional options. Not only do students save money on gas, parking permits and other similar costs, but in some cases, students are actually charged lower tuition rates for attending college online. As a nice added bonus, due to their nature, online programs are an opportunity for students to increase their technology skills, which can be an asset when trying to impress employers.

What to Do: Degrees, Certificates, and Continuing Education

The exact educational path that a person should pursue in order to advance his or her career can vary, depending on each individual's goals and needs. Those who earn a degree are required to spend more time in school -- usually between two and four years, depending on the degree. During this time, students are expected to take general education coursework in addition to the area they major in. The extra time and effort pays off by creating a more well-rounded educational experience that can open the door to many different kinds of advanced careers in your field.

On the other hand, certificate programs can generally be completed in about a year. The curriculum of these fast-moving programs is usually designed to teach students a specific skillset. In a certificate program, students are not required to complete general education classes. Instead, they focus their studies on one specific area. Certificates don't always pack as much clout with employers as degrees typically do, but they may be able to teach students complex mechanics or concepts that are necessary for a specific job promotion.

Another way for professionals to prepare for advancement is to take continuing education classes, which are designed to keep people abreast of the latest developments in their field, including new skills and technologies they're expected to understand. Continuing education is a bit different from earning a degree or certificate program; let's take a closer look at the way these classes work and how they can help advance your career.

Continuing Education Courses

When workers take continuing education classes, they are able to acquire new skills that boost their marketability so they can command higher salaries and earn promotions. In some cases -- such as with nurses, teachers and accountants -- these courses are required in order to keep a professional license current. However, there are also workers who can volunteer to take continuing education classes, especially if they want to learn a specific new skill that will make them more attractive to employers.

Common Career Advancement Paths

The path to career advancement is as varied as the workforce itself. The following are some specific examples of ways that people in a certain position may be able to advance their careers. (Please note that these examples are fictional, not examples of existing people.)

The bookkeeper

A bookkeeper with an associate's degree may choose to earn an online bachelor's degree in order to become an accountant. Depending on what school they attend and how many credits they're able to successfully transfer, they may be able to complete the new degree in two years or fewer.

Although bookkeepers may already work in accounting firms -- and there can be some overlap in accountant and bookkeeper duties -- making this transition can reap huge financial benefits. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, making the move from bookkeeper to accountant can amount to a $30,000 increase in pay.

The childcare worker

In order to continue making a difference in children's lives, a childcare worker who has a high school diploma may want to go to college to earn an associate's degree to become a child and family social worker. To make the transition easier, they may enroll in a hybrid program so they can continue working during the two years it takes to earn the degree.

Earning this degree opens up more job opportunities for this worker; according to BLS, the job growth for social workers between 2016 and 2026 is predicted to be 16 percent, which is much higher than the seven percent growth that childcare workers should experience during that time.

The medical assistant

By simply completing a few continuing education classes online, a person who has earned a medical assisting certificate may be eligible to go from being a medical assistant to being a surgical technologist. This advancement can help them earn an average of $47,300 per year, according to BLS, whereas medical assistants earn an average of $33,610 per year.

The counselor

A counselor with a master's degree can attend an online college and earn a graduate certificate, often in less than a year, in order to become a sociologist. With this education, they command a salary of $82,050 and open up many new opportunities for employment. They may choose to work for government agencies, educational institutions or research facilities; alternately, people who are interested in becoming self-employed may use their certificate-learned skills to work as consultants.

Further Reading

Earning a higher education can benefit professionals in many fields. In order to find out what types of online programs are available, review our program pages, which include information on what different areas of study entail and how different degree levels can be used to advance your career.