Woman standing in front of blackboard with chalk drawing of graduation cap above her head

How to Choose a Degree Program

Sonya Krakoff

Many adults realize - years or even decades into their professional lives - that they need to, or want to, go back to school in order to progress in their careers. This might mean obtaining a bachelor's degree in order to qualify for more positions; getting formal education in a field you're already familiar with; boosting your resume with a specialized certificate; or earning a master's degree to increase your earning potential. Some people might need a degree in order to get promoted; some might be looking to enter a new field or make a career change; still others might be looking for the personal satisfaction of a major accomplishment.

Whatever your reason for going back to school, it's important to carefully consider your options before enrolling. You'll want to research schools (looking for reputable, regionally accredited institutions), identify the type of program you want to participate in (online, on-campus, or a hybrid of the two), and make sure you've thought through the challenges that come with being an adult learner (including how you'll pay for your education, and how you'll balance work and school with your other responsibilities).

Most importantly, you'll want to spend some time considering what kind of degree you want to pursue, and in what field. To do this, you'll want to think about your anticipated career path, your interests, your goals, as well as bigger-picture considerations like the job market. If you're looking for guidance on how to decide which degree program is right for you, we've got some tips to help you make the right decision.


How to Choose the Right Degree For You

To choose the right degree for you, you'll want to take into account a variety of factors, including the degree level you want to pursue, your own interests and strengths, your career goals, and the stability and growth of the field you're considering pursuing.

Determine the Degree Level You Want to Pursue

Your first decision needs to be the type of degree, or the degree level, you're going to pursue. You have many options here, and your choice will primarily depend on your own academic background.

Associate Degrees

For those without a degree, an associate is a great way to jump back into school and to build your credentials as you go. The path to a bachelor's degree can be a long one, and obtaining an associate is a solid building block on your way.

Undergraduate Certificates

Undergraduate certificates are also a good option for those setting out on their academic journeys, allowing  you to build new skills in smaller, more manageable time frames. These are also a great way for those with a bachelor's degree to brush up on new skills or formalize existing experience and knowledge with a credential.

Bachelor's Degrees

A bachelor's degree is widely considered a requirement for many jobs and career paths; for those who do not yet have a degree and are looking to gain a respected credential that can both boost earning potential and open professional doors, a bachelor's degree is your best bet. Bachelor's degrees are often transfer credit-friendly, and typically credits from an associate degree, certificate(s), and prior learning experiences can used be used as building blocks to help you reach the finish line more quickly.

Master's Degrees

For those with a bachelor's degree and solid work experience in your chosen career field, a master's degree is often the next step. A master's helps you build true expertise in your chosen specialization, and allows you to take on higher-level work and (in many industries) significantly increase your earning potential and career opportunities.

Graduate Certificates

If you already have a bachelor's but aren't ready to commit to a master's program, or if you have a master's and are hoping to build graduate-level skills in another specific area, you may want to consider a graduate certificate. These are a great way to build your expertise and add respected credentials to your resume; they're also a good option for those looking to try out graduate-level coursework before enrolling in a full master's program.

Consider Your Interests and Strengths

While there are many factors to consider when selecting a degree program, perhaps the most important is your own personality. What are you interested in? What are your personal and professional strengths? What are the things that excite you? What are the things that challenge you?

Entering a degree program is an excellent opportunity to build on existing strengths, as well as to help you improve on areas that need work. The right degree program will do both - but the key is to find a program that keeps you engaged. That means choosing a degree program that you find exciting and that aligns with your interests and skills.

For example, if you're someone who love technology and problem-solving, a degree in cybersecurity might be right for you. If you're a strong communicator, consider marketing and communications. If you're a natural leader, you may be well-suited for a business degree or a leadership program.

You could also decide you want to challenge yourself to grow in new ways or pursue new paths. Maybe leadership has never come naturally to you, but it's an area you want to build on, or you've always been interested in working with computers. The drive to learn is what will help you be successful, so choose your program accordingly.

Think About Your Professional Goals

Your professional goals should play a significant role in the degree program you choose. Where do you want to be in your career in five years? Ten years? Twenty years? What's your dream job? If you could choose any career field to work in, what would it be? Is there a certain title you're working towards? Do you see a path forward within your current organization, or is there another company you want to work for?

All of these questions are important to think about before selecting a degree program, as they'll impact the direction you go in. For example, if you want to switch careers but foresee having to enter a new field at entry level, it might make more sense to obtain a second bachelor's degree instead of a master's degree. If you need to build a specific skill in order to advance, maybe a certificate (whether it's undergraduate or graduate) is what you need. Or if there's a specific job you're working towards, you might need a specific degree type (such as an MBA) to get there.

Considering where you envision yourself career-wise and answering some of the questions above can help you make a wise decision when it comes to choosing a degree program that will help you reach your goals.

Research Careers With High Growth or Stability Projections

Although personal and professional goals and interests are important, you should also do some research into the job market before choosing a degree program. The reality is that in our technology-driven world, many jobs and fields are disappearing or changing dramatically; you want to make sure your chosen degree will be setting you up for long-term success.

Do some research into the projections for growth and/or stability for your chosen career path. This information can often be found through resources such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which highlights the viability of many different professions over the coming years. Make sure your degree aligns with a high-growth field, such as information security, digital forensics, business, or and healthcare administration.


Degrees Offered by Champlain College Online

If you're interested in pursuing an online degree, Champlain College Online can help you choose the right degree program for you!

Champlain College Online offers associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees in a variety of high-growth, career-driven fields, including cybersecurity, business, healthcare administration, and leadership. We also offer a wide range of undergraduate and graduate certificates in these fields, giving individuals the opportunity to build credentials on their way to a full degree. To see the full list of our degree and certificate programs, please visit online.champlain.edu/degrees-certificates.

About the Author

Sonya Krakoff

Senior Content Marketing Specialist

Sonya Krakoff is the Senior Content Marketing Specialist at Champlain College Online, where she is the voice behind the CCO blog and helps tell the school's story across multiple digital platforms. Sonya has extensive experience in writing, content marketing, and editing for mission-driven businesses and non-profit organizations, and holds a bachelor's degree in English (with a focus on creative writing) from St. Lawrence University.