Popular Distance Learning Majors

Popular Distance Learning MajorsOnline distance learning has overtaken the traditional campus-located school as the source for higher education in the twenty-first century. The trend towards computer-based instruction shows no signs of slowing down.

Students from around the world access online programs and obtain university degrees without ever setting foot in a classroom.

  • But what degree programs do distance learners prefer?
  • Does the degree preference reflect increased workforce demand for graduates in a particular field? Are some online universities "selling" degree programs that have limited value for employment?
  • The enormous variety of distance learning majors makes these questions difficult to answer. Certainly, some degrees never go out of style.
  • Accountants and engineers have work to do under all economic circumstances. Customized programs that produce graduates with highly specialized knowledge for a particular career have limited job prospects.
  • Employment in specialized careers, though sometimes hard to find, usually pays quite well.

So what degrees are distance learners selecting for a career? Technology degrees of every description are among the favorites due to the proliferation of computers, cell phones, copy machines, satellite broadcasts, video games, and the huge array of digital devices that are common consumer products. The teaching profession finds plenty of online resources to acquire or upgrade education degrees. And, of course, business degrees from marketing to management remain near the top of the list as distance learning preferences. Interest, ambition, and motivation influence which online degree program someone decides to follow. Listed here, in alphabetical order, are departmental categories and the corresponding degree majors that are attractive distance learning options.


One of the top majors for undergraduates who have specific career objectives in mind, accounting is a very successfully adapted distance learning degree program. Depending on the distance learning protocol, accounting graduates receive a Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Arts, or Bachelor of Business Administration degree. Coursework includes up to 60 credit hours of core accounting classes.A mixture of accounting and business studies is recommended. Accounting is about numbers, so math courses are involved.

Subject courses for accounting include:

  • General accounting
  • Cost accounting
  • Financial accounting and reporting
  • Tax accounting and auditing
  • Business law
  • Accounting information systems

Specialties include international, government, and non- profit organization accounting. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) determines the qualifications for a degree program to prepare graduates to become licensed professional accountants. With additional course study and preparation, some accounting majors go on to take the exam to become a certified public accountant (CPA). Accountants are licensed when engaged in private practice, though many companies hire accounting graduates to work in the financial sector. Business operations that handle budgets, payroll, cost accounting, loss prevention, and other money matters often employ accountants to do the job. There is another, less conventional career track for accounting majors. Accounting is one of the degrees favored by the FBI when recruiting agents.

Arts and Architecture

To appreciate beauty, to possess an understanding of form and symmetry, and to be able to express these ideas with skill and talent compel artistically motivated people to art and architecture degree majors.

  • Architecture is art and construction technology combined, so an architect needs to know about building structure as well as attractive design.
  • Buildings are architecturally sound when safety, utility, and cost effectiveness are integrated into the plan.
  • Creativity and originality are the career-defining qualities of a successful architect, but a large part of that success is due to organizational skill and attention to detail.

The core requirements for an architecture degree typically incorporate a strong math component comprising courses in trigonometry and calculus, in conjunction with courses on drafting and blueprints.

  • Upon graduation, holders of an architecture degree must obtain a license before performing architectural services.
  • The licensing procedure commences with a degree from a National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB)-approved program and is followed by internship work or real-world training experience.
  • An architect license is then issued after passing all sections of the Architectural Registration Examination (ARE).
  • The license must be periodically upgraded through extended education, which is most effectively rendered through distance learning.

The "arts" degrees represent a diverse curriculum that can include almost any creative subject. Degree types range from music to graphic design. Some baccalaureates include degrees in music business, music production, and music history. Degrees in visual arts are abundant, including BAs in graphic design, fashion, animation, and fine arts. Distance learning programs for arts degrees are the most diverse in terms of selection.


Of all online distance learning degrees, business is by far the program leader. People who pursue online business degrees typically know what they want from a distance learning program and tend to be career oriented.

  • An online business degree is frequently sought by people who are already employed in a job they prefer but who are trying to advance within a company or industry.
  • The competitive spirit among employees in a corporate environment stimulates a desire for promotion and favorable recognition. Many companies encourage workers to pursue higher levels of education as a career objective, and those same companies often subsidize that education in order to retain quality staff.
  • The diverse nature of international trade and commerce in a global economy means that business education systems multiply to accommodate changing employment criteria.
  • The inventory of specialized business online degree programs is too numerous to list here, but examples include advertising, business administration, economics, management, marketing, finance, and human resources. Due to the volume of online programs, the course requirements for a business degree vary.
  • A comprehensive curriculum should have 60 hours of business-related courses that may involve accounting, economics, and statistics. People who go for a distance learning program favor business management, marketing, and administration degrees.

Criminal Justice

Television shows about police investigations and law enforcement have generated new interest in online distance learning criminal justice degrees. Graduates with a criminal justice diplomas typically go on to become law enforcement officers or seek jobs within the legal system. A criminal justice degree is the logical preparation for a law degree (keeping in mind that grades count when applying to law school). Criminal justice degrees are classified as either Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science, depending on the distance learning program and the degree major.

Staying within the trend of expanding degree specialization, areas of course study within a criminal justice program include forensics, investigation, juvenile justice, criminal behavior, corrections, investigations, paralegal, and public safety, along with many other options. Corresponding programs award degrees for criminal justice system management and administration. Courses in deviant behavior or similar credits in psychology or sociology supplement a criminal justice degree and expand career potential within the field. Internships with law enforcement agencies or court systems provide real-world experience in criminal justice. Self-defense classes conducted at a satellite facility may be incorporated in a distance learning program. For police officers eligible for promotion to detective or comparable rank, a four-year criminal justice degree is essential. (Even with a criminal justice degree, police recruits must pass through a training academy before joining the force. This is not a distance learning option.)

Consider several factors before choosing law enforcement as a career. All law enforcement agencies conduct some form of psychological assessment of recruits before admitting them into further training. Drug tests are also used to screen new recruits. If someone doubts the outcome of a background check or worries about personal information, then a criminal justice degree should be applied to another career besides law enforcement.


All aspects of the teaching profession—and there are many—are covered by a multitude of education degrees. Education is one of those careers that takes regular upgrades to stay current with revised or innovative teaching methods. Every state, county, and local government in the U.S. exercises control over public education. The quality of student performance is monitored by school boards and parent groups, which reflects on the performance of teachers. Lifelong study drives an educator's career, which makes distance learning a valuable tool for gaining knowledge efficiently and conveniently.

  • Education degrees vary considerably from other degree programs with regard to core requirements, and should be accompanied by a certification process.
  • Major degree programs in education include early childhood education, K-12 education, curriculum design, education technology, physical education, adult education, special education and speech therapy, and education administration. (This is an incomplete list owing to the vast resources available online for this program.)

Core subjects focus on instructional methods in a classroom setting. The immediate destination for an education graduate is classroom experience as a student teacher. From there, progressive levels of certification build a teacher's career and contribute to job security and better pay. A steady accumulation of certifications using distance learning sources gives a teacher professional mobility within a school system.


Engineers, as the saying goes, make dreams come true. An engineer's career is devoted to putting ideas into practice by figuring out ways to make form and function work together. The main categories of engineering are mechanical, electrical, civil, and chemical. The degree award is either a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Engineering. Each of these categories has its own specific degree concentrations, with particular emphasis on calculus and other higher math courses, and, as indicated by the major, requisite courses in chemistry or physics. Students intending to earn a specific type of engineering degree can start with an associate’s degree in general engineering and then transfer the credits to a four-year distance learning program.

Here's what to expect for the four main categories of engineering degree:

  • Mechanical - A Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (BS in ME) follows an intensive study of hydraulics, pneumatics, mechanical functions, materials, thermodynamics, statics, heat transfer, and projects and experiments to gain practical knowledge to bring theoretical ideas into actuality. Computer-aided engineering (CAE) and computer-aided design (CAD) software instruction is also part of the core curriculum. Mechanical engineers work with industries that use or build machines of every kind.
  • Chemical - This type of engineering is the most versatile type of degree, as chemical engineers cross over to other engineering fields. The coursework is similar to that of a mechanical engineering degree, except with an emphasis on chemistry. Chemical engineers work in food production, drug manufacturing, cosmetics, waste disposal, and any field that involves chemicals.
  • Civil - The structural design of bridges, roads, interstates, waterways, tunnels, and public works projects of all sorts is conducted by civil engineers. Safety is a major concern for civil engineers, who typically take on government projects. As with mechanical engineering, a civil engineering degree is math intensive and based on studies of materials, stress analysis, and other factors that affect buildings and structures. Online distance learning civil engineering programs are plentiful.
  • Electrical - The criteria for an electrical engineering degree are close to those for a civil engineering degree, though the curriculum varies according to the online distance learning program. All degree programs will require coursework in electricity (physics), electromagnetism, and electronics.

Engineering degree subcategories include aeronautical, biomedical, environmental, industrial, software and computer, and materials science.


A classic liberal arts major, the English degree is unfairly dismissed as a decorative, impractical accomplishment. Not so—an English degree serves as an excellent platform for a variety of career choices, even if an English major has no specific career objective in mind. English grads find work as teachers, sales and marketing executives, and public relations experts, and excel in other fields where writing and communication skills are valued. Careers directly affiliated with an English degree include technical writer, editor, and advertising copywriter.

The explosive growth of Web sites of all descriptions has created a demand for informative, entertaining, and well-composed content. People with English degrees have found new career opportunities as content writers for online publications. (Like this one!) Aside from literary purposes, an English degree is a good basis for postgraduate degrees in other arts departments (and law) because of the writing skills and language comprehension derived from the coursework. Major concentrations in grammar, literature, creative writing, and composition constitute the core subjects for an English degree, which is a Bachelor of Arts. Within a four-year degree standard, 54 to 60 credit hours in English core subjects and electives are required for the major. A minor in journalism is a good complement to an English degree.



The objective of all enterprise is to make a profit and to limit expenses. Financial managers decide how to spend and invest company assets to grow the business and to plan for fiscal stability. Graduates with a degree in finance are sought after by banks, investment firms, stock brokerages, loan companies, and any institution that manages money. Accountants deal with expenditures and taxes, and generally ensure that the records of business transactions are in order. Financial managers find creative ways for money to make more money with limited risks to capital. To get the best of both careers, a combination accounting and finance degree opens a wide range of executive possibilities in any business.

Successful financial managers have a variety of skills and talents. Creativity and analytical skills prove useful to financial consultants who operate independently to solve problems for businesses that need help boosting assets or managing capital. A degree in finance is a baccalaureate in either arts or business, depending on the distance learning program. As a business degree, finance is often joined with insurance, accounting, or marketing to qualify graduates for more professional opportunities. For core curriculum, finance majors should expect courses in statistics, economics, accounting, math, and other business-related subjects. Insurance and brokerage positions require certifications before making trades or writing contracts.

Health Care

The number-one fastest-growing employment source in America, health care has as many job descriptions as there are positions to fill them. Under the health-care designation, there are distance learning bachelor’s degrees spanning alternative medicine to veterinary technologist. In addition to health-care fields that pertain directly to patients, such as dietitian or radiology technician, there are online degree programs for hospital administration, nursing home management, clinical services representative, and medical office management. Medical technology is another health- care sector with four-year online programs. Medical technology embraces all of the tools of the medical profession, from surgery to diagnostics, and involves the technical knowledge and operation of all the high-tech instruments of modern medicine. (With online medical technology degrees, internships at hospitals, labs, or clinics completes the education for a technologist.) Although hands-on nursing training cannot be obtained by way of distance learning, four-year degrees associated with nursing are available online. Registered nurses can opt for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or any number of nursing administration or management degrees.

All four-year health-care degrees are classified as Bachelor of Science. Studies include core courses in anatomy, biology, chemistry, medical ethics, and medical terminology. Hospital administrative and management degrees will include courses relevant to a business degree.

IT and Computer Science

Distance learning, information technology (IT), and computer science form a mutually beneficial relationship. As jobs emerged from the information technology surge, vocational training and higher education related to this field became indispensable. The pace of innovation in both computer science and information technology is rapid and irresistible, which forces degree holders in these careers to stay ahead of new developments. Due to the complex and multidimensional character of both computer science and IT, specialization is necessary to address a multitude of technical issues. The broad subject of computer science addresses the basic concepts and functions of hardware, software, and applications. A degree in computer science is the platform for continued expertise in a career that changes almost day to day. The advantage of a "customized" degree program is most significant in the IT/computer technology department.

Once computers became part of daily life in banks, hospitals, department stores, and every other commercial venture, degrees that prepare workers for each important computer task came into existence. Four-year degrees that concentrate on computer security, databases, networking, and programming expanded computer science into more precise definitions. Networking involves information technology programs such as telecommunications and information science, systems, and technology. Online distance learning coursework is especially well conceived and executed for IT and computer science degrees. The subjects and courses were developed within the information technology and computer program framework. Degree programs vary with regard to core curriculum, but just about every program figures math and statistics into the course matrix. Computer science and information technology graduates receive a Bachelor of Science degree.

Law and Paralegal

Many of the degrees associated with the legal profession were discussed in the previous section on criminal justice. Paralegals are professionals who work closely with lawyers doing research, managing case files, and preparing documents. Interest in the law, organizational skills, and analytical ability are important qualities for someone considering an online distance learning program for a paralegal degree. Paralegals can work in the type of law they prefer, which includes corporate, criminal, labor, international, tax, and real estate. Although paralegals know much about the law, they cannot give legal advice or represent clients. Working as a paralegal is a vocation that requires at least an associate’s degree level of education. A high percentage of paralegals continue on to law school. The paralegal field is also referred to as legal services.

A four-year program for a paralegal degree is built around a cornerstone of liberal arts and humanities courses. A paralegal degree program includes courses in common law, family law, torts, contracts, legal philosophy and ethics, criminal law and procedure, real estate transactions, and legal counseling. Advanced courses include legal research and writing, wills and trusts, and the legal basics of corporations and partnerships, bankruptcy, constitutional law, and civil litigation. Paralegal degree candidates may also participate in an internship program. Online paralegal programs must be accredited by the American Bar Association to issue a valid degree.


A manager organizes and leads employees to accomplish company objectives. Another term used for someone in a business leadership role is supervisor, but a genuine manager ensures that a workforce performs at maximum productivity and efficiency according to company guidelines. Managers know methods to reach goals, troubleshoot and overcome problems, motivate employees, and resolve conflicts within their departments.

  • An ideal candidate for a management degree is a communicator, problem solver, negotiator, organizer, and mediator.
  • Management is a long-established business degree program that never goes out of date.
  • Distance learning programs are especially attractive to anyone who is already employed and is motivated to progress in an established career.

A baccalaureate in management and leadership plugs into any type of business. Combined with accounting, finance, marketing, or sales courses, a management degree program prepares graduates as sales managers, financial managers, marketing managers, and so forth. A management curriculum follows studies in economics, accounting, business communication, business analysis, operations management, marketing, or numerous combinations of business-related studies. Most management degree programs also recommend courses in psychology or sociology, perhaps as electives. Distance learning programs offer a four-year degree in management as either a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Business Administration.


When promotions to higher positions become less likely as businesses downsize to increase profitability, ambitious executives know that continuous education supplies the foothold for moving up the corporate ladder. To reach the upper echelons of big business, holding a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree is regarded as standard equipment. MBA recipients are prepared to manage entire company operations beyond the departmental level. The MBA executive steers the future course of a business while making day-to-day management decisions. The pay scale for successful MBA graduates can be very high, with the potential to reach astronomical salaries.

The prerequisites for an MBA are generally the same as for most postgraduate degrees. Candidates for an MBA expect to submit GRE or GMAT scores when applying to a distance learning graduate program. A cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better for a corresponding baccalaureate, or a 3.5 GPA for the degree major, is typically mandated for admission into a master's program. Letters of recommendation, if not required, are helpful to acceptance into graduate school. Studies conducted for an MBA degree are similar to those for the undergraduate business major, except a more intensive assignment of coursework is given for finance, workforce management, economics, and operational theory and practice. Business owners who are expanding or franchising their companies find an MBA particularly useful. Again, specialization plays a big role in procuring an MBA degree. A large business facility of any kind, whether part of a bigger corporation or not, might require the services of several MBA professionals. A public relations department that serves a chain of department stores provides enough career opportunity for an MBA recipient and then some.


The nursing profession was discussed in some detail in the section that covered degrees in health care. Education to become a registered nurse involves real-life training that is currently beyond the capacity of online distance learning to provide. The phases of a nursing career beyond the care and treatment of patients move up to the bachelor’s degree level and higher. The conventional education route for an advanced nursing degree is to procure a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), which can be earned through a distance learning program. A BSN prepares a nurse for a variety of career options, including administrative or management positions. A BSN curriculum expands professional knowledge into areas of leadership, patient assessment, and education. An associate's degree in nursing or a hospital diploma in nursing is required for admission into a BSN degree program.

Specialties in nursing span all the categories of health care and medical practice. BSN recipients have practical nursing experience that backs up the management and administrative knowledge that come with degree studies. Core courses necessary for a BSN degree are familiar bachelor’s-level subjects like writing and composition, a foreign language, and history, with the major courses beginning in the junior year. Graduates with BA or BS in another discipline and with the requisite core credits are eligible to enter a BSN program. Upper-division courses include health and physical assessment, nursing research, advanced anatomy and physiology, and public health-care administration. A BSN degree prepares a nurse to move beyond direct patient care into a broader health-care career.


A psychology degree at the bachelor’s level is the point of departure into a number of career destinations. One of the more popular majors at traditional campus-oriented colleges and universities, psychology is also very compatible with distance learning programs. For anyone interested in human behavior, from mental health to psychometric testing, psychology is a fascinating field to study. Bachelor’s degree candidates learn the fundamental theories and attributes supporting the main branches of psychology. At the undergraduate level, studies of abnormal behavior, social psychology, and the concepts behind historical developments in the field (Freudian, Gestalt, etc.) take up most of the core subjects. Courses in statistics are included in a psychology curriculum.

Psychology is usually a Bachelor of Arts major. A four-year degree is not sufficient to make a mental health diagnosis or treat mental illness. A psychology graduate with a baccalaureate does have career potential in the business world. Industrial/organizational psychology involves statistical evaluations of workplace programs, conducting screening tests for job applicants, conflict resolution, counseling employees on career issues, and advising management on employee relations. Advertising agencies hire psychologists to analyze consumer behavior and to measure consumers’ reactions to products and services. Political psychology, an interdisciplinary field joined with political science, examines the motives, attitudes, and behaviors of voters and political entities. A psychology degree holder sometimes engages in statistical research for other psychologists. Because psychology is such an intriguing discipline, a four-year degree often doesn't satisfy the graduate. Psychology majors tend to seek higher degrees, such as a Doctorate in Psychology (Pys.D.).

Real Estate

A bachelor's degree in real estate has become a popular distance learning option. Commercial, farm, and residential property transactions take place everywhere, which allows real estate agents the mobility to move wherever the market performs best. A realtor is motivated by a spirit of entrepreneurship and independence when doing business, for real estate is largely a sales career and most agents are self-employed. Knowledge of what the client or prospect wants is critical to success in the real estate business because property is a big investment and a realtor's income depends on commissions. Although a bachelor's degree is not essential to becoming a licensed realtor, a four-year real estate degree furnishes important knowledge about contracts, realty laws, property values, transfers, and mortgages. With some experience in the market, a graduate with a degree in real estate has the education to become a real estate broker.

Studies for a real estate degree resemble courses for a business administration program. Property management, appraisal techniques, brokerage, sales, and financial courses are central to professional performance as a licensed realtor. Besides sales, someone with a real estate degree is a preferred choice as a property manager or for work in mortgage lending. Property appraisers, also frequently self-employed, and construction contractors enlarge their careers with a real estate degree. All 50 states require real estate brokers, agents, and appraisers to be licensed by the state where they do business. Licenses are issued after successful completion of an exam.



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