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Mariah KashinoTackling Online Degree Programs: Finding the Right Program for You

by Mariah Kashino

Have you been thinking about going back to school? Do you think an online degree might be the best option for you, but are dubious about selecting one? Do you wonder how you will know if the school is legitimate or not? Do you feel overwhelmed by the number of programs available and wonder how you will ever find the program that is just right for you?

Help has arrived. Armed with the insider knowledge of those who have gone before you, your quest for the perfect program will be much easier and more successful. A little prior investigation into your field of choice and asking the right questions can make all the difference in selecting the best program to suit your needs.

Whatever career you are thinking about getting into, it is a good idea to spend a little time learning the ins and outs of the field. A great place to start is the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The site discusses degree requirements for employment and licensure, a general description of the variety of jobs available to those in the field, employment outlooks, average salaries, and contact information for organizations and accrediting bodies specific to that profession. It also discusses professions that allow you to do similar work by taking a different educational path. This could be highly useful if, for example, you wanted to be a psychologist, but didn't want to spend more than two years in school. Counseling may be a good alternative field if your goal is to work in mental health centers or have a private practice.

If you have access to professionals already in the field, spend some time talking with them to find out how your educational and career path is likely to
unfold. For example, if you wanted to pursue a master's degree in counseling, you would need to know that you will likely spend about two years as a full
time student taking courses and participating in a supervised internship or practicum. Once you have received your degree, you will not be eligible for
licensure in most or all states until you have completed further supervised counseling experience - usually an additional one to two years. In many cases, you can do this while working under other licensed counselors. It is important to know that your experience must be supervised, and thus, you may have some difficulty in finding someone who is willing to supervise you. This is important to know, especially if you imagined yourself setting up a private practice as soon as you received your diploma. Becoming a clinical psychologist comes with similar caveats.

It is also important to note that there are many different names for similar licensing. In counseling, for example, you can be licensed as a mental health counselor (LMHC) and licensed professional counselor (LPC). The two licenses essentially depend on which license each state awards, but have the same general educational requirements. On the other hand, a licensed marriage and family therapy counselor (LMFT) would require a different course of study. It is also extremely important that you understand the requirements for licensing in the state or states you plan to practice in. Requirements can vary widely even in terms of the number of credits. Some states may require 48, while others require 60 credits. While you may not be looking into the fields of counseling or psychology, these examples illustrate the importance of doing some serious investigating into all aspects of your field before selecting an online program. It is unlikely that any schools you contact will automatically address these issues for you.

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