Angela Gray has witnessed employers’ changing perceptions of online education firsthand.
The 36-year-old Louisiana resident is the vice president of accounting at PioneerRx Pharmacy Software, where she’s also in charge of human resources. She says she sometimes encounters job candidates with degrees earned fully or partially online.
Gray is even pursuing one herself: an online master’s in finance from Pennsylvania State University—World Campus.
In the past, “you would see a degree from online and kind of toss that resume in the trash,” she says. “That’s just not what’s happening in HR these days. They are becoming widely accepted, especially from established schools.”
Gray might be onto something. Many employers accept accredited online master’s degrees in specialized business disciplines such as finance, accounting and marketing, among others, recruiters say. To them, the university’s reputation – combined with several other factors, such as a job applicant’s work experience – holds more weight than whether the candidate earned the degree online or in person.
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The MBA is an ideal option for those looking to pursue careers in general management, says Andres Rodriguez, director of client accounts at Protis Global, a staffing firm specializing in consumer goods, food and beverage, hospitality and banking.
But more-focused online business degrees may be a good choice for those who know they want to work in a particular discipline, experts say – and these degrees are growing in popularity, including online, according to recruiters.
“There are these new demands and challenges in the business landscape that an MBA is just not diving into,” Rodriguez says.
As examples of other options, Rodriguez points to online master’s degrees focusing strictly on data science, as well as interdisciplinary programs such as the online Master of Science in integrated design, business and technology offered at the University of Southern California.
Chris Vennitti, president of the professional staffing firm HireStrategy, agrees that for candidates looking for a career in a defined field within business, a specialized online program can be “a great way to go.”
“It’s very widely accepted now, even commonplace, with employers,” he says.
Nearly a decade ago, getting a degree from an online program would potentially signal to employers that a job candidate didn’t take his or her education seriously, Vennitti says. That’s completely changed, he says, as employers today view online degrees as legitimate ways to further a career while continuing to work full time.
[Learn three facts about working while getting an online degree.]
“Often, I don’t feel the need to differentiate, because ultimately, the online program is often very similar to what would happen if they were to show up and go to the particular university,” says Rebecca Dappen, managing partner at the Lucas Group executive search firm who focuses on accounting and finance.
In fact, most applicants don’t specify on their resumes whether a business master’s was earned online, and that’s generally acceptable – though recruiters or hiring managers may ask.
Jessica Chesher, an online master’s in accounting graduate from the Syracuse University Whitman School of Management, initially enrolled in an online MBA program. But she soon discovered her passion for accounting after taking a course in the subject and switched to the Master of Science in the field.
When applying for accounting jobs, Chesher didn’t specify on her resume that her degree was completed online given that the program’s curriculum and faculty are overall the same. Ultimately, she landed three accounting job offers, she says.
The online format “was actually really helpful, because I ended up moving to California before I completed my degree,” says Chesher, 29.
Experts say job candidates should research whether an online business master’s will help them land the job they want or if they would be better off with an MBA. Certain jobs may require or prefer an MBA. Dappen also says she sees more students who attain dual MBA degrees to stand out to employers further – though that could be a bigger investment of money and time.
Gray, the Penn State—World Campus student, says she felt that a master’s in finance would be more useful to her career than an MBA as she transitioned into a vice president of accounting role.
When it comes to online degrees in general, “You’re still going to have some of them that are kind of looked at funny and frowned upon,” she says. “But it’s not the automatic strike that it used to be.”