Woman working on her second bachelor's degree online

Weigh Earning a Second Bachelor's Degree Online

Deciding what type of online degree or certificate is best for a potential career shift can be challenging.

Online education offers a flexible and convenient learning approach for working adults, but there's still the question of whether to pursue a second bachelor's degree online or a more advanced online credential.

Here are three cases when a second undergraduate degree may make the most sense.

1. You are entering a new field.

Many online students plan to switch careers. If you don't have the required background or formal education in your area of interest - especially a medical or technical field - you will likely need a second bachelor's to make the switch. Doing this online will allow you to further your education while still working full time.

Check job search sites or call recruiters to learn the extent to which a bachelor's degree in a particular field is required.

2. You want to keep costs to a minimum.

Most returning students pursue their next credential online to increase their earning power or prospects of being hired.

If you have earned a bachelor's degree already, you'll likely have half of your second bachelor's degree completed before you even start the online program; most schools will accept a significant number of transfer credits from your first bachelor's degree. You also won't need to pay for room and board.

The number of transfer credits you are eligible for will vary by institution, so shop for the biggest bang for your buck.

3. You want to fast-track to your new career.

Are you hoping to start your new career sooner rather than later? While a master's degree program may be appealing, most of those programs require coursework or prior experience in a related field before you can start. Some may waive those requirements if you complete prerequisite courses, adding both to the time and cost of completion.

Most master's programs - including online degrees - require a major research project, like a capstone or thesis, and many operate in cohorts, where you complete courses alongside a set group of students each term at a predetermined pace.

Because online master's programs frequently offer fewer courses - both in number and variety - than online bachelor's programs, if you have to step out of your online master's for any reason, it may be difficult to jump back in at a convenient time. In contrast, the online bachelor's usually allows for a more flexible pathway to completion.

In contrast, here are two cases when seeking a more advanced credential, like an online master's degree, may make more sense than a second bachelor's.

1. You need federal financial aid.

If you need student aid to pursue a second bachelor's degree, and you have already hit your lifetime limit for borrowing for a bachelor's, you won't be eligible for a federal Stafford loan. If you pursue an online master's instead, your lifetime limits essentially start over.

2. Pursuing your dream job requires an advanced degree.

If ultimately you are going to need an advanced degree, and you meet the admissions requirements of an online graduate program in your field, you may as well consider jumping in.

The Takeaway

When considering a career change, it's important to weigh several factors before deciding whether to pursue a second degree at the undergraduate level or a different graduate credential online. Consider your goals and financial situation to make an informed decision.

This piece was originally published in U.S. News & World Report's "Online Learning Lessons" column.