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Online education (karen roach/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Online education (karen roach/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Continuing education while continuing to work a smart choice Add to ...

The question

I have spent two years working toward a bachelor’s degree at a traditional university. In my second year, I was conflicted about the benefit of my program – and was also cash strapped. I wanted to keep student loan borrowing at a minimum and would rather fund the cost through work. I have an office job now and have been working 9-5 for a couple of years. I’ve gained a clearer perspective of my career goals and would like to finish my degree.

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I want to maintain my full-time employment and study part time. Can I take courses from a non-traditional university like Athabasca and still be taken seriously in the working world?

The answer

Your question about non-traditional universities and how you will be viewed in the working world is interesting coming from someone who is already taking a non-traditional approach to university education by wanting to work full time while pursuing your degree through part-time distance education. If you were so concerned about conventionality and tradition, you would be enrolled in full-time studies at a so-called traditional university. More than likely, you would be racking up large student loans, living off your parents, worrying about the job market, and wondering if your parents and loans would pay for graduate studies if you were not able to find a job upon graduation.

It is important to recognize your initiative, appreciate that you have a job, and that you are gaining valuable work experience, and that there are flexible education methods and offerings at universities like Athabasca University, which will allow you to finish your degree while you work full time.

There are many individuals in the work place who are taking part-time or distance education courses while they continue to work full time. I suggest that you do your homework on universities like Athabasca that offer a combination of distance education and onsite intensive learning retreat experiences for degrees both at an undergraduate and graduate level.

Check out the credentials and experience of the professors and lecturers at any university. Often professors and lecturers at non-traditional and private universities have both extensive and current work experience in the field. Ask for a list of their clients and the projects that they have worked on in their field of expertise. Speak to graduates of non-traditional universities about their experience in their program and their ability to secure positions and get promotions after graduation. Ask the non-traditional university officials about the employment and job placement rates of their graduates and the ability to ladder their undergraduate degrees into advance degrees at their university and others.

Inquire about co-op placements and work experience programs at Athabasca. Consider using real experiences and projects from your current workplace as projects in your courses. This is often encouraged and supported by non-traditional universities.

Decide how you can make your experience at Athabasca the best possible one for you and your employer. Employers are looking for job-ready candidates for their positions. Most employers encourage and are looking for life-long learners who will help their companies grow and develop. Speak to your current employer or prospective employers about your studies and see if they would be willing to fund all or part of your education as well as to discuss career advancement opportunities after you have completed your degree. Indicate the benefits to your employer, such as project completion, leadership and skill enhancement, cost saving on recruitment and retention.

If you want to be taken seriously, do your homework, overcome your doubts and present yourself as a person who is serious about your career and academic advancement. Ask yourself how you can make the most of your academic experience and develop and commit to an academic plan that will allow you to broaden your focus and knowledge base as well as hone your thinking, critical analysis and presentation skills. The acquisition of these skills will allow you to succeed not only in your current position but also permit you to advance more rapidly in your chosen career path and academic pursuits in the future.

Bruce Sandy is principal of BruceSandy.com and Pathfinder Coaching & Consulting.

Do you have a question about careers, labour law or management? Send it in to our panel of experts, which includes career coaches, a recruitment expert and an employment lawyer: careerquestion@globeandmail.com. Please be advised that while The Globe and Mail may publish your submission, your name and address will be kept confidential.

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