(BPT) – The economic impact of COVID-19 has hit U.S. employees hard, causing millions to lose their jobs or be furloughed, while others switched to all-remote work — and still others risk their health to stay employed. The pandemic has also affected some sectors much harder than others.

Since the pandemic began, you may be re-evaluating where you are in your career or considering a higher degree. Pursuing a master’s degree involves a significant investment of time and effort, beyond the financial commitment. You have probably wondered: “Is it worth it?”

Especially in these unprecedented times, having a higher degree means you’re more likely to be able to continue to work successfully. A recent publication by the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics examined how different occupations weathered the economic downtown and pandemic, finding that occupations in more professional fields offered the most stability. Positions allowing for an easier pivot to working remotely — largely those requiring higher education — were likely to be both higher-paying and better equipped to withstand unforeseen challenges.

Boost skills and expand knowledge

For those with a bachelor’s degree who may feel stalled in their career or industry, a master’s degree may open new doors by filling in skill gaps and refreshing your knowledge about technological developments. Increasing your skill set allows you to expand the possibilities of your career by helping you gain promotion opportunities at your current company, or making you a more attractive candidate for new organizations.

Are master’s degree programs accessible now?

Fortunately, options are available for anyone seeking a professional edge. Remote learning offers the ability to work toward your degree from anywhere. The key is finding a program that fits your needs.

Here’s what to look for:

  • A fully accredited institution
    The school and/or program you apply to should be recognized by a relevant accrediting group. For example, engineering programs are often backed by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, or ABET.
  • An online program with an on-campus equivalent
    Select a school that offers its online degree program at the same caliber of its on-campus programs. For example, students of any online degree program at Arizona State University (ASU) are taught by the same world-renowned faculty as the on-ground institution, which includes pioneering researchers, Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners. Online students receive the same degree as students who study on-campus.
  • Maximum flexibility
    Online master’s degree programs often allow students to create their own study schedules. Online degree programs can help you advance in your industry or pivot toward another field without taking time away from your current job(s) or responsibilities.
  • Cutting-edge program delivery
    Online courses vary in style and scope, so you should select one that meets your needs. Are lectures offered live, or are they recorded? Will you have hands-on experiences, or are all components virtual? For example, ASU Online offers innovative virtual reality and engaging at-home lab kits for many science-based programs.

What master’s degree programs should I consider?

When planning your educational goals, consider your interests, skills, and desired career trajectory. Research programs that prepare you for advanced positions in growing industries, particularly where highly educated workers are in-demand.

Many of those industries may depend upon mastery of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills. Nationally, 80% of the fastest-growing occupations are in STEM-related industries, and national growth in STEM jobs is three times greater than non-STEM jobs. The demand isn’t currently being met, with 2.5 million jobs left unfilled today.

A master’s degree in this area can help you gain the knowledge needed to join fast-moving STEM industries. For example, ASU Online recently launched a Social Technologies master’s program that addresses the use, context and ethical implications of data science. Topics like this are particularly useful in the rapidly evolving social network landscape.

Quality online learning

ASU Online is a leader in distance learning, offering over 200 undergraduate and graduate degree programs with the same curriculum as the on-campus university. With a record 40+ new programs added to their online format in 2020, there are now more paths than ever for you to advance professionally.

Explore ASU Online graduate programs or learn more about the student experience and top-tier faculty at ASUOnline.asu.edu.

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