Will an online master's hinder my ability to get a job?
April 1, 2010 7:24 AM   Subscribe

I am considering an online Master's degree in Counseling, and I'd like to hear from people who work in HR, people who have graduate degrees from online universities, and mental health professionals as to how such a degree is perceived in the workplace.

Background: I have a BA in Psychology from a brick-and-mortar college, and worked in the field for several years before I got to the point where I couldn't make ends meet on the meager salary that a BA in psych gets you in the mental health field. Currently I've temped for about 18 months, and I want to go back to school. I want my Master's in Counseling, but I want/need to keep working at the same time, so I need a part-time program with evening/weekend classes. Once I get to the internship/residency stage, I'll stop temping, but for right now I need this job.

The program I'm considering is CACREP-accredited, accepted by the licensure board in my state (IL), and as far as I can tell, it's identical to programs offered by brick-and-mortar colleges in my area. The classes are online, but practica, internships, and residency are in the community. I am a highly motivated self-starter and an excellent student, so I feel well-suited to online learning.

The problem, though, is that I'm worried about how my degree will be viewed when I try to get a job. Even though my program is accredited and I have independently verified that it meets licensure requirements, I don't want my resume tossed out because I didn't go to a brick-and-mortar school. So I'd like to hear from HR people--what do you think of people who have graduate degrees from online universities? People who have gotten online graduate degrees--did you have a hard time getting a job? Did you have to defend the validity of your degree? And finally, other mental health professionals--how are online programs viewed? Does the school I went to matter, or is it enough that my program was accredited and I have my license?

Thanks! Oh, and the school, FYI, is Capella, and I have read the similar questions but none answered all my questions. Also, feel free to suggest other online-only options that may be more reputable.
posted by catwoman429 to Education (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I can't answer your question, strictly speaking, but I wouldn't advise a for-profit program.

My partner has been taking classes through Capella, and at times (most notably his very first class) it's been ridiculously frustrating. I work in administration at a large university, so when I tried to look for some resources to help him deal with a terrible professor it quickly became clear that they spent a lot of money/time attracting students and not a lot of money dealing with current students. They have a third-party customer support company that provides an adviser, but that person isn't directly connected. Finding a dean or working through traditional channels like you would at a regular school proved nearly impossible.

Plus (this sounds ridiculous, but I think it's kind of emblematic) they send a lot of crappy gifts through the mail -- a book light, a portable mini-mouse, a clock. Which we don't need and got stuck in our mailbox. If he's paying money for support in his education, what does it say that they're spending it on this kind of cheap crap?

There are plenty of brick-and-mortar universities out there that offer online programs. It might take a little digging, but you should definitely look into that kind of thing before going for a for-profit program. Just with some cursory Googling, it looks like Bellevue University has a master's in counseling online, and they're non-profit. UMass Online also has one, and that's a nice, well-known name.
posted by Madamina at 7:52 AM on April 1, 2010

AFAIK online degrees in human services are viewed warily because generally a clinical practicum is a huge part of said degrees. If you want to do human service work but your program content was all online (no internship, no skills practicing IRL) it looks bad. There may be more flexible, clincally sound programs in your area that might be at least partially online or distance-learning with an internship/practicum component. Good luck + caveat emptor.
posted by ShadePlant at 8:47 AM on April 1, 2010

Addendum: It's good your program has a community integration aspect but I would still proceed with caution in light of Madamina's partner's experience. I work full-time and was able to complete my MSW because all our classes are at night... Maybe you can find an accomodating IRL learning experience.
posted by ShadePlant at 8:56 AM on April 1, 2010

While I'm not in your specific field and I'm not HR, I have reviewed resumes before, and to be honest I always view it negatively when someone has an online degree. To me it says "wasn't able to get in to a real school where they actually have requirements and a chance you won't make the cut."

That may sound harsh, but the reality is these for-profit schools let just about anybody in and really don't do a good job of making you stand out academically.
posted by Elminster24 at 9:03 AM on April 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

My experience as a MH professional (in a group private practice setting) is that potential clients scrutinize therapists down to the last detail. I think this is a great way for clients to understand more about whether I might be the right fit for them/their family, but I also went to a state school for my grad program, and while some people are aware of its strong concentration in the sciences and look upon it positively, some others see it as a not-that-great commuter school that has a lot of cows on campus. This certainly DOES affect the way potential clients see me and my abilities as a therapist (even if it isn't accurate). [Also, side note: my program was daytime for the most part, but only 2 days a week, so I worked the 3 other days. Other people had kids to take care of, and they made it work by taking a 3- or 4-year track instead of the standard 2.]

Secondly, the practicum component, and the supervision that goes along with it, are HUGE HUGE HUGEly important parts of your education in counseling. If your academic program doesn't provide an extra component of face-to-face supervision during your practicum (I mean in addition to the supervision you'll have to get at your practicum site), you are going to miss out on a lot of important skills.

Third, I just wanted to encourage you not to expect to strike it rich with a master's-level education in psychology, either. It's not impossible, but then there's also a lot of competition for jobs (particularly these days, when state/federal funding for mental health programming is low low low), and you don't want to handicap yourself in any way in that situation.
posted by so_gracefully at 10:40 AM on April 1, 2010

I got my master's in library science online through Drexel University. While I was getting my degree online I also worked at the library as a paraprofessional.

I chose an online degree because the schools in Michigan that have Library/Information Science programs are on the other side of the state.

So looking at my resume and disregarding it because of an assumption that I "couldn't get into" a better school would be sad. I didn't even apply to any brick and mortar schools; they were all too far away.

At least in this field, in this area, online degrees are well accepted. I got a librarian position not too long after graduating.
posted by morganannie at 10:51 AM on April 1, 2010

Do you have an exceptionally convincing reason to complete an online program as opposed to attend a brick-and-morter school? As in, are you currently in Kabul? As a client I would question your commitment to the profession as demonstrated by a decision not to take out loans – like most master's students – that could have covered both educational and living expenses for a couple of years and allowed you to devote yourself to your studies full-time.

Unless you are an international student, that option should be available to you.
posted by halogen at 10:56 AM on April 1, 2010

I would strongly discourage you from an on-line Master's Degree is you have any serious hopes or expectations of holding what might be considered "preferred positions" in the future--clinical supervisor, private therapist/counselor, therapist/counselor with prestigious/well regarded non profit, success in an academic institution, etc. If you seriously believe you will be content with a position in courts/correction, child welfare, general welfare, employment related services you might well be satisfied. I would echo much of what so-gracefully said--especially, do not expect much from any Masters Degree in psychology, counseling, etc. unless it is an MSW. The MSW usually has national credibility because of the standardized and relatively high accreditation standards required of the offering schools.
posted by rmhsinc at 11:01 AM on April 1, 2010

Response by poster: Halogen, it is simply not feasible for me to go fulltime at this time. There are plenty of committed individuals who go to school part time to obtain graduate degrees because they have other obligations that make it impossible for them to quit their jobs and live off loans.

I also intend to go into community mental health, probably working for one of the large mental health agencies that offer a variety of services to underserved populations, or working in an inpatient state hospital. I've worked as a case manager for nonprofit agencies before, and I really enjoyed it. I don't expect to go into private practice. I also don't expect to make very much money; it's just that with a bachelor's, I was finding jobs with long hours, heavy caseloads, and $25K or less per year. A Master's will at least afford me enough income to make ends meet, which makes long hours and heavy caseloads a bit more tolerable.

I really appreciate everyone's responses. I think at this point I'm leaning towards online programs at established brick-and-mortar schools, rather than a program from an online-only school. The risk of not being able to use my degree is too great.
posted by catwoman429 at 11:22 AM on April 1, 2010

Catwoman429--Since you are interested in CMHCs there may be some real opportunities for you. As you will see from my profile this is a field in which I have a professional and deep personal commitment. Take the time to visit, call, write or email (preferably visit or call) the CMHC HR departments in your area and get some direct feedback. Wishing you the best in your pursuits.
posted by rmhsinc at 11:31 AM on April 1, 2010

Having been in a similar position, all I can offer is my experience. I worked for a CMHC and knew a lot of people who chose many different grad school routes. In my research, I decided against going for an online degree for many of the reasons mentioned above. People recommended me to several semi-local universities that had combo online and brick-and-mortar classes. I know one person whose program only met on Saturdays, for example. Remember, it's really, really easy to get a masters in counseling. My whole working life I've had coworkers with masters in counseling who were doing the work and getting the pay of people with BA's. The tricky part is practicum and licensure and then finding a job. Good luck. I hope you find the right path for you.
posted by threeturtles at 1:15 PM on April 1, 2010

Shameless social work lobby: You can do counseling (and lots of other awesome stuff!) with an MSW and eventual social work licensure! If you're in IL and close to Chicago Loyola Chicago has one of two clinical social work programs in the Midwest.
posted by ShadePlant at 1:28 PM on April 1, 2010

« Older What is the best website to conduct a fast...   |   Help me find short-sleeve shirts that are... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.