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5 degrees you didn't know you could earn online

laptop with books and diploma

It's not surprising that majors like English, business and psychology can oftentimes be completed without setting foot in a physical classroom, but online degree programs are also available for majors that require hands-on experience. By mixing online learning with experiential components students do in their own communities, these programs provide both an academic and practical education to students across the country. Here are five degrees that, perhaps surprisingly, can be completed online.

Law

Only offered through William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn., this is the first American Bar Association-accredited law program that blends both online and classroom learning. Starting in January of 2015, students enrolled in the program will spend 11 to 12 weeks taking online courses and then head to William Mitchell's campus for one week of intensive learning.

"You don't have to uproot your life and move to St. Paul," says Mehmet Konar-Steenberg, William Mitchell's associate dean for faculty. "All you need to be able to do is get to Minneapolis-St. Paul for about a week every semester."

Across all degree programs, networking plays a crucial role in help graduates land jobs. To help students make professional connections in their areas, William Mitchell enrollees will be required to arrange two externships with law offices.

Biotechnology

Designed for students who already hold a bachelor's degree in engineering or a life science, these programs are most often available as a master's degree, and they may or may not require students to complete lab courses on campus or at a nearby college.

For example, in Johns Hopkins University's Biotechnology program, lab courses aren't absolutely required, but should students want the experience, they can take a condensed lab course that substantially reduces time spent on campus.

"We have design lab classes that can be completed in a week or, for some classes, three weeks," says Dr. Kristina Obom, director of the Center for Biotechnology Education at Johns Hopkins. "... If [students] really want to come take lab classes with us, we change the format so that they can take a lab class."

Regardless of your major, students in any online degree program should also research how much their school might help them find a job after moving the tassel. Obom says that in addition to having a biotechnology student group wherein on-campus and online enrollees can swap career information, Hopkins also offers Web-based resume writing workshops.

Forensics

Analyze the evidence, solve the crime and do it all without leaving your living room — sort of. Available in an online format at several institutions, this bachelor's degree program generally comes in three varieties: forensic psychology, digital forensics or investigative forensics.

To build problem-solving skills, schools like the University of Maryland University College provide online exercises that focus on actual problems students may encounter at a crime scene.

"We have virtual labs that examine firearms, hairs and fibers, impression evidence such as fingerprints, DNA, blood stain patterns, ink and controlled dangerous substances, aka drugs," says Susan Blankenship, a full-time faculty member in UMUC's investigative forensics program, which offers both digital and scientific forensics specializations.

To provide students with the practical experience they'll need to work in crime investigation, law enforcement, firearms or fingerprint analysis, UMUC also requires those concentrating in scientific forensics to complete an internship or cooperative learning experience in a lab or crime scene investigation unit in their area.

Environmental Sustainability

While some graduates may need lab experience to move into environmental science jobs, others aiming for gigs in data management, geographic information systems or environmental policy may not need a hardcore science background, says Jonathan Tomkin, associate director of the School of Earth, Society and Environment at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. That's why U of I's online Environmental Sustainability bachelors program offers two concentrations — one for students focusing on natural science and one for those who aren't — and is only available to students who have already completed some college courses. To make it into this transfer program, students generally take anywhere from 45 to 60 credits of coursework either online or in person at U of I or a different institution, then complete their last two years taking online classes.

"It's very, very broad what students do with the degree," Tomkin says. U of I's environmental sustainability majors often find work with government environmental protection agencies, wetlands restoration groups, sustainable farming organizations, environmental consulting companies and education organizations.

Medical Laboratory Technology

Online medical lab technology and technician degrees are offered at a variety of both brick-and-mortar and online-only institutions. Requirements for this degree vary significantly between institutions, but many programs require a mix of hematology, immunology and microbiology courses. The strong lab requirements mean that some institutions only offer this degree as a transfer program, though some do offer it entirely online, and many schools require students to complete clinical experiences at a medical facility in their community.

However, schools sometimes have systems in place to make the process more efficient. The University of Cincinnati's online Medical Laboratory Science transfer bachelor's degree program, for instance, often allows clinical rotations to be done through students' workplaces, if they're already in the field. As such, students with on-the-job experience can potentially skip or shorten the required clinical experience.

Sources:

Biotechnology, Krieger School of Arts & Sciences Advanced Academic Programs, Johns Hopkins University,
http://advanced.jhu.edu/academics/graduate-degree-programs/biotechnology/

Online Bachelor of Science Degree in Medical Laboratory Science, University of Cincinnati,
http://medlabscience.uc.edu/

Online Degree in Environmental Sustainability, School of Earth, Society, and Environment, University of Illinois,
http://www.earth.illinois.edu/sustain/

Major in Investigative Forensics, University of Maryland University College,
http://www.umuc.edu/academic-programs/bachelors-degrees/investigative-forensics-major.cfm

"ABA approves variance allowing William Mitchell to offer 'hybrid' on-campus/online J.D. program," William Mitchell College of Law, Dec. 17, 2013,
http://web.wmitchell.edu/news/2013/12/william-mitchell-to-offer-first-aba-accredited-hybrid-on-campusonline-j-d-program/