Public sector careers you can study for online

If you are looking for a career in the public sector, you may be surprised to hear that there are several career paths you can pursue through remote study, often gaining a degree or other advanced qualification through studying mainly, or even entirely, online. Online study has become a popular option for many people, and can be particularly useful for career changers, who may want to continue working in their current field while studying for qualifications in a new one.

Why is online study great for career changers?

Not everyone knows what they want to do when they leave high school, which means many of us end up in a career that is fine, but that doesn’t exactly feel like our true calling. As we get older, our priorities shift, and we may become more interested in having a career that we are passionate about, or one where we really feel we are contributing fully to our community, or to society in general.

It is not unusual for workers in the private sector, for example, to start to think they might be better suited to a public sector career such as teaching, nursing, social work or policing. It’s understandable that, having studied or trained for a particular job, workers may feel ‘stuck’ on their current career path, but it is becoming increasingly common to make the decision to change careers, sometimes a few years into your working life, but also sometimes in mid-life or even quite late in your career.

Education providers are aware of this, and are supporting workers who want to re-train for a new and entirely different career, alongside their current job. The main way this is being made possible is through online degree programs and other online education and training. Of course, online study has been around for a while, but remote learning became the norm for many students during the pandemic and caused education providers to examine how their programs could be delivered through online study, with the result being there are now more options for online education than ever before.

Can I study online as an alternative to traditional college?

You certainly can, and there are various reasons why you would want to. If you were in high school or middle school during the pandemic, you may have gotten a taste for online learning and discovered that it suits you as well or better than being in the classroom. Attending online school may work out much cheaper than living in dorms and will cut your travel time and costs even if you already intend to live at home while studying locally. It also offers the flexibility to fit your studies around other things you may want to focus on, such as a job, volunteer work and other resume-building activities.

Whether you are of traditional college age, a late-in-life career changer or anything in between, there are various public sector careers you can study for online.


It is reasonable to assume that studying for a degree in nursing requires a hands-on approach, but there are in fact nursing programs that take place almost entirely online. There will of course usually be clinical hours required in a healthcare setting, and on-campus residency requirements in some cases as well. It is, however, more convenient for most students to study mainly online and there are a variety of programs available depending on your current level of education and your circumstances.

If you already have a Bachelor’s degree in an unrelated discipline and want to transition to a career in nursing, you can access direct entry Master’s of Nursing programs such as the one offered by Elmhurst University. This is a master’s program specifically designed for non-nurses looking to get into nursing as a second career. It is open to students with bachelor’s degrees in other fields, who will generally already be working full-time, but who now want to enter the profession of nursing. The program can be completed in as little as 20 months and allows students to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, while also preparing to sit for the registered nurse licensure exam (NCLEX-RN) and clinical nurse leader (CNL) certification.

Social Work

Social workers are in demand across the US. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that overall employment of social workers will grow 9% from 2021 to 2031. In order to find a position as a social worker, you will need to hold at least a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and often a Master of Social Work (MSW), depending on the job role. Most social workers are employed by national, state or local government agencies.

It is not unusual for those working in other caring professions such as nursing or teaching, or as support staff in human service agencies, to transition into social work. Again, you will find there are several programs available online that will enable you to study for a degree in social work, including BSW and MSW programs. Many of them are designed to be studied either part-time or full-time, alongside a job or other commitments.


There are various reasons why people choose to switch to a teaching career in mid-life. Sometimes becoming a parent, and perhaps becoming involved in the education system via volunteering in your own child’s classroom, can be what inspires you to think about a career in education. Many public and private four-year institutions in the US now offer online teaching degree programs, such as a Bachelor of Education, or a Master’s in Education or Teaching. In addition, there is a range of programs available to those who wish to work in schools in other capacities, such as in Academic Counselling.

Much like nursing, teaching degrees may require you to log a certain number of practical hours in order to graduate, but generally the vast majority of the program will be completed online, and the qualifications needed for entry to such programs will be very similar to the requirements for on-campus degrees in education or teaching. It is also possible to earn a teaching certification in under a year if you already hold a bachelor’s degree in another subject, but with this option, the online options are more limited. There are some available, however, if you search for them.

Criminal Justice

Careers in criminal justice can involve anything from becoming a police officer or other law enforcement official to working at correctional facilities. Not all these jobs require a degree, but there are various degrees that can be earned entirely online that will help you qualify for some of the better job roles in these sectors. For example, you could study for a degree in Criminal Justice with an emphasis on law enforcement or corrections, study for a law degree that will eventually allow you to take the Bar exam and become a lawyer, or take a bachelor’s program in Police Studies, which is also available online.

While most police forces in the US do not insist that entry-level officers have a degree, it certainly won’t hurt if you want to advance in your career. Some agencies do require a bachelor’s degree or a minimum number of college credit hours, while others will offer additional pay based on educational attainment, and you will be more likely to earn a promotion.

Homeland Security

As a Homeland Security employee, you will help keep US borders secure, potentially working at airports, seaports and waterways. You could also be involved in the research and development of new security technologies and strategies and could be called on to respond to emergencies such as natural disasters or terrorist acts. Safeguarding the USA as a member of a Homeland Security team means you will require specialist knowledge and training, and it is now possible to study for a degree that will equip you with that knowledge through remote study.

Some programs combine Homeland Security with Emergency Management or Terrorism Studies and the curriculum will cover everything from physical training to psychology, criminal justice and criminal investigation, with specific courses often covering things such as the geography of terrorism and domestic preparedness. It is possible to study online for a two-year certification, and transfer to a four-year program if you decide that this is the right path for you. Graduates of such programs can end up in a range of job roles, such as Border Patrol Agent, TSA Screener or Asylum Officer.

Public Administration

Jobs in public administration can include working in local government in a variety of roles, such as a City Manager, Urban Planner, Police Commissioner or perhaps as an Elected Official.  There are various online programs available that will lead to a degree or other certification in Public Administration, including the opportunity to earn a Master’s in Public Administration, or other graduate qualifications, if you already have a bachelor’s degree, which does not necessarily have to be in a related discipline.

Programs in Public Administration will often feature a specialty, such as disaster and emergency management, criminal justice administration, community services management or public policy, and again, they can be studied online, with the flexibility to fit them around your current full-time job or other responsibilities. If you are a career changer looking to transition into public administration, you will likely benefit from performing volunteer work in your community that has some relevance to the type of role you are interested in.

Public Health

Public health careers can be an interesting and rewarding choice of career for those who are interested in supporting their communities and making an impact in people’s lives. Public Health officials fill a number of different job roles, but generally have the aim of promoting public health and well-being, preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting awareness of public health issues through organized efforts to educate, research, put public health policies in place and provide efficient, well-regulated and accessible public health systems and resources.

There are many facets of public health which range from improving community access to healthcare, to helping prevent and control infectious diseases, along with developing programs to deal with issues such as substance abuse or teen pregnancy. Public Health professionals work in a variety of settings and have a range of different job responsibilities. Online programs in Public Health are quite common, and unlike nursing and other healthcare professions, they do not necessarily require you to complete clinical hours, so they can often be completed entirely online.

Fire Fighting

While you don’t necessarily need a degree to become a firefighter, many in the profession do study for a degree in fire science or a related topic. Fire science programs are about much more than simply learning to fight a fire. They aim to develop a broad range of skills that will be of use to those looking to join the fire services field and other emergency services. These programs are generally aimed at both individuals looking to get into the field for the first time, as well as current firefighters and other emergency response team members who may be aiming to advance their careers to the next level.

There are a number of these programs available online, including two-year associate degrees and certificates as well as 4-year degree programs. As well as working as fire fighters, graduates of these programs may end up in careers such as Fire Safety Inspectors, Fire Prevention and Protection officials, Emergency Management, or other emergency response team members.

In general, if you are thinking of transitioning into a public sector career and need to complete your training online, there are a wide range of options open to you. As with any program of study, do your research and think carefully about how much you will enjoy the course and how suited you are to it, as well as the job prospects that will be available to you upon graduation. Careers in the public sector can be highly rewarding. Just make sure you pick the right career path for you.