Online Secretary Degrees: Overviews by Degree Level

Dec 03, 2019

Essential Information

There are many online certificate and associate's degree programs for secretaries and administrative assistants. Students can complete the entire program through distance learning, communicating with classmates and instructors online. Online office administration programs prepare graduates to work with the latest technology in professional business settings. These programs require students to have Microsoft Office Suite and a current PC or MAC OS.

Certificate-level programs are made up primarily of business-related courses, while associate's degrees have a general education requirement and prepare graduates to move on to a bachelor's degree program. At both levels, students learn the basics of office administration and how to perform various tasks. They study common software used in secretarial work. These programs may offer concentrations in areas including the legal and medical fields.

Professional certifications may make graduates more desirable to employers. Many groups offer certifications, such as Legal Secretaries International. Software companies, including Microsoft, offer certifications that show proficiency in the use of their products.

Certificate in Office Administration

At the certificate level, an office administration program provides the technical and communication skills necessary to work as secretaries, which are commonly referred to as administrative assistants. These certificate programs can be completed in one year entirely via the Internet. Topics include customer service, technology, accounting and business writing.

Program and Requirements

A prospective secretary can complete his or her office administration coursework online from any location by accessing the school's website. Candidates must have a personal e-mail address and reliable access to a computer connected to the Web. Minor computer proficiency is also necessary. To submit work and communicate with each other and instructors, students e-mail, chat programs and discussion boards. Technical requirements include having the latest version of an operating system, such as Windows. Computers should also be equipped with word processing software, such as Microsoft Office Suite.

Certificate-Level Courses

Office administration classes cover a number of business-related topics, such as computer skills, office procedures, business math, business writing and records management. Coursework--including lectures, assignments and tests--is accessed through the host school's website using various coursewares, such as WebCT.

Business Writing

This course teaches students how to analyze an audience and produce effective and clear business writing. Topics cover types of content writing from reports to memos and other correspondence.

Word Processing

Students learn how to use software, such as Microsoft Word, to create and format documents. Coursework covers basic functions--for example, creating headers and page numbers--in addition to more advanced work such as managing files, creating charts, adding graphics and sharing documents.


A basic accounting course covers bookkeeping, financial record analysis and financial report preparation. Students also learn about payroll procedures, income statements, accounts payable, accounts receivable and the process of closing out accounts.

Basic Computing

Students learn how computers are used in business. Lessons cover operating systems, databases, software applications, ethical issues and the Internet.

Associate's Degree in Office Administration

An online associate's degree program in this field is designed to prepare graduates for a host of office-related responsibilities ranging from accounting to event planning. In addition to general education courses, the curriculum is likely to address executive terminology, business math, communication tools and emerging technologies.

Program and Requirements

Associate's degrees in office administration can be earned entirely through distance-education. They typically involve two years of study. Common requirements include access to a home or office computer with e-mail, media players, word processing software and high-speed Internet. Specific software programs vary by school.

Associate's-Level Courses

Associate's degree programs comprise general education courses and electives, in addition to core subject courses. All classes taken online are the equivalent of on-campus courses. Materials can be accessed and submitted using course management systems, such as Blackboard. Students can also work with their instructors through e-mail, chats and phone conferences, along with using discussion boards to connect with classmates.

Records Management

Students learning about records management examine storage methods for different forms of media (including physical and digital). Lessons discuss security issues and filing methods, as well as how to create and maintain record management systems.

Business Communications

This class focuses on written communication skills. Students learn about the types of business communications used, such as reports and presentations, and how to produce them effectively.

Accounting Software

An accounting software course teaches students how to use software, such as spreadsheets, for basic accounting. Topics cover the use of templates, formulas, macros and graphics.

Office Management

This course covers professionalism and standard office procedures. Topics also include office design, event planning, scheduling, travel arrangements and other supportive tasks.

Career Information

Individuals who have earned a certificate in office administration online may find job opportunities as administrative assistants, receptionists or clerks. Job growth for secretaries and administrative assistants is expected to decline at a rate of 7% between 2018 and 2028, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( As of 2018, the median salaries for non-specialized office assistants was $36,630.

Specializations impact job growth and earnings. For instance, job growth of 16% - much faster than average - is expected for medical secretaries, per the BLS. Job growth for legal secretaries, though, was predicted to decline by 21%. As of May 2018, legal secretaries earned a median annual wage of $46,360 while medical secretaries annually earned a median annual wage of $35,760.

Continuing Education

A professional working as a secretary or administrative assistant may encounter opportunities for advancement with experience. However, he or she may choose to pursue certifications offered through professional organizations, such as the International Association of Administrative Professionals. Those who meet educational requirements and pass an exam may also achieve the status of Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) or Certified Professional Secretary (CPS).

Associate-level degree-holders should seek ongoing on-the-job training to keep up to date on the latest technologies and practices for their particular office environment. They may also pursue continuing education courses and programs offered by schools and software vendors to advance their skills. To get ahead and remain competitive, they may also wish to enroll in a bachelor's degree program in business administration. Some companies pay for administrative assistants to advance their school and training in a relevant field.

Secretary training programs are offered online at the certificate, associate's, and bachelor's degree levels. Students learn about business, office administration, customer service and technology.

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