Five Degrees Perfect For Adult Students

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Are you an adult who's already done time in the work force and is ready for a change? Check out these five practical degrees that could take your career in a new direction.

By Terence Loose

Do you want more out of your career? Maybe you want to move up in the same industry. Or maybe you're ready to start an entirely new career.

If you're an adult who has thought about any of these options at length, you've probably considered going back to school to refresh your skills.

That could be a great move, says Susan Heathfield, a management consultant and About.com's human resources guide. But if you do choose to further your education, she says it's important to pursue a degree that will give you marketable skills for today's job market - which is particularly tough for older adults.

"With the job market as tough as it is and unemployment relatively high, often older adults are competing with younger college grads for jobs," says Heathfield.

That's why, according to Heathfield, these workers need all the ammunition they can get when it comes to impressing potential employers, and a practical college degree that teaches marketable skills is at the top of the list.

So read on for five degrees that could help adults gain the needed skills for their next career move.

Degree #1 - Bachelor's in Accounting

Have you always been good with numbers, but never had the degree to convince employers of that? Consider going back to school to earn a bachelor's degree in accounting.

Why it's a good fit for adults: A bachelor's degree in accounting could prepare you for a career that is as busy, or flexible, as you want, according to Heathfield.

"Accountants are in high demand in all industries," she says. "And often, the work is seasonal and or flexible in hours, so adults with busy personal lives or families might do well to pursue an accounting degree."

Click to Find the Right Accounting Program Now.

More about the degree: As an accounting major, you'll not only learn how to gather and record financial data, but also how to interpret, analyze, and communicate "information about an individual's or organization's performance and risks," according to the College Board, a nonprofit research organization that promotes higher education.

Common courses include a variety of subjects such as accounting, business law, government and not-for-profit accounting, and auditing.

Potential careers: A bachelor's in accounting can prepare you to pursue a career as an accountant or auditor. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, most accountant and auditor positions require at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related subject.


Degree #2 - Associate's in Paralegal Studies

Are you interested in the law but never had the time or skills to pursue your passion? While law school might still be a little too ambitious (i.e., time- and money-consuming), an associate's degree in paralegal studies could help you get into a legal office sooner rather than later.

Why it's a good fit for adults: One reason an associate's degree might be attractive to adults - who have busy lives with family, work, or other obligations - is the fact that it can be attained in as little as two years.

Another reason: "Because we're such a litigious society, a degree in paralegal studies is a good degree for any age," says Mary Jeanne Vincent, a career expert and strategist. "This degree also gives students skills in areas that can be used outside the legal profession, such as contracts and regulations," adds Vincent.

Click to Find the Right Paralegal Studies Program Now.

More about the degree: According to the College Board, you'll most likely learn what it takes to work under the supervision of a lawyer, and gain the skills it takes to conduct investigations, complete legal research, and keep legal records.

As for classes, you'll probably study subjects such as criminal law and procedure, civil procedure, ethics, and litigation sound - all of which are typical courses for this major, says the College Board.

Potential careers: If you're looking to enter the legal field sooner rather than later, earning an associate's degree in paralegal studies is a good place to start. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, most paralegals and legal assistants have an associate's degree in paralegal studies. Or if you already have a bachelor's degree in another subject, you could opt to earn a certificate in paralegal studies, adds the Department of Labor.


Degree #3 - Master's in Business Administration

Have you spent the first part of your career honing your business skills, and now have aspirations to break through the middle management ceiling? Or maybe you've always wanted to run your own business but lack the knowledge. Perhaps a master's in business administration (MBA) is just what you need to reach these career goals.

Why it's fit for adults: "An MBA shows employers that you've taken your business knowledge to the next level," says Mike Brandt, chief operating officer of BrightMove, a job recruiting software firm. "You're really having to dive into much more complex business scenarios when you get your MBA."

This is why this degree is tailor-made for older workers who have had some experience in the business world, and are seeking a promotion to upper management levels, Brandt adds.

Click to Find the Right MBA Program Now.

More about the degree: In an MBA program, you can expect to take academic theories and apply them to real-world business problems, says the Princeton Review, a college and graduate school preparation organization. In fact, the goal is to create professionals who can navigate uncertainty, risk, and change.

If that sounds like a good goal for you, plan on taking classes with topics such as marketing, communications, pricing, globalization, and ethics, according to the Princeton Review.

Potential careers: Does "top executive" sound like a good job title? We thought it would. Well, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, top executives - those guys and gals who run organizations great and small - often have MBAs. Or if you are interested in managing the finances of an organization, consider pursuing a role as a financial manager, for which many employers seek candidates with an MBA, adds the Department of Labor.


Degree #4 - Bachelor's in Communications

If you've been in the work force for awhile, you've probably noticed that whether you're selling tools, trailers, or training wheels, it's really all about one thing: communicating your message effectively. If you like the idea of gaining skills in that area, a bachelor's in communications could be the thing that helps you get ahead in this Information Age.

Why it's a good fit for adults: "For older workers, learning to write and communicate is extremely important," says Paul Bernard, career management consultant and contributor to NextAvenue.org, a PBS-developed website for Americans over 50.

Why? "These are key skills for the management positions of the future," adds Bernard.

Click to Find the Right Communications Program Now.

More about the degree: As a communications major, you'll study more than how to give a speech, however. Not only will you study communication, you'll also study mass media and multi-media communication in depth, says the College Board. This will encompass everything from print to TV and the Web, they say.

If you want to study business communications specifically, you'll focus on how to write, edit, and speak professionally, says the College Board.

Potential careers: According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a bachelor's in communications is one preferred degree that's usually required for public relations management positions. And employers generally want PR specialist candidates who have studied communications, public relations, or business, adds the Department of Labor.


Degree #5 - Bachelor's in Computer Science

Are you someone who grew up before computers took over the world, yet are quite comfortable with technology? So much so that you'd like to start a new techie career? A bachelor's degree in computer science could be just the thing to allow employers to see past your age.

Why it's a good fit for adults: Heathfield says that computer science is "the very first degree that comes to my mind as being good to have on a resume." This is because the entire world is moving into mobile and cloud (remote storage) computing, so computer science-related fields like network security and administration will have massive job opportunities, according to Heathfield.

Plus, computer science degrees give you the skills to compete for those jobs despite being born before the laptop, adds Heathfield.

Click to Find the Right Computer Science Program Now.

More about the degree: According to the College Board, as a computer science major, you could learn about how we humans interact with computers, from a scientific perspective. You also might delve into the theory and design of computer software, says the College Board.

As for classes, you may study artificial intelligence, digital system design, software engineering, and the theory of formal languages, according to the College Board.

Potential careers: A bachelor's in computer science is a common credential for pursuing a career as a computer programmer or software developer. In fact, most computer programmers and software developers typically earn a degree in computer science or a related field, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

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