Popular Degree Programs for Adults


Feeling past your prime? Fulfill your education goals with these degree programs that are favorites among adult students.

By Tony Moton

Are you considering going to college but fear you could be past your prime?

Well, guess what? Having previous work - and life - experience might actually be in your favor while pursuing a college degree.

By taking what you already know and applying it to a new learning situation, you could put yourself in a position to reach new professional goals while meeting the demands of today's job market, says Andrea Karapas, associate director of the Alumni Career Counseling Center at Colorado State University.

"One of the biggest challenges that I see facing the nontraditional, adult college student is their own fear and a perceived notion that they won't be successful or that they won't fit in," Karapas says. "In actuality, [these] students bring a richness to the college classroom that doesn't exist otherwise. Older adults also have a stronger commitment and motivation to learn since they are at a point in their lives where they can see the payoff of their time in the classroom."

University of California-Irvine career consultant Christine Kelly agrees about the benefits of higher education for more mature students.

"Having a degree is going to open up more career possibilities," Kelly says. "If you are looking for career advancement or changing careers, you have to retool yourself."

If you're a seasoned professional wanting to earn a degree or add a new one to your resume, you're in luck. We talked to higher education experts to learn which degrees are the most popular among adult students and why.

Degree #1: Bachelor's in Health Care Administration

For adults with some experience in the health care profession - or those looking for a new experience - earning a degree in health care administration could be a popular option, according to Kelly.

Why It's Prime for Adults: "This is a good place for people like nurses, who have done the hands-on work and are looking for something different," Kelly says. As we get older, she adds, we're often looking to be challenged professionally.

Adults also might find the job stability associated with the health care industry a good reason to study in the field. The health care and social assistance industry's growth, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, will see 5.6 million new jobs added between 2010 and 2020.

Click Here to Find the Right Health Care Administration Program Now.

More About the Degree: A bachelor's program in health care administration, according to the College Board, the organization that administers the SAT exam, could teach you how to manage hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care facilities, while also teaching you about the laws affecting the health care industry, policy making, and financial management. Courses could also cover health care ethics, accounting, and statistics.

Potential Career: Ready to use your management skills to effect real and personal change in people's lives? With a bachelor's degree in health administration, you could pursue a career as a medical and health services manager, says the Department of Labor. And if you'd like an even higher-level view of the health care industry, a master's degree in public health, health services, long-term care administration, public administration, or business administration will qualify you for the role of administrator.

Degree #2: Master's in Business Administration (MBA)

Have you long held onto dreams of making a mark in the corporate world? If so, a master's degree in business administration (MBA) could help you hit your mark.

Why It's Prime for Adults: MBA programs provide an opportunity to take your career to new heights, which makes them popular among adults, says Kelly.

"I think most people do it because they want to advance their careers," Kelly says, "but others do it just because they want to learn something new." The versatility of an MBA program will appeal to adult students interested in a variety of business career opportunities, adds Kelly.

Click Here to Find the Right MBA Program Now.

More About the Degree: Kelly says MBA programs might require students to have some years of work experience, as well as a bachelor's degree, though not necessarily in business. She adds that during the program, students typically work on group-oriented projects, cases studies, and real-world business problems.

Courses commonly include finance, management, organizational behavior, and economics, reports the Princeton Review, a standardized test preparation and consulting firm.

Potential Career: The beauty of an MBA, claims Kelly, lies in its broad application: "You can pretty much work for any type of business because most of the skills are going to be highly transferable to a lot of different areas." Sounds enticing, yes? And for specific careers, such as financial analyst, the U.S. Department of Labor says employers often prefer candidates with an MBA or a master's degree in finance.

Degree #3: Master's in Psychology

We're human, and far from perfect. But some people in this crazy world truly need their heads examined. Well, what if you were the one doing the examining? Study psychology in a master's program and you could be.

Why It's Prime for Adults: The popularity of psychology among adults could be that they have a little more experience understanding what makes people tick. That experience could also help them tackle a major that's heavy on dealing with the mental aspects of human existence.

"You get to learn how to understand the world around you and get a more detailed understanding of why things are the way they are between people," Kelly says.

Plus, as a psychologist, you might get to help people enrich their lives, says Kelly: "For people that want to have an impact on helping others, this would give you the background to go into those kinds of professions."

Click Here to Find the Right Psychology Program Now.

More About the Degree: A master's degree program in psychology, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, may include courses like statistics, research design, and industrial-organizational psychology.

Potential Career: Helping one person is nice, but what about an entire company full of people? Industrial-organizational psychologists solve problems in the workplace by figuring out how employees can be happier and more productive on the job, according to the Department of Labor. A master's degree in psychology is required in order to pursue this career.

Degree #4: Bachelor's in Public Administration

If you're interested in learning more about public service and how it can affect the issues facing your community, a bachelor's degree in public administration might be a great fit.

Why It's Prime for Adults: For adults who want to effect real change, there might be no better place than public administration. This field of study provides people with the opportunity to give back to others after having established themselves.

"People I have seen going into this want to have an impact on a broader scale," Kelly says. "A lot of jobs are connected to government and are seen as stable employment. That's generally true, but a lot of times public administration is seen as having a broader societal impact."

Places where you could make an impact include nonprofit organizations, policy centers, and think tanks, according to Kelly.

Click Here to Find the Right Public Administration Program Now.

More About the Degree: A program in public administration could teach you how administrators work and endorse policy at state or federal levels, says the College Board. Courses typically cover grant writing, economic development, and community analysis.

Potential Career: Ready to give back to your community? It's time to put your money where your mouth is. A bachelor's degree in public administration could prepare you to pursue a career as a social or community service manager. The U.S. Department of Labor reports the degree - or one in a related field, such as social work or urban studies - is generally a minimum requirement.

Degree #5: Bachelor's in Network and System Administration

If you think today's computers are just for kids, think again. Adults who have an affinity for computer-related technology can study network and system administration at the bachelor's level.

Why It's Prime for Adults: Kelly says adults who want to turn their fascination with computers into a professional outlet could find studying network and system administration a recipe for success.

According to Kelly, a program in network and system administration "will use your critical thinking skills in mathematics and numbers and your organization skills to help you see the big picture of network systems."

Adults who study this major, Kelly says, also could realize the importance of staying ahead of the technological curve while brushing up their resumes. "Things change pretty quickly with computer technology, and you can get stale," Kelly says. "This (major) is the kind of refresher you might need."

Click Here to Find the Right Network Administration Program Now.

More About the Degree: Setting up computer systems, troubleshooting software and hardware, and exploring cutting-edge technology could be topics of study in a program in network and systems administration, according to the College Board.

Potential Career: Ready to take your passion for computers to a professional level? Earning a bachelor's degree in this major might be a good starting point for adults who want careers as network and computer systems administrators. The U.S. Department of Labor says "a bachelor's degree in fields related to computer or information science is most common."

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