Degrees that are Great for Adult Students


Find out how learning can be ageless, especially when it comes to these degrees.

By John Loos

It's never too late to learn something new. And for older adults looking for a change, going back to school may be a smart decision.

Why? Because "a return to school keeps older workers up-to-date and relevant," says Debra Davenport, founder and executive director of The Davenport Institute, a certified firm that advises on career and lifestyle changes.

In fact, community colleges are now creating or expanding campus programs to engage the 50 plus population in learning, training, or re-training. This is in large part thanks to the Plus 50 Initiative, a program created in 2008 by the American Association of Community Colleges.

And it makes sense that community colleges are targeting older students, with the number of students age 35 or older projected to grow 22 percent between 2008 and 2019, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

What's driving older students back to school? "Many of the [older] students returning to community colleges are seeking skill updating," says Mary Sue Vickers, director of the Plus 50 Initiative.

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Vickers adds that older students may return because they've discovered they need to work longer given the recent recession, they lost a job, or they want to finish a degree program to remain competitive in the workplace.

But for older students, the hardest part about going back to school may be deciding what degree to pursue. However, Davenport says that popular career choices among her older clients include psychology, counseling, social work, nursing, consulting, coaching, and teaching, among many others.

So, if you're an older student who's contemplating a career change, consider these age-defying degrees:

Age-Defying Degree #1 - Business Administration

Worried you're not being seen as a valued worker? The Plus 50 Initiative's "Year One Evaluation Report" notes that a degree in business administration helps older students build his or her "human capital," or value in the workforce.

Common coursework in a business degree may include accounting, economics, business ethics and law, human resource management, and international management, among others, according to the College Board, an organization that administers academic aptitude tests.

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Related Career Paths: A bachelor's in business administration degree may lead to a career as a financial analyst, health care administrator, and human resources specialist, among others, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Age-Defying Degree #2 - Accounting

The numbers don't lie. Four of the eight initial participating community colleges in the Plus 50 Initiative had accounting included in their workforce programming.

Why the popularity? It might have something to the do with the fact that an accounting degree could teach older students how to prepare tax filings, evaluate a company's efficiency and profitability, and create and analyze balance sheets, notes the College Board.

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Related Career Paths: An associate's degree in accounting could help older students prepare to pursue a career as a bookkeeping, accounting, or auditing clerk, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. A bachelor's degree in the field could prep students to pursue a career as an accountant, budget analyst, and more.

Age-Defying Degree #3 - Computer Science and Technology  

It's never too late to learn new technologies. Of the Plus 50 Initiative's eight initial community colleges, five offered programs in the computer science and technology field.

With the growth of new technologies, from the iPad to Global Position System (GPS), it's no surprise that students - including older students - want to learn more about computer science and technology. And luckily, an IT degree often teaches students about web development, digital communication, and computer systems and architecture.

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Related Career Paths: Computer programmer, computer systems analyst, and database administrator are just some of the careers you could prep to pursue with a bachelor's degree in computer science, notes the U.S. Department of Labor. In some cases, an associate's or master's degree in the field might be preferred.

Age-Defying Degree #4 - Psychology

Davenport says that older students are often drawn towards career changes in the psychology field. If you fall into this group, you might want to consider earning a degree in psychology, which could help you better understand and counsel people, among other things.

In fact, the College Board notes that "psychology majors study the way humans and animals act, feel, think, and learn," with help from commonly offered courses that include personality, social psychology, and abnormal psychology.

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Related Career Paths: Depending on the degree level you pursue, a psychology degree could put you on a variety of career paths. For example, a bachelor's in psychology could help you prep to pursue a career as a social worker, while a master's in psychology could provide you with the skills to pursue a career as a school or career psychologist, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Age-Defying Degree #5 - Pharmacy Technology

If you're an older worker who's concerned about the competition for jobs, consider earning a degree with potential to lead to a career with a high demand for employees. One such degree is pharmacy technology - and it's also a part of the programs offered by the Plus 50 Initiative.

In this degree field, students could study common topics like pharmacologic terms, drug identification, lab procedures, patient education, testing techniques, and more, according to the College Board.

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Related Career Paths: A certificate in pharmacy technology could help you prepare to pursue a career as a pharmacy technician, a field that is projected to have a 32 percent job growth between 2010 and 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

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