Smart Degrees To Boost Your Career


Completion of these practical degree programs could be the vehicle for a new professional you.

By Danielle Blundell

Learning is truly a lifetime pursuit, so it's never too late to go back to school to skill up and try something new. In fact, for older adult students or experienced professionals looking to make a change in their career - be it moving up or moving on - hitting the books could be a wise decision. But what else is driving these adult learners back to the classroom?

"There are many reasons for going back to school: personal accomplishment, to be more competitive in the marketplace skills-wise, to change careers, or to embark on a new career," says Eugenia Liakaris, director of New York University's Wasserman Center for Career Development.

"Whatever the reason, it's critical for students to begin building their networks and brands from the beginning of their programs and to connect the dots between what they've done before and how it applies to what they're studying now," she says.

The hardest part of going back to school, however, may be choosing what you're going to study. But here's a good place to start: We've identified some majors that could help you build on your past experiences to find your next career calling.

Degree #1: Master's in Business Administration

You're no stranger to big biz, and you think you've got the savvy to be at the top of the food chain - well, at least supervisor level. Consider earning an MBA, as it could give you a leg up in your company by increasing your value as an employee.

As an MBA student, you could get down to the nitty-gritty of subjects like finance, management, and accounting to decision sciences, organizational behavior, and economics, according to the Princeton Review, an organization that offers test preparation services.

Why It's A Smart Degree: According to Isser Gallogly, assistant dean of MBA admissions at NYU Stern, MBA programs present students with an opportunity to take their careers to the next level. How? By teaching them leadership, communication, and finance skills, along with how to negotiate the power and politics of the corporate world.

Next step: Click to Find the Right MBA Program.

Potential Careers*:

  • Financial manager
  • Human resources manager

Degree #2: Bachelor's in Health Care Administration

If you're an experienced professional who's looking to pursue an in-demand occupation in the booming health care field, look no further than health care administration.

In a health services administration program, the College Board, an organization that advocates for higher education, says you might take courses like health care finance, health care policy, and human resources management. You could also learn the basics of medical conditions in classes like anatomy and physiology, or epidemiology.

Why It's A Smart Degree: Cynthia Perez, director of admissions at the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies, attributes the many jobs being created in this field to the aging population that necessitates increasing care. Plus, unlike other majors, there will be a definite career path to pursue, she says.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Health Care Administration Program.

Potential Careers*:

  • Nursing home administrator
  • Health information manager

Degree #3: Bachelor's in Marketing

Looking for a fresh start in a discipline where you can put your creative skills and business savvy to good use? Consider enrolling in a marketing degree program.

According to the College Board, marketing majors study why people buy what they do, the logics behind pricing, and how to effectively sell new goods and services that generate a loyal group of customers.

Why It's A Smart Degree: Perez says this degree is often a good choice for a career overhaul or new start because marketing is a "good growth field" where older professionals' and non-traditional students' ideas have value. She says that this is especially true if they've been client- or customer-oriented in the past, had lots of interactions with various types of people, and in turn, bring an understanding of what sparks interest items and services to the table.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Marketing Program.

Potential Careers*:

  • Market research analyst
  • Marketing manager

Degree #4: Master's in Management

Ever been passed over for a promotion? Well, a master's in management could give you the edge you need to get considered at your current company - or in an entirely different industry looking for a skilled veteran.

What exactly is the "edge" that management coursework could give you? Well, according to the Princeton Review, you could learn how to hire, direct, and control the operations of various organizations. The Princeton Review also says to expect group work and number-crunching and the possibility of concentrating on coursework in operations management, human resources management, or even general management.

Why It's A Smart Degree: Perez says a master's in management is great for someone with prior career experience. "As people progress with their careers, they come to a point where they need to build a deeper understanding of how each department's role within an organization affects the other," she says. "Things don't take place in a siloed environment, and what a degree like this will do is strengthen your ability to work with a team and fine-tune practical skills, including the conceptual, analytic, and leadership."

Next step: Click to Find the Right Management Program.

Potential Careers*:

  • Purchasing manager
  • Management analyst

Degree #5: Bachelor's in Accounting

Accounting is one field of expertise that certainly isn't going away. There's always going to be a need for someone to follow the money and keep spending under control in the name of profit.

According to the College Board, in an accounting program, you might build a strong foundation in recording, analyzing, and interpreting financial information, and take classes such as accounting information systems, business law, and tax accounting.

Why It's A Smart Degree: Stuart Mease, director of undergraduate career services at the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Polytechnic and State University, thinks pursuing a degree in accounting, especially a master's, could be a good fit for an experienced professional.

He notes that accounting could be a particularly good fit if someone has already been involved in the financial world in some capacity and is bringing a base knowledge of business principles, as "the subject matter should be easier to understand and interpret."

Next step: Click to Find the Right Accounting Program.

Potential Careers*:

  • Accountant
  • Auditor

Degree #6: Associate's in Health Information Technology

Learning anything related to technology is always a good bet. Add the growing, hot field of health care to the mix, and you've got a recipe for relevance in the workplace with an associate's degree in health information technology.

In this degree program, the College Board says you'll learn how to determine the correct medical code for every medical procedure and master the most up-to-date medical records software. You'll also take classes like computers in health care and directed practice for coding specialists.

Why It's A Smart Degree: For an experienced professional, a degree in health information technology could be valuable exposure to utilizing new technologies at the workplace. "A program like health information technology will allow students to see where the medical industry is going and bring them up to speed with new laws and protocols," says Liakaris.

What she's getting at is the prominence of technology in medicine today - computerized records and paperwork - could make this degree a crash course in getting acquainted with the changing environment efficiently. So it could be valuable even if you already work in health care, but don't plan on pursuing a career in health information technology specifically.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Health Information Technology Program.

Potential Careers*:

  • Medical coder
  • Cancer registrar

Degree #7: Bachelor's in Psychology

If you've always wondered how the human brain works or why some people behave in a certain way, you may want to take that curiosity to school with you and earn a degree in psychology.

As a psychology major, you'll study the fascinating human mind and why we act, feel, think, and learn as we do, says the College Board. You'll get a good foundation in classes like cognitive psychology, personality, and social psychology and then go on to learn the experimentation side of the field in subjects like statistical methods in psychology and research methods in psychology.

Why It's A Smart Degree: With a degree in psychology, the sky's the limit for older professionals. "Psychology is a really good because it's a degree that can be applied to many different jobs and professions," says Perez. What that means is you don't necessarily have to pursue a career as a psychologist. Instead, you can apply your expertise in the thinking process to anticipate people's needs in business, marketing, and even sales jobs, adds Perez.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Psychology Program.

Potential Careers*:

  • Direct-service social worker
  • Correctional treatment specialist

* All potential careers listed from the 2012-2013 U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook. The Department of Labor cites the associated degrees as common, required, preferred, or one of a number of degrees acceptable as preparation for the potential career. In some instances, candidates might require further schooling, professional certifications, or experience, before being qualified to pursue the career.

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