Degrees that Give Adults a Competitive Edge


Learn about degree programs that could help give you a competitive edge in the workplace.

By Kenneth Davis

The worst of the economic crisis might be behind us, but the job market is still highly competitive - especially for older adults who are up against newly-skilled college grads.

There are ways to get that competitive edge back, though.

For older adults (say, ages 40-60s) who are seeking career advancement or are having trouble finding steady employment, going back to school might be the first step to gaining that competitive edge, says Kevin Russell, vice president for university advancement at Belhaven University.

"I really think going back to school is something that a lot of workers today are looking at as a viable option," says Russell. "I think many are seeing that if they don't have a bachelor's degree, they need one. And if they do have a bachelor's degree, a master's is becoming so much more helpful in the workplace."

If you want to go back to school to help gain an edge in the workplace, here are some degree programs that might be a good fit.

Degree #1 - Bachelor's in Communications

Do you feel like the fast-paced world of communications is holding you back from career opportunities? You could pick up some relevant skills in a bachelor's in communications program.

How it makes you competitive: As a communications major, you'll most likely explore the full gamut of the communication field, studying everything from television, the Internet, and other mass media to political rhetoric, according to the College Board, an academic organization that administers tests like the SAT.

So, as an older worker who wants to remain competitive in today's workplace, earning a bachelor's degree in communications could be beneficial, according to Marti Benjamin, a certified career management coach and founder of Career From Here, a career management firm.

"A bachelor's in communications will give a graduate a broad range of communication tools that can be applied in marketing, public relations, general management, human resources, just a variety of roles in business," says Benjamin. "So someone coming out of a bachelor's program with a degree in communications can apply that in a variety of settings."

Click to Find the Right Communications Program Now.

Potential careers:*

  • Public Relations Manager and Specialist
  • Broadcast News Analyst
  • Editor
  • Technical Writer

 Degree #2 - Bachelor's in Computer Science

Do you love computers and want to stay on top of the latest and greatest tech skills? A bachelor's degree in computer science could be a good match for you.

How it makes you competitive: A computer science degree usually covers today's programming languages such as C++ and Java, as well as introduces you to the precise thinking behind computer programming, says the College Board.

Thus, this program could provide you with the tools and knowledge to be a threat on the job scene, according to Debra Wheatman, a career coach and president of Careers Done Write, a career planning firm.

"Technology is always going to be a popular area. Always," says Wheatman. "And the reason for that is because we are a technology-focused society. In technology, there's always going to be an area that will constantly be evolving, and the people who remain on the cutting edge will be in demand."

Click to Find the Right Computer Science Program Now.

Potential careers:*

  • Software Developer
  • Computer Support Specialist
  • Computer Systems Analyst

Degree #3 - Master's in Business Administration (MBA)

If you're an older worker who's looking for a degree program that could help you stay current and competitive, you might consider earning a master's in business administration. It's a versatile degree that could help you advance in many industries, says Russell.

How it makes you competitive: Russell says that because business programs are so broad and multifaceted, they can be beneficial even if business is not your chosen field.

"In fact, regardless of what older adults are doing now, strengthening their business skills helps them no matter if they work in the public sector or the private sector," says Russell. "It doesn't pigeonhole you."

Russell adds that MBA programs have a number of specialty areas, such as health care, education, and sports administration.

Click to Find the Right Business Administration Program Now.

Potential careers:*

  • Financial Analyst
  • Market Research Analyst
  • Financial Manager

Degree #4 - Bachelor's in Human Resources

If you're an older professional who wants to improve your people management skills, you might consider earning a bachelor's degree in human resources (HR).

How it makes you competitive: In this degree program, you could acquire important interpersonal skills to help make you more effective in the workplace.

In fact, the College Board notes that an HR degree often focuses on how to handle employment issues in areas like staffing, training, pay, and health and safety in the workplace.

And there may be good reason to try and stay competitive in this field. Caitlin Williams, a career coach and assistant professor in the department of counselor education at San Jose State University, notes that HR is a high-growth industry.

"I think there are different areas within HR that are certainly growing," says Williams. "I just read the other day in 'HR Magazine' that anything to do with wellness is really in demand - wellness managers, wellness programs. Because of rising health care costs, [businesses] want to keep employees healthy."

Click to Find the Right Human Resources Program Now.

Potential careers:*

  • Human Resources Specialist
  • Human Resources Manager
  • Training and Development Manager

Degree #5 - Bachelor's in Finance

Do you find the world of finance exhilarating, but also feel at a disadvantage when it comes to pursuing a degree or promotion in that field? A bachelor's degree in finance could be a prudent investment of your time.

How it makes you competitive: As a finance major, you'll likely learn how to make financial decisions for organizations, according to the College Board. Typically, you'll study topics such as planning, raising funds, making wise investments, and controlling costs.

That's some pretty vital information to help make someone competitive, right? Benjamin certainly thinks so.

"With a bachelor's in finance, you'll go deeper in finance, and so you'll understand financial management, financial planning, as well as the actual financial reports that are being used," says Benjamin. "Those are some of the advantages of someone coming out with a bachelor's in finance."

Click to Find the Right Finance Program Now.

Potential careers:*

  • Personal Financial Advisor
  • Financial Manager
  • Commercial Loan Officer

*All related careers information comes from the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition. Related careers were determined on the basis of the Handbook, which referenced the degree as being either required, preferred, or good preparation for the related career.

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