2021 Best Degrees for Adults Returning to College

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What are some of the best degrees for adults returning to college?

Best Degrees for Adults Returning to College

While every program is different, some are more forgiving of busy schedules and work and life responsibilities. Others might have perks like rolling admissions, shortened semesters, or online classes for students who can’t make it to a college campus every day.

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All things considered, it’s easier than ever for working adults to go back to school.

Degrees for Adults Returning to College Online

The first step in returning to college as an adult is figuring out what you want to study. Whether you’re prepping for a promotion or switching fields entirely, here are just a few potential paths that you can take.

Select the program that most interests you to jump to that section of the guide:

Both of these fields offer plenty of opportunity for growth, a lot of different job prospects, and plenty of job security.


Accountants working together

Accounting is the study of numbers. Specifically, it’s the study of tracking, collecting, analyzing, and recording numbers for commercial purposes.

A bachelors degree in accounting can prepare you for many different careers, including auditor, treasurer, controller, budget analyst, financial consultant, and compliance officer. You may even become the chief financial officer (CFO) for a major business.

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You don’t have to have “accountant” in your job title just because you major in accounting. Accountants, though, do make an average salary of $73,560 per year (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Business Administration

Financial Managers working

You might be most familiar with business administration in relation to a Master of Business Administration (MBA). This isn’t the only title that you can earn in the field, though.

On the bachelors level, the most common degrees are the Bachelor of Arts (BS) and the Bachelor of Science (BS) in Business Administration. Some schools also offer a dedicated Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA). As for specializations, you’ll often have your pick of everything from sales to human resources.

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Specializing isn’t a necessity since all business degree curricula will teach you the basic skills and subjects of the field, but having a niche can help to distinguish you professionally.

Computer Science

Software developers working together on a project

Computer science is one of the highest-paying fields across all educational levels. In fact, you may not even need a degree if you’re highly skilled at something like software development or big data management.

A bachelors degree, though, can open a lot of doors for you in computer science. You’ll learn how to use the latest tools and technologies, which will keep you competitive on the job market. A bachelors can also qualify you for specialized careers where a degree is a necessity.

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As for what career to pursue, it depends on your interests. Are you good with numbers? Do you like data-driven jobs involving analytics and algorithms, or do you want to fuse creativity and technology through things like app development?

Computer science jobs range from programmers and database administrators to cybersecurity experts and robotics engineers. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for computer and information technology occupations is $91,250 per year.


Middle School teacher teaching in a school

Are you good with kids? Do you like imparting knowledge and influencing the next generation of leaders, scholars, and healers? If so, you might enjoy a career in education.

A bachelors degree in education is good enough for most teaching jobs, including elementary, middle, and high school teaching. You’ll need to meet other state licensing requirements after graduation, but a BA or BS will be enough in terms of college credentials.

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Other jobs in education might require a masters degree or higher, including college professors.


Financial Analyst working at home

Finance is a wide-ranging field that can cross over into many other disciplines, including business, economics, mathematics, and accounting. A lot of classes and specializations may intersect.

Jobs for finance students can be just as diverse as degree programs. Common careers include financial planner and financial analyst. A bachelors degree may also qualify you for jobs in everything from taxation to investment banking.

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You may consider a bachelors in finance if you’re good with numbers and looking for a flexible degree that can be applied to multiple industries.

Healthcare Administration

Healthcare Administrators meeting at hallway

Healthcare administration can be a great degree for adults going back to school. In addition to providing a valuable, in-demand service, this field is also open to students at every level of education. This field also presents a host of degree options.

The first rung on the ladder is an associate degree in healthcare administration. It may qualify you for entry-level jobs such as secretary, patient representation, and administrative support specialist.

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The next rung is a bachelors degree in healthcare administration or healthcare management. At this level, you can also earn a bachelors degree in business administration with an emphasis in healthcare.

Last but not least, if you want to go beyond a 4 year degree, you can earn a Master of Health Administration (MHA) or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Healthcare Administration.

Information Technology

IT technician working in data center

Information technology (IT) is a field devoted to the collection, storage, transmission, and protection of data.

Information technology is closely aligned with computer science, and some schools merge their degree programs or offer majors, minors, and concentrations with a lot of crossover between disciplines.

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Ultimately, information technology is its own field of study, and IT degree programs can teach you unique skills to prepare for the workforce. Careers in information technology include programmer, technician, systems analyst, interface designer, data retrieval expert, and information security engineer.

Many of these careers have six-figure salaries, so a bachelors degree can be quite the investment for the future. Computer and information systems managers are especially notable with average annual salaries of $151,150 (Bureau of Labor Statistics).


Manager and team in a meeting

Every industry needs leaders. Whether you’re interested in retail, finance, healthcare, technology, food service, or something else entirely, there are likely management jobs in your chosen field.

As a management major, what you’ll study will depend on your school and your specialization. The basics are usually focused on topics like leadership and communication. There might also be classes in behavioral psychology, risk management, and strategic decision making.

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According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, management occupations have an average salary of $109,760 per year. Demand is also on the rise, as it’s projected that around 505,000 new jobs will be added to the market by 2029.


Marketing team in a meeting

Could you sell ice to someone living in a frozen tundra? If so, you might enjoy a career in marketing. Marketing occupations include everything from creative directors to market research analysts, so there are a wide range of jobs available.

If you’re tech-savvy, you might enjoy working with social media. If you’re good at public speaking, you might thrive in a promotions or public relations role. You could even become an event planner or the representative of a company or college.

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Marketing degree programs can teach you skills like organization, communication, and efficiency, and these skills are always in demand. If you’re looking for a flexible, versatile degree, you may consider a BA or BS in Marketing.


Nurses taking care of a patient

If you enjoy helping people in a direct, hands-on way, you may consider a career in nursing. Thanks to the streamlined nature of nursing programs, you may even be in the field in 2 years or less!

Many people start with an associate degree in nursing (ADN) before moving on to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). If you’re already a registered nurse (RN), you can also find RN to BSN programs that will build on what you already know to help you qualify for a more advanced degree in the future.

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Something to note about nursing degrees is that they’ll require additional certification from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) after you graduate.

Benefits of Returning to College as a Working Adult

professionals searching online

There are advantages to going back to school as an adult. It might not always be easy, especially if you’re juggling schedules, but there are definitely benefits to being an older student.

  • You’ll appreciate your education. You’ll understand the value of the money that you’re spending on your degree, and you’ll be able to pursue your interests or ambitions with a true recognition of the skills that you’re gaining.
  • You might be able to earn college credit for life experience. Some schools offer credit for things like military experience or a certain number of years in a professional industry. You might also be able to earn equivalency credits, like CLEP, to speed up your graduation.
  • You’ll have a plan and a schedule. Many 18-year-olds start college with no idea what they want to do with their lives. As an adult student, though, you’ll probably have a stronger sense of who you are and where you want to go. You won’t have to waste time, money, or credit hours.
  • You’ll have access to many different personal and professional resources. This can be especially useful if you plan on changing careers. You can get your foot in the door of your new industry with things like internships, job fairs, networking events, and mentorship programs.
  • You’ll bring a different perspective to your studies. For young people, most of their studies will be theoretical. As an older, more mature learner—especially if you’re already in the workforce—your studies will have real-world meaning and value.

Most colleges make no distinction between “young” and “old” students. There are even bachelor degree programs for working adults that are designed specifically for non-traditional students. Programs offering the best degrees for older adults might have flexible schedules, rolling admissions, reserved seating, or online or evening classes for adults.

Top Paying Careers & Salaries for College Graduates

Top Paying Careers & Salaries for College Graduates

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, bachelors degree holders make an average of $64,896 per year. This is high in comparison to associates degree holders at $46,124 per year and high school graduates at $38,792 per year. It can pay to have an education.

Here are just a few of the most lucrative careers that you can pursue with a 4 year degree.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Computer and Information Systems Managers $151,150
Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers $141,490
Financial Managers $134,180
Sales Managers $132,290
Compensation and Benefits Managers $125,130
Human Resources Managers $121,220
Training and Development Managers $115,640
Actuaries $111,030
Software Developers $110,140
Medical and Health Services Managers $104,280

As you can see, there can be quite the financial incentive to go back to college. A bachelors degree may even lead to a six-figure future.

Admissions Requirements

college students in university classroom

Before you start looking into college courses for adults, it’s helpful to know what colleges will require of you for admission. While every university is different, there are a few things that are considered standard.

  • High school diploma or equivalent. Some community colleges have programs for students who haven’t yet graduated or earned a GED, but you’ll generally need to meet this baseline for admission.
  • Test scores. Many schools ask for SAT or ACT scores. A growing number of colleges, though, are becoming test-optional, so they’ll waive the requirement for some or all applicants. It’s also common for colleges to waive this requirement for adults who have been out of high school for a certain number of years.
  • Application. The typical college application requires personal information, financial information, letters of recommendation, and a personal essay.

As an older student, you’ll likely be considered an independent student, so you may want to keep that in mind when looking at admission or financial aid guidelines.


Best Degrees for Adults Returning to College Accreditation

Accreditation is a way for colleges and universities to prove their educational standards. These standards are determined by places like the US Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

There are several types of accreditation, but the most common and most respected is regional accreditation. Accreditation is important because it proves that a school isn’t a “degree mill” or a scam. It’s also a requirement for many types of financial aid, including FAFSA.

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If you want to make sure that your chosen school is accredited, you can check the searchable databases on the CHEA website.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Best Degrees for Adults Returning to College Financial Aid

Adults in college can take advantage of the same financial aid opportunities as younger students.

The first step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It’s financial aid offered by the government, and it’s completely free to apply. The FAFSA will determine your eligibility for grants, loans, and work-study programs through your chosen school.

Another financial aid option is private assistance. You might qualify for a number of grants, bank loans, and workplace-sponsored tuition reimbursement programs. You can also look for scholarships. Many of them are open to undergraduate students of all ages, and some are even meant specifically for older or non-traditional students.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor’s Degree?

college students taking an exam

If you follow a traditional 16 week semester with a full-time schedule, it usually takes 4 years to obtain a bachelor’s degree. A full-time schedule consists of earning at least 15 credits per semester, which might be difficult for working adults with other responsibilities.

If a traditional schedule doesn’t work for you, there are other options. You can attend part-time, for example, or you can find a college with abbreviated 8 week to 10 week semesters. You can also look into summer programs and dual degree programs that can shave time off your graduation date.

Last but not least, you might be able to earn equivalency credits from CLEP or DSST. Some schools will even give you credit for life experience. It may be worth reaching out and seeing what options are available.

Benefits of Online Degrees for Working Adults

Business professional working

Going back to school isn’t always easy, but just as there are unique challenges to being an adult student, there are unique benefits as well.

  • Credit for life experience. Some colleges offer credit for adult students with work, life, or military experience.
  • Less distractions. With an online degree program, you can stay completely focused on your education from the comfort of your home or wherever you decide to study.
  • Better career prospects. In today’s hyper-competitive job market, a bachelor’s degree is often a minimum requirement. Having a BA or BS on your resume may open a lot of doors that might otherwise be closed to you.
  • A fast track to graduation. If you already know what you want or need to do for career advancement, you won’t waste time with unnecessary classes as you decide on a major.
  • An appreciation for your education. As an older, more mature student, it’s more likely that you won’t take college for granted.

These are just a few of the reasons to consider going back to school as an adult learner.

What Is a Good Degree for an Older Person?

Financial Analysts meeting with client

College for adults can be a lucrative prospect. There are many fields where you can earn six figures per year with nothing more than a bachelor’s degree. Some of these in-demand fields include business, finance, healthcare, management, or technology.

As for the best degree for you, it depends on your skills, interests, and career goals. If you’re aiming for the highest paying careers, for example, you may look at computer science jobs. If you want to help people in person, you may become a nurse or an educator.

It’s never too late to pursue your passion. If you’re interested in a specific career, then you can start perusing those degree programs, regardless of your age.

Getting Your Bachelor’s Degree Online

Getting Your Bachelor’s Degree Online

There are many benefits to obtaining a bachelor’s degree. A bachelors can give you an edge on the job market. It can help you develop the skills that you’ll need for high-paying jobs. It can also serve as a foundation for further education if you ever decide to pursue a masters or doctoral degree.

Age doesn’t matter when it comes to knowledge. For example, whether you’re a recent high school graduate or a more mature student who’s going back to school at 45 years old, you can start researching online programs from accredited universities. Your academic journey could begin with a single application.

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Jordan Meeks
Jordan Meeks
Jordan is pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and earned her Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management and her Bachelor's in Business Administration. Jordan's research focuses on adults returning to college and online degree programs.