Guide to the Best Degrees for Adults Returning to College

Guide to the Best Degrees for Adults Returning to College

5 minute read

As an adult considering going back to school, you already know that deciding whether to begin or finish a degree requires you to consider a lot of different factors. After all, balancing work and family commitments with school work is no easy task. But even if you’re sure that going back to school is the right decision for you, there’s another decision you’ll need to make: which major or degree program is the best fit for you? If you already have a specific goal for returning to school in mind (like getting a promotion or beginning a new career path that you’ve had your heart set on), you may already know what major and degree you need to pursue. But if your goal is more general, like moving into a higher paying job or proving to yourself and your family that you can earn your degree, you may be wondering what majors and degrees make the most sense for you. In this article, we’ll walk you through some of the top majors and degrees adult students may want to consider.

Top Majors to Consider

Nursing and Health Sciences

Careers in nursing and the health sciences are on the rise, and since many don’t require you to earn a 4-year degree, they can be great options if you’re hoping to make a career change or upgrade quickly. You can find work as a registered nurse, a physical therapy assistant, dental assistant, sonographer, or a wide variety of other options with just a certificate or associate’s degree. Want to up your earnings? Earning a BSN as an RN can help you increase salary by almost 7%.

Computer Science

Majoring in computer science can lead to a wide variety of jobs, including systems analyst, software development, and database administrator positions. Growth in this field currently outpaces that of most other fields: the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 15% increase in computer science jobs between 2019-2029. The salary outlook is excellent, too. A holder of a 4-year computer science degree can expect to earn about $70,000 at the start of their career, with potentially large increases later, depending on the specific job title. Though computer science is a challenging major, it’s an attractive major for adults with families who may be looking for a high-paying job that doesn’t require a move--there are jobs in locales all over the U.S., and many computer science jobs can be performed remotely, too.

Business Administration

If you’re entrepreneurially minded and enjoy working with people, you might consider a degree in business administration. A degree in business administration is attractive to hiring managers in lots of industries, including retail, foodservice, finance, and healthcare, so if you already have job expertise in a particular field, adding a business administration degree can be an excellent way to continue your career progression in that area. While business administration jobs aren’t growing quite as quickly as some other fields, they’re expected to increase about 4% between 2019 and 2029, so the outlook is good. Salaries vary widely for business administration degree holders, so be sure to do your research before you begin your degree.


Traditionally, majors like philosophy, cultural studies, and English get a bad rap for not leading to lucrative careers, but the truth is that these majors can lead to high-paying jobs and high levels of career satisfaction. Employers recognize that humanities majors help students cultivate coveted skills like critical thinking and analysis as well as develop soft skills like empathy and communication. As an adult learner, though, you’ll want to keep in mind that the payoff for a liberal arts degree may not be immediate. While liberal arts grads are more likely to earn less at the beginning of their careers, they later tend to match or even outearn the median salaries of their peers in other areas. So, when you think about whether to pursue a liberal arts degree, think about how long you plan to work before committing to one of these majors. If you decide to pursue one of the majors above, the good news is that you may be able to complete your degree program online. (But note that healthcare jobs may require you to participate in on-site clinical activities.) For adult learners, online degrees offer a lot of benefits, especially those offered as part of a competency-based program. Keep in mind, taking competency-based classes online from like StraighterLine or schools like Western Governor’s University allows you to tailor your coursework to your own needs; in a competency-based course, you can quickly demonstrate what you know and spend as much time as you need learning new information. Because competency-based programs often take less time to finish than traditional semester-based programs, you may be able to start earning the return on your educational investment sooner than you thought possible.

Looking for study tips for succeeding in online college courses? Check out this great article: Tips for Effective Online Learning.

About the Author: Anissa Sorokin, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of English and Writing Program Administrator at Stevenson University near Baltimore, Maryland. Anissa’s interdisciplinary background and extensive experience teaching research, writing, and study skills help her demystify college expectations for students online and in her classroom.

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