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10 Best Degrees for 50 Year Olds What to study for a new career in your fifties

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Managing Editor
B.A.
Carrie Sealey-Morris has covered bootcamps, careers, and higher education for College Consensus since 2017. Carrie is a graduate of the University of New Mexico where she earned a B.A. in American Studies. 

It’s never too late to go back to school. In fact, according to Forbes, going back to school after age 50 is the new normal. Pursuing an education after 50 may not only be the norm, it can be necessary to stay competitive in the workforce, secure your position, or allow you to change careers.

As an older, nontraditional student, you might have more time to earn a college degree now than you did while you were working and raising a family. Enrolling in school will challenge you, keep your mind sharp, provide social interaction, teach you new skill, or finally pursue your dream career.

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Nontraditional Students

Many colleges and universities have started catering to nontraditional students. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nontraditional students are defined as “… older than typical age, part-time attendance…working full time while enrolled, having dependents, being a single parent, and being a recipient of a GED or high school completion certificate.”

In 2021, the National Center for Education Statistics found that 7% of today’s college students are over the age of 35.

Full Time or Part Time/Online or On Campus

Getting a degree after 50 has become remarkably convenient as schools provide different enrollment options, admission requirements, and specialized degrees. You have options to attend on-campus classes or the same classes online.

During the COVID pandemic in 2020, a majority of schools moved their on-campus programs to online formats to keep students academically on track. Institutions also fine-tuned online courses, involved more professors, boosted enrollment, and began adding more online degree programs with the same course design as on-campus classes. The online format can be perfect for older students, allowing you to study at times convenient for you.

You also don’t have to attend school full-time to earn a degree. In fact, about 50% of students attend college part-time, leaving time to continue to work and meet family and personal commitments.

Is It Worth Earning a Bachelor’s or Graduate Degree After 50?

You may think going back to college in your 50s is too late. But even with retirement in view, there are good reasons to get your degree. Whether you want to reinvent yourself or remain competitive in your current career, returning to school is always a good idea.

Education can offer intellectual stimulation, contribute to personal fulfillment, and open doors to new interests. Moreover, many individuals today continue working past traditional retirement age, and having an updated skill set can make you more competitive in the job market. It’s a chance to explore passions, potentially transition to a new career, or simply relish the joy of lifelong learning. Going back to college in your 50s can be a rewarding investment in your mind, future, and overall well-being.

AARP suggests you ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you love the subject matter?
  • Do you plan to continue work at least 10 years after earning your degree?
  • Is your major in demand and pay well?
  • What about the cost?
  • Will your family and/or employer support you?

A college degree may increase your earning potential and/or help you enter a new career.

Educational LevelAverage Weekly SalaryUnemployment Rate
Doctoral or Professional Degree$2,0801.0-1.4%
Master’s$1,6611.9%
Bachelor’s$1,4322.2%
Associate’s$1,0052.7%
No Degree but some college$9353.5%
High School Diploma$8354.0%
Less than high school diploma$6825.5%
(BLS, 2022)

Tuition/Fees

The average tuition rate in 2023 was:

School TypeResidency StatusAcademic Year Tuition & Fees
Private$42,162
PublicOut-of-State$23,630
In-State$10,662
(Source: U.S. News and World Report, 2023)

Paying for School

There are several options that can help defray the cost of going back to school:

  • Employer Support – if you’re currently working, your employer may offer educational financial assistance as part of your benefits package, especially if your studies relate to your job
  • Scholarships – colleges and universities may have scholarships specifically for nontraditional students. Funds are also available from the private sector 
  • Federal Student Aid – you may qualify for federal student assistance and will want to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid® (the FAFSA is usually required for scholarships and grants)
  • Transfer Credits – you pay for the course, an academic transcript from a previously attended school can help reduce your charges

Tuition Free

Sound too good to be true? It’s true, several states offer free tuition at state community colleges. Earning a two-year degree at a community college can save you a good deal in tuition costs at a four-year college. Transferring Associate Degree credits will allow you to enter a four-year school as a junior, saving you money and time.

What’s the Best Job for Women Over 50?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2031, older women will comprise most of the workforce, but what are some of those jobs?

A college degree can qualify you for a variety of careers:

Real EstateHealth Services
HospitalityEducation
FinanceFreelance Writer
Counselor/TherapistEngineer
Graphic DesignInformation Technology
Marketing/AdvertisingConsultant

Job search engines such as Indeed, Glassdoor, LinkedIn, and the AARP Job Board, are useful in helping you find the right job.

1. Accounting

Accounting programs typically culminate in an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. An associate’s degree usually takes two years to finish, while a bachelor’s degree takes four years. Coursework for both types of degrees will include information about economics, financial and managerial accounting, business and individual tax regulations, marketing and software applications. Students who pursue a four-year degree will dive deeper into the various topics, learning advanced accounting and financial principles.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting, students can take additional courses to qualify to take the CPA exam. A total of 150 hours of relevant coursework are required to become a CPA. Many of these hours are completed while earning your bachelor’s degree. It generally takes an extra year to fulfill this requirement.

What Can Someone Over 50 Do With an Accounting Degree?

With an associate’s degree, adults will gain experience to take on an entry-level position as a clerk or bookkeeper. Many companies seek part-time accountants to manage day-to-day bookkeeping, which an associate’s degree would prepare you for.

A bachelor’s degree typically sets you up for more advanced positions. With a bachelor’s degree in accounting, you could work for an accounting firm as well as an internal private accounting department.

Someone over 50 might be interested in an accounting degree so that they can pick up part-time or contract-based jobs. They might take on seasonal work as a tax preparer. If you have an entrepreneurial drive, you may want to learn more about accounting to support your small business.

Salaries for accountants can range from $44k-$76k according to Payscale. A bachelor’s degree or CPA licensure helps you bypass entry-level positions and earn a higher salary. Because those qualifications take longer to earn, you could offer basic freelancing accounting services as you work toward your degree.

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2. Psychology

If nothing else, adults over 50 have life experience. If they are interested in helping others and delving into the workings of the brain, they can follow this curiosity and earn a degree in psychology.

Psychology is one of the most popular undergraduate degree programs. That could be due to the fact that psychology can be applied to many job roles and industries.

Coursework varies by degree program. Most psychology majors learn about different psychological theories and developmental psychology. They’ll investigate research methods and learn how to conduct effective research. Behavioral psychology and treatment methods make up a large portion of this topic of study.

Depending on the curriculum, you might be able to specialize in a particular area, such as addictions, applied behavior analysis and industrial and organizational psychology.

What Can Someone Over 50 Do With a Psychology Degree?

A common job prospect for someone with a psychology degree is a therapist or counselor. But therapists typically have to graduate degrees and take licensure exams. There are many jobs for psychologists if you don’t want to be a counselor or therapist.

In fact, psychology majors don’t always work within the field. They may take jobs in human resources, business, education or marketing.

Substance abuse treatment centers often need workers to plan and implement programs, complete administrative duties and supervise the clients. This might be an ideal role for someone over 50. Local small businesses may need help conducting market research and focusing their promotional strategies. Knowledge of psychology allows you to develop persuasive techniques that achieve results.

Depending on your degree, your concentration, and where you work, the BLS published salaries in 2022 for a career in psychology range from $48k-$141k.

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3. Nursing

Adult learners typically wonder if they’re too old to go to nursing school. Perhaps they want a career change that provides access to jobs in any location. A nursing degree can advance skills that you already have and make you more marketable in the workforce.

By the time they’re 50, most people have heard about the rigors of nursing school. While nursing school can be demanding, there are different levels of education, including the following:

DegreeLengthJob OpportunityMedian Salary
CNA Diploma or Certificate4-12 weeksCertified Nursing Assistant$35k
LPN/LVN1 yearLicensed Practical Nurse$52k
Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)2 yearsRegistered Nurse$76k
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)4 yearsRegistered Nurse$93k
Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)2 yearsAdvanced Practice Registered Nurse$103k
Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)3-4 yearsHealthcare Executive $107k
(Sources: Nurse Journal, 2023, Payscale, 2024)

The ADN takes less time than the other options and can pave the way to becoming a registered nurse, or RN. After earning an ADN or BSN and gaining the necessary real-word experience, you can sit for the NCLEX-RN exam to become a registered nurse in the state in which you wish to work.

What Can Someone Over 50 Do With a Nursing Degree?

A nursing degree can provide you with the education to become an RN. But it also augments your knowledge and skills for any healthcare profession. If you don’t want to be a full-fledged RN, you could look for jobs as an LPN or home health aide.

A home health aide position offers flexibility and the benefits of working outside of an office. It’s ideal for people over 50, who can combine their current confidence and experience with the acquisition of new skills.

LPN positions may be more structured. LPNs usually work in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and long-term care facilities. An LPN assists an RN or physician but can’t practice without supervision. RNs have more responsibilities and job opportunities in management positions.

You generally don’t need more than a high school diploma to become a home health aide. However, other positions for assistants or aides in the medical field require you to have a degree in the nursing field. Even if an employer doesn’t require a college degree, they might be more likely to hire older candidates who have more life experience. In fact, the New York Times reports that people over the age of 55 are 41% more likely to be hired as a nursing aide than individuals between the ages of 30 and 49. A degree can help you stand out even more.

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4. Financial Planning and Economics

By the time you’re 50, you have likely done some financial planning for your own purposes. Even if it’s not your career path, you practice financial planning when you work on your budget. If you’re nearing retirement, you’re probably concerned about supporting yourself financially after you stop working.

A degree in financial planning or economics can help you harness your knowledge in this field and apply it to your own needs. You can also work for companies or individuals, helping to create a financial strategy for security and growth.

An economics degree will help you understand macroeconomic and microeconomic principles. Coursework will be focused on fiscal policy, supply and demand, taxation, interest rates, inflation and unemployment.

Some educational institutions offer financial planning degrees. These equip students with knowledge of markets and financial products as well as individual and family financial matters. Students will learn concepts that are relevant to personal income tax, estate planning and retirement planning. They’ll also gain communication skills, which are important when discussing potentially sensitive topics, such as bank account balances, with individuals.

What Can Someone Over 50 Do With a Financial Planning or Economics Degree?

If you get a financial planning or economics degree after you’re 50, you can work as a personal financial advisor, budget analyst, securities trader, insurance sales agent or credit counselor. These skills are also necessary for real estate agents, who can help their clients understand the market and the value of their investment.

Personal financial advisors earn a median salary of $95,390 per year. Many are self-employed and offer flexible service hours.

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5. Early Childhood Education

If you enjoy working with children, an early childhood education degree might be ideal to pursue in your 50s. Majoring in early childhood education doesn’t limit you to teaching. This degree teaches you about child development from infancy through middle childhood.

You’ll learn about language and cognitive development, motor skill acquisition, emotional regulation and attachment. Students will learn how to facilitate communication between parents and children. Coursework will also focus on youngsters’ physical, nutritional and social needs.

This degree involves some biology, psychology and sociology. You’ll learn about how children’s brains and bodies operate and develop skills for nurturing healthy development.

What Can Someone Over 50 Do With an Early Childhood Education Degree?

An early childhood education degree can set you up to work in or direct a childcare center or preschool. You could work as an administrator or curriculum coordinator at an elementary school. There are many community organizations that provide resources to support early childhood education. You could help with planning, research and policy development.

If you don’t want to work full time, your degree can provide you with the experience to become a tutor. Some schools hire tutors to assist their students during the day. You can also work on a freelance basis, supporting private clients who need tutoring after school hours, during holidays or over the weekend.

Another opportunity for early childhood education majors over 50 is to open a childcare center. Many states allow you to operate a childcare facility from your home. A degree can position you ahead of similar childcare programs and help you secure clients. The median pay for a childcare educator with a degree is $43k-$69k. However, you may earn more if you have a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education.

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6. Human Services

Do you enjoy working with people and helping the community? If so, a degree in human services may interest you. This interdisciplinary degree program provides a framework for learning about the development of social structures and public systems.

Some of the skills that human services majors will focus on include empathy, cultural awareness, critical thinking, solution-oriented analysis and communication. Coursework often involves classes in sociology, psychology, criminal justice, human sexuality and political science.

Students are often required to choose a concentration as they proceed through the degree program. Some specialties in this field include:

• Child and family services

• Gerontology

• Criminal justice

• Addictions

• Health care

Depending on your concentration, a Bachelor’s in Human Services degree can earn you a salary with an average yearly salary of $59-60k.

What Can Someone Over 50 Do With a Human Services Degree?

A human services degree is similar to a degree in social work. However, it tends to have a broader application. Human services professionals concentrate on the bigger picture. Whereas social workers focus on direct interaction with clients, human services professionals often work for larger agencies or organizations.

There are plenty of administrative jobs available for people with human services degrees. You could work in the medical field or support your city’s efforts to provide housing to those in need. Some types of human service organizations include employment agencies, food and nutrition agencies, housing organizations, public safety and disaster relief efforts, youth development groups and legal establishments.

You can choose to work with children, families, elderly individuals, people with disabilities, clients with mental illnesses or veterans. With a human services degree and the experience that you have gained throughout your career, you may work with clients. You could also work behind the scenes, writing grants or meeting with policymakers.

7. Public Administration

A bachelor’s degree in public administration sets you up to enhance the community through work in the public sector. You’ll learn about establishing public policy and funding projects. While a human services professional may work in a client-facing or administrative position, public administration professionals are usually prepared to work administratively.

Courses will teach skills in auditing, grant writing, and decision-making. Students of public administration often concentrate in politics and have opportunities to participate in internships at government offices, law firms or social service agencies.

The degree program will also teach you how to collect and analyze information, evaluate existing policies and recommend improvements. You’ll study historical decisions and their effects on society. It’s essential to have a good grasp on economics if you want to go into public administration. These professionals study and optimize financial impacts to the public.

What Can Someone Over 50 Do With a Public Administration Degree?

With a public administration degree, you could work for a nonprofit organization, civil service institution, or government agency. Policy analysts influence social and political decisions.

Outsourcing is becoming a common practice in the private administration sector. If your background supports your new training, you could work as a consultant on long or short-term projects.

Your degree, what area of Public Administration you work in, position, etc., PayScale estimates a Bachelor’s degree earns a median salary of $71k and a Master’s somewhat higher at $77k in 2024.

8. Art

Many people avoid getting an art degree early on because they worry that it won’t be practical for developing a steady career path. Although that’s not necessarily true, concerns about job security are strong when you’re in your twenties.

Maybe you have already established a solid career and want to try something else. Perhaps you have always worked in a creative industry and want to hone your talents.

A Bachelor of Fine Arts gives you a chance to use your imagination and artistic skills. This degree program can focus on visual, fine or performing arts. Coursework will focus on art history, music and literature. You should also have access to courses that give you time to practice your creative genius.

What Can Someone Over 50 Do With an Art Degree?

An art degree can provide you with the proficiency and confidence to pursue a creative career that can offer a salary between $60k-$69k annually. You could work as a photographer, illustrator, animator, graphic designer or web designer. If you’re over 50, you might want to launch a career as a freelancer, offering these services according to your schedule. You could also work for a corporation’s art department, in a museum or as a curator for a gallery.

9. Landscape Architecture

Many notable landmarks have landscape architects to thank for their appeal and notoriety. Central Park in New York, Monticello in Virginia and the Gardens of Versailles in France are examples of pristine landscape architecture. The field involves environmental management, creative design skills and architectural knowledge. Two undergraduate degrees, the Bachelor of Landscape Architecture and Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture, are available from accredited institutions and have salaries from $50k-$95k.

This degree is ideal for creative people who enjoy nature and art. Courses include horticulture, landscaping history and case studies, project planning and site management. You’ll also learn how to incorporate human-made elements into natural environments. Technical competence is essential for transforming concepts into finished works.

Landscape architects work in a collaborative environment with corporations, city planners and engineers to create sustainable, aesthetically pleasing, cost-effective solutions for public and private spaces. They will gain analytical skills and must be able to work in a team environment.

What Can Someone Over 50 Do With a Landscape Architecture Degree?

If you’re over 50, you might be concerned about taking on a physically demanding job. Landscape architects are not landscape technicians. They create the plan and coordinate the implementation.

Landscape architects strengthen communities and support the environment by designing, implementing and nurturing outdoor properties. They may work with homeowners, property managers, government entities and business owners to design and maintain outdoor layouts. Landscape architects help to develop streetscapes, parks, shopping plazas and neighborhoods.

To work as a landscape architect, you must become licensed. Each state has different requirements for licensure. They all require you to hold a bachelor’s degree and pass an examination. Landscape architects may work for a firm or on a freelance basis.

If you would like to work in landscaping without getting a license, you could become an assistant or designer for a licensed architect. Even if you don’t get a job in this field, your friends will certainly appreciate your new knowledge when you help them boost the curb appeal of their homes.

10. Medical Billing and Coding

Clinical health care practices use medical codes to record and track data regarding medical conditions and procedures for patients. Coding procedures typically follow a universal standard. These codes are also used for billing and reimbursement purposes.

This sounds simple, but it requires extensive training and knowledge of the medical field. Coding allows for the proper categorization of patient services, which helps inform public health policy, facilitates financial procedures and streamlines the administrative operations of healthcare organizations.

Graduates who want to pursue jobs in this field must pass a certification exam. Your coursework will prepare you for the Certified Professional Coder, or CPC, exam. You’ll also learn about medical terminology, anatomy, physiology and pathophysiology, electronic medical records, coding software, law, ethics and records management.

What Can Someone Over 50 Do With a Medical Billing and Coding Degree?

The job outlook for medical coders is positive. The median annual pay for this occupation is $49k, and growth is on par with the national average.

Some positions to look for as a graduate from a medical coding program include medical biller and coder, medical records and health information technician and medical and health services manager. You could work for a private practice or hospital. Many companies offer remote positions for medical billers and coders.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it worth getting a degree after 50?

People are living longer, are healthier, and are more productive than ever before. The Social Security Administration has long been considered the authority on retirement ages and prior to 1983, the “standard” retirement age was 65. After 1983, Congress passed legislation that gradually increases the full retirement age to receive maximum Social Security benefits.

Following the COVID pandemic in 2020, employers began having trouble finding highly skilled, experienced workers. In 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated 96.5% by 2030 of employees would be Baby Boomer and Gen X employees 55-75 years old and employers are beginning to recognize the benefits of hiring older employees.

Earning a degree after 50 is looked on favorably by employers as demonstrating your desire (and ability) to learn new skills and help secure your position. Earning a degree can also assist you in advancing your career. For example, if you earned a nursing diploma, you’ll want to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to meet new licensure requirements; or, if you have a BSN, a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) will help you move into supervisory or administrative roles.

With several decades in the workforce under your belt, you may have more luck than a younger college graduate if you want to use your degree to advance your present career or to secure a better job. Consider seeking a major that allows you to make the most of your existing skills while expanding your knowledge.

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