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10 Best Degrees for 40 Year Olds What to study for a new career in your forties

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When you reach the age of 40, the thought of going back to school can sound intimidating. However, with more people working beyond the age of 65 today, investing two or more years in studying can pay off as you navigate the next 25 to 35 years as a member of the workforce. Having a stable and rewarding career can help you reduce financial struggles, save for retirement, pay for your child’s college education or just enjoy your life more.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is it too late to earn a degree?

We’re living longer and are more productive and active than ever before. Congress and the Social Security Administration have set the nation’s retirement age, and before 1983, the accepted retirement age was 65. After 1983, Congress passed legislation that required gradual increases in the full retirement age to receive maximum Social Security benefits. In 2024, the standard age is 67 for those born after 1960.

As the sayings go, “It’s never too late,” especially with education. As John Lennon famously said, “Life’s what happens when you’re making other plans.” It could be you want to advance in your career and need a degree to move up the career ladder. Perhaps you couldn’t finish or go to college because of family obligations. Maybe you want to start a new career.

Many colleges and universities are offering degrees and support for nontraditional students. The National Center for Education Statistics defines this group 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. Roughly one in ten U.S. college students are 40 years old or older.

Getting a degree after 40 has become remarkably convenient with the growth of accredited, online programs that will let you continue to work, meet family and personal commitments, and allow you to study at times convenient for you.

Is it worth getting a degree at 40?

Dell Technologies (2018) reported that the Institute For The Future (IFTF) predicted that 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet. So maybe the better question is, can you afford not to earn or finish a college degree.

You may think going back to college in your 40s is too late. But there are a lot of sound financial reasons to take the plunge. Investing in education at this stage can lead to enhanced career opportunities, potentially resulting in increased earning potential and job security. Many industries value the experience and maturity that older students bring to the table. Additionally, education can serve as a strategic investment in personal development, fostering adaptability in a rapidly changing job market. With various financial aid options, scholarships, and part-time study choices, pursuing higher education in your 40s can be a wise financial decision with long-term benefits.

The cost of going back to school can be a major factor in your decision. A college degree can increase your earning potential and provide you with employment security and/or the ability to move into a new career. Is earning a degree at 40 a good return on investment (ROI)?

School TypeResidency StatusAcademic Year Tuition & Fees
(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:

  • Transfer Credits – you pay for the course, an academic transcript from a previously attended school can help reduce your charges
  • Scholarships – colleges and universities may have scholarships specifically for nontraditional students. Funds are also available from the private sector
  • 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
  • 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)
Educational LevelAverage Weekly SalaryUnemployment Rate
No Degree but some college$9353.5%
High School Diploma$8354.0%
Less than high school diploma$6825.5%
(BLS, 2022)

College Consensus has reviewed some of the top degrees for students over 40 years old that may help you in your decision.

CareerEstimated SalaryPreferred Degrees
Information Security Analyst$112kAssociate; Bachelor
Financial Advisor$95kAssociate; Bachelor
Market Research Analyst$68kBachelor; Master
Academic Counselor$60kBachelor; Master
Computer Programmer$98kAssociate; Bachelor
Web Developer$81kAssociate; Bachelor
Teacher$63kBachelor; Master
(Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022)

What is the best career to start at 40?

The career that’s best for you will depend on your professional and personal goals. U.S. News and World Report ranks the 100 Best Jobs for 2024.

  • Healthcare, Nursing, Psycology
  • Business, Finance, Accounting
  • Computer Science, Web Design
  • Marketing, Public Relations, Graphics
  • Engineering
  • Education, Teacher, Counselor

Today, these are the top 10-degree path choices recommended for people over 40 who want to return to school.

1. Information Security Analyst

An information security analyst often handles cybersecurity and network security tasks. Working in this position, you may be responsible for installing and maintaining network security features, managing firewalls and handling related tasks. Also, you must know how to analyze and test security features. As cyberattacks and security features continue to evolve and change, the knowledge that information security analysts must have also changes. If you like challenges, digital security, learning and finding solutions, this career is likely a good fit for you. A degree program teaches you the computer technology, internet technology, communication and other skills you need to work in a variety of roles.

The good news with this career choice is that you only need an associate’s degree to get started. However, a bachelor’s degree will open more opportunities for you. Because of their critical roles in the companies they serve, information security analysts earn attractive salaries. According to the BLS, the average information security analyst job growth is estimated to be much faster than average at 32% over the next ten years.

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2. Financial Advisor

If you like research, math and working with people, this may be a great career path for you. Financial advisors may work with individuals, small businesses, large enterprises or government entities. They analyze financial and economic information, and they provide educated advice to help clients make the right financial decisions. Also, they help people prepare for the future by recommending IRAs, life insurance or other investments. Even if you do not have a lot of experience working in a finance-related field, a degree program gives you the necessary math, statistics, economics, financial planning and other classes to prepare you for the roles you may seek. This is a good career path choice if you have excellent planning, multitasking and research skills.

To become a financial advisor, plan on earning at least a bachelor’s degree in finance or a similar discipline. However, if you spend an extra year and a half studying, you can work toward your MBA degree for more career options. Some people who have a degree in finance can instead work toward a certification or both the MBA degree and a certification. The Certified Financial Planner credential is the most common one that employers look for and people who want to become advisors seek. There is an exam that you must pass to become certified, and the test is offered three times per year.

College Consensus has identified 10 of the 2023 Best Online Finance Degrees that will help you get started.

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3. Nurse

When people think of nurses, they often think of busy and tired nurses working in a crowded emergency room or hospital. However, hospital careers are just one of many options for nurses. According to research, older students are actually more successful in nursing degree programs. There are at least 50 career options for people who hold a nursing degree. For example, a nursing degree may open up the opportunity for a health care career on board a cruise ship, a job as a community educator, a role as a researcher, working with an anesthesiologist, doing administrative work and many other roles.

Nurses often work in specific areas of health care, such as obstetrics, oncology, neonatal care or another field. A nursing program prepares students for these careers by teaching them the medical skills they need through lecture-based courses and hands-on labs, which are often called clinical rotations. For specialties, they learn applied skills as well. Registered nursing is a two-year degree path for a full-time student, and some people choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing for more career options.

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4. Accountant

Accountants come in several forms. Your career path may depend on how much you want to make and how much time you are willing to spend in school. There are jobs for people who earn an associate’s degree, but a bachelor’s degree in accounting is usually the minimum that many employers require. If you already have an undergraduate degree and want to boost your income potential, you can seek a master’s degree and a Certified Public Accountant credential. The CPA certification includes a four-part exam, and you must meet continuing education requirements to maintain it. The degree program you choose will prepare you for accounting roles by teaching you accounting, finance, statistics, communication and analytical skills. You will also learn how to work with accounting software programs and other helpful technologies.

With an undergraduate degree, an accountant may work as a bank loan officer or a company’s staff accountant. Also, internal auditor, financial analyst, and budget analyst are a few roles that accountants with undergraduate degrees may fill. CPAs may handle financial advice, tax preparation, and general accounting for businesses or individuals, often working with high-net-worth clients. CPAs may earn higher six-digit salaries depending on the employer, experience, and other factors. However, the average accountant’s salary was over $78,000 per year, according to 2022 data from the BLS.

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5. Market Research Analyst

A market research analyst helps clients find and reach the right target audiences. They conduct market research based on products or services and general research about different groups of people. After that, analysts use the information they find to help their clients determine who their market is and how much the people are willing to pay for what the client offers. There are other tasks that they perform as well. Although that explanation of the job sounds simple, the research they conduct is complex and takes time and patience. If you are someone who loves research, marketing and profiling groups of customers, you will likely enjoy a career in this field.

If you want to become a market research analyst, plan to pursue a bachelor’s degree. This is usually the minimum for most jobs. However, the good news is that there are several types of degrees that prepare people to be successful analysts. Business administration, statistics, math and computer science are good degrees to have if you want to become a market research analyst. Psychological knowledge is also useful, so try to take some psychology classes as electives. Your degree path should prepare you to work with financial, social, and economic information. Also, the previous degree options teach you the critical analytical skills you need to succeed. If you take psychology classes, you also learn important information about behavior and how to analyze people.

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6. Academic Counselor

As an academic counselor, you are responsible for helping people reach their education goals, listening to their problems, helping them find solutions and being an advocate as they start or continue their academic journey. There is some versatility in academic counseling depending on who you prefer to serve. You may like to work with children and may want to become an elementary school counselor. If you like working with college students, you may decide to work for a community college, a university or even a graduate school. This is an excellent career path choice if you want to do something in your own line of work but need a change. For example, if you work as an electrician and are having issues with arthritis, you may decide to become an academic advisor at a trade school.

To be an academic counselor, you usually need a master’s degree. However, there may be some jobs for people with a bachelor’s degree. Some schools allow you to pursue a master’s degree if you hold a bachelor’s degree in a similar discipline. The master’s degree program in counseling teaches you about psychology, social science, communication and other important topics that you will need to develop the skills to be a good counselor. You also learn organizational and time management skills to help you handle all the responsibilities you will have.

7. Medical Administrative Assistant

A medical administrative assistant is someone who helps a facility administrator. The assistant may have a wide range of duties if the facility is small and has fewer departments. For example, an assistant may handle some HR tasks if there is no HR department in the facility. In many cases, the administrative assistant greets patients, assists with filling out insurance claims, answers calls, manages an appointment calendar and helps with paperwork that the administrator needs. A high degree of accuracy in compiling and maintaining medical data is important. This is a good job for someone who enjoys challenges and working in a fast-paced environment. If you have good communication, organization and office skills, this may be an enjoyable career for you.

One benefit about becoming a medical administrative assistant is that it may only require a two-year degree. People often work toward a degree in medical assisting, medical coding, business administration or a similar discipline to enter this career path. There are some dedicated certificate courses as well. However, employers often list an associate’s degree as a minimum requirement for employment. The degree path you choose should prepare you for this role by helping you learn the communication, organization and administrative skills you need. Also, it helps to have training in medical billing and coding. According to 2022 data from the BLS, the career outlook is strong for a career as a medical administrative assistant at much faster than average rate.

8. Computer Programmer

Computer programmers often spend a considerable amount of time writing codes for software programs, and they test the codes they create as well. They are responsible for creating software programs for individuals, companies, government entities or other entities. Programmers may work independently as contractors or may be employed. When they are employed, they usually create and modify systems for employers to fit specific company needs. In such roles, they usually turn the instructions of program designers into commands that a computer can understand. As independent programmers, they may develop and test their own programs or work on various temporary projects. If you enjoy solving problems, have good attention to detail and can manage multiple tasks, this may be a nice career for you.

Programmers often learn and work with a variety of programming languages, such as C++, HTML, Java, SQL and others. Most employers require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, and a bachelor’s program will prepare you sufficiently if you choose a major of information technology, computer science or a related discipline. It also helps to take extra classes about programming languages if possible. Computer science and IT classes prepare you by teaching you everything you need to understand about computers. Also, you will learn how to conduct tests on the codes you write, how to identify errors and how to correct them. Although that explanation makes the process sound simple, problems can be complex and may have complex solutions as well. This is why a bachelor’s degree is a good goal to work toward for a career as a computer programmer.

9. Web Developer

Web developers are responsible for creating and maintaining websites and especially for working with the technical aspects of them. For example, they may measure capacity, performance and other aspects of the site’s speed and capabilities. They must understand traffic and ensure that the website is designed to handle the volume of requests it receives, which can be challenging as traffic fluctuates or grows. Also, developers must have a good understanding of how to turn instructions into functions to create user interfaces that are engaging and beneficial to site visitors or customers. According to US News, being a web developer is a good career choice for someone who wants a good work-life balance, less stress and more chances of advancing. If you are someone who is highly motivated and a self-starter, this is a good career. It is also a great choice if you have the ability to envision what people want based on their requests and are creative. Although many web developers work as independent contractors, there are also staff jobs in larger companies or with tech companies.

If you want to become a web developer, there are plenty of options for training. Some people are self-taught developers and may learn basic skills in as little as a few months. However, many employers and clients require a bachelor’s or associate’s degree. If you have an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree in computer science, web development, information science or a related discipline, it may be sufficient. Plan on taking as many classes as possible during your program that are related to web development. By doing this, you will have the necessary skills to create a website, handle design elements and be able to test or modify it as necessary. In 2022, the BLS reported that future employment for web developers is much faster than the average for other careers.

10. Teacher

As children, many people dream of becoming a teacher when they grow up. Teachers are responsible for shaping the minds of students. Whether you want to teach elementary school, high school or college students, teaching can be a rewarding career choice. Although many educators still teach in a traditional classroom setting, others may only teach online classes. Some even teach kids who are in other countries. Today, there is more flexibility in options. However, becoming a teacher requires plenty of studying. Most positions for school teachers today require a master’s degree, and you typically need a master’s or higher to teach at a college or university. If you already have a degree, teaching may be an especially attractive choice to you. For example, if you have a degree in English, you may decide to finish a master’s program and become an English teacher at a school. A teaching certificate is also required for most educator positions, and this comes with knowledge tests and a background check.

It takes at least four years to become a teacher if you have not already earned a degree. However, your timeline will depend on the courses you take and how much time you have to devote to studying. Some states have a residency requirement, which means that you must meet a minimum requirement for teaching experience and college coursework. The education program you choose should prepare you specifically for teaching, or it should prepare you to teach the subject you prefer. For example, studying history and elementary education is a good choice for an aspiring history teacher. You need knowledge of the subject and the skills to teach it to the age group you prefer to work with. Many people work as teachers well into their sixties and even seventies. The average high school teacher salary was over $62,000 in 2020, and the average postsecondary teacher salary was over $80,000 in 2020.

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There are other good career choices for people over the age of 40 as well. Whether you are looking to move to a similar career or choose an entirely different field to enter, you can prepare yourself by selecting the right degree program. It helps to research your desired career path to see what the average salary is, what you can expect from work-life balance and if it meets any of your other individual requirements.

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Ready to start your journey?

Ready to start your journey?