Picking a major to study is a daunting task for any college student, and even more so if you are going to or returning to college as an adult. Fortunately, you have the benefit of work experience and a higher education environment that’s ready to embrace adult learners as the “new traditional” student, and offer assistance.   

You aren’t alone: over 36 million adults in the U.S. have some college credit and no degree.  Here are a few tips to help you select a major that will make your investment well worth it (high school students can use these tips as well)!

1. Rethink your Old Major (if you are returning to college)

You may want to rethink going for the same major you left in college. According to a Gallup/Strada Education report, 36% of adults regretted the study subject they chose in college. With your work and life experience, you have the opportunity to pick a field that’s a better fit for your life and aspirations. Also many programs aimed at adult students feature more limited and career-focused than “traditional” student programs.

If your major was in line with your current field or interests, and there are programs available, you should absolutely consider going forward with it!

2. Make sure your Credits (and Experience) Count

Many programs offer opportunities to transfer old college credits, earn credits by exam, and earn credits for intensive work and training experiences. Most of Saylor Academy’s partner schools offer robust opportunities to earn credit for your knowledge.  Look for opportunities to earn “credit by exam” and/or “prior learning assessment or credit”. To learn if a training program you’ve taken counts for college credit, you can also look at the ACE National Guide to review acceptable programs. ACE also has a guide to prior learning assessment for adult learners that can help you make a decision.

3. Size up your Skills

Transferable skills are skills that can be used in any position (soft skills such as teamwork, leadership, and I would add presentation skills). Identify these skills and jobs of interest if you want to switch careers, and promotion opportunities using these soft skills if you wish to stay. A good example: if you are in hospitality, you have great customer service experience and interpersonal skills, which could translate to sales.

4. Bring a Crystal Ball (Do your Research)

When choosing a major, verify the current job opportunities and job growth possibilities in your field and in the area you live. You can research your current or potential field using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Projections to pull growth projections and the  degree needed. Doing extra research may also help you avoid a field that is facing automation or a slowdown in growth.

5. Do a Dream Job Search

You can check your research by searching for potential job titles on sites such as Indeed.com or Linkedin. Take note of how many positions are available in your area, the salary range, skills required, and compare to your goals. There are fields that you may not have thought of, such as manufacturing, that have projected talent shortages and a potential for higher salaries and less competition.   

Also, look at the degree needed for entry for most position listings in your field. Does it match what you’ve learned from the BLS search? Does the terminal degree match your educational goals? For instance, If you are interested in teaching, but don’t want to go to graduate school, you may have a hard time finding a position.

Start exploring and go for it!

Once you have your options, remember Saylor Academy partners have many adult-friendly and career oriented programs. Western Governors’ University, for example has an IT program that incorporates industry level certifications into their Bachelor’s degree program. Southern New Hampshire University has many online programs that offer flexible schedules for busy adult learners.

Others, such as Bellevue University, University of Maryland University College, Charter Oak State College, and Thomas Edison State University, have generous credit acceptance policies designed to help nontraditional students earn the prior learning credit they need to graduate quickly and affordably.

Remember, you can also use Saylor Academy courses to test out subjects, refresh your studies, and earn college credit to save money and finish faster! Check out our “Start, Study, Save!” page to learn how.


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