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how to choose a major as an adult student

Choosing a Major as an Adult Student — A Comprehensive Guide

Are you in your late twenties? Having problems with your major selection? Well, choosing a major as an adult student is a systematic approach which is often driven by career goals and personal interests.

Consider Sarah for instance, a vibrant woman and a working professional in her early thirties who spent the last decade of her life working as a successful marketing executive.

While her job delivered financial stability but it didn’t offer her the fulfillment and purpose she craved. So, she decided to change her career path and started searching for new major choices to fulfill her goals and cravings.

If you are someone like Sarah, this guide is for you!

Here is a detailed guide with all the essentials steps for major selection; whether you are trying to change your career or want to improve on your existing career.

How Adult Learners Choose a Field of Study

Selecting a major in college is a crucial decision that can have a significant impact on your future career and life goals. There are many factors to consider when choosing a major, such as your interests, values, skills, and career goals.

Here are 6 essential steps to choose your major:

Step 1 – Assess Personal Goals and Motivations

Proper assessment of personal goals and motivations assists in the complex selection process of the major. But before doing so, adult students should consider the following things—

Self-Reflection: Identifying Personal and Professional Goals

Before picking up any major, adult learners should participate in a profound process of self-assessment. Marking out personal and professional goals is always the first step of the major selection journey.

According to a survey conducted by the Fast Company in 2021, 52% of U.S. workers are reputing a career change and 44% are ready to make a switch.

So, evaluate your aspirations. Find out how higher education fits into the future plan. Plus, questions to ponder may include:

  • How can I align my personal interests with my life’s personal demand?
  • What skills have I owned through my different work and life experiences that could be applied to my academic journey?
  • How can my academic goals be harmonized with my existing career and family aspirations?
  • What impact will my choice of major have on my work-life balance and financial stability?
  • What lifestyle am I envisioning for the future?

Everything should be considered with utter attention.

Understanding Motivations and Passions

What genuinely drives you? What are the possible areas of knowledge or fields of work that resonate with your inner drive and interest?

All these things should be taken into account while selecting a major. For example, a bachelor’s degree is suitable for adult learners who want to experience something new before proceeding into a new career.

But if someone is more passionate about learning a subject, a certificate program will do the job for him.

This is why having a great understanding of passions and motivations is equally paramount for adult learners.

According to a recent survey of CivicScience, in the U.S., 11% of adults are reconsidering their careers and willing to go back to college to pursue a new career path in agreement with the new trend and job sector.

Therefore, you should be highly concerned while you are selecting the major and make sure you won’t be felling sorry about your choice in the future.

When it comes to pursuing higher education later in life, such as in our guide on choosing a major as an adult student, it’s important to focus on your goals and strategies for making the most out of a college degree.

Balancing Personal and Professional Goals

Striking a delicate balance between personal and financial objectives is essential for adult students who are in the phase of major selection.

So, what is the key point that an adult student must assess to keep a balance between the professional and personal life?

Starting with the assessment of the final situation and how pursuing a particular major might impact your personal and professional goals is a great idea. Moreover, Adult learners must evaluate the potential return on investment (ROI) of college and how it aligns with their financial circumstances.

For instance, if an adult student is just willing to learn about marketing, art preservation, sales, or data science out of love for these subjects, admitting into a certificate program will be a cost-efficient option rather getting a degree after completing years of courses which can cause more hassle.

As most of the certificate programs are flexible and requires less fees, these could be a helpful choice for adult students who have to deal with their personal and professional life together.

Do college degrees help you get a better salary? Find out here: Will you make more money with a college degree?

Addressing Concerns and Barriers

Based on the report of Lumina Foundation Data, around 38% of undergraduate students have exceeded 25 years of age.

Among them, 58% of students are associated with jobs while attending school and 26% of them are taking care of their families.

It means a significant number of the students who are adults and pursuing their education while managing their jobs and families facing significant challenges such as time constraints, family responsibilities, and financial limitations.

To mitigate these barriers, adult learners can embrace the following strategies—

  • Seek support from family.
  • Explore flexible program options that might align with their desire and passions.
  • Identify sources of financial aid opportunities.

Step 2 – Research Career Paths

Researching career paths may include multiple stages from investigating different options and job market trends to considering transferable skills.  Have a closer look at the considerable stages—

Investigate Career Options and Job Market Trends

In-depth research into potential career options and a broad idea about the job market trends is a cornerstone of making an informed choice for major selection.

For instance, the field of information technology is rapidly expanding and creating a whole lot of well-paying employment opportunities.

The industry is predicted to increase at an estimated 13% annual rate between 2020 to 2030, indicating excellent prosperity and an increase of more than 600,000 job opportunities.  

AS per U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2022 to 2032, it is predicted that overall employment in this industry would increase more quickly than the average for all occupations. An average of 377,500 positions are anticipated annually.

Keeping this info in mind, if you choose IT related major as an adult, you will have thousands of possibilities and job scope in the near future.

However, here are practical guidelines to help you gather valuable information:

  1. Make Use of Online Resources

Utilize online resources such as Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), LinkedIn, Indeed, Glassdoor, professional associations websites (like the American Medical Association, American Bar Associations, or the Project Management Institute), or the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook to have comprehensive data on various careers including job growth projections, median salaries, industry trends, survey reports, and educational requirements.

  1. Network with Industry Professionals

Attend networking events, conferences, online forums, social media communities, and webinars where professionals in your desired field of interest discuss industry trend and job opportunities. This will help you understand if you are about to pursue the right major.

  1. Job Market Research

Examine different job market reports in advance which are related to your region or the region where your plan to work. Local job market conditions can vary significantly.

Thus, you will have a proper idea of job requirements and you will be sure about your major choice in case it aligns with your desired job.

  1. Demand and Supply

Analyze the supply and demand for professionals in manifold fields. Why should you do it? Because this will give you an idea about the increased competition for positions in different sector.

And you will realize getting a degree on which subject will provide you more opportunities in the future.

For example, computer security or cyber security has become a big concern nowadays and different companies and institutions are looking for professionals regarding this.

So, it is a potential moment for adult students to consider computer security as their prior major choice.

Other than this, adult bachelor degree holders ( age between 25 to 29) who graduated from majors like biology, business management and administration, communications and communications technologies, psychology, and fine arts have lower unemployment rate.

Have a look at the statistics of their unemployment rate down below:

Field NameUnemployment Rate in 2010 (percentage)Unemployment Rate in 2018 (percentage)
Business managements and Administration6.52.4
Communications and Communications Technologies6.43.3
Fine Arts6.13.7
General Medical and Health Services3.62.3
Computer and Information Science5.65.6

For further info about the unemployment rate and more, check out this file.

Consulting with Career Counselors and Mentors

Seeking advice from career counselors and mentors can be a big game-changer.

Because of the proper guidance, adult students will get acquainted with valuable insights about the job market and specific requirements for their desired field, ultimately getting assistance for their major choice.

Analyze Potential Income and Job Satisfaction

Adult learners must consider potential income and job satisfaction associated with their chosen major. While financial stability is essential, job satisfaction and personal fulfillment are equally momentous.

However, to have a proper idea about the potential salary associated with top listed jobs in the U.S.A., check out the following table—

Job ProfileAverage Annual Salary (USD)
Finance Manager120,000
Product Manager117,000
Management Consultant110,000
Data Scientist107,000
DevOps Engineer107,000
Software Engineer105,000
Front-end Engineer105,000

Consider Transferable Skills and Experience

Taking a closer look at existing skills and experiences is an important factor for every adult learner.

Regarding the major selection process, transferable skills can be applied to multiple fields. Recognizing these abilities can open up new possibilities and should be factored into decisions.

For instance, if you are experienced in graphic design, video editing, or Photoshop, a degree or course in digital marketing or internet marketing can boost your career and open up a new door of valuable opportunities.

Step 3 – Evaluate Academic Interests and Strengths

The honest evaluation of academic strengths and weaknesses is a critical step that is involved in the journey of choosing a major. Recognizing areas where students might excel and where they might need improvement is essential.

This assessment can prominently impact the choice of major. Moreover, it can help learners to play with their strengths and address their weaknesses effectively.

A Strada Education Report says, 36% of adults were unhappy with the college course of study they selected.

So, having an evaluation before students choose any major is significant. Here are some instructions that are going to help adult students with their academic strength assessment—

  • Explore different fields of interest.
  • Take time to investigate a variety of academic disciplines and majors.
  • Review your previous coursework and life experience to find out patterns and inclinations.
  •  Engage in discussions with academic advisors.
  • Get an insight into various programs.

Step 4 – Explore Academic Programs

Different academic programs have different aspects and benefits to offer. That’s why analyzing various programs is necessary for every adult learner.

Research Universities and Colleges

Learners must research the institution that offers the majors they desire to pick. Also, they have to look out the factors like location, reputation, and available resources, as these play a significant role in their overall experience.

Different Program Types

Whether it is university or college, each offers a variety of formats, including traditional, online, part-time, and evening programs.

Each format has its own set of benefits and constraints. Students must consider which format goes best with their schedule and learning preferences.

Assessment of Program Flexibility and Student Support Service

For adult students, program flexibility and student support are vital because students have to accommodate them with their personal and work lives.

Additionally, for non-traditional students, the institution should have the availability of support services like academic advising, career counseling, and resources. And before choosing the major, these things should be taken into account.

In our comprehensive guide on majors in college and careers, we explore a wide range of academic paths and their connections to various career opportunities for adult students.

Step 5 – Appraise Work-Life Balance

One of the key considerations as an adult student in choosing a major is the time commitment required for coursework and balancing work, family, and other responsibilities.

Different majors and programs have different time demands. So, it’s crucial to assess how this demand aligns with students’ lifestyles.

Understanding the time required for lectures, assignments, and study is fundamental for a healthy work-life balance.

Moreover, keeping a balance between work, family, and other personal commitments is an ongoing challenge for most adult students.

Therefore, when selecting a major, students should consider how they can maintain their responsibilities while pursuing their education.

In this regard, adult students can consider part-time, evening, or online programs as these programs offer flexible alternatives without disrupting existing work or family commitments.

Step 6 – Financial Considerations

Choosing a major comes with financial responsibilities that extend beyond tuition. The expense includes textbooks, supplies, and commuting costs. However, there are three essential financial considerations that students must envisage—

Budget for Tuition and Related Expenses

Based on the Education Data Initiative report, the approximate cost of a college student in the United States of America is $36,436 per year including supplies, books, and daily living expenses.

So, as an adult learner, budget should be a big consideration in choosing a major. Students must investigate the tuition costs for their chosen major program while comparing it with other institutions.

Plus, creating a well-structured budget can help students manage their finances while pursuing their studies.

Exploring Financial Aid, Scholarships, and Grants

Education can be a significant financial investment, and exploring opportunities for financial aid, scholarships, and grants can help students a lot.

Financial assistance options including government aid, institutional scholarships, and private grants can significantly alleviate the financial burden of pursuing a degree.

Evaluation of the Return on Investment (ROI) of a Chosen Major

Finally, assessing the potential return on investment (ROI) when selecting a major is one of the most critical financial considerations.

This means assessing the long-term advantages of a student’s major, which is based on their earning potential and career possibilities.

The cost of attending school, college, or university can only be justified if students choose a major with a higher return on investment.

Therefore, adult students can make wise judgments about their academic and financial futures by doing a complete RIO study on their own.

Final Words

In conclusion, choosing a major as an adult student is a decisive choice that requires proper and careful consideration of academic, economic, and personal aspects.

Hopefully, this guide has provided a list of organized methods to help adult learners make decisions based on their objectives and circumstances.

At the end of the day, selecting a major that promotes personal fulfillment, financial security, and job happiness should be the goal of all adult learners.


  • Adults Going Back to School Still Look to Traditional Education Programs (27 October, 2023 ) by Rebecca White.
  • 3 What’s Really Matter When Choosing a College Majors (March 2019) by Maram Jaradat
  • Choosing and Changing Course: Postsecondary Students and the Process of Selecting a Major Field of Study (June 4, 2) by Patrick A. Denice

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