Login

College Advice for Career Changers

Individuals making a career change often feel justifiably uncertain about their future job prospects. Those planning a return to college may be especially unsure about how to best move forward. Find higher education advice career changers can use to choose the right academic program and gain real-world skills for reentering the workforce.

View popular schools

By Douglas Fehlen

back to school

Before You Enroll in School

Completing a certificate or degree program requires a substantial amount of time, money and effort. Because advancing your education is a big commitment, you don't want to enroll in a program without having confidence it will help you in a future career. Skill and interest inventories can help indicate whether a field is right for you. For many people, the discipline they choose will build on experience they've gained in their original career field. Others, though, look to make a clean break from the kind of work they did in the past.

If you're confident in the career direction you'd like to pursue, get specific information about what credentials or experience you'll need to be considered a viable candidate for job openings. Talk with people in the field who have expertise that you can rely on. For instance, you might request an informational interview with a hiring manager in your new targeted discipline. Other places to go for information include professional organizations and industry conferences. Don't overlook job-posting websites, which typically feature qualifications in position listings and sometimes provide tips for entering a specific field.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Agriculture
  • Architecture
  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • Business
  • Communications and Journalism
  • Computer Sciences
  • Culinary Arts and Personal Services
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Legal
  • Liberal Arts and Humanities
  • Mechanic and Repair Technologies
  • Medical and Health Professions
  • Physical Sciences
  • Psychology
  • Transportation and Distribution
  • Visual and Performing Arts

Choosing a Program

When you have all of the information you need, you can go about the process of selecting the education program that's right for you. With so many options available, you shouldn't have any problem finding an opportunity that's a fit. In making a decision, remember the insight you've gleaned from experts in the workforce. If you've heard, for example, that while a certificate can qualify you for a job employers more realistically look to those with a degree, opting for a 2- or 4-year program (whichever is expected) is likely best.

Regardless of which type of academic program you target, you should have flexibility when it comes to where, when and how you'll complete coursework. Institutions typically offer both daytime and night classes, and students can choose to attend courses on campus or enroll in online programs. Your life circumstances should help determine your decision. For instance, if you need to keep your current job to provide for a family, choosing night classes or an online education program is probably best. Costs can vary significantly between institutions, so you'll want to comparison shop. Don't forget to factor in the amount of financial aid you can expect attending a school. The institution should be able to provide a fairly accurate net-cost analysis of per-year costs for a program. Also ask about scholarships that are geared toward individuals with your experience.

In making cost analyses, don't forget that program quality can also differ substantially between schools. Earning a certificate or degree at a relative low cost may seem a good option, but if the school offering it isn't respected in your targeted field, any credential you earn may matter little in a job hunt. For this reason, it's wise to attend a school that is partnered with industry. Admissions staff should be able to speak to this, but also seek out the perspectives of other students and institution alumni. Find out if graduates are satisfied with a program and, most importantly, whether it has enabled them to get jobs.

Making the Most of Your Time in School

While in school, put forth a strong effort to learn and earn good grades. College GPA may not be an important hiring factor in many industries, but applying yourself in school is the best way to get the most out of your tuition dollars. Don't be satisfied with simply earning a certificate or degree. The job market is highly competitive, and you should make the most of your college years by engaging with your discipline in meaningful ways. For example, getting a part-time job or internship can give you experience in your new career field - and help get your resume to the top of the pile after graduation.

If other commitments don't allow you to take on a part-time job or complete an internship, you might volunteer within your career field. Volunteer opportunities can give you on-the-job work experience without the vigorous commitment. Additionally, donating your time to an organization can get your foot in the door there. Attending professional conferences and seminars represents another way to hone your skills and network with people in your new field. Ask for informational interviews with potential employers while you're still in school. You may make an impression that gets you a post-graduation job offer. Another way to get ahead: seek out a mentor - either on a school's faculty or in the workforce - who can help you navigate the transition to a new career. Don't forget to take advantage of career counseling and job-placement services available at your school.

Need more guidance on changing careers? Reference this career-changer checklist.

Next: View Schools

What is your highest level of education?

Some College
Complete your degree or find the graduate program that's right for you.
High School Diploma
Explore schools that offer bachelor and associate degrees.
Still in High School
Earn your diploma of GED. Plan your undergraduate education.

Schools you may like:

Popular Schools

The listings below may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users.

    • Master of Education in Special Education, specializing in Applied Behavior Analysis
    • Master of Health Administration in Health Systems Management
    • Master of Science in Health Informatics
    • Master of Education in Special Education, specializing in Autism Spectrum Disorder
    • Applied Behavior Analysis Certificate
    • Autism Spectrum Disorder Certificate

    What is your highest level of education?

    • Master of Science in Finance
    • Masters of Professional Studies in Technology Management
    • Master of Professional Studies in Real Estate

    What is your highest level of education completed?

    • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication
    • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication - Advocacy and Social Impact Concentration
    • Master of Arts in Economics
    • Master of Public Administration and Policy
    • Master of Science in Agile Project Management
    • Master of Science in Healthcare Management
    • Graduate Certificate in Agile Project Management
    • Graduate Certificate in Human Resource Analytics and Management
    • Graduate Certificate in Project Monitoring and Evaluation

    What is your highest level of education?

    • Master of Science in Communication
    • Master of Science in Education in Special Education
    • Master of Science in Engineering Technology
    • Master of Science in Hospitality and Tourism Management
    • Master of Science in Education in Learning Design and Technology
    • Graduate Certificate in Strategic Communication Management

    What is your highest level of education?

    • MSHS in Health Care Quality
    • MA in Education and Human Development in Secondary Special Education and Transition Services
    • MA in Education and Human Development in Special Education for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners
    • MA in Education and Human Development in Educational Leadership and Administration
    • MA in Education and Human Development in Educational Technology Leadership
    • MA in Education and Human Development in Organizational Leadership and Learning
    • Graduate Certificate in Health Care Quality
    • Graduate Certificate in Multimedia Development
    • Graduate Certificate in Special Education for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners
    • Graduate Certificate in Transition Special Education
    • Education Specialist in Educational Leadership and Administration
    • Graduate Certificate in E-Learning

    What is your highest level of education?

    • Master of Arts in Health and Human Services Administration
    • Master of Arts in Human Resource Management
    • Master of Arts in International Development
    • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership
    • Master of Arts in Special Education
    • Master of Science in Accountancy
    • RN to Bachelors of Science in Nursing

    What is your highest level of education completed?

  • What is your highest level of education?

    • Ph.D. in Literacy
    • Ph.D. in Literacy: Educational Leadership
    • Ph.D. in Literacy: Special Education
    • Ph.D. in Literacy: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
    • Master of Business Administration in Interdisciplinary Business
    • Master of Business Administration in Taxation
    • Master of Science in Accounting
    • Master of Science in Taxation
    • Master of Science in Library and Information Science
    • Master of Science in Library and Information Science: Academic Librarianship

    What is your highest level of education?

    • MA in Communication
    • Master of Liberal Arts
    • MA in Science Writing
    • MS in Applied Economics
    • MS in Geographic Information Systems
    • MS in Bioinformatics
    • Post-Bachelor's Certificate in Government Analytics
    • Post-Bachelor's Certificate in Applied Research for Communication
    • MS in Food Safety Regulation
    • Certificate in Science Writing
    • Certificate in Science, Technology, and International Security Studies
    • Post-Master's Certificate in Sequence Analysis & Genomics

    What is your highest level of education?

    • Doctor of Business Administration - Management
    • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
    • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
    • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Special Education
    • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Cognition and Instruction
    • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Industrial and Organizational Psychology
    • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
    • M.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Human Factors
    • MA in Curriculum and Instruction
    • MS in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies
    • MS in Psychology: General Psychology
    • M.A. in Communication with an Emphasis in Education
    • Bachelor of Science in Business for Secondary Education
    • BS in Applied Management
    • BS in Psychology
    • B.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Performance and Sports Psychology
    • Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education
    • BS in Accounting
    • Graduate Certificate of Completion in GeroPsychology
    • Graduate Certificate of Completion in Industrial and Organizational Psychology
    • Graduate Certificate of Completion in Forensic Psychology
    • Graduate Certificate of Completion in Health Psychology
    • Graduate Certificate of Completion in Human Factors Psychology
    • Graduate Certificate of Completion in Life Coaching

    What is your highest level of education?

Find your perfect school

What is your highest level of education?