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Career changes you can make in your 40s

  • Career changes you can make in your 40s

    Considering a career change in your 40s can be daunting. The prospect of going back to school, buying textbooks, and sitting alongside teenagers during stuffy lectures can sound unappealing to a lot of people—not to mention expensive. Plus, there's the worry about having to work your way up again in entry-level positions and potentially taking a salary cut. It's not exactly an enticing picture, especially if you're at a point where you've reached a degree of success. Even if you're not rolling in dough, chances are that by the time you hit 40 you've put some time and energy into your career, so the idea of starting over can feel overwhelming.

    Yet the world is chock-full of examples of people who switched careers midlife and say they don't regret it. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't track how often the average American switches careers (officials say it's too difficult to define “career change”), but a poll by the jobs website Monster found that 50% of respondents between the ages of 45 and 65 had switched careers at least twice.

    Whether you're burnt out from the repetition, you're not making enough money, or you just don't enjoy your job as much as you used to, if you're contemplating a career change there's clearly something about your current vocation that isn't making you happy. The average life expectancy in the United States is 78.6 years, so if you're only in your 40s, you have quite a few years left. Unless you're independently wealthy, many of those years will be spent working—so why not spend them doing something you love?

    That's not to say that if you decide to make the leap there won't be challenges. On the contrary, challenges will abound—financial uncertainty, extra-long work hours, ageism, etc. But if you've been working for 15 to 20 years it's likely you've accumulated a number of transferable skills, many of which you may not have even thought about. There are many career options that let you use those skills, or even start completely fresh without having to get a new degree. These careers may require some extra training or even a bit of school, but those requirements are generally manageable and you won't spend years fetching coffee for higher-ups before establishing yourself.

    To offer some inspiration, Stacker has put together a slideshow of some of the most practical, realistic jobs and industries for people considering a career change in their 40s. We've found examples across multiple disciplines, including science and technology, medicine, social services, professional services, art, physical trades, and more. As much as possible we've tried to stick to mid- to higher-income options that are stimulating and won't trap you in the entry-level cycle. Take a look through to find one that fits your interests and personality.

    You may also like: The 50 most meaningful jobs in America

  • Web developer

    You don't need a college degree to write code—in fact, you can basically train yourself. Or, if the self-taught route seems too hard, there are tons of boot camps and crash courses that will train and certify you in six to eight months, sometimes even less. And while having a computer science degree will certainly help when seeking a job, the reality is that businesses want the person who can make their website look the best, not the person with a fancy degree. If you're good at what you do and can create an outstanding portfolio, it's a career you can get into without a four-year degree. Plus, the median salary for web developers in 2017 was $67,990, according to U.S. News, with the lowest-paid 25% of web developers still making around $49,380. 

  • Landscaper

    If you have a green thumb and enjoy spending time gardening or being outside, the landscaping industry offers many ways to turn this into a fulfilling career. It's ideal if you're someone with an entrepreneurial spirit, as business owners and top executives earn the most. However, even if you don't have management drive, it can be worth the switch if you enjoy the work. The average wage for landscaping and groundskeeping workers is $14.28 per hour, or $29,700 annually, according to 2017 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you're looking for a higher wage, landscape architects made a median pay of $68,320 per year ($32.80 per hour). 

  • Registered nurse

    Becoming a registered nurse will require some school, no question. However, if you already have a bachelor's degree it can be completed in as little as two years, depending on the type of classes you took as an undergrad. Even without prerequisites, students can typically complete the program in four years, after which the prospects are some of the best of any vocation. It's an inelastic field that doesn't wane when the economy is down, and every city and town has demand so you can go practically anywhere. Plus, you'll earn a good wage—registered nurses bring home an average salary of $73,550 a year.

  • Financial planner or advisor

    Although it may sound like a job title that requires highly specialized education, financial planners and advisors come from a wide range of backgrounds with undergraduate degrees in business, economics, psychology, accounting, and many others. You can train to become a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) if you want the extra accreditation; however, in the United States, only 30% of practicing financial advisers are certified. (It's only required by law if you want to sell stocks and bonds). There are tons of stories online about financial planners who once had radically different careers. It's a promising vocation with the number of financial advisors projected to grow 15% by 2026—almost double the overall job growth of 7.4%. The average salary of a CFP is $66,405 and the average personal financial advisor salary is $88,890.

  • Dental hygienist

    Dental hygienists comprise one of the career fields with the highest “school-to-salary” ratio, meaning that you need relatively little training yet can expect to earn a relatively high salary almost right away. The median income for dental hygienists in 2018 was $74,820. There's also high demand, making it one of the most practical fields to transfer into later in life. You will need to complete an entry-level dental hygiene program (make sure it's one accredited by the American Dental Association), followed by a two-year associate's degree. Many of these programs are offered online, although there is some accompanying clinical and laboratory coursework that must be done in person.

  • Geoscientist

    Most geoscientist jobs require a bachelor's degree but some don't even ask for that. According to a report updated in 2018 by the Occupational Information Network (ONET), 50% of all working geoscientists only have an undergraduate degree. If you're someone who took any science courses in college, you may only need two years of school to get a geoscience degree, and if you already have a degree in geology, physics, or other related fields, you probably don't need it. The median annual wage for geoscientists was $91,130 in May 2018 with the highest 10% earning $187,200 and even the lowest 10% doing well at $48,270. It's considered a “bright outlook” field by ONET with projected growth of 10 to 14% by 2026.

  • Veterinary technician

    Being a veterinary technician isn't something that's going to make you tons of money but there are lots of jobs available. The industry is growing much faster than average (at 15% or higher), and if you love animals, it may be worth the pay cut. The average veterinary technician makes about $34,420 per year and you only need an associate's degree to land a job. Plus, there are ways to make bring in a higher income if you show an exceptional knack for the field. “There are opportunities in research to make more money quickly as you progress,” Certified Veterinary Technician Mary Mould told All Allied Health Schools.

  • Multimedia artist or animator

    If creating visual effects for TV, movies, or video games seems like something you'd enjoy and you have an artistic streak—preferably combined with a knack for computers and technology—becoming a multimedia artist can be a highly fulfilling career and one that isn't too late to start in your 40s. Similar to web developers, what matters most is your portfolio so a lot of the skills can be self-taught. And even though many employers will require a bachelor's degree, typically in computer animation, digital arts, or graphic design, 19% of artists and animators have only an associate's degree and 17% have no degrees at all. Plus, if you do move forward, you can expect to earn $72,520 per year.

  • Personal trainer

    While personal training may not be the first thing you think of when pondering age 40+ vocations, you'd be surprised how many fitness gurus got their start later in life. In fact, a 2016 study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that the average age of the trainers who responded was 39.8. It's a career that takes relatively little training, you can earn a decent salary—top earners make up to $73,884—and it's a fantastic way to get in amazing shape and stay that way as you advance through the years. 

  • Flight attendant

    While you must be a minimum of 18 to 21 years old to be hired as a flight attendant, there's no age maximum and many people make the switch in their 40s. If you're someone who loves traveling and has a friendly personality, it's a great career fit and one that's fairly easy to start midlife. It doesn't require any formal education—30% of flight attendants have only a high school diploma, 33% have some college but no degree, and 26% have an associate's degree. You basically just need to convince the airline to hire you after which they put you through a three- to six-week training course. It's another “bright outlook” career projected to grow faster than average by 2026, and the average flight attendant salary is $56,000 per year. Plus, there are some nice travel perks.

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