After receiving numerous emails titled “What should I major in” from readers about to apply for college, I asked Kevin to provide an informative post on the subject. What follows is his best answer to this great question.
In any given year the list of recommended career majors will change at least somewhat from previous years. New “hot” careers come up, and previous winners cool down a bit. And it’s important to consider your work opportunities when deciding what to study in college. This is far better than getting stuck in a job that isn’t rewarding and then have to go back to school in order to change your career.
It’s almost impossible to predict what the next hot major du jour will be. Since you’ll spend at least four years in college earning a degree in said field, how can you know it will still be one of the preferred fields by the time you graduate?
You can’t! But you can get around that by looking past today’s new best majors to the degree fields that have been consistent performers. Let’s look at majors using some more objective criteria, and base it on the following:
- Average salary level
- Projected future demand, and
- The history of the field as a dynamic career
Based on these criteria, five degree majors stand above nearly all the rest. (All salary information is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)
There are more than 2.7 million nursing jobs in the United States, with an average income of $69,110. This is also a field that’s been in a state of perpetual shortage for what seems like forever.
But the advantages of a degree in nursing go beyond pay and job security. Nursing has no geographic limitations—nurses are needed everywhere in the country, and everywhere in the world. The field offers a very wide range of employment settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, home health care, private practices and outpatient clinics. Nursing can also be done either full-time or as a part-time job. Few careers can match nursing when it comes to career flexibility.
Nearly anything in engineering
Yes, there are times when a certain engineering degree falls out of favor for a few years, but they always come bouncing back and usually with a vengeance when they do. Whether it’s a civil engineer, chemical engineer, petroleum engineer, mechanical engineer, or just about any other career that ends with the word “engineer”, the long term prospects for both jobs and salaries is usually at least above average when compared to other degree fields. As an added benefit, as an engineer, you can often find great outdoor jobs as well. Being paid to be outside? You can’t beat that.
Here’s a sampling of salaries—in no special order—in the engineering field:
- Civil engineers, $82,710
- Mechanical engineers, $83,550
- Industrial engineers, $79,840
- Electrical engineers, $89,200
- Petroleum engineers, $138,980
- Chemical engineers, $99,440
- Aerospace engineers, $103,870
Nearly anything related to computers
Computers have virtually become part of the global economic infrastructure, and because of this, those with a computer background can be found in nearly every industry. That means lots of jobs for the foreseeable future, and some pretty solid earnings potential as well.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly all computer-related occupations are expected to grow much faster than the norm for other career fields. This includes database administrators, computer support specialists, hardware and software engineers, webmasters and systems analysts.
Average earnings are also well above average, from $46,370 per year for support specialists, to $101,180 for computer hardware engineers (there’s that engineering thing again!).
And here’s something that speaks volumes about the value of computer majors: though four year degrees are preferred, some jobs within the computer field require no more than a two year degree in order to enter.
Increasing financial regulation is one of the factors that insures that the accounting field will continue to grow steadily in the foreseeable future. Accountants can work in a variety of capacities, including income tax preparation, auditing, budgeting and regulatory compliance. Accountants are needed in virtually every industry, but are also in demand in federal, state and local government positions. In addition, accountants are often self-employed especially in the area of tax preparation.
Average salary for accountants is $70,130.
No matter what the specific yearly projections, the aging of the population and steadily heavier reliance on drug therapy will ensure a bright future for pharmacists. With an average annual income of $112,160, pharmacists are needed in retail chains, hospitals and clinical settings. And since hospitals and retail pharmacies are virtually everywhere where people live, a pharmacist can find work any where he or she chooses to live.
The major that’s hot right now may not be the major that will be hot by the time you graduate. Look to the majors that have proven their worth over the long-run and the fields on this list certainly do that. Also, remember that it’s not always the degree that will provide the highest income that you should seek, but rather that one that offers the best mix of pay, opportunity, security, mobility and career flexibility. You can also find great jobs that do not require a college degree. A major should serve you all throughout your career, and in order to do that, it will have to be one that will provide you with the flexibility to have the life you want have.
Salary sources: BLS http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_str