Today’s college students are taking on more debt than ever before to pay for the increasingly high cost of higher education. While the general consensus is that college degrees are still worth the investment, you’ve probably also read plenty of stories about students delaying marriage, mortgages, and families in order to pay off their school loans.
Most students enter their programs with goals related to future employment and a salary that allows for both loan repayment and living expenses. There are multiple factors involved, including choice of academic major and salary expectations after graduation. Every list of profitable majors seems to begin with four or five that are related to engineering. It’s no surprise that science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields are generally high earning, but are there any other options that lead students to employment opportunities and the ability to pay back student loans?
The ups and downs of the U.S. economy make it difficult to predict the future, but there are a few resources you can use to find a major that not only leads to a job, but also matches your abilities and interests. Let’s face it, not everyone is cut out to complete an engineering degree. I know this wasn’t my path (I’d probably still be trying to pass most of the math courses).
Job Growth and Earnings Potential
In my quest to find profitable majors in non-STEM fields, I turned to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH). This publication presents detailed profiles of hundreds of occupations along with data that include median pay, and predictions about future growth and new jobs. I used the search features of the site to create a list of jobs that:
- are predicted to grow at least 20% (i.e., increased employment from 2012-2022)
- offer a median annual salary of at least $55,000. [For reference, the National Center for Education Statistics reports the median income of young adults (i.e., ages 25 to 34) with a bachelor’s degree was $46,900 in 2012.]
- list “bachelor’s degree” as the entry-level education required for the field (although additional education and/or certification may also be preferred by some employers).
There are a lot of variables that go into both what someone is paid and whether or not a field is expected to add jobs in the future, but this gives us a place to start.
The resulting list illustrated that indeed engineering fields are the most profitable, however, you can make a successful career out of other majors as well. I removed the occupations in my search that relied heavily on STEM skills or academic majors, such as actuaries and geographers, revealing the jobs listed below.
Work in this occupation takes place in a range of health care settings, and includes tasks related to understanding laws and regulations, and managing facility finances and operations.
- Related Majors: Business, Public Health
Making needed social services available for a variety of populations (e.g., families, elderly, veterans) these management professionals work in non-profit organizations, private companies, and government agencies.
- Related Majors: Urban Studies, Business, Social Work
These professionals help patients and clients improve their overall health through better diets and eating habits, and often work in health care or food service settings.
- Related Majors: Dietetics, Nutrition, Food Service Management
Working predominantly in private settings, these advisors assist clients with decisions related to financial planning, which can include retirement, investments, taxes, and insurance.
- Related Majors: Business, Economics, Accounting
This is a much shorter list than I originally anticipated. Additional occupations in my results list had to be removed as I delved into recommended majors that were exclusively STEM-related.It’s hard to avoid technology these days, as almost every occupation and work setting includes some sort of computer use. Math skills are also hard to avoid, although some jobs involve much more complex computation and analysis than others.
So, where are the art students? What about history, English, and psychology majors? These subjects aren’t without hope for future income, but they may require more flexibility in the type of employment you consider after graduation. You may also want to complete additional preparation for the workforce that includes supplemental course work (e.g., academic minor) and practical experience (e.g., internships).
Academic Majors vs. Career Fields
The pursuit of a college education includes many experiences and outcomes; it’s not all about profit and financial return on investment. Higher education provides the venue, resources, and support for intellectual growth, life skill development, and confidence building, as well as career preparation.
While many STEM majors are directly linked to work roles and skills, most liberal arts majors are not tied to specific careers or even designed to meet career-related objectives. However, the reality is that most students, particularly those enrolled online, enter academic programs with expectations related to employment after graduation. Keep in mind that in some industries, hiring managers are primarily interested in applicants who have college degrees – they aren’t necessarily recruiting specific majors. It’s also not uncommon to study one thing and end up working in a completely unrelated field.
Earning a degree is expensive in terms of money, time, and effort spent. And choosing a major is a very personal decision. As you consider your options, think about where and how your interests, aptitude and ability, and career plans come together.
Make the Most of Available Resources
Picking a major and planning a career require thoughtful research and decision-making. And there’s a lot more to it that I’ve been able to include in this one post. As you continue your career exploration, find out more about industry certifications, additional training, or graduate education that may be required to enter or advance in your field of interest. Take some time to calculate the cost of any programs you want to attend, and estimate how long it will take to payback anticipated loan amounts. Understanding regional trends for hiring and employment in the locations where you want to live and work is also an important part of the process.
I encourage you to use the OOH search tools to conduct your own research of job titles and career paths. This is just one tool, however, so compare data from other sites (e.g., PayScale, The Hamilton Project, LinkedIn), and meet with your school’s advisors and career counselors. They can tap into additional resources, including assessments that help identify your interests and abilities, and match them with employment opportunities and academic majors.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of information available and a looming deadline to pick a major or enroll in your first courses. Move forward knowing that your decision is a custom one, based on your needs and priorities, with the support of learning professionals who can help you set realistic expectations.
Source: Inside Online Learning Blog