Pro Athletes Get Schooled

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If you want to be like Mike, consider going back to school to get your degree!

By Chris Kyle

Gatorade's timeless "Be Like Mike" jingle refers to Michael Jordan's exploits on the basketball court, but there's another reason to want to be like Mike.

Michael Jordan didn't let anything - including fame and fortune - get in the way of his college education. While a member of the Chicago Bulls, Jordan returned to the University of North Carolina on his own time and got his bachelor's degree in geography.

Here are a few more examples of professional athletes who had it all, and still decided that a college degree was worth the investment:

  • Five-time world champion figure skater Michelle Kwan graduated from the University of Denver with a bachelor's degree in international studies in 2009. She's now getting her master's degree at Tufts University.
  • Long after he turned pro, Boston Celtics star Shaquille O'Neal finished up his bachelor's degree in business administration from Louisiana State University. Next he earned his MBA degree online from the University of Phoenix.
  • Tennis superstar Venus Williams turned pro at age 14, but she still found time to earn her associate's degree in fashion design from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale.
  • Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith received his bachelor's degree in public recreation at the University of Florida while he was a member of the Dallas Cowboys.

The message these athletes send is an important one: education matters. If you'd like to take a page from the playbooks of these top athletes, check out these in-demand degrees and learn how they can lead to a winning career.

Degree #1 - Accounting

Accounting programs teach you how to count and manage other people's money - and your own.

Fun Fact: For athletes, managing money is a skill many apparently don't have. According to a 2009 report in Sports Illustrated, 60 percent of NBA players are broke within five years of leaving the league, and 78 percent of NFL players are either bankrupt or under serious financial stress just two years after retirement.

Career Paths and Average Earning Potential:*
Accountants: $59,430
Financial analysts: $73,150
Financial managers: $99,330

Get started on an Accounting degree. Find top Business schools now!

Degree #2 - Health Care

Health care degree programs include everything from health care administration and medical billing and coding to massage therapy and fitness.

Fun Fact: Sports medicine, while an important field for athletes, is just a small slice of a massive industry that is only expected to grow bigger. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the health care industry is expected to add three million jobs between 2008 and 2018.

Career Paths and Average Earning Potential:*
Medical assistants: $28,300
Registered nurses: $62,450
Health services managers: $80,240

Find Health Care degree programs!

Degree #3 - MBA

Some of the skills you could learn in MBA programs - problem-solving, discipline, teamwork, and leadership - are the same ones that athletes learn on the playing field.

Fun Fact: The NFL's Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program has helped funnel current and former players into business schools. Increasingly popular part-time and online degree programs are helping athletes - and non-athletes too! - find ways to get their MBAs.

Career Paths and Average Earning Potential:*
Advertising managers: $80,220
Marketing managers: $108,580
Information systems managers: $112,210

Search MBA programs today!

Degree #4 - Paralegal Studies

By earning an associate's degree in paralegal studies, you could be prepared to pursue work at a sports agency or firm that represents pro athletes. While paralegals are not able to present cases in court, they perform many of the same tasks as lawyers.

Fun Fact: Demand for paralegals is expected to grow, according to the U.S. Department of Labor... and it's no surprise! Turn on ESPN and you'll notice that legal issues like player contracts, licensing deals, and labor disputes seem to get just as much attention - if not more - than the games themselves.

Career Paths and Average Earning Potential:*
Paralegals and legal assistants: $46,120

Find a local Paralegal Studies program today!

Degree #5 - Engineering and Computer Sciences

Nicknamed "the Smartest Man in Baseball," Oakland Athletics pitcher Craig Breslow was a molecular biophysics and biochemistry major at Yale University.

Fun Fact: Though Breslow does well, with a 2010 reported salary of $425,000, the college majors with the best average earning potential are in engineering and the computer sciences, according to a 2010 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. In fact, the only non-engineering related degrees in the top 10 were computer science and information sciences and systems.

Career Paths and Average Earning Potential:*
Computer systems administrators: $66,310
Network systems analysts: $71,100
Software engineers: $85,430

Search for IT and computer science degree programs right now!

*All salary information comes from the U.S. Department of Labor using 2008 data.

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