The Best Degrees for More Employment Opportunities

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Check out which five degrees could lead to better job security.

By Terence Loose    

Do you want a career in a field with promising opportunities?

Consider going back to school.

A recent U.S. Department of Labor study found that people with a bachelor's degree have an unemployment rate of just 5.4 percent - well below the national average of 9.1 percent.

But what you study matters, too. For instance, if you majored in 12th-century European politics, your career options will most likely be rather dim.

On the other hand, earn a bachelor's in business administration or computer technology, and suddenly your prospects might seem as bright as a summer day.

After talking to experts and combing information from the U.S. Department of Labor and other sources, here are our picks for five degrees with a bright job market future.

Degree #1: Bachelor's in Business Administration

Whether a company is selling bike gauges or creating web pages, they need employees with strong business skills.

Maybe that's why a National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) study found that the average starting salary for 2011 business administration degree graduates rose to $44,825, a 2.2 percent increase from 2010.

"A business degree stands out because the curriculum gives students the fundamentals of what makes a business successful," says COO of recruiting software firm BrightMove, Inc., Michael Brandt, a man with 18 years experience in matching job applicants with companies. "So [the employer] can focus more of their time on training them on the particulars of the job instead of business fundamentals."

As a business major, you'll take courses in finance, management and marketing. This program generally takes about four years to complete and could help you pursue opportunities in interesting and lucrative fields, which vary from celebrity management to brand marketing to finance analysis.

Click to Find the Right Business Administration Program.

Possible Careers and Average Earning Potential*

  • Budget Analyst: $70,660
  • Financial Analyst: $86,040
  • Financial Examiner: $82,320

Degree #2: Bachelor's in Information Technology

When was the last day you didn't surf the web? And no, the day electricity and cable crashed does not count. The fact is, a bachelor's in information technology has never been so relevant.

"Without question," says Brandt, "web technologies are where we're seeing the most growth. So a degree in IT provides a lot of job security."

And you don't have to take his word for it. Take another look at the NACE study on starting salary offers for the class of 2011. It found that students majoring in information sciences and systems received an average offer of $57,499 upon graduation. That was up 4.4 percent from 2010.

But don't worry about being stuck in the bowels of some software company's code-writing department. As a U.S. News 2011 report makes clear, "... techies are in demand at more than technology companies. Because all industries have gone digital, web- and code-savvy employees are needed most everywhere."

Pursuing a full-time bachelor's in IT can be completed in as little as four years. And yes, there will be a lot of math.

Click to Find the Right IT Program.

Possible Careers and Average Earning Potential*

  • Computer Systems Analyst: $81,250
  • Software Developer, Applications: $90,410
  • Software Developer, Systems Software: $97,960

Degree #3: Master's of Business Administration (MBA)

Maybe you're stuck in middle management. Maybe you're looking for more responsibility and more money. Or maybe you just want to switch industries but stay at the same pay grade. A master's in business administration (MBA) could help you get there.

"An MBA focuses on the managerial level and the business as a whole," says Brandt.

The great news about MBA programs is that schools understand that many MBA students work full time while getting their degree. This doesn't suggest the degree is easy to obtain, but it does mean that many available online programs make it easier to fit the coursework to your lifestyle.

When going for an MBA, which could take as little as two years to complete, you can specialize in areas such as human resources, health care or marketing. And like a bachelor's in business, this degree can be applied to almost any industry.

Click to Find the Right MBA Program.

Possible Careers and Average Earning Potential*

  • Human Resources Manager: $108,600
  • General Operations Manager: $113,100
  • Marketing Manager: $122,720

Degree #4: Associate's in Medical Assisting

Love the idea of increasing your prospects for job security but not sure you're up for the four years needed to get a typical bachelor's degree? Don't raise your blood pressure over it; a two-year medical assisting associate's degree may be just the prescription.

Dr. Joseph Kim, founder of NonClinicalJobs.com, which tracks shifts in health care jobs, told CNN Money this July that he expects medical assisting to continue to be among the top growth fields as hospitals and health clinics expand into suburban areas.

The same report cites an aging population and government health reform as reasons for the health care industry adding jobs every month for the last eight years. It also matches the U.S. Department of Labor's projections of 34 percent job growth from 2008 to 2018.

And even if health reform is repealed, says Dan Nannini, Santa Monica Community College's transfer center faculty leader. "We're going to need health care. Even if we don't figure out how to fund it through government assistance programs, it's going to be funded through private entities."

What kind of work do medical assistants perform? It runs the gamut, from that person who takes your vital signs at the doctor's office to more administrative tasks like keeping records and making appointments.

Click to Find the Right Medical Assisting Program.

Possible Careers and Average Earning Potential*

  • Physician Medical Assistant: $30,110
  • Outpatient Care Center Medical Assistant: $30,490
  • Surgical Hospital Medical Assistant: $30,770

Degree #5: Bachelor's in Nursing (BSN)

Do you love helping people? Is a first aid kit on your Christmas present wish list? Maybe you're already a registered nurse. Pursuing your bachelor's degree in nursing might be the right path for you.

"Health care tends to be recession-proof," says Nannini. "You see Bank of America laying off 30,000 people, but you don't see Kaiser Permanente laying off 30,000 people."

In fact, "overall job opportunities are expected to be excellent" for registered nurses, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

A typical bachelor's in nursing could take as little as four years to complete, with courses in everything from communication and critical thinking to the more clinical skills needed such as test-giving and drawing blood.

Click to Find the Right Nursing Program.

Possible Careers and Average Earning Potential*

  • Home Health Care Nurse: $63,850
  • Surgical Hospital Nurse: $68,610
  • Physician Office Nurse: $70,530

*All average salary information comes from the U.S. Department of Labor using 2010 salary data.

Completion times for these programs are never a guarantee and will vary based on a variety of factors, including school, program, and student's level of commitment.


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