Best College Degrees for the Real World


Learn which college degrees offer real-world value.

By Chris Kyle    

Looking to earn your degree? Look into options that can offer real-world, work-relevant value.

"Work based learning appears to be the best way for the majority of young people to prepare for the world of work," according to a 2011 study by analysts at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

According to the report, a career-based approach to higher education works for aspiring doctors, lawyers, and architects. The "Pathways to Prosperity" report notes this approach can work for others too.

Wondering which degrees can help you build work-based skills that you can put to use in the real world?

Check out our list of best degrees for the real world...

#1 Degree - Bachelor's in Business Administration

Want to gain a foothold in the business world? Studying business administration is a good way to get started.

While in school you'll analyze companies that span many different industries. As a result, you'll gather valuable industry insight that you may be able to use starting on day one at your future employer.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers 2011 Job Outlook, nearly 52 percent of employers plan on hiring a graduate with a business administration degree.

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Potential career paths: Opportunities for business degree grads span across many industries. According to a 2011 report from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, "of people who received an undergraduate major in business, 25 percent work in management occupations, 18 percent work in sales occupations, 18 percent work in finance occupations, 12 percent work in office occupations, and 6 percent work in business occupations."

#2 Degree - Associate's in Paralegal Studies

When looking for a law degree that offers relevant, real-world education, don't rule out associate's degrees.

An associate's degree in paralegal studies, for example, can help you develop the skills and knowledge needed to assist lawyers in research as a paralegal. And according to the U.S. Department of Labor, this degree is the most common path to pursuing a career as a paralegal.

Forget about academic theory. Paralegal programs usually include courses in legal research and how computers and software can help you on the job, according to the Department of Labor.

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Potential career paths: The legal industry offers paralegals many different avenues to pursue, and you may be able to sample one or two while still in school. According to the Department of Labor, many - but not all - paralegal programs offer internships to students in a wide variety of office settings. Career opportunities can range from a private law firm to the office of a public defender or attorney general, a corporate legal department, a legal aid organization, a bank, or a government agency.

#3 Degree - Bachelor's in Information Technology (IT) & Information Systems

Technology is transforming our world by improving efficiency and solving business problems. If you want in on the action, you should consider earning a bachelor's degree in IT and information systems.

In this real-world degree program, you'll likely study practical topics like operating systems, network solutions, and internet applications, which could help you moving forward.

According to Harvard's 2011 Pathways to Prosperity report, business leaders are worried about a coming shortage of qualified IT workers.

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Potential career paths: Technology is a thriving industry with many opportunities for IT grads. Among those who majored in computers and information systems, 48 percent work in computers, 17 percent in management, 8 percent in office, 5 percent in business, and 4 percent in sales careers, according to 2011 report from Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce.

#4 Degree - Bachelor's in Marketing/Communications

Hoping to graduate with some useful skills that employers actually want? You may want to study marketing/communications.

"Each year, NACE asks employers to rate the importance of certain skills/qualities when hiring possible job candidates," says the NACE 2011 Job Outlook report. "Each year, without fail, strong communication skills come out on top."

In addition to studying communications, you'll also take business-related courses that cover business basics and how they intersect with communication tools involved with social media, advertising, public relations, and even sales.

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Potential career paths: Whether you want to move into business or the communications field, studying marketing/communications could have you covered. Earning your degree in marketing/communications could be great prep for a career in marketing, public relations, advertising, or sales.

#5 Degree - Associate's in Medical Assisting

Looking to take advantage of growing opportunities in health care? By studying in this real-world degree program, you'll be gathering skills in the classroom - and in the lab - that you can help you later in a doctor's office or clinic.

Medical assisting courses cover anatomy, medical terminology, transcription, accounting, and insurance processing, according to the Department of Labor. Students will also learn lab techniques, clinical and diagnostic procedures, pharmaceutical principles, the administration of medications, and first aid.

Start Your Medical Assistant Education - Find the Right School Now

Potential career paths: Performing a mix of clinical and office-related tasks, medical assistants usually work in offices of physicians, podiatrists, chiropractors, and other health practitioners, according to the Department of Labor.

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