Best Value Degrees

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Which majors cracked our Best Value list? Keep reading to find out.

By Chris Kyle   

Are you thinking of going back to school and wondering which degrees have the potential to offer the best value?

It's a question that many probably wish they had considered more closely when they had the chance.

In fact, when asked if they would change anything about college, 48 percent of recent grads said they wished they had more carefully selected their degree, according to a 2011 report from Rutgers University. Rutgers researchers also concluded that students were having trouble linking degree and career choices.

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In a separate 2011 study, Georgetown University researchers analyzed 171 majors in "What's it Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors," and found that the difference in average earning potential between one degree and another can be more than 300 percent.

"Our findings make it clear that while getting a degree matters, there is significant variation depending on which major you pick," says the report from Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce.

To determine our list of best value degrees, we looked at data from the Georgetown study as well as the U.S. Department of Labor. We also took into account research by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), which breaks down average earnings and career prospects by degree.

Keep reading to see which majors cracked our list of degrees with the best value...

#1 Best Value Degree
Business Administration

It's not the most specialized or even the most lucrative bachelor's degree you can earn. But when it comes to overall value, business administration finishes first in our book for its impressive combo of career prospects and average earning potential.

The average salary offer for business administration grads leapt 11.3 percent this past year to $46,832, according to NACE's Spring 2011 Salary Survey. In terms of job offers, business administration majors finished a close second to accounting students, according to NACE. But when it comes to overall value, business administration beats out accounting because of the career flexibility the degree could potentially provide.

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For example, do you want to pursue finance opportunities after graduation? You'll likely take courses like economic, statistics, and accounting in a business administration degree program. Or maybe you prefer to pursue a career path in human resources, public relations, or marketing? Once again, the curriculum in a business administration degree program could potentially have you covered.

Average Earning Potential: $58,000*

Related Degree: Management

#2 Best Value Degree
Accounting

A bachelor's degree in accounting can provide great value for people who are looking for a career-minded business education that's linked to solid average earning potential and career prospects.

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Accounting finishes just behind business administration in overall popularity yet places first when it comes to job offers, according to NACE's Spring 2011 Salary Survey. Looking forward, employment prospects for accountants are projected to rise 22 percent through 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Average Earning Potential: $63,000*

Related Degree: Finance

#3 Best Value Degree
Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical engineers with a bachelor's degree and no higher make $80,000 per year on average, according to the Georgetown study. That's real value when you take into consideration that graduate school isn't factoring into the equation. As a way of comparison, the average starting income for MBA grads, which comes from a 2010 study by the Graduate Management Admission Council, is $78,820.

Click to Find Engineering Degree Programs

Mechanical engineering graduates led the way in job offers in 2011 among engineers with a bachelor's degree and no higher, according to NACE's Spring 2011 Salary Survey. What's more, the Georgetown study found that mechanical engineering grads enjoy a 95 percent full-time employment rate.

Average Earning Potential: $80,000*

Related Degree: Electrical Engineering

#4 Best Value Degree
Medical Assisting Services

Health care is one of the hotter industries around these days and medical assisting is a hot degree choice.

According to the Georgetown study, 99 percent of graduates who majored in medical assisting services are employed full or part-time. The future looks bright as well, with job prospects for medical assistants expected to rise 34 percent through 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

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Those with a bachelor's degree in medical assisting services have an average earnings of $56,000, according to Georgetown. But the real value may be that an certificate or associate's degree, which can be completed in a year or two, on average and depending on your course load, is a common way to prepare for this career, according to the Department of Labor.

Average Earning Potential: $56,000*

Related Degree: Dental Assisting

#5 Best Value Degree
Health and Medical Administrative Services

Majoring in health care and medical administration can be worth it if you're looking for a degree that matches up with an industry on the rise. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the health care industry features 10 of the 20 fastest growing jobs in the country.

Compare Schools That Offer Health Care Administration Degree Programs

The Georgetown study broke down the employment rates of 171 degrees and found that health and medical administrative services grads are near the very top, with 97 percent employed full or part-time.

Average Earning Potential: $55,000*

Related Degree: Office/Administrative

*All average earnings info comes from a 2011 report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce and is based upon workers with a bachelor's degree and no higher.

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