College Degrees That Employers Love

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While studies show that a college degree is a big step toward more wealth and happiness, employers prefer some degrees more than others.

By Terence Loose   

Wondering which college degree will offer the most possibilities for your future? Experts agree that choosing a versatile major is a great start.

"Looking at the trend, the basic skills that a versatile, more broad-based degree offers can be really appealing to a wide range of businesses. It doesn't matter what the business is," says Michael Brandt, COO of recruiting software firm BrightMove, Inc.

Brandt is not the only one advising versatility. Nan Stothard, Sr. Associate Director of the University of California, Irvine's MBA Career Center, agrees. "In today's economy, versatility is an important thing to bring to the marketplace," she says.

Here are five ace picks to optimize your chances for a well-paying career.

Degree #1 - Bachelor's in Business Administration

To paraphrase our 30th president Calvin Coolidge, the business of America is business. True then, truer today. So it's hard to imagine a more versatile major than business administration.

You'll not only be able to focus on an area of business that most interests you by taking more specialized classes, you'll also learn about a broad range of topics in finance, marketing, and management, ensuring your career flexibility.

"When businesses hire, they look for that broad range of skill sets that they can build on," says Brandt. "A degree in business administration is best because they know you've got that very well-rounded, how-a-business-operates education. That's critical."

Perhaps that's why of the 1.6 million bachelor's degrees conferred in 2008 and 2009, the greatest number - 348,000 - were earned in business, according to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics.

Interested in a Versatile Business Degree? Find the Right School Now

Possible Career Paths and Average Salary Potential*
Advertising Sales Agent: $55,020
Cost Estimator: $62,060
Insurance Underwriter: $65,220
Credit Analyst: $68,180
Financial Analyst: $86,040
Financial Examiner: $82,320


Degree #2 - Master's in Business Administration (MBA)

Simply put, "an MBA tells businesses that this person has taken it to the next level," says Brandt. He adds that it also allows the graduate to approach virtually any business, with a chance at a career in a variety of areas.

UC Irvine's MBA Career Center Associate Director Chris Kovitz seconds that.

"[MBA grads] can pursue operations and supply chain, human resources, many options in finance, from real estate to private equity to investment banking; and within marketing there's product and brand management and market research. So it gives students a tremendous amount of options," he says.

It doesn't come more versatile than that.

Suited for an MBA? Find the Right School Now

Possible Career Paths and Average Salary Potential*
Management Analyst: $87,260
Agent or Business Manager of Artists, Performers and Athletes: $89,840
Securities, Commodities and Financial Services Sales Agent: $98,720
Human Resources Manager: $108,600
General Operations Manager: $113,100
Marketing Manager: $122,720


Degree #3 - Bachelor's in Accounting

Don't like the idea of becoming just another number cruncher? That's okay; you may still find an accounting degree adds up for you. That's because accountants are needed in all types of businesses.

The reason is clear, according to SmartMove's COO Brandt. "What is the first thing any business has to do?" he asks. "They have to manage their money. So understanding general accounting rules is very attractive to any business owner."

And don't worry, there's little chance you'll be stuck in the basement pouring over dusty ledgers. Careers are open to certified public accountants in many interesting fields, from insurance underwriting to personal financial advisor, so you could end up hanging with bankers or rubbing elbows with celebrities. Number crunching never looked so good.

Calculating a Future in Accounting? Find the Right School Now.

Possible Career Paths and Average Salary Potential*
Tax Examiner: $54,830
Cost Estimator: $62,060
Loan Officer: $65,900
Accountant or Auditor: $68,960
Budget Analyst: $70,660
Personal Finance Advisor: $91,220


Degree #4 - Bachelor's in Communications

It's never been more important for companies to market their message than in today's speed-of-the-web, social media society, so a degree in communications could open up any number of possible career paths. And most are very exciting, like brand building, marketing, corporate communications, writing, and so many others.

"There are just a lot of versatile ways to use that degree," says Brandt.

Communications is also becoming more important to employers in any professional field, for any position. In fact, says UCI's Kovitz, many companies are asking for writing samples and even giving writing tests. That's because they know that if a business doesn't communicate their product value effectively, it doesn't matter how great their newest widget is - no one will know and no one will buy.

Ready to Go for a Communications Degree? Find the Right School Now

Possible Career Paths and Average Salary Potential*
Reporter or Correspondent: $43,780
Public Relations Specialist: $59,150
Author or Writer: $65,960
Technical Writer: $66,240
Advertising and Promotions Manager: $98,720
Marketing Manager: $122,720


Degree #5 - Bachelor's in Information Technology

In the information age, technology is no longer a luxury, it's a necessity, making a bachelor's in information technology one of the most desirable and flexible degrees available.

"The further we get into the technology era, the more we're finding that information technology is intersecting with every aspect of our lives," says Neha Rawal, academic counselor at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at UC Irvine.

That translates into a degree that could open doors to many different industries. "Technology is blended into education, medicine, biology, art, entertainment, law," continues Rawal. "So a degree in [IT] is applicable to any part of the business world, whether it's healthcare or manufacturing or Amazon.com."

Indeed, the list of career possibilities is virtually endless, she says, from the tried-and-true computer programmer and software developer to patent lawyer and game developer.

Her associate at UC Irvine adds that despite today's challenging economy there are still jobs for IT graduates. "For the most part, our graduates have multiple job offers," says Bren School Director of Student Affairs Christine Leon. "We haven't heard from any that they're having a hard time finding a job. Overall, they're very successful, even in this economy."

Geared Up for an Information Technology Degree? Find the Right School Now

Possible Career Paths and Average Salary Potential*
Computer Programmer: $74,900
Computer Systems Analyst: $81,250
Software Developer, Applications: $90,410
Software Developer, Systems Software: $97,960
Computer and Information Research Scientist: $103,150
Computer and Information Systems Manager: $123,280


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

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