College Degree Winners and Losers


It's time to separate the college degree winners from the losers.

By Chris Kyle

College sports are filled with winners and losers. Why should college degrees be any different?

With millions of degrees awarded each year, we're here to separate the champs, like information technology and nursing, from the also-rans.

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To determine winning and losing degrees, we tracked down what's hot and what's not with HR recruiters. We also looked at average earnings data, career growth estimates, and employment projections for different college degrees and careers.

To the victors go the spoils. So let's get right to it! Our biggest winner is...

Winner #1 - Bachelor's Degree in Finance

Surprised that finance edged ahead of the more general purpose business degree? Don't be. HR recruiters tell us that companies are currently seeking pre-prepped employees who don't require on-the-job preparation. Finance grads fit this formula and could potentially move into accounting or business.

Average Starting Salary: $47,500*
Average Mid-Career Salary: $91,500*

Related Degrees with Distinction:

[Search for top-notch Finance/Accounting degree programs]

Winner #2 - Bachelor's Degree in Business

There's a reason that business is such a popular degree. It might not be our first place finisher, but there is no other degree that can match the same kind of versatility and reliability.

The numbers back this up. According to a 2010 student survey released by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), 45 percent of business majors found a job offer by graduation, trailing only accounting students.

Average Starting Salary: $41,100*
Average Mid-Career Salary: $70,600*

Related Degrees with Distinction:
International Business

[Find the Business degree program that is right for you]

Winner #3 - Associate's Degree in Medical Assisting

Finding a job opportunity often involves being in the right place at the right time. For medical assisting students, that time could potentially be right now. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, opportunities for medical assistants will soar 34 percent through 2018, making it one of the fastest growing careers in the country.

Another benefit is that you can prepare to pursue a medical assistant career by earning an associate's degree. Shorter certificate programs are also available.

Average Starting Salary: $19,379-$30,849*
Average Mid-Career Salary: $24,783-$35,794*

Related Degrees with Distinction:
Dental Assisting
Medical Technician

[Search for Medical Assisting schools near you]

Winner #4 - Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology

Computers are here to stay, and so are the professionals who know how to design, develop, install, and implement computer information systems. Earn a degree in information technology (IT) and you could potentially be prepared for a variety of opportunities in the industry.

Average Starting Salary: $49,600*
Average Mid-Career Salary: $79,300*

Related Degrees with Distinction:
Computer Science
Network Administration

[Search for local and online Information Technology degree programs]

Winner #5 - Bachelor of Science in Nursing

Nursing is the most obvious career to benefit from the growing needs of our aging population. With hospitals looking to cut costs, more nurses are expected to be needed since they can perform some of the same tasks as doctors at a lower cost.

Average Starting Salary: $52,700*
Average Mid-Career Salary: $68,200*

Related Degrees with Distinction:
Licensed Nurse (LPN/LVN)
Nursing Assistant

[Search for Nursing schools near you]

College Degree Losers

As rewarding as these degrees and careers might be, earning power and career prospects were the biggest factors in dragging them down to the bottom of our list.

Loser #1 - Social Work

Average Starting Salary: $31,800*
Average Mid-Career Salary: $44,900*

Loser #2 - Horticulture

Average Starting Salary: $35,000*
Average Mid-Career Salary: $50,800*

Loser #3 - Art

Average Starting Salary: $33,500*
Average Mid-Career Salary: $54,800*

Loser #4 - Music

Average Starting Salary: $36,700*
Average Mid-Career Salary: $57,000*

*All salary information comes from Payscale's 2010-2011 College Salary Report that details average earnings for graduates with a bachelor's degree and no higher, except salary information for Medical Assistants, which comes from Payscale's October 2010 salary information for all Medical Assistants, regardless of their degree, in their first year (average starting salary) and 10-19 year on the job (average mid-career salary).

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