Degrees That Prepare You For the 21st Century


These five high-tech degrees could give you the skills needed for the high-tech career world.

By Terence Loose

Quick, name one business without a website, or one that doesn't use computers. Yes, with everything from smart TVs and phones to laptops and tablets to Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, the 21st century is as high-tech as anyone imagined. So if you're thinking of going back to school to prepare for a new career, a high-tech major might really compute.

"High-tech degrees are already very important in today's marketplace," says Robb Lifferth, director of human resources at Fusion-io, a leading computer systems and software company. "As the world becomes increasingly connected, and more parts of our lives become automated, the demand for employees with technical backgrounds will continue to grow exponentially,"

In fact, he says, in the future, graduates from these types of programs could have their pick of jobs as employers increasingly covet their high-tech skills. Interested in getting the specs on some high-tech college degrees? Keep reading for five programs that experts say are built for the 21st century.

21st Century Degree #1: Information Science

Heard of "big data"? You will. It refers to the large amounts of information big companies have been mining from customers who use the Internet for everything from small purchases to Web searches, says Charley Polachi, CEO of Polachi Access Executive Search, a recruiting firm which serves technology, clean tech, and venture capital firms.

He says an information science degree will be sought after by companies who want to analyze their big data. "Big data is the name of the game for the next 10 years," Polachi says. "As people are more adept at ignoring advertisements, businesses need to find ways to keep selling."

And this need for data analysis could cut across other industries, too. "The skills from information science translate well to work on Wall Street and market analysis." These skills, he says, include managing large banks of data.

Click to Find the Right Information Science Program.

About the Degree: If you major in information science, you'll learn how people use information and how to create systems to store that information, says the College Board, a nonprofit research organization that promotes higher education. Typical classes might include information architecture, database management, human-computer interaction, information and society, and more.

Potential Career: Database Administrator. People who study information science could have more than one way to apply their degree to the world of data. Database administrators, for instance, make sure large databases are well-organized and secure for data analysts to access and use, says the U.S. Department of Labor.

The Department says most database administrators (DBA's) have a bachelor's degree in management information systems or an information- or computer-related subject. However, employers with large databases may prefer those with a Master of Business Administration with a specialization in information systems.

21st Century Degree #2: Computer Science

Want a great all-round, high-tech degree, one that's a great starting point to learn all aspects of the tech field? Polachi says a bachelor's in computer science is the call.

"A degree in computer science gives a broad overview of the booming tech sector - hardware, software, infrastructure, Web design, programming, etc.," says Polachi.

"In the future, being able to innovate and address problems differently than what has been done before will be the key to success," adds Lifferth. He says a computer science degree can help by giving students strong problem-solving skills that allow them to deliver unique solutions.

Click to Find the Right Computer Science Program.

About the Degree: Major in computer science and you could learn about computer programming, computer systems, and how computers and humans interact, all from a scientific point of view, says the College Board. Typical classes might include digital system design, artificial intelligence, software engineering, and more.

Potential Career: Computer Programmer. These professionals write software programs in a variety of languages, debug and test programs, and a host of other computer program-related tasks, says the U.S. Department of Labor. The Department says that although some employers hire those with an associate's degree, most computer programmers have a bachelor's degree. Most of them pursue a degree in computer science or a related field and specialize in more than one computer languages.

21st Century Degree #3: Computer Software Engineering

Do you see yourself working for a Fortune 500 tech company some day? Polachi says a bachelor's degree in computer software engineering might be the right first step.

"A computer software engineering degree leads to careers at high-powered tech firms - Facebook, Google, etc., and startups and businesses in need of software development. It's a very versatile area of study," says Polachi.

He says that's because this degree teaches students to be highly creative and visionary while sticking to structure and logic. These skills, he says, are the same ones a great musician or composer might use to create a master musical piece.

Click to Find the Right Programming and Software Program.

About the Degree: Major in computer software engineering, and you'll learn many programming languages and how to design and analyze computer software, says the College Board. Oh, and there will be some math involved, they say. The College Board adds that typical classes could include operating systems, discrete math, systems analysis, website design, and more.

Potential Career: Software Developer. These workers are the creative forces behind computer programs, says the U.S. Department of Labor. They imagine and design systems and applications for computers or other types of devices. The Department says software developers typically have a bachelor's degree software engineering, computer science, or a related field.

21st Century Degree #4: Network Administration

Whether you're checking your favorite Twitter feeds, buying a Starbuck's grande latte, or streaming a movie, you're probably using a network - that is, a digital space where computers and people can exchange data. That's one big reason a degree in network administration, which is often offered as an associate's degree, will be in demand now and in the future, says Polachi.

"Networks are everywhere and we need them all of the time. Having the skills and ability to run a network will help job seekers remain in high demand. We live in a networked society," he says.

And network administration majors gain the skills to keep our networked society running smoothly, says Lifferth. "[They gain] an understanding of the latest computer architectures, including desktops, routers, servers, VPNs, switches, firewalls and IP phones," he says. This will be vital as small-to-medium businesses become more connected and look to do more with less, he adds.

Click to Find the Right Network Administration Program.

About the Degree: Major in network and system administration and you'll study how to manage a specific business's computer operations, says the College Board. They say a typical course list might include database management, desktop support, network security, introduction to programming, and more.

Potential Career: Network Administrator. These professionals are critical to every organization, says the U.S. Department of Labor. That's because they organize, install, and support organizations' computer networks. The Department of Labor also says that network administrators must often have a bachelor's degree, those related to computer or information science being the most common. Some positions may require an associate's degree or postsecondary certificate in a computer field with some work experience. A degree in computer or electrical engineering is usually acceptable, too.

21st Century Degree #5: Electrical Engineering

In the age of computers, often smaller is better - as in smaller and more powerful computer chips. And building smaller and more powerful computer chips falls under the area of electrical engineering, says Polachi.

Why is this degree made for the 21st century? It's all about demand. "So as chips get smaller and more popular, demand for a degree in electrical engineering will only increase," says Polachi.

"With a degree in electrical engineering, you'll learn about computer engineering, optics, bioengineering, and telecommunications," says David Bakke, editor at Money Crashers, a website devoted to career and personal finance advice. These are skills many tech-industry employers highly value, he adds.

Click to Find the Right Electrical Engineering Program.

About the Degree: As an electrical engineering major you could learn everything about electricity and how to use it to power all types of devices, says the College Board. Typical courses could include circuit analysis and design, digital systems, electrodynamics, electric components and tools, and more.

Potential Career: Computer Hardware Engineer. These professionals do everything from designing and developing to testing and researching computer equipment, says the U.S. Department of Labor. Although most entry-level computer hardware engineers have a bachelor's degree in computer engineering, an electrical engineering degree is generally acceptable.

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