Six Degrees That Could Pay You Back

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Hoping for a strong return on your college investment? You better make sure you're investing in one of these six degrees.

By Lia Sestric

It's no secret that college is expensive. And simply putting money toward an education doesn't mean you'll see a return on that investment. Choosing a degree with promise and career application, however, might help you increase your odds.

How? Some college degrees could pay you back more than others - and in more ways than one. These degrees are usually in high demand with employers, or they could teach you the skills to follow a career path with high earning potential.

To get a bit more specific, we sifted through the vast sea of education programs and came up with six degrees that could prepare you to follow a promising career path.

Are you ready to invest wisely and grow wise from your investment? Keep reading to learn more.

Degree #1 - Computer Science

Is solving computer glitches a piece a cake for you? If so, chances are a bachelor's degree in computer science could reward you in more ways than one.

Students in computer science programs study the way humans and computers interact, according to the College Board, a nonprofit organization that promotes higher education. Typical classes include data structures and algorithms, artificial intelligence, mathematics for computer science, and digital system design, to name a few.

Payback Factor: But how does this degree pay you back? In marketability, it seems. "It's one of the biggest areas right now," says Dan Schawbel, upcoming author of "Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success" and career expert.

"It's not even just for computers, but mobile phones, tablet devices - all those things are taking off," he adds. "Computer science is much more valuable now because there is so much more demand for it, and it's hard to find that talent."

Click to Find the Right Computer Science Program.

With a bachelor's degree in computer science, you could be prepped to pursue a career as a software developer, as the U.S. Department of Labor reports that this is one degree these professionals typically have. The Department of Labor notes that programming skills are also important.

The best part? Software developers earn decent salaries. The Department reports a median annual salary of $90,060 for software developers who specialize in applications, with workers in the 10th percentile at $55,190 and those in the 90th at $138,880.*

Degree #2 - Business Administration

Is a leader born or made? No matter which way you feel about it, if you like the idea of being in charge, why not consider a degree in business administration? You can sharpen your natural talents, while earning a degree that could pay for itself.

The College Board says students who study business administration will prepare "to plan, organize, direct and control an organization's activities." Major courses might include operations management, financial management, management information systems, and accounting.

Payback Factor: A degree in business administration can lead to many lucrative careers, says Laurence Shatkin, career expert and author of "200 Best Jobs for Renewing America."

"The degree is valuable because management depends so much on mastery of data-crunching tools. It's much less possible to work your way up the corporate ladder just by getting experience," he says. "People with this degree also are appreciated for their knowledge of how to use information technology for other purposes, such as production or distribution, and for their understanding of the legal environment of the business."

Click to Find the Right Business Administration Program.

A bachelor's degree is usually required for financial analyst positions, notes the U.S. Department of Labor. Fields of study that qualify include business administration, accounting, finance, and others. The Department of Labor also reports that employers often want candidates with a master's degree in business administration (MBA) or in finance.

And get this: Financial analysts report good salaries. The Department shows a median annual salary in the field of $76,950, with workers in the 10th percentile at $47,130 and those in the 90th at $148,430.*

Degree #3 - Health Care Administration

Are you interested in helping people and enacting real change in health care? A bachelor's degree in health care administration could be a great fit for you. And the career it qualifies you to pursue could offer a nice return on your college investment.

According to the College Board, students in a health services administration program might take health care courses such as health care law and health care ethics, plus classes like accounting, anatomy and physiology, and statistics.

Payback Factor: "Obamacare will have a major impact on the health care industry, so if you work in it and hold a health care administration degree, there will be more opportunities for you to find work and advance," says Schawbel.

Shatkin agrees. "People with this degree are being hired to help health care facilities run more efficiently, and these organizations range from group medical and dental practices - which are becoming the norm rather than solo practices - all the way up to chains of hospitals and nursing homes."

Click to Find the Right Health Care Administration Program.

With a bachelor's degree in health care administration, you could be well-equipped for pursuing a career as a medical and health services manager, says the U.S. Department of Labor. To use their words: "prospective medical and health services managers have a bachelor's degree in health administration."

Additionally, medical and health services manager can be a money-making career. The Department of Labor reports a median annual salary in the field of $88,580, with workers in the 10th percentile at $53,940 and those in the 90th at $150,560.*

Degree #4 - Civil Engineering

A bachelor's degree in civil engineering will give you the chance to put your creative noggin to work. The degree could teach you how to build the next skyscraper or road project, which could be a huge money maker.

According to the College Board, "civil engineering majors learn how to use math and science to design big construction projects." Sound exciting? These majors also learn about calculating a structures maximum weight load and identifying environmental concerns on a project.

Common courses include dynamics, environmental awareness for engineers, engineering economics, fluid mechanics, and geology and geophysics, to name a few.

Payback Factor: But why is learning any of this a good idea? "As construction rebounds from the low point that it hit in the Great Recession, we can expect civil engineers to be hired to design buildings, bridges, roads, and other structures that a revived economy will need," says Shatkin. "Repair of the infrastructure can't be put off much longer, and rising sea levels will require large public and private works to prevent property damage."

Click to Find the Right Civil Engineering Program.

So just how do you get into this career field? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a civil engineering bachelor's degree or a degree in one of its specialties, approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, is needed to pursue a career as a civil engineer.

And this career could pave the way to decent earnings. The Department of Labor reports a median annual salary in the field of $79,340, with workers in the 10th percentile at $51,280, and those in the 90th at $122,020.*

Degree #5 - Accounting

You know the saying: It takes money to make money. That's why businesses want to know where every penny is going. If you like calculating numbers and have a good sense of record keeping, why not cash in by earning an accounting degree?

The College Board says an accounting program teaches students how to interpret how an institution is performing financially. Classes for this degree might include multiple levels of accounting courses, as well as business law and auditing.

Payback Factor: How could this degree pay you back? By introducing you to a field that isn't going anywhere. "It's very stable," says Schawbel. "There's always going to be demands for it. It's something every business always needs."

Click to Find the Right Accounting Program.

Accounting is certainly going strong, which makes getting educated in the field not a bad idea. With a bachelor's degree in accounting, you could be equipped to pursue a career as an accountant or an auditor, as the U.S. Department of Labor reports that most of these professionals typically have a bachelor's in accounting or a related field.

And let's not fail to mention the attractive salaries. The Department of Labor reports a median annual salary for accountants and auditors of $63,550, with workers in the 10th percentile at $39,930, and those in the 90th at $111,510.*

Degree #6 - Nursing

Caring for someone who is sick or terminally ill takes a tender touch. If you're passionate about helping others, you might consider entering a nursing degree program, which could teach you how to work in one of health care's fastest-growing professions.

A student pursuing a nursing degree could take courses in anatomy and physiology, chemistry, and psychology, in addition to nursing courses like adult or mental-health nursing, says the College Board.

Payback Factor: The U.S. Department of Labor says earning a bachelor's degree in nursing is one educational path that registered nurses take. The Department of Labor says a bachelor's degree may include more clinical experience in nonhospital settings as well as offer more preparation in areas such as leadership and critical thinking.

But a bachelor's isn't the only way to pursue this career. Other options include an associate's degree in nursing or a diploma from an approved nursing program, says the Department.

The bottom line is, earning a degree that is directly related to a booming career field is a wise decision. And Shatkin sees a lot of opportunity in nursing right now. "Nurses are being used to reduce the expensive workload given to physicians, but at the same time, many of their lowest-level health care tasks are being shouldered by nursing aides and by home health care workers," Shatkin says. "This allows nurses to work and earn at a more professional level commensurate with their level of education."

Click to Find the Right Nursing Program.

As for salary potential, the Department reports a median annual salary of $65,470, with workers in the 10th percentile at $45,040, and those in the 90th at $94,720.*

* All median salary information from the Department of Labor Occupational Employment and Wages statistics, May 2012.

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