Marketable Degrees That Employers Want Most

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Looking for a degree that could teach you skills employers actually want? Here are six.

By Terence Loose

Maybe you've heard: in the real world, employers want practical skills - and no, beer pong doesn't count.

So which ones are employers in need of most - and what degrees could help you gain them?

Vicki Lynn, senior vice president of Universum, a global talent recruiting company that works with many Fortune 500 companies, says employers are mainly looking for degrees that can help grow businesses. These are degrees that teach skills needed in industries such as health care, technology, finance, and others, she says.

For a clue as to what those skills might be, we checked out a November 2011 poll by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) called "The Ongoing Impact of the Recession - Recruiting and Skills Gaps." In it, SHRM surveyed 716 organizations that were having trouble recruiting for certain types of jobs.

Here are the top seven skill gaps employers identified, ranked in order:

  • critical thinking/problem solving
  • professionalism/work ethic
  • written communication
  • leadership
  • teamwork/collaboration
  • oral communication
  • information technology application

See, no beer pong. So if you're thinking of going back to school, read on for six degrees that aim to give you marketable skills for the real world.

Degree #1: Bachelor's in Business Administration

Do you picture yourself using leadership and professionalism skills to succeed in the corporate world? A bachelor's degree in business administration could help you perfect those and other key skills.

In fact, skills associated with this major are leadership, communication, planning, and problem solving, according to the College Board, a nonprofit research organization that promotes higher education. How might you develop this impressive skill set? By taking classes in operations management, accounting, human resources management, and business ethics. Yes, ethics is still part of the business world.

Click to Find the Right Business Administration Program Now.

Why It's Real World Ready: "I believe that in today's world you have to have business skills no matter what you're doing," says Lynn. She says employers from all industries hire business majors because they already know the fundamentals of business, which makes teaching them about a specific industry much easier.

Possible Career: Ready to use those selling, speaking, and analytical skills to help people make important decisions about investments, taxes, insurance, and other financial matters? This is what a financial advisor does, and a bachelor's degree in business is good preparation for this job, says the U.S. Department of Labor.


Degree #2: Bachelor's in Health Care Administration

The health care industry involves decisions and actions that have real effects on the lives of real people. That said, you can bet that a bachelor's in health care administration can probably teach some important real world skills.

What kinds of skills? The U.S. Department of Labor says these programs "prepare students for higher level management jobs." This preparation takes place in courses such as hospital organization and management, accounting and budgeting, human resources administration, and other applicable subjects.

Click to Find the Right Health Care Administration Program Now.

Why It's Real World Ready: "This degree teaches people skills that are applicable to many industries, not just health care, so they will be in demand," says Susan Heathfield, a management consultant and Guide to Human Resources at About.com.

And since 78 percent of respondents in the SHRM report said they had trouble recruiting managers and executives, a degree like health care administration, which places emphasis on hospital management, seems a smart option.

Possible Career: If you've ever had a less-than-satisfactory experience at a hospital or clinic, a career as a medical or health services manager could be your chance to change the way these places do business. These people manage everything from finances to personnel at hospitals, clinics, and doctors' offices, says the Department of Labor. Prospective health services managers have a bachelor's degree in health care administration.


Degree #3: Bachelor's in Computer Science

Have you noticed that the real world has been taken over by the virtual world of computers? No, we're not saying your Mac is part of a conspiracy for world domination (though we're not ruling that out). We're merely pointing out that life in the 21st century is all about computers, which is why a computer science degree is in demand.

Still unsure about computers? Don't be. This degree could teach you how computers and people coexist in a chaotic world. "Computer science majors learn about computer systems and the way humans and computers interact from a scientific perspective," says the College Board. You could learn about programming computers and the theory and design of software, while taking classes in artificial intelligence, digital system design, software engineering, and - the computer apocalypse (joke!).

Click to Find the Right Computer Science Program Now.

Why It's Real World Ready: "It's simple," says Heathfield. "Everything is going toward computer technology." That's why computer science is at the top of Heathfield's list of marketable degrees. But too many students are missing the boat: 85 percent of respondents in the SHRM poll said they had trouble recruiting highly skilled technical workers, including programmers.

Possible Career: A bachelor's degree in computer science is typical for the job of software developer, says the U.S. Department of Labor. Software developers are computer specialists who create all those cool programs that do everything from letting us type these words to allowing you to tweet them.

Degree #4: Bachelor's in Communications

Whether you're writing a business proposal or branding a company, your success is dependent on effective communication. So, if you're looking to pick up some in-demand skills for the real world, you might want to consider a degree in communications.

The College Board says majors in this degree get a healthy serving of everything in the field of communications, from television and the Internet to other mass media. Common courses include persuasion, research methods, and writing.

Click to Find the Right Communications Program Now.

Why It's Real World Ready: "Every business out there today is focused on social media, and that is basically just the modern way to communicate their message," says Heathfield. "It's a branding tool, and so much more, so every company is looking for good communicators in this medium." The SHRM poll echoes that sentiment, with 41 percent of their respondents saying they found a skill gap in written communications among applicants.

Possible Career: Are you ready to use your skills as a wordsmith to make your mark as a company's public relations manager, doing everything from writing press releases and drafting speeches to evaluating advertising campaigns? The U.S. Department of Labor says that a bachelor's degree in fields like communications, public relations, or journalism is typically required for these positions.


Degree #5: Bachelor's in Accounting

Numbers are real. A business's bottom line is real. Taxes, unfortunately, are very real. And dealing with all three is a real-world skill that a degree in accounting could help you attain.

And if you're worried that an accounting degree is all about preparing for a job in the real boring world, the College Board seems to suggest otherwise: "Not simply bean counters, accountants analyze financial information and consult with upper management about important business decisions."

Click to Find the Right Accounting Program Now.

Why It's Real World Ready: "Accounting is a great major that usually results in a lot of options as far as industries go," says Lynn. "All the top companies are looking for accounting talent, and they pay well for it." How well? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median annual wage for accountants in May of 2011 was $62,850. Of course, you'll want to keep in mind that this varies depending on experience.

Possible Career: Don't say bean counter; say accountant and say it proudly. According to the Department of Labor, accountants could do everything from examining financial records to preparing tax returns. Because of this level of responsibility, most accountant positions require at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field.


Degree #6: Bachelor's in Civil Engineering

When you were a kid, did you build skyscrapers with building blocks? Or maybe you used jump ropes to build suspension bridges from couch to couch? A bachelor's in civil engineering could help develop those play skills into real work skills.

Just how "real," you ask? "Civil engineering majors learn how to use math and science to design big construction projects," according to the College Board. So get ready to learn how to calculate how much weight a structure will hold and to consider the environmental concerns of a building. Coursework could include engineering economics, structural analysis and design, and strengths of materials, says the College Board.

Click to Find the Right Engineering Program Now.

Why It's Real World Ready: Heathfield says engineering is right up there with computer science when it comes to in-demand degrees. Her perspective is backed up by the SHRM poll: 88 percent of organizations named engineer as the hardest position to recruit.

Possible Career: According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a bachelor's in civil engineering from a program accredited by ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) is needed for the position of civil engineer. In addition, you must gain a license. Civil engineers design such things as buildings, tunnels, airports, and other large construction projects, according to the Department of Labor. Civil engineers sure know how to keep it real.

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