Six Smart Degrees You Can Earn Now

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If you're thinking about going back to school, you'll want to pick a degree with strong career prospects.

By Lee Nelson

Does your alarm go off every morning with you dreading another day at your job? Are you considering going back to school to start a new life and career?

Good for you. Now the work begins. But how do you figure out which degree is the best and what types of careers will be in demand when you finish college? Research degrees and career paths they may prepare you for, yes, but don't forget to consider what you want out of life, too.

"There are a lot of options out there, but you want to be happy, and you have to figure out your niche," says Bruce Storey, director of educational services at Black Hawk College, a community college in Moline, Ill.

Interested in finding out more? We've pulled together career information from the U.S. Department of Labor and professional insight from our education expert to give you a better sense of some of the smart degree options you can start pursuing now. Keep reading to learn more.

Degree #1: Bachelor's in Computer Science

Windows 8, LinkedIn, Halo 4, and on and on. These are all familiar programs that you and your friends use on a regular basis with Smartphones, tablets, game systems, and laptops. But how would you like to learn how to create them?

In a computer science degree program, you'll study how computers and humans interact and how to design effective programs based on this knowledge, says the College Board, a non-profit organization that promotes excellence in higher education.

Click to Find the Right Computer Science Program.

Why It's Smart: Degrees in computer science have a lot of real-world application. "A degree in computer science is highly sought after by many companies because technology is always changing," says Lou Thomas, partner at Capstone Consulting in Omaha, Nebr., and a computer science degree holder. "You can work from anywhere with this degree and work for all types of clients and companies."

Career Potential*: Just how sought-after are computer science degree holders? The U.S. Department of Labor is predicting a bright future for one of the careers for which this degree could prepare you to pursue.

  • Software developer - 30 percent projected growth from 2010 to 2020

Degree #2: Bachelor's in Business Administration

Whether you dream of working for a big corporation - and possibly climbing up the corporate ladder - or one day owning your own small business, a degree in business administration could prepare you to pursue your business aspirations.

According to the College Board, a business administration and management program could teach you to plan and supervise the activities of an organization. Common classes include operations management, economics, and business ethics and law.

Why It's Smart: The benefits of this degree are plentiful, says Storey: "You can go anywhere with a bachelor's degree in business administration. Every business needs someone that knows how to run it. It's all up to you and what you want. You learn a lot of different things during your schooling which can help you succeed in whatever dream job you want."

Click to Find the Right Business Administration Program.

Career Potential*: Like Storey says, job potential and growth is big for degree holders in this field.

  • Personal financial advisor - 32 percent projected growth from 2010 to 2020
  • Financial analyst - 23 percent projected growth from 2010 to 2020

Degree #3: Bachelor's in Health Care Administration

If you've always wanted to help sick and injured people, but never had much of a stomach for needles and scalpels, studying a bachelor's in health care administration could teach you how to pursue this dream - minus the sharp, pointy objects.

In a health services administration program, you will likely study the complex world of health care by learning how to manage a health care facility, says the College Board. You'll gain an understanding of human resources, policy, and financial management by taking courses like health care law and the economics of health care.

Why It's Smart: Storey thinks this degree holds a lot of future potential and may open up opportunities for people to help improve our medical system: "The entire health care system is getting very convoluted, and the demand for medical services increases as baby boomers age," says Storey. "By going after a health care administration degree, you could be one of those who can simplify it for others."

Click to Find the Right Health Care Administration Program.

Career Potential*: A degree in health care administration could prepare you to pursue a career with favorable growth in the health care field.

  • Medical and health services managers - 22 percent projected growth from 2010 to 2020

Degree #4: Bachelor's in Criminal Justice

Are you a fan of crime investigation and cop shows? You might consider studying crime and law enforcement formally by pursuing a bachelor's degree in criminal justice.

They say truth can be stranger than fiction. You be the judge when you study criminal justice, where, according to the College Board, you'll learn just about everything there is to know about the justice system and crime. Common courses are criminology, juvenile justice, and policing society, to name a few.

Why It's Smart: A degree in criminal justice could have many real-world applications. "Crime doesn't go away," says Storey. "A degree in criminal justice can lead to many different careers that are exciting and helpful to others."

Click to Find the Right Criminal Justice Program.

Career Potential*: Contrary to popular belief, crime might pay after all - just not in the way you're thinking. Potential career options and growth for degree holders in criminal justice are trending strong.

  • Probation officer and correctional treatment specialists - 18 percent projected growth from 2010 to 2020

Degree #5: Associate's in Dental Assisting

If you enjoy helping others and making people smile, why not study the hot field of dental assisting?

Taking x-rays, making mouth impressions, and setting up patient trays with instruments - these are all things you might learn how to do in a dental assisting program, says the College Board. Some of the courses where you might gain this knowledge include oral anatomy, dental radiology, and clinical practice.

Why It's Smart: If you get an associate's degree in dental assisting, there won't be any surprises about what career path to follow, and prospects throughout the field look good.

"Dental assistants will be in great demand. With an aging population of baby boomers, their teeth get worse as they get older," Storey says.

Click to Find the Right Dental Assisting Program.

Career Potential*: Educational requirements may vary by state for dental assisting, but what probably won't vary is the strong projected job growth.

  • Dental assistant - 31 percent projected growth from 2010 to 2020

Degree #6: Bachelor's in Software Engineering

Every day, you and many people around you likely use a Smartphone, laptop, or tablet to communicate with the world or get information. But what if you could learn how to design all those apps, games, and programs that make your life so much fun?

Pursue a degree in software engineering, and you might learn just that. According to the College Board, a computer software engineering program could teach you not only how to create and maintain software, but how to understand it on a scientific and mathematical level. That's probably why courses typically cover subjects like discrete math, programming language concepts, and systems analysis.

Why It's Smart: According to Thomas, "If you get a degree in software engineering, you can write your own ticket anywhere." Not only that, but he predicts people holding this degree and working in a related field stand to make good money.

Click to Find the Right Software Engineering Program.

Career Potential*: Career options and job growth both look favorable for people holding degrees in software engineering.

  • Software developer - 30 percent projected growth from 2010 to 2020

* All potential career picks are based on information from the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook. The degrees are named by the Department of Labor as being either required or preferred by employers, common among job applicants, or acceptable preparation for the career. In some instances, the degree may not be the only educational or professional requirement for a career.

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