Majors that are Good Bets for Finding a Job

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Wondering which college majors have the best shot at landing a job upon graduation? Here are five safe bets.

By Terence Loose

Are you thinking of going back to school to get a degree so that you can pursue a better, or new, career? Well, how do you know which degrees will give you the best shot at landing a job after you graduate?

First of all, congrats for thinking a degree might help in the first place. According to a 2012 study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce titled "Hard Times: Not all College Degrees are Created Equal," bachelor's degree holders fair a lot better in the job market than those with only a high school diploma.

In fact, the study found that while recent bachelor's degree grads had an unemployment rate of 8.9 percent, jobseekers with only a recent high school diploma had an unemployment rate of 22.9 percent.

"So the differences are really very great. And the unemployment rate for college grads comes down faster," says Anthony P. Carnevale, one of the study's authors and the director of the Center on Education and the Workforce. Currently, the unemployment rate for those with bachelor's degrees is a low 6 percent, he says. "But for high school only [workers], it has not recovered and that is a pattern we've seen in the last three recessions," he says.

Of course, earning a degree does not guarantee employment. You still need to professionalize yourself and work hard to be competitive in today's market.

But Georgetown's "Hard Times" report does provide some food for thought on which majors have faired the best in the job market. So read on to see if your favored degree made the cut.

Major #1: Health and Medical Administrative Services

Unemployment Rate: 2.9%* (experienced college grads; recent college grads unavailable**)

Here's a news flash: humans are not immortal. And that means we will always need health care. And here in the U.S., with the baby boomer generation aging, we need a lot of it, says Carnevale. That's one reason this major has good job opportunities for the foreseeable future, he says.

"Health care is one of the last areas to lose jobs because we're overspending on it. We're putting 18 percent of GDP into health care so there are always a lot of jobs in this field. In fact, health care continued to hire throughout the recession, and the unemployment rate for new grads was relatively low," says Carnevale.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Health Care Administration Program.

Potential Career: If you like the idea of a management position in the health care industry, this could be a good field of study for you. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, "prospective medical and health services managers have a bachelor's degree in health administration."

Such a degree prepares you for higher-level management positions than other degrees because it includes classes such as hospital organization and management, accounting and budgeting, human resources administration, law and ethics, and health information systems, says the Department of Labor.

Major #2: Elementary Education

Unemployment Rate: 4.8%*

There's nothing like working with kids to give you a sense of vitality, youth, and meaning in your life. And it so happens that a degree that prepares you for that - a bachelor's in elementary education - holds up pretty well in the unemployment rankings.

Ironically, the reasons for this degree doing so well has to do with attrition, says Carnevale. "The reason there are job openings is because of retirements. We're cutting back on the number of teachers and I suspect we'll see further cuts, but teaching is one of the oldest workforces in America, so for every one job you lose there are two other jobs that open up because baby boomers are retiring," he says.

Bottom line: Carnevale says hiring in elementary education is strong and due to remain that way.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Elementary Education Program.

Potential Career: Get ready to get your mentor hat on, as a degree in elementary education prepares you to pursue a job as a kindergarten or elementary school teacher. In fact, elementary teachers are required to have at least this degree if they plan to work in a public school. State requirements also require public elementary and kindergarten school teachers to be certified. Private school teachers do not necessarily need this certification, the Department says.

If you're wondering exactly how an elementary school teaching program prepares you to interact with the next generation, here are some typical courses in the major, according to the College Board, a nonprofit research organization that promotes higher education: instructional resources and technology, teaching methods, classroom management and behavior, and educational psychology.

Major #3: Accounting

Unemployment Rate: 6.8%*

If you thought that a financial crisis like the one we had a few years ago would lower the need for accountants, you'd be wrong. In fact, says Carnevale, in many ways it only strengthened the need for people trained in good accounting practices. Hence, majoring in accounting is a pretty good bet for jobs now and in the future, he says.

"More and more, finance and accounting are a bigger share of jobs. So even though the jobs on Wall Street [declined], every business has an accountant or finance person on staff, and it's going to get more that way because the regulations are increasing again. So finance and accounting have become something [businesses] have to have to get from day-to-day," says Carnevale.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Accounting Program.

Potential Career: If you didn't pick it up from the last few paragraphs, a bachelor's in accounting is good preparation for the position of accountant. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor says that "most accountants and auditors need at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field."

As an accounting major, you'll take more than just number-crunching classes. A typical schedule might include such courses as accounting information systems, business law, government and not-for-profit accounting, auditing, and tax accounting, says the College Board.

Major #4: Communications

Unemployment Rate: 7.4%*

We humans are a chatty bunch. We love to communicate, and businesses rely on various forms of communication - from TV and radio to social media and video - to get the word out about their products and services. This is a big part of the reason a bachelor's in communications is still seeing low unemployment figures, says Carnevale.

"Every institution has a communications person now. And a lot of that has switched to Internet, video, and social media," says Carnevale. "There was a time when print journalism figured pretty largely but it doesn't anymore. But all the other venues are going up, so communications is a growth field."

Next step: Click to Find the Right Communications Program.

Potential Career: And you'll definitely need to be a great communicator if you're going to spin stories as a public relations manager, which is where such a degree could take you. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, if you want to pursue a career in public relations management, a bachelor's degree in communications, public relations, or journalism is generally required.

Choose to study mass communications and the College Board says you'll likely take classes such as communications and mass media research, global perspectives in media, media criticism, and media law and ethics.

Major #5: Psychology

Unemployment Rate: 7.6%*

Are you interested in how people think and why they behave the way they do? Well, apparently employers are too; majoring in psychology fared pretty well in the Georgetown unemployment rate findings.

Why? "It's because most of the jobs are in counseling, under health care. That is growing because of the aging of the population. There are a lot more people counseling the elderly in nursing homes, for instance. That's driving counseling pretty heavily," says Carnevale.

Those with bachelor's degrees in psychology are employed in many industries, which is why the unemployment rate is relatively low, says Carnevale. However, counseling jobs usually require a master's degree or a bachelor's degree in psychology with a certificate in counseling, he adds. The upside? A master's degree can add a lot of job opportunities and a big jump in pay, he says.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Psychology Program.

Potential Career: Just as Carnevale mentioned, the U.S. Department of Labor agrees that people with bachelor's degrees in psychology find employment in a range of fields. Some of these include education, business administration, or even sales. They may even find themselves in social work. Although the Department of Labor notes that a bachelor's degree in social work is the most common requirement for social workers, some employers may hire candidates with bachelor's degrees in psychology or sociology.

* Unemployment figures taken from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce 2012 study titled "Hard Times: Not all College Degrees are Created Equal." All figures are for recent college graduates (ages 22-26) of bachelor's programs in the fields referenced, unless otherwise specified.

** The Georgetown report defines "recent college graduates" as bachelor's degree holders ages 22-26 and "experienced college graduates" as workers ages 30-54.

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