Most Versatile College Degrees


Do you want to earn a college degree that's useful in today's job market? Check out these five smart picks.

By Terence Loose

Garden gnomes. Three-legged chairs. Pet rocks. What do all these have in common? You got it: they're all useless.

If you're thinking of going back to school to get your degree, chances are you want it to be a little more useful than a gnome or a pet rock. In fact, we're guessing you'll want it to be very useful, especially when you start looking for a job.

And that's a good thing, because having a useful degree has never been more important, says Susan Heathfield, a management consultant and's Guide to Human Resources.

"I think right now the importance of a degree that makes you employable is heightened because we're in such a tough economic climate," says Heathfield. "People are scared about losing their job or scared they can't get one. So you want to be able to give yourself a leg up, and a degree that has employment prospects is that leg up."

Sounds logical, so we asked her about five degrees that could potentially give you that all-important advantage. Read on for five degrees that won't make you look like a garden gnome who's sitting in a broken chair, holding a pet rock.

Useful Degree #1 - Bachelor's in Business Administration

If, as our 30th president Calvin Coolidge said, "the chief business of the American people is business," then it seems that a bachelor's degree in the subject would likely be a useful one. And Heathfield certainly agrees.

She says most employers will appreciate the solid fundamentals this major teaches. But she also has one caveat. "It's really important what you take inside of that degree," says Heathfield. "You've got to have finance, accounting, and understand the money side of business because that's what's going to be valued in the marketplace."

Click to Find the Right Business Administration Program Now.

It shouldn't be a problem getting those courses with a business degree. Typical courses include accounting, marketing, economics, business ethics and law, and financial management, according to the College Board, an organization of colleges and universities that administers tests such as the SAT.

Potential Career: Personal financial advisor is one career path you could take with this degree in hand. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employers typically require a bachelor's degree. It notes that a degree in finance, accounting, business, and more, is good prep for the career.

Useful Degree #2 - Bachelor's in Health Care Administration

Looking to earn a degree that might prepare you to pursue a career in a booming industry? A bachelor's in health care administration could help. After all, in their March 2012 Projections Overview, the U.S. Department of Labor predicts that no less than 28 percent - or 5.7 million - of all new jobs created in the U.S. from 2010 to 2020 will be in the health care and social assistance industry.

"I'm very positive about any degree that leads into the health care field," says Heathfield.

Click to Find the Right Health Care Administration Program Now.

And to help you prepare to pursue a career in this field, the College Board says that health services administration majors learn all facets of overseeing health care facilities. Typical courses you might take, they say, include health care law, accounting, epidemiology, human resources management, and health care ethics.

Potential Career: Aspiring medical or health services managers have a bachelor's degree in health administration, according to the Department of Labor. Master's degrees in health services, public health, business administration, among other topics, are also common.

Useful Degree #3 - Bachelor's in Computer Science

Are you fascinated by cutting edge technology and the myriad of computing devices that make this the Information Age? That techie curiosity could be perfect for majoring in computer science, a degree that Heathfield sees as cutting edge.

"I'm always hot on computer science, information technology, and information systems," says Heathfield. Why? Because, she says, people who understand cloud computing and mobile applications are going to be critical to businesses going forward. Simply put: "They are going to be wanted," she says.

Click to Find the Right Computer Science Program Now.

In fact, one of the things the College Board says you'll learn about in this major is how to design computer programs that allow humans and computers to talk to each other. Maybe that's why one of the classes they list is artificial intelligence. Other common ones are digital systems design, software engineering, and computer system organization.

Potential Career: The U.S. Department of Labor says that most computer programmers get a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related area, though some employers may hire hopefuls with an associate's degree.

Useful Degree #4 - Bachelor's in Communications

Pop quiz: Global companies have an average of how many business-related social media accounts? One, two, three, or 178?

If you said one, you are...really wrong. The answer is 178, according to a January 2012 study by research based advisory firm Altimeter, titled "Strategy for Managing Social Media Proliferation." And stats like that are exactly why Heathfield sees a degree in communications - with an emphasis on social media and marketing - so marketable.

"A social media marketer is critical for every business going forward," says Heathfield. "With the emphasis on social media in everything from job searches to brand awareness, I don't know a company that's not currently advertising for something in that arena. These people will be in demand."

Click to Find the Right Communications Program Now.

Heathfield says you'd be wise to gain skills in social media along with taking the common courses offered in this major, which - for business communications programs - include writing for business and technology, media analysis and criticism, business communication, and more, according to the College Board.

Potential Career: Employers prefer a bachelor's degree for a career as a public relations specialist, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, which notes that employers tend to want applicants who have learned about communications, public relations, English, journalism, or business.

Useful Degree #5 - Bachelor's in Accounting

What's the one thing that every business has to do? Balance the books. So if you're a numbers kind of guy or gal, a bachelor's in accounting could add up to a very useful degree.

"I'm really supportive of this degree to lead to a good career," Heathfield says. She does have two conditions, however. "First, you have to be information technology oriented in today's world because the whole world is going computers." So she says to make sure the accounting degree offers classes in computer-based accounting programs. Second, she says you must know how to crunch numbers, record data, and be able to interpret the data as well.

Click to Find the Right Accounting Program Now.

And according to the College Board, that's exactly what this degree prepares you to do. It says that "Accounting majors learn how to gather, record, analyze, interpret, and communicate information about an individual's or organization's financial performance and risks."

Potential Career: A majority of accountants and auditors need at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. You might also want to keep in mind that some employers may prefer candidates with a master's in accounting or business administration, with a focus in accounting.

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