Five Valuable College Degrees

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Want to earn a college degree with value? Check out these five bachelor's degree programs.

By Tony Moton

It's no secret: A college education can cost big bucks.

So before you go back to school for a bachelor's degree, it's only natural - and wise - to investigate whether your educational investment has the potential to pay you back. In other words, what's its potential value?

"The rule of thumb is that someone with a bachelor's degree makes about a million dollars more over their career than someone who doesn't," says Cheri Butler, associate director of the career center at the University of Texas at Arlington.

In fact, according to a 2011 Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce report titled "The College Payoff: Education, Occupations, and Lifetime Earnings," a worker with a bachelor's degree generally earns an average of $2.3 million over a lifetime - a significant amount more when compared to someone with only a high school diploma, who generally earns an average of $1.3 million over a lifetime.

Since the possibility of earning an extra million bucks sounds pretty nice, we looked through the National Association of Colleges and Employers' (NACE) April 2012 "Salary Survey" report to pinpoint five bachelor's degree level areas of study that are among the highest paying for college graduates.

Keep reading to learn more.

Area of Study #1: Business

Overall Median Starting Salary: $47,748*

From selling newly developed products to marketing time-tested products in new ways, business people are always looking for a competitive edge when it comes to winning over consumers. So, if you have a competitive spirit, earning a bachelor's degree in the business field could offer a potential return on investment.

For one thing, the numbers appear to be adding up just right for graduates with a bachelor's in economics. With the median starting salary for 2012 economics grads at $54,800 (up 5.6 percent from 2011), it's one of the top-paying majors in the business sector, according to NACE's "Salary Survey."

Starting Salaries for various Business Majors include:*

- Finance: $49,700

- Accounting: $47,800

- International Business: $31,200

Click to Find the Right Business Administration Program.

Potential Value: "In business, you have to take in a lot of information, digest it, and make sound decisions," says Butler, who adds that business majors get value from being taught how to identify "the next big thing."

"But it's not just in business; it's in economics and finance, too. A finance program shows you how to make predictions and forecasts and how to make sense out of them."


Area of Study #2: Communications

Overall Median Starting Salary: $40,022*

Whether you aspire to write a popular blog or head up the corporate communications division at a Fortune 500 company, being able to successfully deliver ideas to an audience is crucial.

During a bachelor's in communications program, you might learn how to communicate in various mediums, which is likely a valuable skill in today's high-tech, information-driven world, says Paul Timmins, career services director in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota.

How valuable? The $40,022 overall median starting salary for 2012 communications grads represented a 3.8 percent increase from 2011, according to the "Salary Survey."

Starting Salaries for various Communications Majors include:*

- Advertising: $44,700

- Communications: $39,400

- Journalism: $37,500

Click to Find the Right Communications Program.

Potential Value: "Communications is one of the top skills that we hear employers want," says Timmins. "They might need you to communicate in a variety of ways, in a small group, one-on-one, large-group setting, or in writing. It's a skill that can be applied in a lot of different places, such as sales, customer service, top management, writing, journalism, public relations, or advertising fields."


Area of Study #3: Computer Science

Overall Median Starting Salary: $56,383*

Home computers have been on the market for a number of years, and new gadgets like smartphones and tablets continue to introduce new technologies. That begs the question, who's behind all these technological advances? Tech-savvy people, that's who.

Perhaps that's the reason the NACE survey found starting salaries for graduates in the computer science field increased by 2.4 percent in the past year. That translates to a median starting salary increasing from $55,087 for 2011 graduates to $56,383 for 2012 graduates.

The "Salary Survey" also reports that employers in the information sector - the collection of businesses that produce and distribute information and develop the products that transmit and process data, such as software publishers - had the highest number of new graduate applicants, with starting salary offers of $64,400.

Starting Salaries for various Computer Science Majors include:*

- Computer Science: $58,300

- Information Sciences and Systems: $52,000

Click to Find the Right Computer Science Program.

Potential Value: "Do you know an organization that doesn't have a computer system? I don't," Butler says. "They are a fact of life, and we need people who can keep them running and make the most of those important tools. Your company is dead in the water if it doesn't use computer technology."


Area of Study #4: Health Sciences

Overall Median Starting Salary: $43,477*

Ever been interested in working in a hospital setting as a nurse? Want to learn what it takes to keep a body going strong into its twilight years? If so, a bachelor's degree in one of the health sciences could be the vehicle that helps drive you to your destination of helping others.

And check this out: the median starting salary for all health sciences graduates was almost unchanged, with a noteworthy salary of $43,477 in 2012 - less than a one percent change from the previous year, which was at $43,802, according to the "Salary Survey."

Starting Salaries for various Health Science Majors include:*

- Nursing: $48,400

- Health and Related Sciences: $36,400

Click to Find the Right Health Services Program.

Potential Value: Butler says health sciences majors could see added value in their degrees because health care workers are in great demand as the baby boom population ages.

"We are healthier and living longer, so we need assistance in maintaining a livable lifestyle," Butler says. "The 79 million boomers need a lot of infrastructure to take care of them, so there are jobs in the health care field. It's supply and demand in my opinion."


Area of Study #5: Engineering

Overall Median Starting Salary: $58,581*

Do you have natural problem-solving skills that you'd like to use on a professional level? By earning a bachelor's degree in engineering, you might be able to hone those skills, and even get some potential value from your education.

How so? Consider this: The "Salary Survey" found that engineering grads hold the bragging rights for being the highest paid of all disciplines that NACE evaluated. Engineering grads who majored in computer engineering, for example, had a median starting salary of $67,800 in 2012.

Starting Salaries for various Engineering Majors include:*

- Aerospace/Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering: $64,200

- Civil Engineering: $55,300

- Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering: $41,800

Click to Find the Right Engineering Program.

Potential Value: Butler credits the creative aspects of the engineering field for providing value to this degree. "Engineers are the ones who create new things," Butler says. "Next year, we will be using technology that hasn't been invented yet, and engineering is at the core of that."


*Overall median starting salary figures for 2012 are taken from the National Association of Colleges and Employers' April 2012 "Salary Survey: Starting Salaries for New College Graduates." NACE Salary Survey data is produced through data taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census Bureau, and a master data set developed by Job Search Intelligence.

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