If you want to break into an emerging career field, one of the best tickets in is pursuing a cutting-edge major in college. It might seem risky, since these programs are often in their infancy stages and only available at a few select colleges, but learning a specific skill set from experts in an innovative field can set you apart in the job market of tomorrow.
To give you an idea of some of the exciting new degree programs being developed in direct response to advancements in technology, science, and engineering, check out these seven next-generation majors:
Nanotechnology is science conducted at a nanoscale. In other words, this major is designed to teach students how to manipulate and restructure matter to create new technologies in medicine, alternative energy, engineering, and more. Most nanotech programs touch on all of the sciences in some way, but students come away with a very practical set of skills. Along with innovations such as cutting-edge cancer drugs and microscopic memory chips, nanotechnology is utilized in over 800 commercial products today.
Schools that offer this major: The University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, UCSD, Penn State, North Seattle
Job outlook: Market researcher Global Information Inc. estimates that the annual global market for products incorporating nanotechnology could reach $3.3 trillion by 2018. According to a study funded by the National Science Foundation, 6 million nanotechnology workers will be needed worldwide by 2020 -- 2 million in the U.S. alone.
Drones (Unmanned Aircraft Systems)
Drone technology has advanced drastically in recent years, and the need for those who can pilot and operate Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) continues to soar. Beyond military applications, drones are starting to be used for agriculture, household deliveries, and more.
Schools that offer this major: The University of North Dakota's School of Aerospace Science, Lewis University, Kansas State Polytechnic
Job outlook: For those majoring in drones, the sky's the limit when it comes to job potential. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International projects that the drone industry will create more than 100,000 new drone jobs through 2025. And those who graduate with drone piloting abilities have the potential to land jobs with government contractors that offer six-figure starting salaries.
What might have been a fun hobby in high school is turning into a promising career track, hence the creation of robotics concentrations and majors at some big name institutions. As for how to apply the skills learned through a robotics degree program, consider artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, computational game theory, and mechanism design, to name just a few applications.
Schools that offer this major: University of Michigan, Ivy Tech Community College, Washington University in St. Louis, California University of Pennsylvania
Job outlook: The future is bright in both the commercial and military worlds for graduates who have the educational training to work on robots and autonomous vehicles. According to a report by the Association for Advancing Automation, the robotics industry has grown substantially since 2010. Intelligence through electronics will eventually be found in all future mechanical systems. In addition to commercial and military applications, widespread growth is anticipated in home, entertainment, and human assistance.
Big data has gotten a lot of attention over the last couple of years, which is why having the ability to extract insights from large data sets and use it to solve problems is highly in demand. Data scientists use data mining, statistics, predictive modeling, and other tools to analyze behavior and help companies and other organizations make informed decisions.
Schools that offer this major: University of Minnesota, Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Southern California, North Carolina State University
Job outlook: According to the BLS, the median salary for statisticians (one of the more popular jobs for which data science applies) was $75,560 as of 2012, and demand for these professionals is expected to grow 27 percent from 2012 to 2022. Those who learn data science skills can work in a wide variety of positions ranging from business and government to medicine and the environmental sciences.
More and more, we're seeing the convergence of technology and biology, which is where a degree in biotechnology comes into play. Schools offering this discipline aim to graduate students who can apply technical skills, research prowess, and theoretical knowledge to develop innovations in alternative energy, disease prevention, agriculture, regenerative medicine, and more.
Schools that offer this major: University of Maryland University College, Johns Hopkins University, University of Nevada, Reno, California State University San Marcos
Job outlook: From the pharmaceutical industry to research laboratories to agricultural organizations, the opportunities for those with a biotech education are vast. Some possible career paths include biochemical engineer, environmental scientist, laboratory technician, or bioinformatician. California is home to the largest number of biotechnology firms in the country, according to the state's Employment Development Department. More than 2,300 biomedical companies were located there in 2011, employing nearly 153,000 workers.
Digital Forensics and Cyber Investigation
Crime has gone digital, and in order to catch cyber thieves, we need a new breed of detective. In this major, students learn the technology behind data security, how to investigate and respond to cyber crimes, as well as aspects of business and law.
Schools that offer this major: University at Albany SUNY, University of Central Florida Online, St. Petersburg College, University of Maryland University College
Job outlook: It seems like almost everyday there is another huge data breach or hacking scandal in the headlines. Digital forensic scientists and cyber investigators are called in to help find the culprits and come up with solutions to prevent crimes like identity theft, cyber attacks, and more. According to Inc.com, digital forensics is a "billion-dollar market that's growing fast." Employment opportunities may come from large corporations or even government agencies.
Assisted Reproductive Technology
New advances in reproductive medicine have created a growing need for grads with the specific health care and laboratory skills needed to perform delicate procedures such as artificial insemination and fertility medication. Those majoring or specializing in ART study topics like clinical embryology, get hands on experience producing in vitro bovine embryos, and learn how to work in a reproduction laboratory and use specialized equipment.
Schools that offer this major: The University of Nottingham (UK), Colorado State University, University of Dundee (Scotland)
Job outlook: Just as most specialized health care professions provide strong job security and salary potential, a career in assisted reproductive technology is no different. Whether you choose a clinical or research setting, a degree that specializes in this field could open a lot of doors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.5 percent of all infants born in the United States in 2013 were conceived using ART.
No matter what major you choose to pursue, it's important to do your research beforehand to learn what each program of study requires and the career paths it could lead to. Choosing a cutting-edge major might limit your school options, but it may also position you to get in on the ground floor of hot new career fields.
"Frequently Asked Questions," National Nanotechnology Initiative, http://www.nano.gov/nanotech-101/nanotechnology-facts
"Nanotechnology: Big Opportunities for Those Who Think Small," Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, John R. Platt, December 13, 2013, http://theinstitute.ieee.org/career-and-education/career-guidance/big-opportunities-for-those-who-think-small
"Robots Fuel the Next Wave of U.S. Productivity and Job Growth," Association for Advanced Automation, October 2015, http://www.a3automate.org/docs/A3WhitePaper.pdf
"Biotechnology in California," State of California Employment Development Department, April 2013, http://www.calmis.ca.gov/SpecialReports/Biotechnology_in_CA_2013.pdf
"Watching the (Digital) Detectives Rout Out Cyber Fraudsters," Inc., Will Yakowicz, March 25, 2014, http://www.inc.com/will-yakowicz/csi-cybercrime-scene-investigation.html
"Majoring In Drones Could Earn You A 6-Figure Salary," Business Insider, Drake Baer, September 22, 2014, http://www.businessinsider.com/majoring-in-drones-2014-9
"Statisticians," Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/math/statisticians.htm
"2013 ART Fertility Success Rates," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/art/reports/