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20 Most Employable Science and Math Degrees 2015

Best Science Degrees 2015Future opportunities for students specializing in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) are said to be bright. However, these four fields cover a wide range of majors and potential occupations, some of which look more promising than others. In an effort to help students make a more informed decision about their educational investment, we've ranked every popular degree specialization based on numerous cost-benefit factors. This article will look specifically at science and math fields that topped our list of most employable degrees for 2015.

A recent study by OnlineDegrees.com examined which majors offer the best "bang for your buck," with "bang" defined as job opportunities in high-demand areas coupled with decent pay, and "buck" being the cost associated with obtaining a degree in the field.

Data from this study were derived by comparing expected number of job openings and average salaries provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to degree information from the National Center for Educational Statistics. This anaysis was used to create the Best Online Degrees tool, a ranking of degree programs based on which offered the best ratio of high pay/opportunity versus investment in tuition and time.

As you look over this ranking, keep in mind the following caveats:

  • This list is focused primarily on science and math fields. Engineering and technology are the subject of a different set of rankings.
  • Our analysis is based on historical information that can change, especially in dynamic scientific fields
  • The degree titles used as the basis of this list include categories that might overlap and not necessarily correspond to what you will find at every university.

With those qualifiers in mind, here are the 20 science and math degrees that offer the best potential return on investment for prospective students:

1. Geographic Information Science and Cartography

Why such high demand in fields related to mapping and location-related data? Ask your smartphone to find directions to your job interview to get a taste of the many applications that are emerging from a convergence of cartography (map making), geographical data systems, and the Internet.

  • Average Salary of Related Professions: $77,623
  • Projected Job Growth (2012-2022): 12.03%
  • Average Tuition Cost Per Year: $12,888
  • Number of Schools Offering Programs in this Field: 157

2. Paleontology

Who knew that the study of dinosaurs pays so well (at least for graduates of some of the few schools offering degrees in this field)? Actually, the field is now subdivided into numerous sub-disciplines that study the fossil record of animals, plants, and microscopic organisms, making paleontology one of the most dynamic areas of the life sciences.

  • Average Salary of Related Professions: $96,800
  • Projected Job Growth (2012-2022): 10.97%
  • Average Tuition Cost Per Year: $5,522
  • Number of Schools Offering Programs in this Field: 5

3. Modeling, Virtual Environments and Simulation

This field involves developing and understanding computer-based visual simulation which supports not just technology behind the latest CGI-laden blockbuster, but all kinds of applications relating to visual/quantitative analysis of data and human-machine interaction.

  • Average Salary of Related Professions: $84,890
  • Projected Job Growth (2012-2022): 13.18%
  • Average Tuition Cost Per Year: $17,907
  • Number of Schools Offering Programs in this Field: 19

4. Algebra and Number Theory

The way our research was compiled means that you will occasionally find a degree -- like this one in advanced mathematics -- offered by just a single university (one that seems to be producing high-paying graduates for fairly short tuition).

  • Average Salary of Related Professions: $95,070
  • Projected Job Growth (2012-2022): 13.3%
  • Average Tuition Cost Per Year: $6,856
  • Number of Schools Offering Programs in this Field: 1

5. Mathematics, General

This broader mathematics discipline seems to be yielding significant levels of opportunity (measured in high job growth for well-paying jobs), albeit via degree programs with relatively high tuition. Growth in this field is being fueled by advances in computer science that are turning what were once abstract theories into practical technological advances.

  • Average Salary of Related Professions: $80,133
  • Projected Job Growth (2012-2022): 14.23%
  • Average Tuition Cost Per Year: $21,672
  • Number of Schools Offering Programs in this Field: 2647

6. Physics, General

Just as graduates with a degree in mathematics can find employment in organizations able to put those skills to use pushing forward advances in computer science, a degree in physics opens up opportunities in engineering and industry, as well as in research at the frontiers of science.

  • Average Salary of Related Professions: $90,725
  • Projected Job Growth (2012-2022): 8.85%
  • Average Tuition Cost Per Year: $23,792
  • Number of Schools Offering Programs in this Field: 1,613

7. Geology/Earth Science, General

Those trying to mine the planet, save it, or just explore what goes on beneath our feet (and in the ecological systems we inhabit) all have uses for the skills learned by those studying geology and earth science, an area that supports degree programs from close to a thousand institutions.

  • Average Salary of Related Professions: $91,528
  • Projected Job Growth (2012-2022): 10.83%
  • Average Tuition Cost Per Year: $22,464
  • Number of Schools Offering Programs in this Field: 893

8. Biotechnology

High risk and high reward is associated with a biotech field that continues to receive huge investment dollars from those looking for the next blockbuster drug or medical technology breakthrough. But even in less dramatic industry and research efforts, the need for those with experience working at the intersection of high-tech and life science remains high.

  • Average Salary of Related Professions: $88,433
  • Projected Job Growth (2012-2022): 8.2%
  • Average Tuition Cost Per Year: $16,265
  • Number of Schools Offering Programs in this Field: 236

9. Biology/Biological Sciences, General

Like general math and physics, biology and biological sciences covers a huge range of disciplines that research and experiment with life forms both micro and macro. And speaking of macro, the number of degree programs in this discipline is close to 3000, with tuition also ranking among the highest in any of the science fields included in this study.

  • Average Salary of Related Professions: $77,518
  • Projected Job Growth (2012-2022): 8.06%
  • Average Tuition Cost Per Year: $21,011
  • Number of Schools Offering Programs in this Field: 2,796

10. Physical Sciences

The physical sciences represent a cross-disciplinary field that looks at non-living (inorganic) matter from a variety of scientific perspectives. Careers that make use of graduates of physical science programs often cross boundaries between physics and chemistry, and even astronomy and earth science.

  • Average Salary of Related Professions: $86,100
  • Projected Job Growth (2012-2022): 5.6%
  • Average Tuition Cost Per Year: $15,103
  • Number of Schools Offering Programs in this Field: 247

In some ways, math and science subjects that involve solving problems that have correct and incorrect answers are ideally suited to online learning. That said, several disciplines involve lab and field work, which means an advanced degree in the sciences might require enrolling in hybrid programs that combine solitary online learning with hands-on activity in a research lab or other site.

And while the image of the lone scientist generating brilliant insights after toiling in isolation for decades still resonates strongly (even among scientists), math and science are social activities where collaboration and joint work are increasingly being facilitated through online communities and other systems that allow people working remotely to share their thoughts, experiences, and data.

Here are 10 more science and math majors that made our list of promising degrees for 2015:

11. Water Resources Engineering

12. Biochemistry

13. Earth Science Teacher Education

14. Mathematics and Statistics

15. Mathematics Teacher Education

16. Biostatistics

17. Oceanography, Chemical and Physical

18. Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering

19. Statistics, Other

20. Geological/Geophysical Engineering

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