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Most Employable Degrees 2015

Most Employable Degrees 2015

Most Employable Degrees 2016 is now live! Make sure you check out the most up-to-date rankings for the degrees you're interested in.

For most, the goal of going to college and getting a degree is to improve job prospects. Students hope that the knowledge and skills they gain in school, coupled with the credential they receive upon graduation, will help them on the path to a meaningful and well-paying career. But when it actually comes time to find employment, graduates may be surprised to see all degrees are not equal.

Four years of residency is still the choice for most high school graduates. But given the rising costs of degree programs, combined with the fact that jobs which might have once gone to high school grads now require a B.A., many families are thinking about college through the lens of cost-benefit, trying to figure out which degree from which institution is likely to give them the biggest "bang for their buck" or which are the best online degrees.

If you are one of the people approaching your degree choice through such a cost-benefit framework, the following study produced by OnlineDegrees.com is designed to provide a ranking of which programs are likely to give you the best return on your educational investment.

Methodology

This study started by looking at employment opportunities related to different degree fields. Factors taken into consideration included:

  • Expected number of job openings in that field
  • Number of related professions
  • Average salary of all related professions

This information was based primarily on Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Statistics and Outlook reports (their most recent data was published in 2013).

That material was then cross-referenced with details regarding currently available degree programs, specifically:

  • Number of schools offering programs in a specific degree category
  • Average cost-per-year at those schools
  • Length of time required to obtain the degree

Some of this data also came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as from the Institute for Education Sciences' National Center for Educational Statistics.

The goal of an analysis synthesizing employment opportunities with the availability and cost/time commitment required to earn a degree was to rank majors based on their likelihood to lead to a high-paying/fast-growth career in as little time (and with as little cost) as possible.

While this review will close with some recommendations as to how to best approach such a ranking, some immediate caveats as you look over the following high-ranking job categories include:

  • Even recently published data is based on historic information, so keep in mind that rankings are influenced by statistics from the early 2010s or before.

  • It can sometimes be difficult to understand how specific degree fields (which were used as the basis for analysis in this study) relate to real-world jobs. To minimize this confusion, the following analysis focuses on categories of degrees and talks about specific majors within each category. But keep in mind that the specific degree titles listed below might not correspond to how degrees will be listed by schools. The O*NET Online database is your best source for detailed descriptions of each of these fields, providing listings which include descriptions of the knowledge, skills, and work activities associated with related careers.

With that said, the top five categories for maximizing your educational investment are:

Skip to the 50 Most Employable Degrees

Best Information Technology Degrees

Information Technology

It is no surprise that degrees related to computers and technology top the list, given the growing demand for skilled programmers, technology administrators, and support specialists in nearly every industry.

In this study, general IT, represented by degrees such as Network and System Administration (#3), Information Technology (#4), and Computer Systems Networking and Telecommunications (#8), edged out computer-programming jobs due the fact that more top-scoring job titles (seven of the top 50) fell into this category.

IT degree programs are not cheap (average prices ranged from $10-$15,000 annually), but the number of years you need to pay that tuition is smaller for IT programs than in other fields. And with average job growth in the 15-20% range, it is not surprising that students have hundreds of choices if they decide to pursue a degree or certificate program in this area.

Top Degrees


Position in Ranking: 3

Network and System Administration

Position in Ranking: 3

  • Average Salary of Related Professions: $88,420
  • Average National Projected Growth (2012-2022): 17%
  • Average Tuition Cost Per-Year: $9,841
  • Number of Schools Offering Programs in this Field: 268


Position in Ranking: 10

Computer and Information Systems Security/Information Assurance

Position in Ranking: 10

  • Average Salary of Related Professions: $86,770
  • Average National Projected Growth (2012-2022): 16.68%
  • Average Tuition Cost Per-Year: $12,752
  • Number of Schools Offering Programs in this Field: 590

Other degrees in the Top 50 falling into this category:

  • Information Technology (#4)
  • Computer Software Technology (#5)
  • Computer Systems Networking and Telecommunications (#8)
  • Management Information Systems, General (#16)
  • Information Technology Project Management (#35)

Best Computer Programming/Computer Science Degrees

Computer Programming

While it can sometimes be challenging to determine where IT ends and computer programming begins (or the distinction between programming and computer/information science), it is safe to say that degrees related to computer software development rank close to the top in terms of employment potential and average salary, especially when looked at through the lens of what it costs to earn a degree in a programming-related field.

In fact, Computer Programming, Specific Applications ranked #1 in this study, with Computer Programming, General coming in at #12. Average salaries and job-growth potential for these degrees continue to be among the highest in any field. And the cost of earning a degree in programming (based on average tuition and number of years needed to graduate) makes the field one of the most efficient pathways towards a high-paying career.

Keep in mind that programming is still a meritocracy, and while studying coding in school is a great way to get up to speed on contemporary technologies quickly, programming is still a learning-by-doing skill best developed by putting it to use performing actual software development tasks. So don't ignore internships or volunteer opportunities while at school that will allow you to stress test your skills by performing real world work.

Top Degrees


Position in Ranking: 1

Computer Programming, Specific Applications

Position in Ranking: 1

  • Average Salary of Related Professions: $90,070
  • Average National Projected Growth (2012-2022): 17.17%
  • Average Tuition Cost Per-Year: $8,521
  • Number of Schools Offering Programs in this Field: 236


Position in Ranking: 14

Computer and Information Sciences, General

Position in Ranking: 14

  • Average Salary of Related Professions: $89,346
  • Average National Projected Growth (2012-2022): 14.13%
  • Average Tuition Cost Per-Year: $16,907
  • Number of Schools Offering Programs in this Field: 1,973

Other degrees in the Top 50 falling into this category:

  • Information Sciences/Studies (#11)
  • Computer Programming, General (#12)
  • Computer Systems Analysis (#20)

Best Business/Management Degrees

Business

Business remains the #1 major in the United States for both residential and distance learning programs. And given that even those not working in for-profit companies (such as managers or employees at non-profits or government agencies) need to be familiar with business principles and practices, understanding how to manage a team, balance a budget, and market and sell something (if only yourself) are skills needed for almost any modern job.

Within this Business/Management degree category, Entrepreneurship/Entrepreneurial Studies ranks highest at #2, reflecting that reward correlates with the risk associated with being an entrepreneur vs. a hired hand. Other traditional business degrees, such as Business Administration and Management, General (#9), Marketing/Marketing Management, General (#13), Accounting and Finance (#17) rank somewhat lower, albeit still in the Top 50 with regard to cost/benefit.

The sheer scale of job opportunities that fall under one or more business degree fields explains the popularity of this major and the large number of institutions supporting business education. This means that students entertaining a career in business have the most academic choices, and thus need to do the most homework when exploring where and how to obtain a degree suitable for their professional goals.

Top Degrees


Position in Ranking: 2

Entrepreneurship/Entrepreneurial Studies

Position in Ranking: 2

  • Average Salary of Related Professions: $111,672
  • Average National Projected Growth (2012-2022): 9.58%
  • Average Tuition Cost Per-Year: $14,164
  • Number of Schools Offering Programs in this Field: 494


Position in Ranking: 9

Business Administration and Management, General

Position in Ranking: 9

  • Average Salary of Related Professions: $91,427
  • Average National Projected Growth (2012-2022): 11.92%
  • Average Tuition Cost Per-Year: $15,705
  • Number of Schools Offering Programs in this Field: 5,704

Other degrees in the Top 50 falling into this category:

  • Business/Commerce, General (#7)
  • Marketing/Marketing Management, General (#13)
  • Accounting and Finance (#17)
  • Accounting and Business/Management (#19)
  • International Business/Trade/Commerce (#26)

Best Medical Support Degrees

Medical

With the exception of Osteopathic Medicine/Osteopathy (#6), which should be considered an outlier in this data set, most medical-related fields that rank high in this study do not require advanced degrees for employment.

These include Dental Hygiene (#15), Occupational Therapist Assistant (#22), and Surgical Technology (#24) -- absolutely vital (and high-paying) health care positions that do not demand an MD or PhD to practice.

It should be noted that most health support specialties have their own entrance requirements (such as passing a licensure examination), with training to pass such exams often baked into a residential or online degree program. So when exploring these opportunities, you should understand all of the work and associated costs related to practicing in a field, including those above and beyond going to school.

Top Degrees


Position in Ranking: 15

Dental Hygiene

Position in Ranking: 15

  • Average Salary of Related Professions: $78,070
  • Average National Projected Growth (2012-2022): 34.7%
  • Average Tuition Cost Per-Year: $10,569
  • Number of Schools Offering Programs in this Field: 404


Position in Ranking: 22

Occupational Therapist Assistant

Position in Ranking: 22

  • Average Salary of Related Professions: $70,150
  • Average National Projected Growth (2012-2022): 39.35%
  • Average Tuition Cost Per-Year: $8,486
  • Number of Schools Offering Programs in this Field: 176

Other degrees in the Top 50 falling into this category:

  • Diagnostic Medical Sonography (#17)
  • Medical Radiologic Technology (#23)
  • Surgical Technology (#24)
  • Health Information/Medical Records Administration (#28)
  • Emergency Medical Technology (#30)

Best Retail and Administration Degrees

Retail

As mentioned earlier, employers who might have once hired people with only a high school diploma for jobs in retail or general business administration are increasingly asking for a certificate, associate degree, or even a B.A. as part of the application process.

This phenomenon reflects employers raising the bar in an era when so many more college graduates are in the job pool. It also reflects the increasing complexity of tasks assigned to people serving in what might have once been considered simple support positions.

Is college experience necessary to land a job as a retailer or administrative assistant (vs. starting from the mailroom and working your way up)? Maybe not. But in an era when "degree required" appears on more and more job applications in fields such as Retail Management (#21) and Public Administration (#43), these may be the degrees most suitable for students looking to quickly enter the workforce.

Top Degrees


Position in Ranking: 21

Retail Management

Position in Ranking: 21

  • Average Salary of Related Professions: $69,583
  • Average National Projected Growth (2012-2022): 10.5%
  • Average Tuition Cost Per-Year: $6,926
  • Number of Schools Offering Programs in this Field: 51


Position in Ranking: 43

Public Administration

Position in Ranking: 41

  • Average Salary of Related Professions: $86,056
  • Average National Projected Growth (2012-2022): 4.5%
  • Average Tuition Cost Per-Year: $17,765
  • Number of Schools Offering Programs in this Field: 754

Other degrees in the Top 50 falling into this category:

  • Credit Management (#47)

Important Factors to Keep in Mind

Sharp eyes might have noticed some duplicates in the rankings listed above (Accounting and Finance and Diagnostic Medical Sonography are both listed as #17, for example). This reflects the fact that any analysis that tries to balance disparate variables (such as job growth, salary level, and school cost) is likely to generate distinctions between closely ranking job titles that are too close to declare a winner.

So for students who want to use this study as a resource for planning their own education and career trajectory, don't get too hung up on one degree field ranking slightly above or below any other. But large gaps can be seen as indicative of genuine distinctions between the cost-benefit ratio of one career choice vs. another.

Students should also be aware of the presence of what are called "confounding variables" in any broad-based analysis of this type. For example, the sheer number of people pursuing business education means that a fraction (possibly a large one) of those falling into this category likely includes older students who may be returning to school to advance in what is already a high-paying career (which can inflate average salary numbers for business grads).

And while on the subject of averages, remember that these mean -- by definition -- some people are going to earn less than that average (especially as they start out in their career) while others will earn more.

Finally, success in school, a job, or life often comes down to doing what you are passionate about, or at least not doing something you loath for 40+ hours a week. So when selecting a potential career -- and the educational pathway most likely to help you do well in that career -- cost-benefit analysis should be just one factor in your decision-making, one that should not be weighted so heavily that it points you towards a profession you are not wired to either succeed in or enjoy.

Most Employable Degrees 2015

The 50 Most Employable Degrees

  1. Computer Programming, Specific Applications

  2. Entrepreneurship/Entrepreneurial Studies

  3. Network and System Administration

  4. Information Technology

  5. Computer Software Technology

  6. Osteopathic Medicine/Osteopathy

  7. Business/Commerce, General

  8. Computer Systems Networking and Telecommunications

  9. Business Administration and Management, General

  10. Computer and Information Systems Security/Information Assurance

  11. Information Science/Studies

  12. Computer Programming, General

  13. Marketing/Marketing Management, General

  14. Computer and Information Sciences, General

  15. Dental Hygiene

  16. Management Information Systems, General

  17. Diagnostic Medical Sonography

  18. Accounting and Finance

  19. Accounting and Business/Management

  20. Computer Systems Analysis

  21. Retail Management

  22. Occupational Therapist Assistant

  23. Medical Radiologic Technology

  24. Surgical Technology

  25. Operations Management and Supervision

  26. International Business/Trade/Commerce

  27. Management Science

  28. Health Information/Medical Records Administration

  29. Aerospace Physiology and Medicine

  30. Emergency Medical Technology

  31. Clinical/Medical Laboratory Technician

  32. Health/Health Care Administration/Management

  33. Respiratory Care Therapy

  34. Health/Medical Physics

  35. Information Technology Project Management

  36. Medicine

  37. Computer Software Engineering

  38. Pharmacy

  39. Chiropractic

  40. Dental Assisting

  41. Dentistry

  42. Terrorism and Counterterrorism Operations

  43. Computer Engineering, General

  44. Public Administration

  45. Health Unit Manager

  46. Hospital and Health Care Facilities Administration/Management

  47. International Marketing

  48. Credit Management

  49. Physician Assistant

  50. Geography, Other