Best college majors for the future
A person learns throughout his/her whole life, either through formal or informal forms of education. On this path, a person faces many milestones and choices to make. One of the most important is certainly career choices, which is why it is not surprising that high school students often ask, “What are the best college majors for the future?”
Education plays a significant role in the life of every individual. Many people associate the process of education with formal schooling that prepares us for the desired career. However, it is much more than that, the task of education is not only to prepare us for work but also to help us develop skills and competencies that are necessary for life in general. Through education we learn to think, solve problems, develop our social skills, shape ethical understandings, etc. In this manner, education helps an individual grow into a functional member of society.
According to the data for 2022, the percentage of students enrolled in a college or university was 73.7. This number testifies to how important higher education is. However, choosing a college major today is not simple. In addition to several important factors to consider (employability, earnings, job satisfaction, etc.), there are also a large number of options (STEM, social sciences, economics…) that are difficult to navigate. All things considered, however, certain majors prove to be better options for the future than others.
What is a college major?
An academic major is the main field of specialization of students attending associate or undergraduate studies. In the modern world, specializations are necessary, given the amount of accumulated knowledge. All industries can be divided into a large number of smaller areas in which it is possible to specialize. Additionally, within these fields, there are many different occupations that people can pursue.
Students usually choose a major at the end of their sophomore year. However, some students know in advance what kind of job they want, so they choose their major accordingly. On the other hand, a significant number of students do not have a clear idea of the field in which they want to specialize and use their first year to explore their interests.
The list of collegiate programs available within a major will depend on the faculty. When you choose a major, most of the subjects in the curriculum will be related to this field. The knowledge and skills you will acquire will generally prepare you for a number of different jobs. For example, if you obtain a business degree, you have the opportunity to work as a Medical and Health Service Manager, Information Security Analyst, Operation Research Analyst, Financial Manager, etc.
Also, some faculties offer other options such as the following:
- Double major – specialization in two areas;
- Major and a minor – specialization in one field (major) and secondary specialization (minor).
What makes a major good for the future?
Choosing a major is a long-term process. There are many factors to consider. In addition to personal interests and abilities, it is necessary to consider other, external aspects such as the possibility of employment and potential earnings. It is important to find an option that matches our preferences but is also practical, that is, it offers good career opportunities and the possibility of adequate earnings.
However, in order to select the best majors for the future, it is necessary to determine the criteria that distinguish them as the best. The PayScale platform publishes a list once a year called “Majors That Pay You Back.” This list ranks the best-paying jobs you can get after graduating in a specific field. The criteria are the following:
- early career pay (median salary for alumni with 0-5 years of experience);
- mid-career pay (median salary for alumni with 10+ years of experience);
- high meaning (percentage of alumni who say their work makes the world a better place).
Data on average annual earnings for all occupations is also available on the U.S. website Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In addition to adequate earnings, the best majors provide jobs with high projected growth. Data on the projected growth of most occupations is also published annually by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Taking into account these parameters, we can conclude that the best degrees for the future:
- Provide an adequate starting salary.
- Provide the opportunity for your income to grow during your career.
- Have a high projected job growth.
- Are important to people.
Highest Paying Occupations
Currently, it is possible to find a large amount of information on which occupations are profitable and which are not. When creating lists of majors that “pay off”, authors generally use a variety of sources and ranking criteria.
If only average annual earnings are considered, according to BLS data, the 10 occupations that provide the highest annual incomes ($208,000 or more) are the following:
- Oral and Maxillofacial surgeons;
- Surgeons, all others;
- Pediatric surgeons;
- Orthopedic surgeons, except pediatric;
- Ophthalmologists, except pediatric, etc.
- Physicians, all others;
If we take into account other parameters (early career pay, mid-career pay, high salary), and according to the data from the PayScale platform, the first 10 occupations that are well paid at the beginning of one’s career, offer the possibility of high earnings later and are also very significant are:
|Rank||Major||Degree||Early career pay||Mid-career pay||Hing meaning (%)|
|2.||Operations Research & Industrial Engineering||Bachelors||$84,800||$170,400||28%|
|3.||Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (EECS)||Bachelors||$108,500||$159,300||46%|
|7.||Applied Economics and Management||Bachelors||$66,100||$146,400||67%|
|8.||Business Computing (BC)||Bachelors||$73,000||$143,600||–|
|10.||Electrical Power Engineering||Bachelors||$76,100||$142,600||68%|
Based on this data, it can be concluded that the most profitable jobs can be reached by choosing:
- Medical and Health care major;
- STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) major;
- Business and Finance major.
Occupations with the most job growth
Another important factor that should be taken into account when choosing a major is job growth, that is, predictions about the number of jobs that will be available. A lower percentage means that there is a possibility that it will be difficult to find a job after completing the studies, while a high percentage indicates a high demand for a certain profession in the future.
However, the high level of job growth is a response to external circumstances. For example, the pandemic of COVID-19 virus has affected the job growth of medical and health professions. It should be taken into account that the forecasts may change (although they refer to a period of 10 years), due to numerous external factors.
According to BLS data for the year 2021, when, in addition to the percentage of job growth, annual incomes are taken into account, the potential best college majors for the future are as follows:
|Occupation||Median annual wage, 2021||Job growth (%)|
|Computer and Information Systems Managers||$159,010||16.2|
|Managers, all other||$124,650||6.0|
|Medical and Health Services Managers||$101,340||28.3|
|General and Operations Managers||$97,970||6.7|
Also, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, projected growth (2020-2030) of STEM occupations is 10.5%, while for non-STEM professions, it is 7.5%. Projected growth for Healthcare occupations is 13%, and 7% for Business and financial occupations.
Therefore, it can be concluded that the three areas from which the best college majors for the future can be selected and which offer jobs that are in high demand are:
- Medicine and healthcare;
- Business and finance.
4 best majors for the future
Today, there is an extremely large number of industries, with many smaller areas of specialization and an even greater number of jobs within those areas. Therefore, the volume of data that is collected is extremely wide. Choosing the best degrees for the future seems almost impossible.
However, based on the data presented, it is possible to single out several majors that meet the previously mentioned criteria (satisfactory starting salary, high income during the career, adequate job growth level, and importance of the profession).
1. Engineering majors
Engineering is present in a large number of industries. Engineers can design buildings, vehicles, electronic devices, and many other “products”. For example, chemical engineering involves the development of chemical substances such as fuels or pharmaceutical products, while civil engineering includes the construction of buildings, bridges, dams, and similar structures. Depending on the type of engineering you choose, your income will vary.
According to BLS data, the employment rate in architecture and engineering occupations is projected to grow 4 percent in the period from 2021-2031. The average annual salary for these occupations was $79,840 in May 2021. The highest paid were petroleum engineers, with an average annual salary of $130,850.
Engineering can be divided into five main areas, each of which can be broken down into additional ones. Colleges offer various training programs in any of the desired fields. The five main branches of engineering are the following:
- Civil Engineering;
- Chemical Engineering;
- Mechanical Engineering;
- Electrical Engineering;
- Industrial Engineering.
2. Computer Science and Information Technology majors
Majors in Computer Science provides an opportunity for numerous occupations and for building successful careers. Students can improve in fields such as Cybersecurity, Information Systems Management, Software Development, AI (artificial intelligence), etc. Depending on the field you choose to train in, you can do a variety of jobs.
Some of the most profitable occupations include the following:
- Computer and Information Research Scientists;
- Computer Network Architects;
- Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts, and Testers;
- Information Security Analysts;
- Database Administrators and Architects.
According to BLS data, the median annual wage for occupations in this field was $97,430 in 2021, and the projected growth for the period from 2021-2031 is 15 percent.
3. Business and Finance majors
Business and Finance is a field that offers a wide variety of majors. Business degrees include the study of finance, management, marketing, HR, and many other disciplines. Due to its comprehensiveness, the degree in business prepares the student for a large number of potential occupations.
Finance degrees are also widely acknowledged. The areas studied in finance programs are diverse, such as domestic and global financial and banking systems, personal finance, business finance, financial institutions, and financial law.
According to BLS data, business and finance occupations are expected to have a projected growth of 7 percent in the period from 2021-2031. The average annual salary in this sector in May 2021 was $76,570.
4. Healthcare and Nursing majors
Nursing is one of the fastest growing occupations in the healthcare field. Nurses provide medical care and help with medical procedures. In addition to studying the basics of medicine, nurses undergo fieldwork during their studies in order to gain work experience. To become a Registered Nurse (RN) you must obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). This gives you a license to work in the medical field.
According to the BLS data, projected job growth for RNs from 2021-2031 is 6 percent. The average annual salary for registered nurses in May 2021 was $77,600.
People who choose to earn a master’s degree in nursing become nursing practitioners (NP). Although RNs and NPs have similar jobs, NPs have more autonomy, but also more responsibility. NPs can write prescriptions, order additional tests, diagnose, etc.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that in the next decade, NP will have one of the highest job growths, as much as 45.7 percent. The average annual NP salary in 2021 was $120,680.
Education is one of the most important factors in every person’s life, which is why choosing a major can be a big challenge. Today, there are a significant number of disciplines that a person can study, but each of them varies in terms of future employment opportunities and the income it can provide. Although according to available statistical data it is possible to single out the best college majors for the future, this decision is individual. What is certain is that the best major reflects the balance between “best majors for the future” and “best majors for you”.