Seven degrees for high-income careers

Degrees that pay you back

These seven college degrees have the potential to pay you back - and then some.

By Lia Sestric
When you head to the ice cream parlor (or your favorite fro yo place), you pick a flavor you know will make you happy right? The same rule should apply to how you select your college major.
But if happiness to you means seeing a return on that educational investment, you may want to consider a college degree's payback potential. Yes, the decision may not be as easy (or sweet) as choosing a frozen scoop, but doing some smart research will certainly help.
"Some degree programs provide students specific skill sets that are rare and can immediately be applied to an employer," says John Paul Engel, founder and CEO at Knowledge Capital Consulting, a management consulting firm. If you choose a degree like this, you could increase your marketability, which may be worthy of a bigger paycheck.
Fortunately, making the wrong degree choice doesn't have to mean game over for you. And of course, there are no guarantees that a particular degree will help you land a better-paying job, but it may help put the odds in your favor.
Are you ready to learn more? Here are seven majors that could pay back.

Degree #1: Computer Science

If it feels as though life has become very computerized, that's because it has. Everyone seems to be jumping on the bandwagon when it comes to the latest gadgets. Only question is, are you ready to jump into the driver's seat and direct where technology heads next? If so, you may want to think about earning a bachelor's degree in computer science, which may lead to a career with an attractive salary.
What You May Learn: Students in computer science programs study the way humans and computers interact, according to the College Board, a nonprofit organization that promotes higher education. As a student you may take mathematics for computer science, software engineering, and digital system design, to name a few.
How It Pays Back: "Every modern enterprise of any size relies on experts in computer science to keep their critical systems running," says Engel. "Whether your goal is to invent the next must-have application, join the armies of enterprise resource consultants, or simply build cool websites for local businesses, a degree in computer science will serve you well." Translation? Many career avenues that may be financially rewarding.
Potential Careers*:
  • Computer and information systems manager
    Median annual wage: $120,950
  • Applications software developer
    Median annual wage: $90,060
  • Computer programmer
    Median annual wage: $74,280

Degree #2: Health Care Administration

Do you want to get involved in the booming health care field? If you want to make a difference, as well as a healthy salary, think about earning a bachelor's degree in health care administration.
What You May Learn: Students in a health services administration program might take health care courses such as health care law and health care ethics as well as classes like accounting, anatomy and physiology, and statistics, according to the College Board.
How It Pays Back: "As the baby boomers age, there will be an ever-increasing need for more health care facilities of various kinds," says Engel. "A degree in this field will help you learn the many complexities associated with running a modern health care facility from an assisted care facility to a major hospital. Every community needs health care administrators." And that need could mean employers are willing to pay good money for people who can fill this role.
Potential Careers*:
  • Medical and health services manager
    Median annual wage: $88,580

Degree #3: Civil Engineering

Are you fascinated by the Golden Gate Bridge or the Sears Tower? How would you like to learn how to design great bridges and buildings for today and generations to come? If you're intrigued by the idea, you may want to consider a bachelor's degree in civil engineering. It's a major that can pay off in more ways than one.
What You May Learn: How do you feel about math and science? According to the College Board, civil engineering majors learn how to combine the two to create construction projects. These majors also learn about calculating a structure's maximum weight load and identifying environmental concerns on a project.
Students may take courses in engineering economics, dynamics, fluid mechanics, and strength of materials.
How It Pays Back: Engel says it comes down to simple economics: "Decades of neglect have created an enormous need for people who can build and rebuild our nation's critical infrastructure."
A civil engineering degree will prepare you to pursue this type of work, which may offer more than reasonable pay, he adds. "Civil engineers learn how to design and build roads, bridges, and buildings that can weather whatever Mother Nature can throw at it," says Engel. "Civil engineers are the builders of society."
Potential Careers*:
  • Civil engineer
    Median annual wage: $79,340

Degree #4: Psychology

Do you like to people watch? If studying human behavior is one of your favorite pastimes, why not study psychology? A bachelor's in psychology could prepare you to pursue many fascinating job possibilities that could pay back.
What You May Learn: If you major in psychology, you could study the way humans and animals think, feel, act, and learn, according to the College Board. And don't be surprised if your class work becomes very hands-on with you playing the human guinea pig, adds the College Board.
Common courses may include perception and sensation, neuroscience, personality, and statistical methods in psychology.
How It Pays Back: A psychology degree pays off because every profession values the ability to understand human behavior, says Claudine Vainrub, an independent college counselor.
"Psychology majors become great assets in corporate departments such as human resources management and industrial relations, as they are ready to assess personalities and abilities, work with people, understand their concerns, and address individual situations," says Vainrub. "People graduating with a bachelor's in psychology can also be an asset in marketing departments, especially to analyze consumer behavior and understand market trends."
In other words, earning a psychology degree can help you go after more than one career with good earning potential.
Potential Careers*:
  • Social worker
    Median annual wage: $54,560
  • Probation officer
    Median annual wage: $48,190

Degree #5: Business Administration

What does every successful business need? A plan. Consisting of what? Smart choices. If you want to see that college investment pay off, a wise choice may be to major in business, says Vainrub.
What You May Learn: Ready to nail down a business plan? Business courses may help. If you're a business administration and management student, major courses might include operations management, financial management, accounting, and management information systems, says the College Board.
How It Pays Back: "As generation Y seeks to create their own jobs, business administration is the field that can allow them to learn how to become successful entrepreneurs," says Vainrub. "This field might have the biggest payoff as students begin developing their own brands and companies while they are in college and start making money."
She adds, "If being an entrepreneur is not the student's choice, consulting and jobs in the financial industry are one step away for these professionals." In essence? Earning a business degree may offer many viable career opportunities with sizeable pay.
Potential Careers*:
  • Human resources manager
    Median annual wage: $99,720
  • Financial analyst
    Median annual wage: $76,950

Degree #6: Accounting

Can you easily crunch numbers in your head, or do calculations make it spin? If you belong to the former crowd, a bachelor's degree in accounting may be for you. If you work the math, you may find that this degree could pay you back.
What You May Learn: The College Board says an accounting program teaches students how to interpret an institution's financial performance. Classes for this degree might include multiple levels of accounting courses, as well as business law, auditing, and tax accounting.
How It Pays Back: A bachelor's in accounting opens the door to many careers because the degree shows you acquired a valuable skill set, says Engel.
"Accountants have the analytical skills to understand the metrics that drive the business," he says. "They help senior management understand performance and drive increasing productivity." Furthermore, Engel adds, "This career is often a gateway to senior management for ambitious accountants that obtain a CPA and public accounting or consulting experience.
What happens when you work your way up the career ladder? You guessed it, more pay.
Potential Careers*:
  • Budget analyst
    Median annual wage: $69,280
  • Auditor and accountant
    Median annual wage: $63,550

Degree #7: Nursing

Do you wear your heart on your sleeve? If you enjoy helping others, why not earn a nursing degree? A bachelor's in nursing could prepare you to help people get better - and the pay isn't bad, either.
What You May Learn: Ready to train to help the sick and disabled? A student pursuing a nursing degree may take courses in anatomy and physiology, chemistry, and psychology, in addition to nursing courses like adult or mental-health nursing, says the College Board.
How It Pays Back: A nurse's relationship with a patient oftentimes is incomparable, says Engel. While health care continues to evolve technology-wise, Engel says technology cannot replace the bond shared between a nurse and a patient.
Plus, Engel adds, "With more people having access to insurance and a rapidly aging population of baby boomers, nurses are going to be in higher demand for decades to come. While doctors are the most highly compensated members of the medical profession, nurses are the professionals on their right hand administering care."
Potential Careers*:
  • Registered nurse
    Median annual wage: $65,470

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