Valuable college degrees that are worthwhile

6 Degrees That Pay Off

College tuition is skyrocketing,  but these six worthwhile degrees have high payback potential.

By Lia Sestric
Before you finalize that degree choice, stop and ask, what value does it hold? You just may thank yourself later.
With college tuition and student debt skyrocketing, a student should be aware of a degree's payback potential, says Sharon Gilbert, a career coach and author of "Beyond Tuition: Career Coaching Your College Kid."
"Making an informed decision includes considering the starting salary, earning potential, hot skill sets, and the employment demand of a given major to determine the best return on investment," she says.
If you're looking for a good return on your investment, check out the following six degrees. They could prepare you to pursue careers that have a median salary of at least $50K, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Degree #1: Health Care Administration

You know there's potential for a healthy salary when health care continues to be ranked among one of the fastest-growing professions. So why not capitalize on this demand and study health care administration?
Why It Pays: The value of this degree boils down to the overall health care surge, says Gilbert. "More nurses and physicians will be needed to care for an aging U.S. population. Consequently, more health care administrators will be needed to manage the increasing number of health care professionals and facilities.
Furthermore, Gilbert says a bachelor's in health care administration is a good investment because it could prepare you to pursue many lucrative career opportunities. "It can prepare you for a wide range of entry-level positions in the health care industry, including care coordinator, account manager, practice administrator, billing administrator, service coordinator, case manager, and even entry-level supervisory roles," she says.
Next step: Click to Find the Right Health Care Administration Program.
What You May Learn: The U.S. Department of Labor says a bachelor's program may prepare students for higher level management jobs. What courses might you take as a student? Human resources management, long-term care and aging, and health care law are all possibilities, says the College Board, an organization that promotes higher education.
Potential Career*: Health Services Manager
Median Annual Salary: $88,580*
Top 10 Percent of Earners: $150,560*
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners: $53,940*

Degree #2: Computer Science

If you are looking to reboot your career and upgrade your pay, you should consider studying computer science. That's assuming you are interested in learning the ins and outs of computers - and potentially profiting from that knowledge.
Why It Pays: The ability to write computer programming code is a highly desired skill set, and few people have it, according to Stuart Mease, director of undergraduate career services at Virginia Tech's Pamplin College of Business.
"Without question a CS degree would open up limitless job opportunities and significantly increase one's compensation," he says. Plus, a computer science degree enables one to be eligible for countless private sector jobs working on government contracts, as well as public sector jobs working directly for the federal government, explains Mease.
Next step: Click to Find the Right Computer Science Program.
What You May Learn: A computer science program will provide students with hands-on experience in some of the tasks they may do on the job, says the U.S. Department of Labor. These tasks may include writing code and debugging programs. And how do classes in digital system design, artificial intelligence, and software engineering sound? This is just a sampling of the courses you may take, says the College Board.
Plus, by successfully completing a computer science program, you may find yourself in a better position for a job and pay, notes Mease.
Potential Career*: Computer Programmer
Median Annual Salary: $74,280*
Top 10 Percent of Earners: $117,890*
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners: $42,850*

Degree #3: Criminal Justice

Are you ready to serve with the men and women in blue? Pursuing a degree in criminal justice could prepare you for a career as a law enforcement officer, with payback potential that's not too shabby.
Why It Pays: Public safety is a major concern in today's society, says Gilbert, and because of that criminal justice could prepare you for many career paths (that are lucrative too!). Unlike other fields, Gilbert says there is one driving force for higher pay. "Many criminal justice salaries depend upon a risk factor. Police and detective work can be physically demanding, stressful, and dangerous. Police officers have one of the highest rates of on-the-job injuries and fatalities."
Next step: Click to Find the Right Criminal Justice Program.
What You May Learn: Students learn about the legal system, theories of crime, and public policy. They also learn how to manage a budget and staff, says Gilbert. According to the College Board, courses might include policing society, the U.S. criminal-justice system, and juvenile justice. The College Board also notes that the degree might be offered at the associate's and bachelor's level.
Potential Career*: Police Officer
Median Annual Salary: $55,270*
Top 10 Percent of Earners: $89,310*
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners: $32,350*

Degree #4: Dental Hygiene

Who says you have to be the dentist to make a generous salary? If you aren't too fond about extra schooling to work in the dental field, perhaps this will make you grin from ear to ear. You could earn an associate's degree in dental hygiene, which could have solid payback potential.
Why It Pays: In addition to coursework, a degree in dental hygiene gives students essential hands-on experience and valuable communication and interpersonal skills, notes Gilbert.
"Since dental hygienists sometimes perform the majority of work on patients done during  check-ups," says Gilbert, "they need to be current on the latest best practices, be well versed in the science and medical knowledge behind dental hygiene, and have exceptional manual dexterity skills to use a variety of dental instruments."
Next step: Click to Find the Right Dental Hygiene Program.
What You May Learn: The College Board says a student will train to care for tooth decay, diseases, and other injuries to the mouth. Some common courses may include dental anatomy, preventative dentistry, and dental materials.
Potential Career*: Dental Hygienist
Median Annual Salary: $70,210*
Top 10 Percent of Earners: $96,280*
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners: $46,540*

Degree #5: Accounting

Are you known for your critical eye? If you don't mind working with numbers, you may want to keep your eye on an accounting program. After completing this degree, you may just find yourself in a profitable career.
Why It Pays: "A degree in accounting is valued in the labor market because in successfully completing an accounting degree, students emerge with a balance of technical skills, an understanding of sources and uses of information, as well as a heightened critical-thinking and problem-solving ability," says Greg Sommers, director of the master of science in accounting program at the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Next step: Click to Find the Right Accounting Program.
What You May Learn: An accounting student could learn how to gather, record, and analyze data about an organization's or individual's financial performance, says the College Board. Does tax accounting, business law, and auditing sound up your alley? Those are some of the courses you might take in this major, according to the College Board.
Potential Career*: Accountant
Median Annual Salary: $63,550*
Top 10 Percent of Earners: $111,510*
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners: $39,930*

Degree #6: Information Technology

Do you consider yourself multitalented with strong points in business and computer science? An information technology program may be a perfect match for you. Plus, it may set you up for a career with pay that won't disappoint.
Why It Pays: "[An] information technology degree offers individuals a formidable level of depth of key IT skills such as analytics, database mining, introduction to programming languages, and above average Excel skills," says Mease. "What we have seen is that students who possess this type of technical knowledge coupled with softer skills in business acumen make them a valuable linchpin in organizations connecting business and technical functions, especially in a team format."
Next step: Click to Find the Right Information Technology Program.
What You May Learn: In an information technology (IT) program, you'll learn how information and computing systems support business and communication needs, says the College Board. Be ready to hone your technical and communication skills through the program as well. Courses may include introduction to computer science, database management systems, and web technologies.
Potential Career*: Database Administrator
Median Annual Salary: $77,080*
Top 10 Percent of Earners: $118,720*
Bottom 10 Percent of Earners: $42,930*

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