Seven Degrees That Are Worth The Investment

Degrees That Are Worth It

Going to college is an investment - so make sure you earn a degree with the potential to make that investment pay off.

By Jennifer Berry

College is an investment in your future. So how do you reduce the risk involved in that investment and make sure that the degree you choose will pay you back? It's worth taking some time to think about your future career before you decide on your major.

"The field you choose is critical," says Don Orlando, executive career coach and owner of The McLean Group, which specializes in customized, advanced career development for executives. "You want to tailor your education to your desired outcome so you're not just getting the degree."

Different degrees can lay the groundwork for very different career paths. It makes sense to know where you want to end up before you start your journey. As Orlando says, it's worth the effort to research your desired career field before you pick your major, including what it pays, what advancement in the career looks like, and what it takes to be the best in the field.

If you're ready to spend some time thinking about your future - and how you can increase the chances of that college degree paying off - check out this list of six degrees with solid payback potential.*

Degree #1 - Business Administration

You're a natural leader, and you're ready to hone your skills with an eye on your future. A degree in business administration could be a solid choice if you're looking for future payback potential.

According to the College Board, a nonprofit organization committed to excellence and equity in education, some typical classes for a business administration and management program include financial management, accounting, business policy and strategy, and human resources management.

Payback Potential: "The biggest advantage of a degree in business administration is that it gives the student access to jobs in virtually all industries, since almost every company needs management personnel," says David Bakke, editor at Money Crashers, a financial guidance website that often features stories on education.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (a leading source of information on the employment of the college educated) backs this statement up, reporting in their "Job Outlook 2013" survey that a business administration degree is one of the top five bachelor's degrees most valued by employers.

Next Step: Click to Find the Right Business Administration Program.

Potential Career Options:
Market Research Analyst
Median Annual Wage: $60,300
Lowest Paid 10%: $33,280
Highest Paid 10%: $113,500

Human Resources Manager
Median Annual Wage: $99,720
Lowest Paid 10%: $59,020
Highest Paid 10%: $173,140

Degree #2 - Information Technology or Information Systems

Do you feel satisfaction solving a tricky tech problem? Consider earning your degree in information technology or information systems and you could see a return on your college investment.
Ready to get your technology game face on? Some of the classes common to an information technology major include C++ programming, computer systems and architecture, database management systems, and Web technologies, according to the College Board.

Payback Potential: "There is no industry today that is not without a need for technological innovation," says Allen. "IT graduates that have the unique skill set to be able to efficiently and effectively develop an idea into a technology innovation are in high demand and will remain in high demand."

Allen offers another potential upside to this degree: entrepreneurship. "The cost of developing technology continues to go down, while there are increasing funding sources for graduates to pursue entrepreneurial ideas," he says. "There are lots of people with ideas, but those that can solve today's problems with technology have an opportunity to build real companies."

Next Step: Click to Find the Right IT and Information Systems Program.

Potential Career Options:
Computer Network Architect
Median Annual Wage: $91,000
Lowest Paid 10%: $52,580
Highest Paid 10%: $141,590

Computer and Information Systems Manager
Median Annual Wage: $120,950
Lowest Paid 10%: $74,940
Highest Paid 10%: $187,199 or greater

Degree #3 - Accounting

Not everyone is comfortable with numbers the way you are - and that's just fine with you. You know that accountants are vital to the global economy - which is just one reason why this degree has great payback potential.

Wondering what your courses might look like? Some of the typical classes in an accounting program include accounting information systems, business law, auditing, and tax accounting, according to the College Board.

Payback Potential: "A degree in accounting gives you the benefit of understanding how money and the tax system work," says Bakke. "Virtually every business owner needs this sort of knowledge, making a degree in that area particularly advantageous."

Next Step: Click to Find the Right Accounting Program.

Potential Career Options:
Accountant
Median Annual Wage: $63,550
Lowest Paid 10%: $39,930
Highest Paid 10%: $111,510

Revenue Agent
Median Annual Wage: $50,440
Lowest Paid 10%: $30,350
Highest Paid 10%: $92,740

Degree #4 - Public Administration

Are you the type of person who hears a news report about the lack of opportunities for inner-city youth and then decides to do something about it? A degree in public administration could help you prepare to pursue a career in politics or civil service where you can try to put your plans to improve society into action. And it's got decent payback potential as well.

So what exactly do you study in a public administration program? The College Board reports that some classes typical of this major include community analysis, local politics and administration, public budgeting and financial administration, and voluntarism and the nonprofit sector.

Payback Potential: "A degree in public administration is valuable because political office administrations are always changing; therefore, there's a consistent need for new employees," Says Bakke. "This is a degree that offers a high level of flexibility, because the student can choose a career in civil service, business management, economics, international policy, or human resources."

Eric Allen, president of Admit Advantage, Inc. (a college and graduate school admissions advising company), agrees. "This degree might be especially valuable for companies that have large lobbying efforts, nonprofit organizations, and the government," he says. Why? Because it provides students with a good understanding of how governments work, which is somewhat specialized, according to Allen.

Next Step: Click to Find the Right Public Administration Program.

Potential Career Options:
Social and Community Service Manager
Median Annual Wage: $59,970
Lowest Paid 10%: $36,250
Highest Paid 10%: $99,150

Budget Analyst For State and Local Government
Median Annual Wage: $69,280
Lowest Paid 10%: $45,720
Highest Paid 10%: $103,590

Degree #5 - Health Care Administration

Is health care a right or a privilege? You know where you stand on this issue - and you're ready to do something about it by getting involved in the health care field. A degree in health care administration could prepare you for the medical profession and offer healthy payback potential, too.

According to the College Board, some of the classes typical of a health services administration program include health care administration, health care law, health care policy, economics of health care, epidemiology, and human resources management.

Payback Potential: "The marketable skills associated with a health care administration degree include policy implementation, financial management, and project coordination," says Bakke - all crucial skills when it comes to managing health care facilities.

What's more, the career associated with this degree is on the rise. "Once the Affordable Care Act fully implements, the need for medical and health services managers will exponentially rise," explains Bakke. "The government predicts that roughly 68,000 new jobs in this field will be created by the year 2020."

Next Step: Click to Find the Right Health Care Administration Program.

Potential Career Options:
Medical or Health Services Manager
Median Annual Wage: $88,580
Lowest Paid 10%: $53,940
Highest Paid 10%: $150,560

Degree #6 - Graphic Design

You see graphic design everywhere you turn - on T-shirts, posters, packaging, websites. Earning your degree in graphic design could pay you back and help you prepare to pursue a career making the images that fill our modern world.

The College Board reports that some of the classes typical for this major include graphic design techniques, history of graphic design, Photoshop for designers, production design, and typography.

Payback Potential: "The marketable skills of a graphic design degree include desktop publishing, computer graphics, and graphic communication," says Bakke. "Because of the need for visual appeal for virtually every website on the Internet, a degree in graphic design is definitely valuable, especially since the Internet is growing so rapidly."

Next Step: Click to Find the Right Graphic Design Program.

Potential Career Options:
Graphic Designer
Median Annual Wage: $44,150
Lowest Paid 10%: $26,250
Highest Paid 10%: $77,490

Desktop Publisher
Median Annual Wage: $37,040
Lowest Paid 10%: $19,740
Highest Paid 10%: $60,470

Degree #7 - Nursing

Do people note your compassionate nature? Perhaps you should capitalize on your natural instincts by studying nursing, another degree with solid payback potential.

The College Board notes that classes you might take for this major include adult nursing, mental-health nursing, anatomy and physiology, nutrition, pharmacology, and psychology.

Payback Potential: "A nursing degree provides the following marketable skills: the ability to help others, a knowledge of medicine and health care, patient care, and critical thinking," says Bakke - all fundamental aspects to a career in nursing. The best part? Bakke says nurses "are always in demand and will continue to be so."

Next Step: Click to Find the Right Nursing Program.

Potential Career Options:
Registered Nurse (RN)
Median Annual Wage: $65,470
Lowest Paid 10%: $45,040
Highest Paid 10%: $94,720

* All salary information comes from the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012. All potential careers listed from the 2012-2013 U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook. The Department of Labor cites the associated degrees as common, required, preferred, or one of a number of degrees acceptable as preparation for the potential career. In some instances, candidates might require further schooling, professional certifications, or experience, before being qualified to pursue the career.

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