Six degrees that could pay you back

Smart bachelor's degrees

College can certainly be expensive, but one of these degrees could prepare you for a career that could be well worth the investment.

By Terence Loose

There's no way around it: Going to college costs money. And time. So if you're thinking about doing it, you probably want to pursue a degree that has a decent shot at landing you a career that will pay you back.

And that's smart thinking, says Anthony P. Carnevale, director of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.

"Of course college is always a good thing from a learning standpoint, but from an economic point of view, there are vast differences from one program to the next. What you're going to make [when you graduate] greatly depends on what you're going to take in school," he says.

With that in mind, we researched six college degrees in various areas of interest that could have the potential to pay off.

Payback Degree #1: Computer Science

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Whether it's the finance department using computer software to crunch sales numbers or the marketing department using social media to drive sales, businesses rely on computer software to survive and thrive. That's why Carnevale says a bachelor's degree in computer science can pay off."A lot of hiring is in computer science, software, [and] any kind of building and designing [of] the computer and software," says Carnevale. "These people are sought after and often paid very well since every company has its own computer expert these days. They're very important."

Next step: Click to Find the Right Computer Science Program.

In a computer science degree program, students study computer programming and the theory and design of software, says the College Board, an education organization that administers tests like the SAT. They list common courses as digital system design, software engineering, and artificial intelligence.

Potential Payback Career: Computer and information systems manager

These professionals identify information technology goals of organizations and then implement computer systems to meet those goals, says the U.S. Department of Labor. They note that these managers typically must have a bachelor's degree in a computer or information science related field, as well as related work experience.

Potential Payback: According to the Department of Labor, computer and information systems managers have a median annual income of $120,950, with the top 10 percent earning $187,199 or more, and the lowest 10 percent earning $74,940.

Payback Degree #2: Accounting

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Every business needs to do things like balance their books, track profits and losses, and pay taxes - and that makes accounting majors consistently in demand and paid well, says Carnevale.The scandals and financial crises of the past five years have really put an emphasis on ethical and accurate accounting and have therefore created higher demand for accounting majors, says Carnevale. In fact, he says, his studies have shown that recent accounting grads tend to make an above-average salary, compared to other majors.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Accounting Program.

To get that respect, accounting majors study how to collect, record, and analyze financial information for individuals and organizations, says the College Board. They list classes such as business law, auditing, accounting information systems, and, of course, accounting.

Potential Payback Career: Accountant or Auditor

Accountants and auditors prepare and examine financial records and make suggestions on how to maximize profits, along with performing other tasks such as preparing taxes, says the U.S. Department of Labor. Most of these professionals are required to have a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field.

Potential Payback: According to the Department of Labor, accountants and auditors have a median annual income of $63,550, with the top 10 percent earning $111,510, and the lowest 10 percent earning $39,930.

Payback Degree #4: Health Care Administration

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If you want a degree that raises the odds at pursuing a decent paying job when you graduate, this could be the major. It's in demand, partly because an astounding one out of every five dollars spent in this country is spent on health care, says Nicole Smith, senior economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce."If you had to pick occupations with the best prospects in the job market, health care would be on the top of the list," says Smith. She says that students majoring in areas such as health care administration should have great prospects when they graduate to land a well-paying position with great upward mobility.

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

That's probably because of the detailed study they do while in school as health care administration majors. The College Board says you'll learn about all aspects of overseeing health care facilities, from financial management, to human resources. Typical courses they list are health care policy, health care ethics, epidemiology, accounting, and anatomy and physiology.

Potential Payback Career: Medical or health services manager

These are the pros that plan, direct, and manage health services for everything from entire medical facilities to specific departments, or even a team of doctors' private practice, says the U.S. Department of Labor. The Department of Labor says requirements vary by facility, but "prospective medical or health services managers have a bachelor's degree in health administration."

Potential Payback: According to the Department, these managers make a median annual income of $88,580, with the top 10 percent earning $150,560, and the lowest 10 percent earning $53,940.

Payback Degree #5: Finance

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Here's a degree that could let you pursue a career with a decent wage, and teach you how to invest it well once you start earning your salary."Just as every business has a computer specialist, they also have a finance person, and they usually make pretty good money," says Carnevale. He says that's because financial instruments, such as stocks, bonds, and other investments often associated with a company's benefit packages and cash reserves have become so complex that majoring in finance sets you up for many of these job openings.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Finance Program.

And just how does it do that? The College Board says that as a finance major, you'll learn how to make important financial decisions for organizations. They list typical courses such as investments, financial management, international finance, and financial markets and institutions.

Potential Payback Career: Personal financial advisor

These financial whiz kids help their clients make sound financial decisions regarding everything from stock market investments to insurance purchases, says the U.S. Department of Labor. They add that personal financial advisors usually need a bachelor's degree. And while a specific area is not always required, the Department of Labor says a degree in finance, economics, accounting, business, mathematics, or law is good preparation.

Potential Payback: According to the Department, financial advisors make a median annual income of $67,520, with the top 10 percent earning $187,199 or more, and the lowest 10 percent earning $32,280.

Payback Degree #6: Business Administration

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Here's a degree that's offered at the bachelor's and master's (MBA) level and could give you the business fundamentals that allow you to climb up the corporate ladder.

"Business degree programs, and especially MBAs, often are focused on leadership skills, so students are preparing to move up in organizations," says Deb Hornell, a management consultant with 25 years of experience and author of "Good Things for a Full Life." Companies need people who come in the door with a good foundation of business skills in areas as diverse as human resources and managing, to accounting and marketing, says Hornell. "So these people can often do very well financially in a short amount of time," she says.

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

But first you must prepare, and for that the College Board says as a business administration and management major you'll learn how to plan and direct all facets of an organization. In fact, they list an eclectic course list: operations management, accounting, human resources management, business ethics and law, and marketing.

Potential Payback Career: Top executive

These executives oversee a broad range of operations, with responsibilities ranging from formulating policies and managing general activities, to analyzing performance indicators, says the U.S. Department of Labor. As far as education, the Department of Labor says many of these professionals have a bachelor's or master's degree in business administration or in a subject related to their field of work.

Potential Payback: According to the Department, general and operations managers make a median annual income of $168,140, with the top 10 percent earning $187,199 or more, and the lowest 10 percent earning $76,220.

* 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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