The 7 hottest careers for college grads

The 7 Hottest Careers

Are you a college student - or thinking about going back to school? You need to check out this list of the 7 hottest careers for college grads.

By Jennifer Berry

Would you pick your major more carefully if you knew certain fields of study could help you launch a hot career? If you answered "yes," than you should check out the recent UC San Diego Extension report, "Hot Careers For College Grads and Returning Students 2013," which is based on data from the U.S. Department of Labor. These hot careers were chosen because of their job growth, salary, and work environment - all important factors in building a satisfying professional life.

"All of these jobs are forecasted to be in high demand," says Chandlee Bryan, job search strategist and career coach at Best Fit Forward, a provider of career and consulting services. Combined with strong salaries and a good work environment, it's easy to see why these careers made the "hot" list.

"A simple recipe to increase your odds of finding good employment is to pursue a career where there are fewer potential employees than there are number of jobs," Bryan adds. "All of these positions fall into that category."

So if you can find a line of work that interests you on this list, it might be a career well worth considering. Keep reading to learn about the seven hottest careers to begin preparing for today.

Career #1 - Software Developers, Applications and Systems Software (tie)*

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Are you ready to combine your creativity and technical know-how to help make things easier, more fun, or more efficient for people and businesses? Consider pursuing a career as a software developer - the number one career in the UC San Diego Extension's report on the hottest careers for college grads.

The Hot Factor: According to the report, the integration of technology into our daily lives - from personal computers to cars to smartphones, "has created an ongoing critical shortage of qualified software developers to design, develop, test, document, and maintain the complex programs that run on these hardware platforms."

In other words, the demand for software developers is and will continue to be intense. Take a minute to think about all the software you interact with every day, and you'll start to understand why.

"Our society runs on devices that are programmed via software - from apps we use to check the weather and news to word processing, spreadsheets, manufacturing production, barcode scanners, and CGI video production," says Bryan. She adds while there's a very high demand for coders, there aren't a lot of people who have the necessary skills to fill these positions.

That demand also translates into an impressive salary - software developers make a mean salary of $93,280, according to the report.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Programming and Software Program.

What Would I Do In This Job? Your job could vary from designing a specific application to developing the underlying systems that run devices or control networks, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

How Can I Prepare For This Career? Think you'd make a great software developer? You'll usually need a bachelor's degree in computer science, software engineering, mathematics, or a related field as well as strong programming skills to pursue this career, the Department of Labor notes.

Career #2 - Market Research Analyst

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What good is a great product if it never reaches its intended market? That question is at the heart of what lands this job on the list of hottest careers for college grads.

The Hot Factor: Market research analyst jobs have exploded in every sector of the economy, according to the UC San Diego Extension report. This has created a high demand for those who can access, analyze, and extract meaningful, actionable, and tactical implications from a sea of data.

Why? Almost everyone needs them. "Every company with a product or service to offer can benefit from a trained market research analyst to decipher what their consumers want and how to market products and services to them," says Brie Reynolds, director of online content for FlexJobs, a source for flexible, telecommuting jobs.

And their efforts aren't in vain. "When products are released without the help of market research analysts, there's a bigger chance that the product will flop or fail," says Bryan. This important role is well-recognized in terms of salary - it has a mean salary of $67,380, says the report.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Marketing Program.

What Would I Do In This Job? You might forecast marketing and sales trends, gather data about consumers, and measure the effectiveness of marketing strategies, the U.S. Department of Labor says.

How Can I Prepare For This Career? You'll typically need a bachelor's degree in market research or a related field like statistics, math, computer science, business administration, one of the social sciences, or communications to get started, says the Department of Labor.

Career #3 - Accountant and Auditor

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When you hear "accountant" do you picture a simple bookkeeper just scraping by? Think again. Today, "accountant and auditor" ranks third on the list of hottest careers.

The Hot Factor: Accountants and auditors earned their spot on the hot careers list, because of the sheer demand for accounting jobs, the report says. In 2010, more than 1 million people were employed as accountants and auditors, and that number is expected to grow at a healthy rate of 16 percent by 2020. The report also states that in the last three years, the mean annual salary for accounting and audit careers has increased by nearly $10,000 to $71,040. Why the demand for more accountants and auditors?

"Firms got lean during the recession. Now everyone is rebuilding capacity," says Philip Reckers, director of the School of Accountancy at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. "Investors are demanding more information. More accountants are needed to meet this appetite, and more auditors are needed to give users assurance that the information is reliable."

Want another way to look at this? "Every industry uses money and systems," as Steve Langerud, workplace expert and principal consultant in the LiSTRA company, a boutique business transition firm, notes. "Accountants and auditors drive the systems."

Next step: Click to Find the Right Accounting Program.

What Would I Do In This Job? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, you might compute taxes owed, prepare tax returns, and help companies improve profits.

How Can I Prepare For This Career? To get started in this field, you'll need at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field for most positions, according to the Department of Labor. Some employers prefer candidates with master's degrees in accounting or business administration with a concentration in accounting.

Career #4 - Network and Computer Systems Administrator

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Technology plays an increasingly vital role in our society - one reason why network and computer systems administrator ranks fourth on the list of hottest careers for college grads.

The Hot Factor: What landed this career on the list? "A mean annual salary of $76,320 paired with a projected growth rate of 28 percent by 2020," the report says. It explains that our increasing reliance on technology will generate a strong demand for systems administrators well into the future. Why?

"Have you ever worked in an environment where the [computer] system didn't work? Enough said. If the system doesn't function well or goes down, it comes at the cost of service and productivity," says Langerud. "Time down is money lost. So good administrators are worth every penny they get paid."

And as far as the future goes? "It's pretty safe to assume that reliance on technology is only going to increase in all businesses and organizations in the foreseeable future, so this is a career field with a lot of opportunity for college grads," says Reynolds.

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

What Would I Do In This Job? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, you might install and upgrade network hardware and software, train users, and solve problems quickly when there's an issue.

How Can I Prepare For This Career? To get started in this field, you'll often need a bachelor's degree in a field related to computer or information science, according to the Department of Labor. Degrees in computer engineering or electrical engineering are also usually acceptable.

Career #5 - Elementary School Teacher (excluding special education)

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Some careers are jobs, others are callings. Elementary school teacher could easily fall into the latter category, since many in this profession have a passion for shaping young minds. So even without a high salary, it lands on the list of the hottest careers.

The Hot Factor: According to the UCSD Extension report, elementary school teachers outnumber any other single occupation nationally, and a teaching career path tends to offer a form of stability that is relatively rare in other fields of pursuit. Yes, the mean annual salary at $56,130, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, is lower than other careers listed in the report. But, the report goes on to note, "for those who have the patience, passion, and persistence... educating children in the elementary grades can prove a challenging, creative, and rewarding career."

There are other benefits which might make this an attractive choice for some. "Not only do traditional schools offer flexible schedules and the coveted ‘summers off' for teachers, but there are now virtual schools hiring certified teachers to teach students online," says Reynolds. With these new technological developments, she adds, this career offers even more flexibility for college grads who want to work from home while pursuing this fulfilling career.

Next step: Click to Find the Right K-12 Education Program.

What Would I Do In This Job? As an elementary school teacher, your day might include planning and teaching lessons, grading homework, and talking with parents about their child's progress.

How Can I Prepare For This Career? To pursue an elementary school teaching position in a public school, you must have a bachelor's degree in elementary education, the U.S. Department of Labor notes. Your state might also require you to major in a content area or to earn a master's degree after receiving your teaching certification.

Career #6 - Computer Systems Analyst

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Yes - another computer career. The prevalence of technology in our society helped put computer systems analyst on the list of hottest careers for college grads.

The Hot Factor: Computer systems analysts scored strongly in every category of hot careers evaluation, from growth to salary, the report states. This career is projected to grow in demand by 22 percent by 2020. And with a mean annual salary of $83,800, it is one of the most lucrative jobs on the list.

Once you understand everything that computer systems analysts do, it makes sense that they pull in decent salaries. "Computer systems analysts help companies to sort out what computer systems will make them as efficient and productive as possible," says Reynolds.

So, in addition to being technically savvy, computer systems analysts must be good communicators. "This is a great career for someone with both technical and people skills, because computer systems analysts are the go-between for IT and management," Reynolds adds. "College grads who can excel in both these areas will have lots of opportunities to choose from."

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

What Would I Do In This Job? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, your day might include installing and testing new systems, training users, and writing instruction manuals if needed.

How Can I Prepare For This Career? Computer systems analysts commonly have a bachelor's degree in a computer or information science, the Department of Labor notes. Some employers hire analysts with business or liberal arts degrees who have the skills to write computer programs.

Career #7 - Management Analyst

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All sorts of companies are looking for big picture thinkers to help them run more smoothly and profitably - one of the reasons why management analyst ranks seventh on the list of hottest careers.

The Hot Factor: All industries - including government and not-for-profit organizations - need management analysts to operate efficiently, according to the UC San Diego Extension report. "Utilization of management consultants has been growing [since the global economic recession], and demand for these professionals is projected to continue to grow by 22 percent by 2020. The mean annual salary for management consultants is $88,070."

There's a reason they are in such high demand. "Management analysts help improve operational efficiency which cuts an organization's operating costs and allows them to be more productive. This is a high-demand field because most businesses want to save money and produce more," Bryan explains.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Business Program.

What Would I Do In This Job? Well, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, you might offer advice to make companies more profitable, recommend new procedures, and analyze financial data.

How Can I Prepare For This Career? You'll typically be required to have a bachelor's degree for an entry-level position, the Department of Labor states. Many fields of study may help you prepare to pursue this career, including business, management, accounting, marketing, economics, statistics, computer and information science, and engineering. However, the Department also notes that some employers prefer to hire candidates with a master's degree in business administration (MBA).

* Career rankings from the "Hot Careers For College Grads and Returning Students 2013" report from UC San Diego Extension. Software developers for applications and systems software, respectively, were tied for number one and combined into one category for this list.

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