College Majors That Are Popular

Top College Degrees

Check out the top college degrees categorized by employer, industry, and average earning potential.

By Terence Loose    

Thinking of going back to school but not sure what you want to study? Learning about the most popular college degrees is a good place to start.

But degree popularity can vary depending on your career interests and goals.

For instance, the most popular degrees that could lead to higher average starting salaries might be different than the most popular degrees for job growth opportunities.

Read on for a look at some of the hottest degrees in three categories: employer choices, growth industries, and high average salaries.

Popular Degrees among Employers

In an economy with 8.6 percent unemployment, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's November 2011 report, pursuing a degree that's in demand with employers is probably a smart move.

Here are a few top picks for degrees that employers say they want, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers' (NACE) latest Job Outlook survey, which was conducted from mid-August through October 2010.

woman accountant using calculator

Bachelor's in Accounting: If you're good with numbers, you might want to consider earning a bachelor's in accounting. Nearly 62 percent of the organizations surveyed by NACE said they planned to hire accounting grads. And 100 percent of accounting firms said they were preparing to hire new employees.

Potential career and average salary: Accountant, $68,960*

Bachelor's in Computer Science: A strong 53 percent of the surveyed employers plan to hire computer science majors. And as with the number crunching firms, all companies in the computer "information" business said they'd be adding employees to their payroll.

Potential career and average salary: Computer support specialist, $49,930*

Bachelor's in Business Administration/Management: Right behind computer science was business, with 52 percent of employers planning to hire business grads. The top hiring industries included food and beverage manufacturing (90 percent), retail trade (88 percent), finance, insurance, and real estate (80 percent).

Potential career and average salary: Marketing specialist, $66,850*

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Popular Degrees for Growth Industries

The fact is, going back to school and completing a degree is an investment. This means you'll want to make sure that the degree you pick will remain hot in the future. You don't want to choose a degree that's equal to the Pet Rock. Therefore, stick to degrees that could likely lead to careers in growth industries.

To help, we used statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor to determine which careers have the highest growth projections - and the degrees required to fill the positions. Check out the three degrees expected to remain hot in the future:

woman nurse

Associate's in Nursing: With 2.6 million jobs, registered nurses make up the largest occupation in the growing health care industry, according to the Department, which projects that the nursing industry will increase by 22 percent or add nearly 600,000 jobs from 2008 to 2018.

Potential career and average salary: Registered nurse, $67,720*

Bachelor's in Accounting: There's a reason that the NACE study found that so many employers were planning to hire accountancy grads. According to the Department, the accounting industry will have a 22 percent job growth by adding almost 300,000 positions from 2008 to 2018.

Potential career and average salary: Database administrator, $75,730*

Bachelor's in Education: In case you haven't heard, the seventh billion human was born this past October. This means that there are a lot of kids. Maybe that's why the Department expects us to need almost 250,000 more elementary school teachers from 2008 to 2018.

Potential career and average salary: Elementary school teacher, $54,330*

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Popular Degrees for High Average Earning Potential

A fall 2010 survey by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA's Graduate School of Education stated that a whopping 72.7 percent of surveyed students indicated that "the chief benefit of college is that it increases one's earning power." In other words, money talks loudly.

With that in mind, we researched some of the most potentially lucrative degrees.

engineer drafting plan

Bachelor's in Engineering: Engineers in one form or another occupied eight of the top 10 spots for highest salaries, according to a 2011 CNBC.com article entitled "Highest Paid Bachelor's Degrees of 2011." In case you were wondering, a petroleum engineer had the highest potential salary.

Potential career and average salary: Petroleum engineer: $127,970*

Bachelor's in Information Technology (IT) or Computer Science: If you're a techie, good news: An IT or computer science degree has the potential to lead to profitable opportunities. And because we now live in the information age, careers like computer software engineers are projected to be among the fastest growing professions from 2008 to 2018, according to the Department.

Potential career and average salary: Computer systems analyst: $81,250*

Bachelor's in Psychology: Do you often wonder why people behave the way they do? If so, you may be a perfect psychology candidate - a major that saw a 23.8 percent increase in its starting salary offers, according to NACE.

Potential career and average salary: Social worker: $52,270*

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* All potential average salary information comes from the U.S. Department of Labor.


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