Here’s a terrifying fact for you: there are hundreds of college majors out there to choose from. Hundreds! Even worse, within those majors, there’s a profusion of specialties. Consider engineering: there’s civil engineering, biomedical engineering, computer engineering, nuclear engineering, aerospace engineering, audio engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering. Sheesh! The list is like Bubba’s love for shrimp – it goes on and on and on and on. (That’s a Forrest Gump reference, by the way.)
If you happen to be at the crucial juncture where you’re trying to decide on a college degree and a future career, then you have the sympathies of everyone who’s struggled before you. It’s a weighty decision, one that will set the foundation for your entire working life.
When it comes to selecting a degree, there are many factors you should consider: your interests and skills, your lifestyle goals, the level of degree you want (associate, bachelor, master, PhD), the cost of the degree, the income potential and future demand for jobs in that degree field…again, the list goes on and on.
But of those factors, perhaps the most important are these three:
- the job’s income potential – because you must make enough to be happy. (And how much is that, exactly? According to a study released by Purdue University in early 2018, the magic number for individuals is $60,000 – $75,000. So if you’re single and you make less than that – or even if you make more than that – you won’t be any happier.);
- the job’s demand in the future – because you don’t want to spend four years getting a degree, only to find out it will be obsolete in two;
- your interests and skills – because who wants to be bored for 40 years?
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics is an incredible resource for researching jobs (and by extension, selecting a degree). The BLS is the federal agency that collects information about the job market in order to inform public and private decisions that affect the economy. The BLS uses that collected labor information to provide – drumroll please – statistics about jobs: incomes, degree requirements, 10-year forecasts for demand, and much, much more.
Filtering the BLS database for factors #1 and #2 from above (more on #3 later) provides a list of the highest-paying, fastest-growing jobs that require a bachelor’s degree, for the 10-year period from 2016 through 2026.
As you’ll soon notice, there are only six jobs on the list. Six! While that doesn’t seem like many, keep in mind that these are jobs with incredible growth (far above the current average of 7%) and incredible annual wages (far above the current average of $37,690) – so of course the list is very concise.
Unfortunately, the salaries listed here are well above that $60,000-$75,000 happiness threshold. So should you decide to pursue one of these high-paying careers, there is a very real chance you’ll experience some unhappiness.
Don’t say you weren’t warned.
The list of six:
- Software Developer
Median 2017 Salary: $103,560
Growth Rate: 24%
Average # of annual job openings: 30,250
Software developers create the programs that run applications, devices, and networks. Software developers are like detectives, but instead of solving crimes, they solve puzzles – with deductive reasoning, research, and a dogged determination to get the job done no matter what. Imagine Magnum P.I., but behind a computer instead of the wheel of a Ferrari 308. (Although as a software developer, it seems you’ll make enough to buy a Ferrari. You know. If you’re into that.)
Developers have an incredible amount of job options, since they can work in any industry that uses technology: manufacturing, healthcare, retail, education, technology, finance, you name it. And as the world becomes more and more dependent on technology, these jobs will become more and more vital to business efficiency and the overall health of the economy.
- Financial Manager
Median 2017 Salary: $125,080
Growth Rate: 19%
Average # of annual job openings: 10,860
Financial managers do exactly what it sounds like they do: they manage the finances of a business. This involves creating financial reports, making financial decisions regarding investments and long-term financial goals, and ensuring the overall, ongoing health of the company’s finances. Financial managers often work as accountants, auditors, or financial analysts for a few years before they become financial managers.
Did you ever wonder, in middle school or high school, why math matters or when you would ever need to use it in the real world? Well, for financial managers, math matters. A lot. They use it every day. So if you don’t like numbers, you probably shouldn’t become a financial manager.
- Medical and Health Services Manager
Median Salary: $98,350
Growth Rate, 2016-2026: 20%
Average # of annual job openings: 7,210
Overall, there’s a high demand for jobs in the healthcare industry, thanks to the aging of the large baby-boomer population. But the job of Medical and Health Services Manager – in other words, a healthcare administrator – is at the top of that demand list, for job growth and salary level. Healthcare administrators run healthcare businesses, like hospitals, pharmaceuticals, physician offices, or maybe even a specific department (like surgery or pediatrics) in a hospital.
The healthcare industry is heavily regulated. That means there are a lot of laws that apply to how they do business. It’s the healthcare administrator’s job to make sure the company complies with all of those laws. That can be a tall order, since the laws can change frequently.
Although Healthcare Administrators often work in hospitals or clinics, they rarely interact with patients. Their jobs are about the day-to-day management of the business, like personnel and recruitment, community outreach, dealing with the board of directors, and overall business efficiency (like making sure surgeries are carried out in the most timely manner).
- Operations Research Analyst
Median Salary: $81,390
Growth Rate, 2016-2026: 27%
Average # of annual job openings: 3,130
Here’s another job that requires math. Advanced math. Plus great analytical skills.
An Operations Research Analyst studies all the factors of a business, then uses statistical analysis to help that business solve problems. As you can imagine, they have to be familiar with every aspect of a company – finances, production, marketing, etc. – in order to understand how to help them work more efficiently. An Operations Research Analyst uses sophisticated software to help analyze data, and often works with a team of people since projects tend to be very complex.
You may be aware of the term “big data” – it refers to the voluminous amount of data that is collected every day. Businesses use that data to understand patterns of behavior, to predict trends, and to guide their business decisions. An Operations Research Analyst is the person who’ll “mine” that data, looking for clues they can interpret and use to build business strategies.
Degrees that lend themselves to the role of Operations Research Analyst include business, math, engineering, computer science, and operations research.
- Information and Security Analysts
Median Salary: $95,510
Growth Rate, 2016-2026: 28%
Average # of annual job openings: 2,850
Hackers, beware! The future belongs to the Information and Security Analysts of the world. They’re the people who will ensure the safety and security of the world’s computer networks and systems. As cybersecurity becomes a bigger and bigger concern, the demand for these jobs will just keep growing – especially in critical industries like banking, healthcare, and national defense.
A lot of this job is about planning and preparation. It involves simple but crucial tasks like installing software to protect the company firewall, running regular security checks, or writing out an emergency response plan to outline the steps the company should take in case of a cyberattack. Other parts of the job sound very spy-like, full of intrigue and danger. Threats, security breaches, investigations, emergency protocols – it sounds quite exciting, doesn’t it?
As an Information and Security Analyst, you’ll likely have options to work in the office or from home, since the network can be accessed from almost anywhere. You’ll also need to know code, be familiar with specific protection software, and be great at analytical thinking and troubleshooting.
- Petroleum Engineer
Median Salary: $132,280
Growth Rate, 2016-2026: 15%
Average # of annual job openings: 510
In September of 2018, something incredible happened: the United States became the biggest global producer of oil, surpassing both Russia and Saudi Arabia. While that’s largely influenced by politics and sanctions, it’s also due to the greater freedom U.S. companies have to drill for oil.
That’s great news for Petroleum Engineers. They’re the people responsible for developing the plans to drill – the where and the how. They also make sure equipment is installed on the site correctly, to maximize production and recovery. Basically, they’re the rainmakers. They manage the details that make the job happen – safely, on time, and efficiently.
Petroleum Engineers have a lot of opportunities to travel and work with interesting people, like geologists and contractors. Texas and New Mexico are two of the biggest oil producing states in the U.S. right now, but Alaska, Colorado, Oklahoma, Wyoming, California, and North Dakota are big players, too. In fact, apart from the federally-owned offshore drilling sites, these eight states produce 90% of America’s oil.
Of course, you could always travel and work outside the U.S., too. Petroleum Engineers work on the high seas, in remote jungles, and on high mountaintops – either to find new sources, or to work a site that’s already discovered. It’s a fascinating industry, one that makes an enormous impact on local, national, and global economies.
Now that you’ve learned a little about each of these high-demand, high-wage jobs, do any of them seem to be a good match for your interests and skills?
And just how do you know what those are, anyway? One smart resource is a work personality test like CareerFitter. It will ask you 60 simple questions, then generate a 10-page comprehensive report that helps you understand who you are as a worker – your strengths and weaknesses, jobs that fit you best, the work environments that suit you best, and the occupational factors that are more likely to lead to your job satisfaction.
At the end of the day, the most important factor isn’t how much you make or how secure your job is. What matters most is that you love what you. So work hard to understand your work personality, your strengths, and your work interests before deciding on that career.
If you plan it just right, you can combine all three – money, security, happiness. That, friend, is a beautiful career trifecta. Good luck!