The Best Degrees for the Future

When choosing a degree, you want to be thinking about the best degrees for the future rather than the best degrees for the present. It’s a subtle, but important, distinction. You shouldn’t put a lot of stock at how relevant a career path is in the present time, because it may take you half a decade or more to complete the degree and the job marketplace will change during that time. Instead, think long term. Take into account how relevant a career path is at least 10 years down the road, if not more.

Special Report: The 51 Most Useful Degrees For The Current & Future Economy

Every path is influenced by a fluctuating marketplace where the rules of supply and demand apply. Everything related to making a living and working a job boils down to the needs and wants of consumers for certain goods and services.

Questions to think about include:

  • What services or products are going to be needed in the future? What industries provide these services and products?
  • What jobs will open up to meet the needs for these services and products?
  • Are those jobs going to be saturated by a willing and able workforce?
  • And what training/degrees are required to obtain these jobs?

This article examines these questions and provides seven degrees that have a great job outlook in the future.

1. Master of Science (MS) in Biomedical Engineering

With a retiring baby boomer population comes an array of products and services that will be in demand in the future. These retirees will face health complications that come with aging and many of them have cash to spend on health advancements.

Beyond pursuing the retirement luxuries of golfing, cruising, volunteering and vacationing, their concerns will be primarily focused on how they can live well and live long. The demand for advanced technologies in the medical field will increase so biomedical engineers with master’s degrees will find job stability.

According to College Grad, “Biomedical engineers combine biology, medicine, and engineering and use advanced knowledge of engineering and science to solve medical and health-related problems.” To be sure, the goods and services that solve the medical and health-related problems of the aging baby boomer population will be in demand decades from now as baby boomers approach their 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.

Today, in 2010, baby boomers are between the ages of 46-64. Ten years from now, they will be between 56-74. Twenty years from now, they will be between 66-84 years old. And with the help of those in the biomedical engineering profession who create advancements to extend and prolong life, thirty years from now, many baby boomers will still be going strong at the age range of 76-94.

It’s no wonder biomedical engineering is listed as the number one occupation in the fastest growing jobs list compiled for the years 2008-2018 by the United States Department of Labor. This government agency expects 12,000 jobs to open up during those years (a 72% increase). A masters in the field will ensure that you have a competitive edge.

2. Master of Business Administration (MBA) in International Business

In the realm of business degrees, those who can offer a background in international business rise above the competition because of the increasing need for executives and employees with a global understanding of the marketplace.

As the internet has gained widespread use across the world, global competition became a factor that businesses must consider. The internet greatly expands the marketplace. The competition is not only the neighborhood Walmart but a weaver in Africa selling products on Alibaba.

An MBA provides access to jobs such as management consultant or management analyst. Workers in these positions are hired by companies to increase profits, improve efficiency, or change the business structure. According to the United States Department of Labor, “Employment of management analysts is expected to grow 24 percent, much faster than the average for all occupations.”

To stand out in the job marketplace, it helps to have a specialization. Health care and information technology are promising fields. Other areas to consider are finance or law. An article about the future of business predicts that “in business, professionals with international experience or knowledge – especially in finance or law – will be hot as the emphasis on global trade and business grows. Companies will navigate tax codes, laws, work regulations, environmental regulations and ethical questions worldwide.” And lastly, you should become fluent in at least one other language to greatly improve your chances of landing a job.

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3. Associate of Science (AS) in Construction Management

If the thought of working in a lab or being in school for over half a decade doesn’t seem appealing, you can get a job in skilled trades. Most of the degrees related to skilled trades do not take many years to complete.

Don’t overlook these jobs even though many people find them “unglamourous.” These jobs are the most difficult ones to fill, according to a pdf report by Manpower.

Many people only consider bachelor degrees or graduate degrees. They may have grown up in a hands-on, hardworking blue collar family and want to “move up” to a white collar, sit-behind-a-desk-and-get-paid career. But this type of thinking misses out on many opportunities in the workforce.

Consider Coach T’s comments on the usefulness of an associate’s degree:

We call the person with an associates degree from local community college at 2AM when the pipes have burst – and he charges us accordingly. He will then refer us to his classmate, the electrician, to fix the wet wiring. They will both refer us to an assortment of their friends to replace the carpet, and maybe fix the woodwork – at no point did they call an economist or historian for some advice. After we part with all of that money, we’ll call our insurance agent (maybe a college grad – maybe not) who will send an adjuster (probably an associate’s holder).

Sure, a bachelor’s degree is a good thing. So is a master’s or a doctorate. That doesn’t negate the value of an associate’s or even an apprenticeship.

Furthermore, skilled trade jobs have the benefit of being impossible to outsource to cheaper overseas labor.

Employers in thriving blue collar industries are looking for individuals with skill and experience in a trade while also having critical thinking ability and theoretical knowledge from the classroom.

A sample career plan could be learning a skilled trade like construction, carpentry, plumbing, or electrical wiring and then earning an associate’s degree in management. This gives you an advantage over workers who don’t have the classroom theory for improving a business.

[Request more information about online degrees in carpentry and construction]

4. Master of Laws Degree (LL.M.)

As long as there are governments and civilian disputes, there will always be a need for legal advisors. The key to choosing the right path in a legal career that will be relevant for the future is to consider the aging population, the implications of technological revolutions, and the impact of the global marketplace.

Baby boomers are entering the sunset of their lives, so retirees and impacted family members will seek out counsel from lawyers specializing in healthcare. The passing of this demographic will also increase the need for lawyers who can manage estates, draft wills, handle real estate transactions, and give useful tax counsel.

In the realm of growing technological revolutions, one implication according to Manpower is “more unsubstantiated information increases the importance of verification, certification, validation and [an] overall trusted advisor position.” To meet this need, individuals considering a career in law can look into courses focusing on Internet Law. Examples of these courses include Computers, Privacy and the Constitution; Information Privacy Law; Advanced Commercial Law: Law of Electronic Commerce; Information Technology & Law; and Digital Transactions.

Another area of law that will be impacted by future trends in the job market is the international business sphere. The internet brought the explosion of international commerce and this trend will continue in the future. As nations interact though business transactions, more legal experts are needed in international business, trade, and tax law.

Even in a down economy, lawyers find work handling bankruptcies, foreclosures, and divorces. According to the United States Department of Labor, there are about 98,500 expected new jobs opening up for lawyers between the dates 2008-2018, a 13% increase.

5. Bachelor of Science (BS) in Sustainability

Right now, the green movement is trending up and has gained mainstream acceptance. It is popular to be concerned about sustainability matters. This trend will only continue in the future and being green will no longer be optional for many organizations.

Sustainability will be expected by consumer demand and environmental regulations. In terms of consumer demand, the implications of technological revolutions combined with the increase in customer sophistication will cause companies to invest in sustainability. According to Manpower’s January 2010 Trends Report (pdf file), “Workplaces and practices will need to be environmentally-friendly and drive sustainability due to society’s focus on reducing carbon footprints.”

Sustainability goals have become national importance. According to Fast Company, “President Obama recently pledged $500 million for environmental job training, and an additional $150 billion to create 5 million new sustainability-related jobs.”

Career Planner makes these energy predictions in their article about top jobs for the future:

  • Energy prices will rise especially in the United States. This will change the infrastructure and underlying economy in many ways.
  • With rising energy prices, all materials will cost more to produce. Recycling will be performed for economic reasons more than environmental reasons.
  • More products will be available that save energy such as solid state electronic lighting and more efficient but more complicated home appliances.
  • Alternative forms of energy and energy storage will spawn new industries. Home size fuel cells will become available. Photovoltaic cells may finally become financially attractive.
  • Fighting over oil reserves will continue until breakthroughs in energy take place.

A degree focusing on promoting environmental sustainability, especially a degree with a specific sustainable job in mind as an end goal, will be relevant and useful in the years to come.

6. Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Health Administration

As the baby boomer population ages, there is going to be an increased need for individuals to manage healthcare operations. For medical and healthcare managers, employment is projected to grow faster than average according to the United States Department of Labor.

In hospitals, administrators will be needed to manage and organize doctors, nurses, surgeons and other health care staff. Administrators will also see higher demand in many healthcare organizations other than hospitals. For example, qualified managers will be needed in outpatient care centers, offices of physicians, and nursing care facilities. Even the home-based care industry will need more managers. Many aging retirees will prefer home-based care over hospital-based care. This will increase the need for home health care aides and administrators to manage them.

According to Education Portal, “Knowledge of computer technology, the ability to create effective policies, and the critical thinking skills to make crucial decisions are important characteristics of the successful healthcare administrator.” Administrators should also demonstrate leadership skills to motivate workers to excel in their jobs and keep their morale high.

[Request more information about online degrees in health administration]

7. Associate of Arts in Business Administration (AABA) with a Human Resources focus

The key to getting into the human resources (HR) industry with only an associates degree is to gain useful real world experience. Internships, work studies, even volunteering or temping at an agency can be valuable steps in securing employment in the HR field.

As long as jobs exist and people are earning degrees and pursuing careers, there will be a need for personnel to manage staff. Plus, the process of interviewing, recruiting, hiring, training, and firing is very difficult to outsource. Other roles of an HR manager include organization development, communication, performance management, coaching, policy recommendation, salary and benefits, team building, employee relations, and leadership.

The job outlook for human resources, training, and labor relations managers and specialists looks promising with a projected industry growth of 22% between the years 2008-2018 according to the United States Department of Labor. This growth rate is much higher than the average rate.

According to, the roles of HR managers are changing to include a “strategic partner, an employee sponsor or advocate and a change mentor. At the same time, especially the HR Generalist, still has responsibility for employee benefits administration, often payroll, and employee paperwork.”

Beyond gaining real world experience, the HR managers of the future will have to position themselves in a role that values business literacy as many of the administrative tasks will be outsourced. What kinds of jobs will prioritize this new focus away from administrative tasks to business strategy? These jobs include CFO for HR, internal consultant, talent manager, vendor manager, and self-service leader.

[Request more information about online degrees in human resources]

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