10 Trending College Specializations with the Best Payoff in 2020

The educational and employment landscapes have rapidly changed in the past five years — but what about college specializations? If you are now contemplating where to apply and which major to choose, you are probably very much in doubt. Soft skills are in demand more than ever. In contrast, some hard skills are attainable through free or relatively cheap online educational programs or even substituted by automation. Statistical data has also revealed that, on average, a person changes 10–15 jobs in a lifetime. The trend of lifelong learning is coinciding with employers demanding hands-on working experience instead of degrees from prestigious universities. At the same time, universities might as well change their educational curricula completely, opting for Open Loop University, not limited to three or four years of degree studies. How can one make sense of it and choose rewarding and relevant college major and minor tracks?

Despite all these turbulent developments, your degree is still essential for landing the first few full-time jobs, securing your salary, and acquiring useful skills and knowledge. So choose wisely, and we will help you to orient yourself in this specialization and employment maze.

Here you find a list of the 10 top specializations one can get at college that will ensure you a good paycheck and relatively smooth employment right after graduation. We chose these tracks to cover more or less every branch of sciences, medicine, and the humanities so that anyone can find something appealing. The list is based on the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). We have analyzed the correlation of top median income and the estimated job openings per year. Some of the data come from LinkedIn Learning analysis of the top-ranking skills needed in 2020. Read through these ten occupations thoughtfully, but don’t use this list as the final command. This text is here to broaden your perspectives when making a challenging choice of your college educational program.

1. Health Care: Physicians and Nurses

According to BLS, the health care system is the fastest-growing sphere in need of qualified workers. The ongoing events revealed the critical importance of doctors and nurses for the functioning of our societies: it is a stressful but immensely rewarding and honorable occupation. Apart from the current pandemic crisis, there is a natural growing and aging of the world’s population, which stimulates the constant demand for medical professionals. Surgeons, anaesthesiologists, and orthodontists are on the top of the list for the most-paid occupations in the U.S.

However, the way to a doctoral degree is thorny: medical school, internship, and residency (depending on the narrow specialization within the field) that take up to 11 years. It’s hard to choose a specific track now, but it might be helpful to browse through these must-read books for medical students to get a better understanding of this sphere. Here not only long study-hours and enduring internships are in question but also the financial costs of this educational program. However, since the average annual wage of a physician is $208,000, the payment of the student loan debt won’t be a huge burden.

For those wanting to become a nurse, one should hold a master’s degree or higher and pass a certification exam. The median salary is $107,030 per year, depending on the exact qualification. If you have a calling for working in health care and an opportunity to enroll in a medical school — these challenging occupations are waiting for you.

2. Computer Science: Software and Web Developers

Computer Science is one of the most trending and fruitful study tracks, especially if you choose a career as a software or web developer. The specialists in this precise and creative occupation will continuously be in need, at least until 2028. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, one can pursue a career in the governmental sector, in small businesses and start-ups or work as a freelancer. Or maybe you’ve dreamt about working for the giants such as Facebook or Google? The nature of this occupation allows a lot of choices, depending on your precise qualifications and expectations.

The average wage of web developers amounts to $103,620 per year! This money doesn’t come easy since a job in this sphere often involves extra working hours.

3. Environmental Science: Environmental Specialists

Environmental Scientist is probably one of the most crucial specializations on the list. We face an environmental crisis, and our society is urgently in need of specialists that can help us collectively tackle this problem. If you want to land a job in this sphere, you would need a bachelor’s degree in natural science or science-related field. The annual wage is not among the top ones ($71,130), but it’s still great money for doing something so urgent and crucial. Moreover, graduates in this sphere have good chances to get hired. 

With this interdisciplinary degree in Environmental Science (or in a related field like geoscience), you won’t be bound to working exclusively in lab settings or on a research team, though it sounds fascinating. You can land a job as a company advisor on sustainable policies or in relevant local, federal, or state governmental offices. The world (and its future) is in your hands if you graduate as an environmental scientist.

4. Information Technology: Information Security Analysts

With good hard-skills in cybersecurity, I.T. infrastructure, and risk management, one can opt for a career as an Information Security Analyst. Although it sounds like something from James Bond movies, it is a hot specialization. Any company, business, or office that relies on computer network systems for their daily operation requires experts in Information Security. All companies need to develop novel methods of protecting their data and systems from hacker attacks and ensure the stability of the network — and this could be exactly your job.

To start working in this tech sphere, you will need a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology or Computer Science (though obtaining a master’s can be an advantage). The median annual wage is estimated ca. $98,350 by BLS.

5. Management: Advertising and Marketing Managers

specialization is advertising and marketing management
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

It is getting harder to define an appropriate study track for specialists in management, especially in advertising and marketing. Specialists who land such jobs have a bachelor’s in management, advertising, marketing, or journalism on hand. It’s also advidable to have a good knolwedge of business sphere, but this can be achieved by reading best business books or internship experiences. Contemplating a career in this rapidly growing sphere (with an average paycheck of $132,620 per year)? You should consider a smart combination of a major and a minor in a related field (for example, in sales or business).

The intrigue of this sphere is that new subfields are constantly developing (affiliate marketing, for example) that one should always be up-to-date and to keep on studying even after graduation. Another trick is that employees mostly value hands-on experiences and soft skills when hiring advertising or marketing managers. You should ensure that during your years at college, you have achieved proficiency not only in brand audit but also in communication, flexibility, and organizational skills.

6. Mathematics and Statistics: Data Scientists

Data science is a new multidisciplinary sphere on the crossroad of computer programming, mathematics, and statistics. In a nutshell, a data scientist works with large datasets and can effectively interpret the results that are later used in policymaking, marketing campaigns, and so on. It is a rapidly growing sphere that can guarantee you a good income (median wage is $91,791 per year). You can also choose from a variety of employment possibilities: in I.T. companies, governmental offices, or private enterprises.

When choosing your college program with this specialization in mind, opt for a wise combination of majors and minors since data science degrees are not that common yet. Successful data scientists usually have mathematics and statistics on their C.V.s. If you want to develop into a golden specialist, you can later opt for more specialized M.A. programs. However, you can acquire some of the hard-skills (like machine learning or programming languages) via online courses on datacamp.com, for example. On the path as a data scientist, one should be prepared for challenging tasks and never-ending learning as well as for exercising one’s analytics skills and perseverance.

7. Psychology: Therapists and Counselors

The value of our mental and emotional health is finally duly appreciated as never before. There are constant developments in clinical psychology and psychiatry, though positive psychology is now expanding rapidly too. One can build a career in couple therapy or child development, but the same degree in psychology will open perspectives as a teacher, a coach, a career counselor, or a specialist in employee’s wellbeing. In essence, the opportunities are endless, especially if you acquire additional skills in H.R. or educational sciences during your time at college. However, if you want to become a practicing family therapist or a career counselor, you might need to obtain an additional state license as well as a master’s in the respective field.

If your calling is to communicate and help people, this kind of occupation will be gratifying for you. You can as well try out different settings, such as working independently or in collaborative settings. The median wage is not extremely high ($50,090 per year for family therapists and $79,010 per year for psychologists) but still much higher than the U.S. average. Moreover, your chances of getting employed look rather promising: there will be a 28% rise in projected job openings by 2028, according to BLS’s analysis.

8. English or Communications: Technical writers

The mission of this occupation is to make complicated things intelligible and clear. A technical writer is involved in creating technical documents, journal articles, and descriptions of procedures and regulations. This type of writing is not only dull manuals that nobody ever reads but also, for example, about crafting intuitive guides for novel tech products. The expanding field of online learning also lies on the shoulders of technical writers. Various industries hire tech writers, so you’ll be able to find a sphere that interests you the most (software development or marketing) as well as to choose an appropriate setting: a part-time freelancer or a full-time company employee.

There is no perfect educational background for this job. Still, a degree in English, communications, or journalism is a good start. A huge bonus will be expertise in an industry’s field. Alternatively, you can hold a degree in a scientific or a technical sphere and top it up with technical writing courses like the one offered by Google. Technical writing is only one of the possible ways to develop your career when obtaining a degree in languages or journalism. Still, technical writers are paid better on average (median $71,850 per year). So don’t lose this occupation on your specialization-seeking radar. Since one acquires writing skills through persistent practice, don’t underestimate internships and part-time jobs available at your college where you can get writing or editing experience. You should also be open to learning new things and working with extreme clarity and precision.

9. Graphic Design: UX Designers

User Experience Design is a rapid-growing specialization that is not even five years old. One’s satisfaction with a system, its usability, interactiveness, and value will be in your hands, designing the whole process of acquisition and use of a particular program. 

Since the specialization developed only recently, there is no determined educational background expected for such a position. A bachelor’s in graphic design will be an advantageous option, but it should be combined with advanced knowledge of web developing software. Other tech skills are a great plus too. 

UX designers are in urgent need right now, but it won’t be your only employment option after graduation. One can try working as a graphic designer of visual content. Even corporate giants are now present on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok, so specialists who can create high-quality content for these platforms are invaluable. As for the salary estimates, UX design is not yet included in BLS, and there is no salary data collected yet. A brief look at glassdoor.com gives an estimate of 75000$ per year

10. But what about the Humanities?

You’ve probably noticed that there are not so many Arts and Humanities specializations on the list. And no, not because historians and linguists are doomed to unemployment or poor wages. While formal, natural, and social sciences have relatively easily-identifiable career tracks (at least for national statistic bureaus), humanities don’t. There is an infinite number of college study tracks in humanities that offer graduates a variety of career paths with possible employment options, from getting entry-level management or consulting positions to building a career in the governmental sphere, public service, or journalism. This versatility might be disadvantageous for some of us, but a degree in Arts and Humanities opens you many doors.

Moreover, most of the Humanities programs teach you the most crucial soft skills: these are, according to LinkedIn research, creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and emotional intelligence. You’ll be surprised to know that seven presidents of the U.S. had a major in history, and nobody would call it a bad career… So if you are a humanities person, don’t be discouraged and go for the program of your dreams! 

Finally, here are several tips on how to know the employment prospects of your target college programs better.

No need to say, you are now calculating job perspectives, student loans, college ranking, and so on. Apart from that, you need to know yourself quite well and decide, in which sphere you want to develop as an expert. Careers are not set in stone, most of the skills are there to be learned even outside of the university settings, but you need to set a direction. 

You can often connect to the alumni of your target program and ask them related questions about job prospects and the quality of the program. Sometimes, the contact details of some alumni are available on the college website; if not, ask the program coordinator. 

Alternatively, you can check the program graduates on LinkedIn and research what their current employment and career paths are. The Bureau for Labor Statistics is also an essential resource to check different specializations, what are the degree requirements and work settings, especially in their Occupational Outlook Handbook. You can also check real-life salaries on Glassdoor to know your prospects better.

happy with job prospects after graduation
Photo by Logan Isbell on Unsplash

In the end, titles of our jobs might change, but the soft and hard skills remain with us (and we should also develop them beyond our college degrees). A college degree is a massive investment in your future, and there are so many things at stake. You should choose something that suits you, your temperament, and interests. At the same time, the college program should equip you with the most demanded skills that will make you hireable the second you graduate — the list should give you a hint about this.

Good luck with finding your passion!