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Which College Majors are the Best Investment?

In a recent poll from Sallie Mae, U.S. families revealed that college costs eat up a significant amount of their annual budget.

Families put as much as $5,527 toward the annual cost of their college student’s education - the average cost of which has risen to about $24,000 a year, reports Time.

And with student debt hitting an all-time high in 2016 - $1.4 trillion, according to Student Loan Hero - it’s no wonder that both parents and students worry about getting a good return on their investment in college.

While there are plenty of college majors that will catapult new job seekers to the top of a recruiter’s list, the idea of college “ROI” isn’t as straightforward as all those lists ranking high-earning majors would have you think.

Here are the college majors that offer a solid return on investment - along with the other skills you’ll need to stand out in the job market.

1. Computer Science

It’s true - computer scientists are in high demand, and they make great money - whether they’re starting out in their careers or advancing up the ladder.

According to GlassDoor, entry-level computer scientists command about $70,000, which rises to roughly $100,000 at the midpoint of their careers.

As data from PayScale shows, however, where you get your degree matters.

“No degree in America is more valuable than a computer-science major at Stanford, Columbia, or Berkeley,” writes Derek Thompson at The Atlantic of the online database’s annual findings.

For those navigating the intricate hierarchies of college admissions, this news should come as no surprise.

But just because you’re excellent at math, programming, and pattern recognition, doesn’t mean you can ignore other important life skills, says Paula Harvey, the vice president of human resources for Schulte Building Systems.

Recent graduates in math or programming arelacking in good business etiquette communication skills,” Harvey explained to NBC News.

In fact, the industry is suffering more than ever from computer scientists and software designers who struggle to communicate in writing, according to a report from Fast Company.

“A core skill of the interaction designer is imagining users (characters), motivations, actions, reactions, obstacles, successes, and a complete set of ‘what if’ scenarios,” explained software designer Susan Stuart. “These are the skills of a writer — all kinds of writers, but particularly fiction, screenwriting, and technical writing.”

Someone who can code and communicate their ideas clearly? Now that’s priceless.

Courses you can expect to take: Calculus, physics, and programming

Courses that will make you stand out in the applicant pool: Philosophy, rhetoric, psychology, or any of the social sciences, like sociology and anthropology

Your future salary: $56,000-$97,000

2. Engineering

From chemical engineering to materials science, engineering offers plenty of exciting possibilities for students who like problem-solving, math, and physics.

Most early-career engineers make about $60,000 and can expect as much as $100,000 by the midpoint of their career, especially if they work in demanding sectors like energy and manufacturing.

“Not everyone is cut out for the analytical stuff,” Katie Bardaro, the lead economist for the salary database PayScale, told U.S. News & World Report. “If you are one of those people, you're lucky, because people want to hire you.”

Employers are especially looking for engineers to enter the manufacturing trade, says Paul Golden, founder of Schilling Ventures, since graduates often go into newer, more competitive fields.

“Software, Wall Street and consulting have become the in places to be,” Golden told the American Express blog. “Without innovation, price becomes the competitive basis, and U.S. cost structures can’t match those from off-shore without exceptional productivity.”

Courses you can expect to take: Math, physics, chemistry, and computing

Courses that will make you stand out in the applicant pool: A background in vocational or trade skills might make you more attractive to employers in the manufacturing sector

Your future salary: $60,000-$100,000

3. Nursing

Health care professions, including nursing, medical assistance, and pharmacy tech, are always in high-demand, and they pay well, too.

Despite this need and industry standards, says economist Jen Hubley Luckwaldt, nursing is often thought of as a low-paying job.

But that’s just not true.

You can expect to make somewhere between $60,000 and $90,000, depending on where you work and what your area of speciality happens to be, reports Luckwaldt at Time.

Your salary goes up if you have a four-year degree, too.

"Surveys show that most hospitals prefer to hire nurses with bachelor's degrees, though they often cannot find enough," Richard Pérez-Peña writes at The New York Times.

Courses you can expect to take: Statistics, biology, and anatomy

Courses that will make you stand out in the applicant pool: Leadership management, community health, and psychology

Your future salary: $60,000-$100,000

4. Finance, Accounting, & Risk Management

Everyone needs a good accountant - and if you have a brain for finance and statistics, you could go far as an actuary, auditor, or financial analyst.

“According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), actuaries have a median salary of more than $97,000 as of 2015, making it one of the best college majors out there,” reports Emily Guy Birkin at StudentLoanHero.com. “They also have a professional growth rate of 18 percent. Keep in mind that the average growth rate of all occupations is seven percent.”

But just because you’re good with numbers doesn’t mean you can skimp on social studies or humanities skills.

Like other careers in highly technical industries, good communicators are in high demand - especially if you plan on being an analyst or managing other people’s money, says business reporter Jenna Goudreau.

“[While] social skills are often undervalued by the market, they are increasingly in demand as the economy moves towards services and technology,” Goudreau explains at Forbes. “And unlike technical skills, which are quickly outdated and need constant maintenance, social skills have a long shelf life.”

Courses you can expect to take: Economics, statistics, math

Courses that will make you stand out in the applicant pool: Psychology, leadership, business management

Your future salary: $58,000-$97,000



5. Political Science

Whether you become a political analyst or work for an international firm, a degree in government or international relations makes you immediately attractive across multiple industries.

“All levels of U.S. government seek out these majors, but so do domestic and international companies, contracting firms, nonprofits, think tanks, lobbying groups, political campaigns, aid organizations and nongovernmental entities,” report the editors of BankRate.com.

If you’re a natural at problem-solving, historical analysis, communicating, and negotiating, this could be the right industry for you.

Want to move up the ladder more quickly? Consider taking your skills into the business or finance sectors, which offer more lucrative hiring opportunities than federal or state governments.

Courses you can expect to take: History, government, statistics

Courses that will make you stand out in the applicant pool: Choose a few in-depth, research-focused courses in areas of interest to you, so you can show off your analytical skills.

Your future salary: $40,000-$80,000.


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