Hot Majors for 2011

nurse - hot majorsForget about globalization studies or underwater archaeology, the hot majors for 2011 are still some of the most traditional.

Of the 1.5 million bachelor's degrees awarded in the United States in recent years, business degrees were No. 1, followed by those in social sciences/history, health professions and education, said a study by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Also topping the list were degrees in biomedical and biological studies, psychology, engineering, computer science, communications/journalism, and visual and performing arts.Degrees in business, social sciences/history, health professions, journalism/communications, and visual and performing arts have risen in the past decade. And although still in the top 10, the number of computer science majors who earn degrees has dropped 33% and the number in education has stayed static in the last decade. (Computer science majors peaked in the 2003-2004 academic year with 59,488 degrees awarded, while education majors peaked in 1970-1971 with 176,307.)

While those majors may be the most popular, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that in 2018 it will be nurses, accountants, teachers and managers who will be most in demand. Those occupations will see the greatest employment growth and opportunities for those with a bachelor's degree. Those majoring in nursing, education, business or finance now may find more opportunities than ever, while other majors won't pay too well.

When the National Association of Colleges and Employers' Job Outlook 2011 surveyed 172 employers to learn the kind of majors they were looking to hire, the top selections tabulated like this:

  • accounting, 62%
  • finances, 57%
  • electrical engineering, 53.5%
  • computer science and mechanical engineering, 53%
  • business, 52%

"The results are not surprising," Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director, said. "These degrees are consistently cited by organizations involved in college recruiting and hiring as among the most sought-after."

The top moneymaking undergraduate majors, according to, were petroleum engineers, with a starting annual wage of $97,000, and chemical engineers, at $64,800 yearly. While engineering is probably one of the most lucrative majors (engineering majors make up seven out of Payscale's top 10 salaries), child and family studies ranks last, with a starting salary of $29,500.

However, if college students are looking for job security, a recent study of U.S. Census data by The Sacramento Bee showed that nursing majors experienced only 2% unemployment--the lowest in their research.

Laura Barrientos, 30, graduated from a nursing program in Visalia, Calif. in May and was hired at a nearby hospital in July. She now works in an emergency room.

"I went into nursing because I was interested in the science of it, but job security did factor into my major," she said. "They are always going to need nurses."

She also did her own research, learning that there would be continued job growth in her profession in the next few decades as Baby Boomers retire from the profession and others enter into skilled nursing facilities. "With all the advances in medicine," Barrientos said, "people are living longer and they will need nurses."

Architecture majors fared much worse in the study and had the highest unemployment, 11.4%. The study also announced that graduates in drama or theater arts were the most likely to be employed in the food service industry. Not to worry though, that's still only 8.2%. (Next in line were would-be journalists.)

Anyway, aren't aspiring actors supposed to be waiters and waitresses until they get their big break? It's surely not a surprise that actors would have a day job and most performing-arts majors go into the degree not for the money, but for love of the craft.

"We went into it assuming it would be hard for us to work as actors," said Connor Mickiewicz, 27, a NYU theater graduate who started his own theater company in Sacramento, Calif.

Those degrees suffering the most unemployment, aside from architecture, were philosophy/religious studies, theater, film, video and photographic arts.

"Everyone tells you to go to school and get your degree and get a job, and now I can't even get a retail job," Mark Rothrock, 21, and a University of North Carolina history and religious studies major told the News & Observer. "We're over-educated for a lot of jobs, and we're under-educated for a lot of jobs, which leaves us just stuck in the middle."

The tough economy has made it more difficult for everyone to find a job, and census data showed that few college majors went into a profession that specifically used their major--a psychology major was as likely to be a registered nurse as a sales clerk at Macy's.

Barrientos said that even in nursing there have been some economic changes, with hospitals saving money on training by poaching experienced nurses from other health care facilities.

"A few years ago hospitals were actively recruiting at colleges with free breakfasts and signing bonuses. Most nurses had jobs before they graduated," she said. "Now nursing students are still getting jobs, but now they're getting them after they graduate."
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