Top college majors for finding full-time work

What Are the Most Promising College Majors?

A college degree – for many – is the first major financial decision, and picking a major that is highly employable is one way to improve the odds of making a return on that investment more quickly.

There's been a recent push for college students to "know before you go" on understanding labor market performance for a particular degree, says Jeff Strohl, director of research at Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.

"It's become more critical for them to look at this data when making a decision because of the cost of education and the possibility of student debt," the researcher says, who stresses the importance of financial literacy when picking a degree. "There's nothing wrong with going into art, just realize what it gets you."

Cam Smith, 22, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, says he weighed employment prospects when selecting a double major. The recent Georgetown grad combined his marketing major with operations and information management, which he says was "definitely a calculated process."

"I looked at something that would allow me to do what I wanted to do – which is work in marketing, but would also help me make a little more money with my first job and raise my chance at employment," Smith says.

RELATED: The best cities for recent college graduates

Best cities for recent graduates
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Best cities for recent graduates

Cincinnati, Ohio 
Average Starting Annual Salary: $48,348
Unemployment Rate: 4.9 percent

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Raleigh, North Carolina
Average Starting Annual Salary: $48,609
Unemployment Rate: 4.8 percent

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Austin, Texas
Average Starting Annual Salary: $50,035
Unemployment Rate: 3.7 percent

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Washington, DC
Average Starting Annual Salary: $51,310
Unemployment Rate: 4.9 percent

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Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota
Average Starting Annual Salary: $49,950
Unemployment Rate: 4.1 percent

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Sioux Falls, South Dakota 
Average Starting Annual Salary: $43,849
Unemployment Rate: 3.9 percent

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Fargo, North Dakota
Average Starting Annual Salary: $44,163
Unemployment Rate: 3.0 percent

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Madison, Wisconsin
Average Starting Annual Salary: $51,163
Unemployment Rate: 3.9 percent 

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Atlanta, Georgia
Average Starting Annual Salary: $48,991
Unemployment Rate: 5.3 percent 

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Seattle, Washington 
Average Starting Annual Salary: $54,024
Unemployment Rate: 4.4 percent

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Smith found employment quickly after college with a full-time marketing job at Fundrise, a technology startup in Washington, D.C., for real estate investing, who says he picked operations and information management since it was more "forward-looking" compared with a more traditional business management major.

According to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers on projected employment for recent college grads, information management and marketing are two majors in-demand by employers. And the most sought-after bachelor's degree are accounting, computer science, finance, business administration and mechanical engineering.

Top bachelor's degrees by demandCollege majorPercent that plan to hire
2Computer Science53.9
4Business Administration/Management47.8
5Mechanical Engineeering46.1
6Information Sciences and Systems41.7
7Management Information Systems40.6
8Electrical Engineering39.4
9Logistics/Supply Chain37.2

Source: Job Outlook 2016, National Association of Colleges and Employers

Edwin Koc, a research director at the association, says: "You'll probably have a higher salary and a job more quickly with one of these majors."

In choosing a college major, here are a couple ways to evaluate a degree's employment prospects.

1. Look at projected labor outcomes: "The occupational projections out by the Bureau of Labor, while historically poor on the education required, are good at projecting job growth," says Strohl from Georgetown's CEW.

Accounting, for example, is expected to grow 11 percent by 2024, according to the most recent data published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on employment projections, adding 142,400 jobs between 2014 and 2024.

Information science management and fields such as data management are other areas that will continue to soar with the explosion of data usage in the "tech world," Strohl says.

Computer and information systems management is projected to expand by 15 percent from 2014 to 2024 with an additional 50,000 workers entering the field, the BLS predicts.

2. Check whether the school posts employment data on recent graduates: Colorado, Tennessee, Florida and Texas are a few states that publish earnings for recent grads from state institutions and job growth in different sectors.

The University of Colorado—Boulder, for instance, began its first alumni survey in 1989 and publishes graduate data on its website. Alumni surveys from universities such as CU—Boulder are generally reported back to national surveys, which show an overall picture on employment for recent grads, says Koc.

Alumni data posted on such websites and College Measures are intended to help prospective students make more informed choices, workforce researchers say.

"But they don't guide anyone," says Strohl, who adds counseling students on this data is a couple of years away. "Counseling is at the cusp – on the whole – for adopting labor market information to students. It's going to become really big in the next 1 to 5 years."

3. Compare the return on investment for a degree: "The ability to get hired is very important," says Katie Bardaro, PayScale's lead economist. "Jobs that are in demand will typically see a higher compensation."

And that trend is reflected in ROI since the return for in-demand professions is typically higher as a result, the lead economist explains.

The PayScale College ROI tool is based on educational choices and takes into account the cost of obtaining that degree over time. It's a tool for students to compare programs and figure out projected opportunities upon graduating with a particular degree, she says.

But some experts caution prospective students that ROI tools only capture a partial picture and use a limited amount of data to project future outcomes.

"No one can predict what exactly your earning potential will be," Bardaro says, while stressing the importance of looking at data for college majors. "But the more information you provide yourself with on specific education choices, the more informed decision you're going to make."

RELATED: 5 tips to help you land your first job after college

5 tips to help you land your first job after graduation
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5 tips to help you land your first job after graduation

Take advantage of your college career center
Most universities offer career coaching from trained professionals who specialize in development and advancement. Whether or not you have an idea of your career plans post-college, it can be beneficial to take a few hours out of your day and set up an appointment with one of the counselors. Many times, these professionals can review and help you tailor your resumé and cover letter. To top it off, because of their experience and networks in various industries, counselors have the potential to connect you with hiring managers.

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Begin creating and using your network 
One of the most important aspects to finding a job is taking advantage of your professional and personal network. Your connections can vary from your family members and friends to your professors and alumni. If you feel as if you're lacking a valuable network, however, business association events and gatherings are the best way to gain important contacts.

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Always follow up  
With the advancement of modern technology, most job applications are done online. Because of this new process, it oftentimes makes it harder to find the person of contact to follow up with. However, you shouldn't let that initial obstacle prevent you from following up. If you can't find the name of the hiring manager directly reviewing your application, use LinkedIn to do a search of the next best person to reach out to. Many potential employees miss out on interviews by not being proactive and sending follow up emails.

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