Top 20 Degrees for the Future

An image of a technology student for our article on the Top 20 Degrees for the Future

When planning for an uncertain future, one should evaluate what degrees will be in high demand and provide the biggest payoff. This is especially true as struggling economies warn of an unpredictable future. Now is a critical time for emerging industries that are posed to introduce new technologies and retool the business world for global impact. These businesses offer hints into what careers might bring on a bright future. It is smart to base your career goals on these hints to help determine what is right around the corner for some lesser-traveled majors.

The following is a list of the top 20 degrees for the future.

1. Sustainable and Renewable Energy

Policy changes, increased awareness of the world’s natural resources, and technological advances are among some of the things driving the demand for experts in sustainable and renewable energy. To position yourself as a leader of green economy, a degree in sustainable and renewable energy is the first step. While few bachelor’s programs in this discipline exist, various graduate programs do. Within some master’s-level programs, graduate certificates are available in areas like solar energy and sustainable management. These certificates allow students to specialize in an area that meets career objectives and personal interests. Graduates of sustainable and renewable energy programs may seek careers as electrical engineers, biochemists, or wind turbine technicians, among other occupations.

Top programs:

Illinois State University
Penn State World Campus

2. Industrial and Organizational Psychology

The field of psychology that involves human behavior in various work environments is known as industrial and organizational psychology. The industry offers a favorable job outlook and competitive salaries. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports average earnings of industrial and organizational psychologists as $92,880, with the top 10% bringing in close to $200,000 annually. Also, U.S. News and World Report ranks industrial psychologists #3 in best science jobs and #26 in best STEM jobs. In industrial and organizational psychology programs, students take courses that explore topics like employment and staffing, organizational behavior, and psychology of leadership. Both bachelor’s and master’s degrees are available, some of which may be earned online.

Top programs:

Purdue Global
Southern New Hampshire University

3. Atmospheric Sciences

Atmospheric sciences, often referred to as meteorology or climatology, is for students who wish to explore weather and environment-related topics. Certain bachelor’s degree programs in atmospheric science fulfill education requirements for federally employed meteorologists. Accredited programs also adhere to the guidelines set forth by the American Meteorological Society. Undergraduate classes may explore topics like earth systems, satellite and radar meteorology, and weather patterns. Graduates of reputable atmospheric science programs may pursue employment with commercial aviation companies, federal government agencies like NOAA and the National Weather Service, and private consulting firms.

Top programs:

UMASS Lowell
University of North Dakota

4. Game Design

Video game designers and developers work for companies like Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft. They spend their days working on animation and 3D modeling, or code and program games. To carry out the duties of a game designer, you must be highly skilled. Much of this training takes place in a video game design program. Bachelor’s degrees in game design and development cover courses like 3D modeling and animation, graphics game engine, information technology and digital games, and virtual game environments design. Some game design programs offer concentrations that allow students to tailor their degree toward specialized areas of interest. Popular concentrations include game art, game development, and mobile game design. Strong earnings potential combined with high demand to fill available game design jobs make this discipline a top degree for the future.

Top programs:

Lindenwood University
Rochester Institute of Technology
The University of Arizona

5. Epidemiology

Epidemiologists examine diseases to understand causes and preventions. In hospitals, the role is that of a public health officer, though epidemiologists may be found in laboratories, universities, pharmaceutical companies, and public health agencies. To become an epidemiologist, one typically must earn a master’s degree in epidemiology. The master’s degree may be a Master of Science in Epidemiology or Master of Public Health (MPH) in Epidemiology. Courses found in these programs cover topics like biostatistics, foundations of public health, and research in the public health sciences. Students pursue epidemiology careers for various reasons, such as earnings potential. According to BLS, the median annual wage for this occupation is $74,560, with the top 10% of earners making $126,040.

Top programs:

Indiana University
University of Illinois Chicago

6. The Internet of Things

In-demand jobs for the future include the IoT bachelor’s degree. The goal of this unique degree program is to boost critical thinking skills and the ability to develop and maintain connected devices and networks in which they operate. From smartwatches to autonomous vehicles, these devices process and transmit data through the Internet. Knowing how to program these devices, connect them to the Internet, and implement cybersecurity and hardware design requires specialized training. As technology evolves, this highly specialized STEM degree will be in demand. Courses offered in bachelor’s degree programs include data analysis, embedded operating systems, and sensors for IoT.

Top programs:

Florida International University
University of New Mexico

7. Robotics

The demand for robotics engineers is on the rise as we see a rebirth in the automotive industry, advancements in technology, and new markets opening around the globe. Highly skilled robotics engineers will be needed well into the future. Bachelor’s degrees in robotics engineering prepare students for entry-level careers and serve as gateways to graduate robotics programs. Foundational courses students take in bachelor’s degree programs cover topics like foundations of robotics engineering, fundamentals of engineering design projects, mechanics of materials, systems modeling and controls, and unified robotics. A favorable job outlook and strong earnings potential are just some of the benefits of working in robotics.

Top programs:

Lawrence Technological University
Maryville University

8. Artificial Intelligence

As an emerging field for the future, artificial intelligence offers thousands of job openings each year, but the industry has too few people to fill them. Earning an artificial intelligence degree qualifies you for entry- and mid-level AI jobs. Expect to take courses in computer science and data structures. Other topics explored in an undergraduate program may include imperative computation, functional programming, and sequential data structures. Courses in ethics and social responsibility are also required of some program sequences. Once foundational classes are out of the way, students often participate in independent study and research projects in areas of interest like education, healthcare, or transportation. According to ZipRecruiter, artificial intelligence engineers earn an average salary of $96,000 to $200,000 per year.

Top programs:

Carnegie Mellon University
University of Colorado Boulder

9. Health Information Technology

Health information technology degrees, such as a bachelor’s in HIT, equip students with knowledge of medical record maintenance and the systems by which those records are kept. Earning a degree in health information technology can lead to lucrative positions in data analysis, health information management, information management, and medical records research. But to secure a role in the HIT industry, you will need a bachelor’s in health information technology. This major requires the completion of courses that explore topics in communication and technologies, healthcare data management, management of health information services, and professional practice experience. Typical bachelor programs in HIT require 120 credits and provide real-world, practical field experiences. According to BLS, earnings vary by industry and position. A health information technology manager working in federal government may see average earnings of $99,750.

Top programs:

Southern New Hampshire University
University of Central Florida

10. Mechatronics

Mechatronics is a field of engineering that focuses on the design and production of automated equipment. This equipment may be used for a variety of purposes, including laboratories, manufacturing, offices, and more. The field hires technicians and engineers. Technicians typically hold an associate’s degree, while engineers earn bachelor’s degrees. The mechatronics discipline integrates computer, controls, electrical, and mechanical engineering principles. Courses revolve around topics like construction and operation of automated systems, design, intelligent products, and robots. Some programs focus more attention on software and hardware integration, giving students a more specialized approach to their mechatronics degree. After graduating from a mechatronics degree program, you may pursue employment with companies like IBM, GE, GM, Honeywell, NASA, Tesla, and many others.

Top programs:

Capitol Technology University
Kent State University

11. Chemical Engineering

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a favorable job outlook and employment growth are expected for chemical engineers over the next several years. In fact, employment of chemical engineers is projected to grow 9% through 2030, which is 2% higher than the average for all other engineering occupations. As demand for chemical engineering services increases, more programs will accept qualified students to help prepare for the thriving job market. The first step for a career in chemical engineering is to earn a bachelor’s degree. Courses in these programs cover topics like chemical process thermodynamics, operations and process laboratory, thermodynamics of mixtures, and transport phenomena. Upon graduating from a chemical engineering program, you may be ready for the job market in an entry-level position, or ready to enter graduate school and earn a master’s in chemical engineering.

Top programs:
Florida Tech
North Carolina State University

12. Nursing

According to BLS, about 194,500 job openings for registered nurses are projected each year through 2030. While nursing can be an emotionally, mentally, and physically demanding career path, the industry outlook is highly favorable and stable. For those seeking a rewarding career in healthcare, majoring in nursing means earning a top degree for the future. Nursing majors have a strong desire to help other people, and nursing not only comes with a personal reward but is a viable career. RN to BSN programs are flexible and offer options to learn online. These programs may be completed in as few as three semesters or take up to four years. Courses cover topics like RN community health nursing, RN evidence-based practice, RN health assessment, and transitions in professional nursing. Advanced degrees in nursing are also in demand. Some of the top graduate nursing programs prepare students for careers as family nurse practitioners, geriatric nurse practitioners, nurse educators, and psychiatric nurse practitioners.

Top programs:
Baker University
Simmons University

13. Biomedical Engineering

Biomedical engineering combines the knowledge of engineering principles with medical science to build and create computer systems and hardware, and equipment and devices. To become a biomedical engineer, the first step in your academic career is to earn a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering. So, what makes biomedical engineering a top degree for the future? The answer is new developments in medicine and engineering. Healthcare is constantly changing. And as developments emerge, new ways of improving processes within healthcare and medicine also surface. From designing advanced prosthetics to genomic testing, biomedical engineering will be needed for the future. Biomedical engineering also promises a favorable job outlook and strong return on investment. Reported earnings by BLS for biomedical engineers is $92,620, on average. However, the highest-paid 10% earn more than $149,440 annually.

Top programs:
Duke University
University of Arizona

14. Computational Linguistics

Computational linguistics–a top degree for the future–deals with the language aspect of computer systems, as seen in Amazon, Alexa and Siri. The field focuses on the key aspects and technological advancements of grammar checking, machine translation, and speech recognition. With a strong background in computer science–programming and coding–and knowledge of math and statistics, a role in computational linguistics might suit your career aspirations. What’s unique about this discipline is the flexible areas of study. You don’t have to be locked into a general study program. Instead, areas of specialization allow you to explore different niches that might appeal to your career goals and interests. Some of these possibilities include AI, data science, or machine learning engineering. Since software engineering encompasses the occupation of computational linguistics, the median salary is comparable. In fact, BLS reports a median annual wage for this occupation as $110,140, with the highest earners seeing over $170,000 per year.

Top programs:
Stanford University
University of Rochester

15. Information Technology

As an information technology major, plan on taking courses in business, communications, and computer science. While the focus is on information technology, courses in digital communications and web development are generally offered. Undergraduate IT programs offer specializations that allow students to tailor their studies to better align with career goals and personal interests. These specializations might include cybersecurity, data analytics, digital systems technology, and network administration and management, to name a few. But regardless of your concentration area, you must possess strong communication and technical skills, as required by the program. This major is ideal for individuals with a strong background or interest in computer software and hardware. Since there are many career avenues to pursue after completing a program in information technology, the degree is flexible. According to BLS, information security analysts earn an average annual pay of $103,590, and network and computer systems administrators earn an average salary of $84,810. IT is a stable and promising degree for the future.

Top programs:
Arizona State University
Purdue University Global

16. Big Data

Recognized as one of the fastest-growing fields in the world, data science employs scientists and researchers in enterprises of all shapes and sizes. With its uniquely designed curriculum, bachelor’s degree programs in big data blend business analytics, computer science, and data science to provide students with well-rounded expertise and knowledge to enter the workforce. Focused courses and specialization options allow students to tailor their degree even further to align with career goals. Specialized courses cover topics in cloud computing, cybersecurity, databases, and high-performance computing. Most undergraduate programs strive to offer career readiness by providing a strong foundation in liberal arts, combined with technical and analytical study.

Top programs:
Bellevue University
University of North Dakota

17. Construction Management

Earning a bachelor’s degree in construction management typically takes four years, though shorter online options are available to qualifying students. Online programs appeal to students working full-time, gaining valuable experience in the field, who do not want to disrupt their employment for education. Courses taken in most construction management programs cover topics like construction project management, construction surveying, introduction to construction management, plan interpretation and quantity take-off, and statics and strength of materials. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of construction managers is expected to increase by 11% over the next nine years. A favorable job outlook combined with higher-than-average earnings make construction management a top degree for the future. BLS reports the median annual wage for construction managers as $97,180. However, certain industries pay higher wages. For example, construction managers working in heavy and civil engineering construction see an average annual salary of $101,730 and, in nonresidential building construction, see average earnings of $98,620.

Top programs:
Everglades University
Indiana State University

18. Electrical Engineering

A bachelor’s degree is required to become an electrical engineer. The degree may be earned traditionally or via online instruction. Most programs take four years to complete, while some online bachelor’s in electrical engineering programs take two to three years. No matter the pathway, the degree yields favorable outcomes in terms of employment. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual pay for electrical engineers is $103,390. Certain industries pay higher wages, such as research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences, and semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing organizations. But to earn a high wage, you’ll need an ABET-accredited degree, state licensure, and relevant work experience. For those enrolled in an electrical engineering program, course requirements cover topics like digital design fundamentals, introduction to engineering, and more. Once you’ve completed your degree, you should be ready to embark on a new career in electrical engineering. The projected job outlook for this occupation, according to BLS, is a 7% growth rate over the next nine years.

Top programs:
Arizona State University
Boston University

19. Drone Technology

Drone technology or training programs are typically offered as two-year degrees, but some bachelor’s and master’s programs are out there. These programs are often referred to as unmanned aerial system (UAS) or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) programs. With a push for drone technology and advances, colleges are meeting the demand for commercial drones by offering programs that prepare engineers, pilots, and technicians for work in this emerging industry. For example, Kent State offers an aeronautics bachelor’s degree program with an unmanned aircraft systems flight operations specialization. The program prepares students for work in UAS-related fields. Courses offered in such programs cover topics like elements of aviation weather, elements of flight theory, fundamentals of air traffic control, professional development in aeronautics, and unmanned aircraft system sensing and sensor systems. According to ZipRecruiter, average salaries for drone engineers hovers around $80,000 per year, with top earners seeing an average annual salary of $142,000.

Top programs:
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Kent State University

20. Data Analytics and Business Intelligence

Data analysts and business intelligence experts fall under the category of market research analysis, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). These highly skilled business professionals study market conditions to examine potential sales of a product or service, as well as other pertinent information. A bachelor’s degree is necessary to enter the workforce in this role. In fact, some research positions require a graduate degree. All roles, entry-level or senior positions, require strong math, analytical, and statistical skills. The projected job outlook for business intelligence and market analysts is 22% over the next decade, according to BLS. With an average employment growth of 9% for all business operations specialists, the projected growth for market analysts is significantly higher. In fact, BLS projects 96,000 openings for market research analysts each year through 2030. In addition to a highly favorable job outlook, the occupation offers competitive earnings, with the highest 10% making more than $127,000 annually.

Top programs:
Clarkson University
Creighton University

BDP Staff
October 2021

Related resources:

This concludes our list of the top 20 degrees for the future.

Ben Karleen
Expert

Brenda Rufener
Author

Laura Kilmartin
Editor-in-Chief