Majors for the Future

When planning for the future, students often pursue occupations projected to grow in the coming years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment in many industries -- especially healthcare and information technology -- will grow significantly through 2026. The BLS also projects significant growth for many emerging industries, such as solar and wind energy. When choosing a major, many college students also consider the salary expectations in prospective fields in attempts to find lucrative careers with good job security.

The BLS projects steady growth in a variety of healthcare occupations over the next decade, noting rising demand for nurses, home health aides, and therapists. Additionally, the demand for niche technology specialists and computer experts shows no signs of diminishing. Led by growing sustainable energy fields, the following list ranks the most promising majors for today's college students.

What Are the Best Majors for the Future?

1

Solar Photovoltaic Installer

Photovoltaic (PV) cells convert solar energy into electrical power, and a career in the emerging PV installation industry requires knowledge about solar engineering and training in both roofing and electronics.

PV installers assemble, connect, and maintain solar panels on rooftops and other exterior structures. Individuals can enter the field after earning a high school diploma and completing intensive on-the-job training, which professionals typically obtain during an apprenticeship lasting 1-12 months. As this position continues to grow in popularity, an increasing number of community and technical colleges now offer degrees in solar photovoltaic installation. These degrees can help professionals improve their job prospects in the field.

The BLS projects employment for PV installers to increase by 105% between 2016 and 2026 -- much faster than the national average for all occupations. In 2017, PV installers earned a median annual salary of $39,490, with workers in the utilities industry earning the highest pay.

2

Wind Turbine Technician

Wind energy is another growing area in the field of clean energy production. The BLS projects that the energy sector will increasingly rely on wind turbine technicians moving forward. These professionals install and repair wind turbines.

Wind turbine technicians need extensive technical training related to electrical and hydraulic systems and computerized logistics. Most entry-level employees in this area complete a certificate program or associate degree at a technical school or community college, along with subsequent on-the-job training. Because turbine technicians work with large machines and innovative technologies, they must also complete rigorous safety and compliance training.

The BLS projects employment for wind turbine technicians to increase by 96% from 2016-2026 -- much faster than the national average for all occupations. The median annual salary for wind turbine technicians was $53,880 in 2017.

3

Home Healthcare Aide

Demand is strong for healthcare professionals in every sector, but this is especially true for home healthcare workers who provide daily clinical care for homebound patients. As baby boomers continue to age and healthcare innovations extend the average lifespan, the BLS projects a 47% increase in employment for home healthcare aides between 2016 and 2026.

The requirements for home healthcare aides vary by state, with some employers prioritizing on-the-job training over formal education (or vice versa). A high school diploma or certificate -- plus additional professional training -- typically qualify individuals for entry-level home healthcare positions. However, some states also require candidates to hold a degree from a community college or vocational school. Additionally, workers at agencies funded by Medicare or Medicaid must hold home care certification.

4

Physician Assistant

Physician assistants need both a formal education and extensive experience in the field. These professionals have many of the same responsibilities as clinical physicians. Assistants to surgeons and other healthcare practitioners typically spend years training and obtaining certification before securing full-time positions.

Aspiring physician assistants typically gain clinical experience while earning their master's degree, which stands as the minimum educational requirement for entry-level positions. Many candidates accumulate experience as registered nurses, EMTs, or paramedics before pursuing roles as physician assistants. Candidates in all states must obtain physician assistant certification to practice, while also upholding the terms of an official work agreement with their supervising physician.

The BLS projects employment for physician assistants to increase by 37% between 2016 and 2026, which is must faster than the national average for all occupations. These professionals earned an annual median salary of more than $100,000 in 2017, according to the BLS.

5

Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners represent a crucial part of the workforce in the healthcare industry. As with most healthcare occupations, prospects for skilled nurse practitioners should continue to be promising in the coming years.

Nurse practitioners must hold a master's degree and licensure as an advanced practice registered nurse in their state of practice. Nurse practitioner programs feature coursework and clinical experience components to prepare graduates to diagnose medical problems; arrange medical tests; and, in most states, prescribe medication. Candidates can further specialize their skills by pursuing an area of emphasis, such as oncology, pediatrics, or geriatric health.

The BLS projects employment for nurse practitioners to increase by 31% between 2016 and 2026 -- a rate of growth much faster than the average for all U.S. occupations. According to the BLS, nurse practitioners took home median annual salary of nearly $111,000 in 2017.

6

Statistician

Statistics is a popular major for math experts. Statisticians use mathematics to analyze data and solve problems in a variety of industries and fields. These professionals translate big data into easily digestible figures and statistics, and their responsibilities often include collecting and interpreting broad sets of scientific information.

Statisticians need at least a master's degree to qualify for most positions with the federal government, which operates as the largest employer of workers in the field. Some employers even require workers to hold a doctorate in mathematics or a related field. However, candidates can pursue some entry-level positions with only a bachelor's degree.

The BLS projects a 34% job growth for statisticians from 2016-2026, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. The median salary for statisticians in 2017 -- $84,760 per year -- was much higher than most jobs in the U.S.

7

Physical Therapist Assistant

Physical therapist assistants work under the supervision of physical therapists to provide recovery and rehabilitation services to ill and injured patients. Due to an aging population of baby boomers, many of whom continue to lead active lifestyles, the job growth projections for this profession remain favorable.

Physical therapist assistants typically need an associate degree and licensure or certification to practice, and candidates for professional credentials typically need to hold a degree from an accredited program. Additionally, most physical therapist assistants earn specialized certification related to CPR, BLS, and first-aid skills.

The BLS projects employment for physical therapist assistants to increase by 31% between 2016 and 2026 -- much faster than all occupations in the U.S. Additionally, the 2017 median annual salary for this profession stood at $57,430.

8

Software Developer

Software developers help design computer software and applications, including many common systems that consumers use daily. The demand for these professionals remains high, and workers will likely enjoy an increased number of career opportunities as the field continues to expand.

Entry-level software developers need at least a bachelor's degree in a major like computer science or software engineering. Software developers should possess strong computer programming skills, and employers typically prefer candidates with ample field experience, creativity, and good communication and problem-solving skills. Some advanced positions require a master's degree.

The BLS projects jobs in software development to grow by 24% from 2016-2026, with workers earning a median salary of more than $103,000 per year in 2017. The largest employment industries for software developers include manufacturing and engineering services.

9

Mathematician

Mathematicians gather, study, and interpret numerical data to solve practical problems in many academic and commercial settings. These professionals should be detail oriented and talented with numbers. Mathematicians work in various niches and typically earn above-average salaries.

Private-sector positions for mathematicians often require an advanced degree, and many colleges offer doctoral programs for aspiring math professionals. Other employers of mathematicians, including the federal government, may only require a bachelor's degree. Many mathematicians hold expertise in a specialized subfield, and most employers prefer candidates with computer skills.

The BLS projects employment for mathematicians to increase by 30% between 2016 and 2026 -- a rate much faster than the average for all occupations. Mathematicians in the U.S. earned a median annual salary of more than $103,000 in 2017.

10

Bicycle Repairer

One of the most surprising majors on this list, the demand for bicycle repair workers with traditional skills related to non-motorized mechanics is projected to grow as consumers embrace more environmentally responsible modes of transportation.

Typically, bicycle repairers only need a minimal amount of formal education. Most jobs require a high school diploma or some college coursework, although advanced bicycle repair positions -- including managers or entrepreneurs -- may require a bachelor's degree. Most bicycle repair workers gain on-the-job training under the supervision of seasoned bicycle mechanics, and they can expand their career opportunities by obtaining skills related to automotive or motorcycle repair.

The BLS projects 29% job growth for bicycle repairers from 2016-2026, which translates to the creation of more than 3,600 jobs.

11

Medical Assistant

Medical assistants provide crucial support services to patients receiving medical care. The healthcare industry will continue to need skilled medical assistants to support all aspects of administration, management, and clinical practice.

Although standards vary by state, most medical assistant positions require individuals to complete an accredited postsecondary training program in medical assisting; these programs typically comprise one year of study and training. Alternatively, some candidates earn an associate degree from a community college or vocational/technical school.

The BLS projects employment for medical assistants to increase by 29% between 2016 and 2026, with the greatest growth for professionals working in outpatient care centers and state, local, and private hospitals.

12

Genetic Counselor

While the field of genetic counseling is relatively small, the BLS projects that this occupation will be a lucrative option in the future. Innovations related to genetic science and medical technology enable patients to undergo genome testing to determine their risk of developing and/or passing on medical conditions, including cancer, birth defects, and genetic disorders.

Most genetic counselors hold a master's degree in genetics or genetic counseling. Students in the field take courses in subjects likes biology, psychology, and public health. Additionally, 22 states currently require these professionals to obtain a license through the American Board of Genetic Counseling. Most employers prefer prospective employees to hold licensure, even if not required by law.

The BLS projects 29% job growth for genetic counselors from 2016-2026, driven largely by innovations that should allow for a wider variety of genomic tests. In 2017, the BLS reported that the median salary for genetic counselors was $77,480.

13

Occupational Therapy Assistant

Occupational therapy assistants support occupational therapists, helping patients recover from illnesses and injuries and return to their daily lives. The occupation is projected to grow as baby boomers age and require rehabilitation from events and conditions such as strokes and arthritis.

Occupational therapy assistants must hold an associate degree from an accredited program. While these professionals do not need licensure or certification, they need to obtain field experience in a healthcare setting to meet employer expectations for entry-level positions. Most occupational therapy assistants also earn certification related to CPR and basic life support.

The BLS projects a 29% increase in employment for occupational therapy assistants between 2016 and 2026 -- a rate much faster than the national average for all occupations.

14

Information Security Analyst

The position of information security analyst ranks among the most lucrative and in-demand jobs in the IT field. These professionals protect computer systems and networks while maintaining the digital safety of businesses and organizations.

Generally, information security analysts need at least a bachelor's degree and field experience. Some employers prefer candidates with a master's degree in information systems, and most prioritize prospective employees who hold a combination of computer and business education and experience. While not required, many information security analysts also hold CISSP certification or pursue a general certificate program in a specialized area.

The BLS projects that employment for information security analysts will increase by 28% between 2016 and 2026 -- much faster than the national average. This growth is largely due to the rising rate of cyberattacks and the need for comprehensive homeland security measures.

15

Physical Therapist Assistant

Due to an aging and active baby boomer generation, physical therapists continue to be in high demand. In the future, physical therapists will fill healthcare jobs in which they administer rehabilitation and recovery-focused treatments to patients suffering from injuries, illnesses, and/or chronic conditions.

Physical therapists must hold a doctoral degree and licensure. Many schools offer accredited doctor of physical therapy degrees, which meet state requirements for professional practice. These programs include coursework in anatomy, biology, and physics, along with a minimum 30-week clinical practicum. Students must also complete a clinical residency after graduation.

The BLS projects a 28% increase in the number of physical therapist jobs from 2016-2026. Additionally, physical therapists earned an annual median salary of $86,850 in 2017.

16

Operations Research Analyst

Operations research analysts use math and quantitative analysis to help clients in various industries solve problems and improve operations. These professionals need computer science, engineering, and math skills.

The diverse nature of operations research analysis positions requires a varied education. While few schools offer a degree in operations research analysis specifically, many offer related specializations within other majors. To qualify for entry-level positions, aspiring operations research analysts can earn a bachelor's degree in operations research, analytics, engineering, computer science, or mathematics.

The BLS projects employment for operations research analysts to increase by 27% from 2016-2026 -- a rate much faster than the average for all occupations. These professionals earned an annual median salary of more than $80,000 in 2017, according to the BLS.

17

Fire Inspector

Communities need qualified fire inspectors and firefighters to uphold fire safety regulations and keep the public safe. Fire inspectors and prevention specialists often protect buildings and outdoor areas.

Employers of fire inspectors and investigators often value field experience more than a formal education. However, while many jobs in this field require only a high school diploma, others need an associate or bachelor's degree in chemistry, engineering, or fire science. Candidates may need to earn field training through a fire or police academy, and some states require workers to hold certification from the National Fire Protection Association.

The BLS projects employment for fire inspectors and investigators to increase by 10% through 2026 -- faster than the average for all occupations. Candidates who hold some formal education in fire science can look forward to the best prospects.

18

Massage Therapist

Skilled in adjusting the body's soft tissue through manual manipulation, massage therapists relieve pain and stress in their clients. Though already highly valued as a natural remedy, massage therapy is projected to grow in popularity as states standardize the certification processes for massage therapists and health insurance plans add massage coverage.

To qualify for state certification, massage therapists must complete a postsecondary program that includes a clinical field experience. While not required to enter the field, some professionals also opt to earn an associate degree in massage therapy. Although requirements vary by state, certification typically requires 500-1,000 hours of experience and a passing score on the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination or another state-specific test.

The BLS projects the number of massage therapy jobs to increase by 26% between 2016 and 2026, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.

19

Postsecondary Educator, Health Specialization

Postsecondary educators in all specializations can look forward to attractive job prospects, and individuals who teach health topics like healthcare administration and health education should be especially valued. Healthcare educators will play an important role in training the next generation of health specialists.

Postsecondary educators typically need a Ph.D. in their field, though candidates with only a master's degree can sometimes find positions teaching certain specialties or at community colleges. While not always required, many employers prefer candidates with previous teaching experience. Postsecondary educators in some healthcare specialties, such as in health records management or nursing education, may benefit from earning professional credentials.

The BLS projects employment for postsecondary educators to increase by 15% between 2016 and 2026 -- much faster than the average for all occupations. These professionals earned a median yearly salary of $76,000 in 2017.

20

Oil and Gas Technician

Oil and gas technicians can look forward to continued job security and ample employment opportunities in the future. These professionals support engineers and scientists who research and extract natural resources.

Most geological and petroleum technicians need an associate degree or postsecondary training, though some jobs require a bachelor's degree. Most entry-level oil and gas technicians receive on-the-job training from a senior supervisor or manager. Common college majors for aspiring oil and gas technicians include mining, geoscience, and geographic information systems technology.

The BLS projects this field to grow by 16% from 2016-2026, which is much faster than the national average for all occupations.

21

Phlebotomist

Phlebotomists perform a variety of duties that help physicians and medical practitioners draw and store blood samples for testing and research. Experts in the anatomy of blood platelets and chemistry, phlebotomists draw blood, maintain IV equipment, manage labeling systems for samples, and educate patients.

Phlebotomists must complete a postsecondary, non-degree program through a community college or vocational/technical school. Additionally, most employers require or recommend that candidates earn professional phlebotomy certification from a credentialing organization, such as the National Center for Competency Testing, National Healthcareer Association, or American Society for Clinical Pathology. Students pursuing a career as a phlebotomist gain classroom and clinical experience during their studies.

The BLS projects that jobs for phlebotomists will increase by 25% between 2016 and 2026, with most new jobs opening at hospitals and medical or diagnostic labs.

22

Nonfarm Animal Caretaker

Nonfarm animal caretakers help train, feed, groom, and board pets and domesticated animals in residences, kennels, and zoo facilities.

Most jobs in animal care and service require only a high school diploma and on-the-job training. However, specialized animal training positions may require a bachelor's degree or completion of a career program at a technical or vocational school. Additionally, employers often prefer candidates with field experience and at least some college experience. Groomers and pet sitters may obtain certification through home-study programs.

The BLS projects a 22% increase in the number of animal care and service jobs between 2016 and 2026 -- a rate much faster than the average for all occupations -- with the majority of these professionals claiming self-employment status.

23

Postsecondary Educator, Nursing Specialization

Like postsecondary educators in general health specializations, nursing educators can pursue a variety of career opportunities in this high-demand field. The future of healthcare depends on teachers with nursing expertise to guide and educate aspiring nursing leaders.

Postsecondary educators in nursing should hold the same qualifications that their students will need to enter the field. For example, a nursing educator specializing in pediatric nursing should obtain CPN certification and hold an RN license. While a Ph.D. represents the most common degree requirement for postsecondary educators, some community colleges hire teachers with only a master's degree.

The BLS projects employment for postsecondary teachers to increase by 15% between 2016 and 2026. This position had a median annual salary of $76,000 in 2017.

24

Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists help patients recover from debilitating illnesses and injuries, allowing individuals to resume everyday activities. These professionals may treat patients recovering from a temporary medical setback or an ongoing chronic condition, providing a variety of therapeutic services.

Occupational therapists in nursing should hold a master's degree from an accredited occupational therapy program, though some employers prefer candidates with a doctoral degree. Graduate programs typically include at least six months of field experiences and a clinical capstone project. Additionally, professionals must obtain a license through the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.

The BLS projects the number of occupational therapist jobs to increase by 24% between 2016 and 2026. These professionals earned a median salary of more than $83,000 in 2017.

25

Oil and Gas Manager

Like any international business, the oil and gas industry requires a large number of experienced managers to oversee workers and maintain smooth and efficient operations. Oil and gas managers typically possess advanced management and leadership skills, along with expertise specific to the field of petroleum engineering.

Candidates for entry-level jobs generally hold a bachelor's degree and some field experience. Though not always required, many mid-to-late career oil and gas managers earn professional licensure to qualify for management positions in fields such as engineering, construction, and architecture.

The BLS projects employment for oil and gas managers to increase by 15% between 2016 and 2026. Professionals in this industry earned a median salary of $132,280 in 2017, with workers in the management sector receiving the highest wages.

Methodology

Our ranking of the best majors for the future is based on a pair of BLS projections: the fastest-growing occupations based on the percentage of job growth (between 2016 and 2026) and the occupations with the most jobs added over that same period. Additionally, we consider some of the careers named by Business Insider in its list of the most promising jobs of the future, each of which pay salaries above the national average.


To determine the best majors for the future, we looked at the most important factors prospective students, mainly common predictors of future success and a school's commitment to online programs. This boils down to admissions rate, student loan default rate, retention rate, graduation rate, and the percent of students enrolled in online classes. All data points are taken from information provided by colleges and universities to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Each factor is weighted evenly in order to give an objective view and determine the best majors for the future. To calculate our rankings, we looked at a school's ranking when organized by a single factor, and then averaged each category's ranking to find an overall score: Admissions Rate (20%) + Default Rate (20%) + Retention Rate (20%) + Graduation Rate (20%) + Percent of Students Enrolled in Online Classes (20%) = Final score.

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