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What Are the Best Jobs for College Graduates Today?

To all graduates and all other twentysomethings who don’t know what you want to be when you grow up (myself included): follow your dreams, but find a career that pays well and has long term growth prospects. The more money you make, and the more secure a job you hold, the more time and freedom you will have to pursue your life outside of work. In today’s rapidly changing and uncertain economy, what fields are best?

Best Paying Jobs

A recent report on CNN listed average salaries for some entry-level jobs. The results aren’t that surprising, with Engineering, Computer Science, and Economics leading the pack. On average, the best paying entry-level field is Chemical Engineering, with an average starting salary of $63,749.

Another field to watch seriously is nursing, with an average starting salary of $52,129. Not only is the pay good, but opportunities abound. In my job I frequently talk to nurses and other medical professionals nationwide, and I am amazed at what they tell me about the job market for nurses. I recently heard there is a nationwide shortage of about a million nurses. Somebody else said that nurses can change jobs every six months and no personnel department would bat an eye at the applicant’s resume.

Other fields that pay well include finance ($48,795), accounting ($47,413), marketing ($43,459), and human resources ($40,250). At the lower end of the scale are communications ($35,196), journalism ($32,250), and psychology ($30,877).

Best Growth Prospects

While starting salary is certainly one aspect of a career to consider, especially if you are graduating with debt, perhaps more important is that career field’s long term prospects:

  • Will your salary grow with experience?
  • Will you be able to take on progressively significant positions?
  • Finally, will demand for your job increase over the next 30 years?

Of the above careers, for example, graduates entering a business or finance related field can probably expect larger salary increases as they are promoted into leadership positions, while it can take much longer (or additional education) for nurses and engineers to get significant raises.

If you want to know how demand for a particular career path will stack up in the future, the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides forecasts for future job demand.

Current stats list the five fastest growing occupations for candidates with a bachelors degree as network analysts, software engineers, personal financial advisers, substance abuse counselors, and financial analysts.

For candidates with associates degrees, the best fields are veterinary technicians, physical therapy assistants, dental hygienists, environmental science technicians, and cardiovascular technicians.

Have you chosen a career field because of the pay or anticipated demand in your field? Let me know!

Published or updated on May 1, 2008

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.


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  1. Bill Ryan says:

    Hospitality is a growing field. The highest paying jobs in hospitality are sales representatives, General Manager, Food and Beverage Director, Controller, Rooms Division Manager. I started as a hotel sales rep through a company called – Aprinda Hotel Sales Training (you can google. it)Aprinda has an on-line course that got me my first job, I spent 5 years in sales and then landed the GM positon.

  2. Thompson says:

    It is true that nursing is an excellent field to enter. I have been a nurse for 2.5 years, and at twenty five I am taking home anywhere from 3500 to 4000 per month. This is only three to four days per week. I think that is good for twenty five. That is after medical, dental, vision insurance is taken out, and 6% into 401k with a match of 5%.

  3. jamy says:

    Yes, you are right about nursing opp. now. At a glance, the pay might look as high as IT or Eng. but when you work it out hour vs cost, nurses might even get higher pay.

    When I was working as IT field when I first graduated 20 years back, I worked very long hours (meeting project dead lines etc); and often time I slothed about 50-60hours a week. Because we were not paid hourly but monthly, we were not compensated for overtime.

    But with nurses, it is not so. They are pay hourly, every ext hr. they put it, it is counted.

    Nurses get around $23-$50 an hour (depend on if it is full time /PRN / travel, day / night / weekend).

    A young graduate can work as many hours as they want as long as their physical body can handle. And there are lots of options. In the hosp. I work with, just ICU alone, there are like more than 10 different specialty ICU.

    Not only there are so many options but there are a lot of other benefits. Now, some states are waiving nursing student loans and a lot of hospitals are jerking up their walk-in-bonus to attract nurses. And if people are business minded, there are lots of health care related products that nurses bring to the market. It is an excellent time to get into nursing but it is getting more and more difficult to get in.

    Other graduates are worry about getting job after graduation but not nursing students. The hospital I work with let the new grads chose the date they want to start. They get out of school around May but they can start even at Sept if they want cos the hospital will wait for them.

    If one is savvy in investing, work as a nurse for 7-10 years is an excellent way to provide a stable active income to channel into passive income.

    And a lot of people did not realize there are lots of options in nursing jobs, bed side nurse is only one of them.


  4. zen says:

    I’m surprised of the lack of IT – web development and interactive media is a growing area, demand is high, but skilled people are low, and most salaries are in the 50k-80k depending on the technology specialty.

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