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What Are You Going to Do with that Degree?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), total job openings for people with bachelor’s degrees and associate degrees are expected to increase by 16.5 percent and 18.7 percent respectively between 2006 and 2016. In contrast, the total number of openings for jobs that require only short-term on-the-job training is expected to grow by only 8.8 percent.

No degree? Earning one now could help you to qualify for one of the new job openings for degree holders. If you already have a degree, increasing your level of education with a master’s degree or doctorate will qualify you for faster-growing jobs. Jobs for master’s degree holders are projected to increase by 18.9 percent, and jobs for PhD holders should increase by 21.6 percent. Before you devote your time, money, and hard work to a degree program, it is important to ensure that you are choosing a degree that will increase your chances of getting a well-paying job you want.

What to Consider Before You Enroll
Thinking about what you’ll do with your degree before you enroll in a program gives you a huge advantage. You can survey the current employment landscape as well as research the developing trends to ensure that your degree will help you to join a growing, thriving industry rather than one that is declining. This doesn’t mean that you must give up or change your degree choice, but you should do a bit of smart strategic planning. For example, maybe you have always been interested in the manufacturing industry. You want to earn a master’s degree in business administration so that you can become a plant manager. If you research this career before you enroll, you might discover that the manufacturing industry in the United States is foundering because so many operations are being moved to cheaper locations overseas.

You may also find out that service industries in the United States are growing fast. According to a BLS press release, service industry jobs are expected to make up “almost all” of U.S. job growth between 2006 and 2016. With a degree in management focused on the service industries, you could work as a health care administrator, earning an attractive salary and benefiting from the industry’s fast growth. For example, the BLS reports that health care administrators who manage doctors’ offices with twenty-six or more physicians on staff earned a median salary of $132,955 per year in 2006. You would be doing many of the same duties you might have in the manufacturing industry–managing a staff, creating a budget, and overseeing operations–in the health care industry.

Doing your research and making calculated career decisions does not mean giving up on your dreams. It just means that you’ll be better informed and better able to handle difficulties as they arise. For instance, you might decide that you still want to pursue your interest in becoming a plant manager. You know that you have chosen a relatively difficult management path, so you can be sure to prepare for the challenges of a more competitive hiring pool.

Things to Think About Once You’re Enrolled in Your Degree Program
Once you have decided that your degree makes sense for your goals and you’ve gained admittance to the program of your choice, you are ready to switch gears and zero in your chosen career path. This is the time to find and take advantage of every single resource available to you at your college or university.

Be sure to:

Making Plans After Graduation
If you have worked hard to identify the right degree program and followed the steps above to pave the way for future employment, figuring out what to do after graduation should be a breeze. You can get in touch with your network of alumni, professors, and internship companies to let them know that you have begun your job search, contact and possibly join relevant professional organizations, and send out your resumes and cover letters to companies you admire. Remember what you learned from alumni about their varied career paths, and keep an open mind for intriguing job prospects that are only tangentially related to your studies. Your earlier hard work and research can minimize the pain of the job hunt.

Remember that before you commit to any degree program, you should do an assessment of the economic viability of your plan. If school will put you tens of thousands of dollars into debt, be sure that you can count on having a lucrative job waiting for you upon graduation. Or, even better, look for ways to reduce your tuition bill while you are in school. Maybe you could do work for a professor, become a resident assistant, or teach an introductory course in your area of expertise in order to lower your tuition. There are many ways to finance your degree, and there are literally hundreds of paths your career might take once you earn it.

Publish date: April 1, 2008