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Heading to college soon? Some degrees will land you high-paying jobs (even in a recession). Some will leave you unemployed or underemployed. Find out which is which.

Last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said 12.7 million Americans were unemployed. And it seems a lot of them are recent college graduates.

And according to a recent New York Times study, only 56 percent of college grads under 25 are “working in jobs that require a college degree.” The average starting salary for those graduates? $27,000.

By comparison, in 2006 and 2007, that number was 90 percent – and their average starting salary was $30,000.

If you’re in college now, or you’re the parents of college students, those are scary stats. But the news isn’t all bad. In the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson lists careers for college grads that are available and profitable. Check it out and then read on for more…

Here’s more information on those top five jobs, plus a few more career paths that are worth pursuing – and some that aren’t.

1. Registered nurse

U.S. News & World Report listed registered nursing as its No. 1 pick for the 25 Best Jobs of 2012. With the Baby Boomer generation aging, the United States will need 711,900 new registered nurses. Average salary: $64,690.

Registered nurses work in schools, private health care facilities, hospitals, and nursing care facilities. Entry-level RNs need an associate’s degree in nursing, but the salary is likely higher for RNs with a bachelor’s degree.

2. Software developer

In 2010, software developers earned an average salary of $90,530, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – and the bureau expects the field to expand by 30 percent between now and 2020, as government agencies and private companies become more reliant on computers. So a bachelor’s degree in computer science will probably pay off.

3. Pharmacist

Like nurses, pharmacists will be in high demand over the next decade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a 25 percent increase between now and 2020 – that’s 69,700 extra pharmacists in the country. Even better, the average salary is $111,570.

These days, pharmacists not only work in hospitals and drugstores, but also grocery stores. To become a pharmacist, you’ll need a doctor of pharmacy degree. You’ll also have to pass two licensing exams.

4. Medical assistant

While the average salary for a medical assistant is only $28,860, U.S. News & World Report ranked this job No. 4 on its list – it predicts 162,900 new medical assistant jobs available by 2020.

Medical assistants perform clinical and administrative tasks – like prepping patients, scheduling appointments, and handling insurance billing. Most medical assistant jobs don’t require a formal education, but college graduates with an associate’s degree in a related field may earn more.

5. Database administrator

U.S. News & World Report says we’ll need 33,900 more database administrators by 2020. Average salary: $73,490.

Database administrators work for private companies, government organizations, and charities, where they create and maintain databases – including the security that protects all that information. Database administrators need a bachelor’s degree in computer science or management information systems, or a master’s degree in business administration.

6. Environmental scientist

In its Best and Worst Master’s Degrees for Jobs study, Forbes ranks environmental scientist at No. 6 in the “best” column. It predicts job growth to climb about 28 percent, with an average salary of $84,300.

Environmental scientists study pollution and other environmental concerns, help develop laws, and ensure companies follow them.  To become one, you’ll need a master’s degree in environmental science.

7. Civil engineer

Civil engineers are going to be in high demand as federal, state, and local governments improve aging roadways, sewage systems, and other infrastructure. According to Forbes, employment is expected to increase by 28 percent, with an average salary of $96,400.

Civil engineers design and build roads, tunnels, airports, and water systems. Most hold master’s degrees in civil engineering.

8. Computer systems analyst

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for computer systems analysts will grow faster than average, with jobs increasing by 22 percent (120,400 new jobs) by 2020. The average salary is $77,740.

Computer systems analysts help corporations operate more efficiently. Many are employed by computer system design firms, but some work for corporations directly. While not a strict requirement, most  have a bachelor’s degree in computer or information science.

9. Physical therapist

U.S. News & World Report says we’ll add 77,400 physical therapist jobs between now and 2020. The average salary is $76,310.

Physical therapists help patients recover from accidents or on-the-job injuries. According to U.S. News & World Report, they have a high job satisfaction rate. You’ll need a master’s or doctor of physical therapy degree and a state license to start this job.

10. Occupational therapist

The job growth for occupational therapists is expected to increase by 29 percent, according to Forbes. The average salary is $78,000.

Occupational therapists use everyday activities to help people recover from injuries or accidents. They have a master’s degree in occupational therapy and a state-issued license.

And the worst…

Earlier this year, the Georgetown University Center of Education and the Workforce published its College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings study. It shows which college degrees lead to careers with the highest unemployment rates. Here’s the top five…

  1. Architecture – Blame it on the housing bubble or the recession, but no one’s erecting new buildings right now, and that’s bad for architects. Architecture majors face an unemployment rate of 13.9 percent.
  2. Arts – It sounds like the punch line to a bad joke, but many art majors do end up unemployed. The rate is 11.1 percent right now.
  3. Humanities and liberal arts – Humanities and liberal arts aren’t doing much better, with a 9.4 percent unemployment rate.
  4. Social science – Studying how civilizations develop may be fascinating in school, but it might not lead to a lucrative career in our civilization. Social science majors face an 8.9 percent unemployment rate.
  5. Law and public policy – The recession has hit law and public policy makers too. Right now, graduates with those degrees face an 8.1 percent unemployment rate.

Of course, not all the best jobs require a college degree at all. Check out 15 Great Jobs That Don’t Require a College Education.

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

I know... every site you visit wants you to subscribe to their newsletter. But our news and advice is actually worth reading! For 25 years, I've been making people richer without making their eyes glaze over. You'll be glad you did. I guarantee it!


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