10 Best Jobs for College Grads in 2014

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Work matters. It’s how we spend a vast chunk of our lives. We make friends at work and some of us meet spouses there. The jobs we choose set our standard of living – usually for life. So wouldn’t it be great if the job we trained for had great pay and high demand?

Every year at this time, new lists of the hottest jobs appear. My favorite this year is U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Jobs 2014.” The reporters scored jobs based on information like hiring forecasts, estimated salary growth in 10 years, work-life balance and future job prospects. They also worked up detailed profiles of their 100 best jobs.

Each of their top 10 picks requires a college education, although self-trained workers do get into some tech jobs. I used that list, adding links and details on expected job growth, salary and training from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, an outstanding career guide with loads of information.

Here (drum roll) are this year’s top 10 jobs for college grads:

1. Software developer

Software developers are in high demand. But not everyone knows precisely what these geeks – also called software engineers — actually do. “Software developers are the creative minds behind computer programs,” the BLS explains. They write software, test programs, comb them for bugs and keep them going once they’re launched.

“We’re seeing a gap between the number of software engineers we need and the number the education system is generating,” one expert told U.S. News. If you’re a female geek, all the better, since women are a distinct minority among workers in technology and the sciences.

  • Median salary: $93,350.
  • Preparation: You’ll find degree programs in software development at computer science departments in colleges and universities. But if you can’t leave your day job or are locked into another major, Forbes tells how to parlay your interests and skills into a career:

In just the past couple of years, a number of full-time, intensive, high-risk, apprenticeship-style programs have cropped up: Dev Bootcamp, gSchool, the Flatiron School, and Hackbright Academy. There are others, and their numbers increase by the semester.

  • Job growth 2012-2022: 22 percent.

2. Computer systems analyst

Systems analysts work with software developers. They plan, design and organize software and hardware systems in every field. A computer science degree is the path in. You’ll need to learn computer languages, programs and technical requirements.

  • Median salary: $79,680.
  • Preparation: A degree in computer science or information technology is preferred. If you don’t have one, you might be able to leverage existing skills with additional non-college training.
  • Job growth 2012-2022: 25 percent.

3. Dentist

The dentist keeps our teeth and gums healthy. Some work in specialty areas like orthodontia (straightening teeth), pediatric dentistry (working with children) and periodontics (gums and bones).

  • Median salary: $148,800.
  • Preparation: You’ll need to be licensed in your state. Getting a license requires that you pass exams and graduate from an accredited dental school. If you have your own practice, you’ll also need to be adept at running a business and hiring and working with staff.
  • Job growth 2012-2022: 16 percent.

4. Nurse practitioner

Nurse practitioners and APRNs (advanced practice registered nurses) enjoy a great deal of responsibility. Some go into administration, others specialize in a medical field or research, and some work in family practice clinics.

  • Median salary: $89,960.
  • Preparation: You’ll need to graduate from an accredited nursing school, pass a national certification exam and become a licensed registered nurse in your state. In addition, nurse practitioners need a master’s degree or Ph.D. from an accredited program. Some graduate programs help students without nursing degrees to transition into the field.
  • Job growth through 2022: 34 percent.

5. Pharmacist

A pharmacy career is a good bet, says U.S. News: “With an aging population of baby boomers, more Americans expected to seek health services due to the Affordable Care Act and increased demand for prescription medications, industry growth will likely remain high for years to come.”

  • Median salary: $116,670.
  • Preparation: At least two years of undergraduate study before earning a doctor of pharmacy degree at a four-year college of pharmacy. More study is necessary to specialize. Each state licenses pharmacists.
  • Job growth 2012-2022: 14 percent.

6. Registered nurse

Here’s another health care job in high demand, thanks to the aging population and the Affordable Care Act. Registered nurses work in hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices. Many specialize in an area of medicine – oncology, for example, or emergency care.

  • Median salary: $65,470.
  • Preparation: The BLS Handbook lists three paths to a career as a registered nurse: a bachelor’s degree in nursing, an associate degree in nursing, or a diploma from an approved nursing program. Registered nurses also must pass a national exam and earn a state license.
  • Job growth 2012-2022: 19 percent.

7. Physical therapist

People in this fast-growing career work with patients to manage pain, recover and regain strength and movement after injuries or surgery, or manage some medical conditions and illnesses. They work in hospitals, private physical therapy practices, nursing homes and clinics.

  • Median salary: $79,860.
  • Preparation: You’ll need a state license and a doctor of physical therapy degree from a post-graduate program usually requiring three years of study and training. Many PTs complete additional residencies and training after graduation.
  • Job growth 2012-2022: 36 percent.

8. Physician

This highly paid profession has a broad range of possibilities, from the familiar primary care to jobs focused on diseases, treatments, research, public health or other specialties.

  • Median salary: $187,200.
  • Preparation: Medical school requires four years of study, and you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree to get in. Competition for admission is intense. After that, expect to spend three to eight years in residency training for your area of expertise and then pass examinations before applying for a state medical license.
  • Job growth 2012-2022: 18 percent.

9. Web developer

Here’s another winner in the tech field. Developers build websites. Some write software coding. They’re responsible for the design, performance, speed and stability of the site. Some write content as well. The BLS says about 25 percent of Web developers work for themselves.

  • Median salary: $62,500.
  • Preparation: You’ll generally need an associate degree in Web design or a related area of study, although some developers are self-taught. Training in graphic design is important, as is at least some programming background, although Web design software enables many to do the job without deep programming expertise.
  • Job growth 2012-2022: 20 percent.

10. Dental hygienist

Yes, another health care job. Dental hygienists clean teeth, examine patients for problems or disease, and educate them to take care of their teeth and gums. Unsure about the difference between dental hygienists and dental assistants? Check the BLS Handbook to see the differences.

  • Median salary: $70,210.
  • Preparation: The BLS says that an associate degree in dental hygiene is sufficient preparation. Some bachelor’s degree programs exist but they’re not the usual route to this career.
  • Job growth 2012-2022: 33 percent.

Intrigued to know more about this year’s hottest jobs for college grads? Two other good lists are University of California San Diego Extension’s “Hot Careers for Grads and Returning Students 2013” and The Washington Post’s “10 Hot Careers for New and Mid-Career College Graduates.”

Are you studying for one of these careers or working in one? Is the job as good as it’s cracked up to be? Tell us your opinion below or on our Facebook page.

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