The Savvy Student's Guide to College Education—Chapter Nine

The Big Picture

Finding the growing occupations in the job market is a little more complicated than most people realize. While the federal government has an easy-to-find list of the careers where there are lots of job openings, not all of those careers offer the kind of salary many young people dream of, or are in the fields that are of interest to some people. A look at some additional resources that address higher-paying job fields that have openings shows that students considering these careers need to be prepared to take on a higher level of risk in most of these jobs, where bigger financial success is available, but not guaranteed. After looking a little closer at the job openings for the widely-discussed STEM fields, we look at the best way to prepare for a career in the business world, and find there are two answers. We then take a brief tour of the United States, assessing the differences in the job markets in several major cities, and provide some guidelines for students to complete a search for “hot” jobs in their field. Since jobs in popular or emerging fields come with their own challenges, we finish this chapter with a summary of the advantages and disadvantages of working in a popular or emerging field, along with some advice on how to evaluate the reasons why some field have a traditionally high amount of turnover, and what to do to make sure you don't become another employee who comes and goes quickly in any given field.

One of the most challenging parts of choosing a career involves understanding the future of that career—what are the current opportunities to work in that field, are those jobs going to be here in 10 or 20 years, does this career offer opportunities for promotions and raises, will there be more jobs available in this field in the future, and will this career be changing anytime soon?

These aren't easy questions to answer. Ten years ago, workers in auto assembly plants were sure they would have secure jobs for years to come. As a result of growing changes in technology and a decline in the economy, those jobs disappeared by the thousands. In this same time period, the idea of making a living producing videos and placing them on social media websites seemed like a dream. Ten years later, video bloggers have very loyal followers, and some are making enough money to live incredible lifestyles, all in their ability to produce a 7 minute video on a regular basis.

Year after year, when people ask futurists about the jobs that will soon be popular, the answer is always the same—five years from now, all of the high demand jobs will be ones that don't even exist now. There's a reason why this is always the answer to this question, and we'll talk about that. We'll also talk about how it's possible to follow your passion, even if you're not sure about the job prospects in your field.

But first, let's talk about the hot jobs.

Return to Top of Page

When people ask about “hot” jobs, they usually want to know which fields are hiring more workers than they currently have. Using that definition, it's best to turn to the US Department of Labor, which offers a very clear, data-based picture of hiring trends. Their current top 10 includes:

Many people look at this list and realize two things. First, they realize it makes sense; as America's Baby Boomers move towards (and beyond) retirement, their healthcare needs are only going to increase. This is one of the main reasons why seven of the ten job fields that are growing are in health care.

The second thing many people realize when looking at this list is that, as a rule, these jobs don't pay very well. Of these ten growing jobs, only one (industrial psychologist) breaks far away from the median household income in the United States—so, unless you plan on going into psychology, none of these growing jobs are going to make you rich.

If the lack of wealth in this list disappoints you, it may be time to look at the idea of “hot” jobs with an additional consideration—what job sectors are growing that offer great salaries? This gets a little trickier, since “good pay” is something everyone has a different definition for. For example, Business Insider offers their list of high-paying hot jobs to include software developer, market research analyst, and physical therapist—but their definition of “high paying” is more than $22 per hour, or about $44,000 per year. Using that definition, more than half of the jobs identified on the Department of Labor site would also be considered high paying.

OK, you're thinking—but what about careers where you can make amazing money? Where are the growth opportunities there? LinkedIn offers these ten suggestions for fields where there is room to make at least $100,000 a year:

As we look at this list, it's important to understand that many of these fields include something the careers on the other lists don't include—a high level of risk. There's no doubt that some authors and public speakers can make a great deal of money if they write a bestseller or speak on a popular topic, but for every author that makes it big, there are dozens who are self-publishing just to make a living. The same is true for entrepreneurs and web designers. A popular web page can lead to millions in ads and sales, but for every one that gets to that level, hundreds will get less than a dozen hits a day.

As we look at growing job prospects for other majors, it comes as no surprise that engineering and computer-related jobs dominate the best jobs to get in the sciences—but some surprises round out the list of the top ten. In assessing the top ten STEM fields, includes careers in Mathematics, Petroleum Technology, and Marine Sciences. Taken together, these growing sectors suggest that any student pursuing a STEM major will be able to translate their studies into a career in a growing field that is well-paying, if not high-paying. That's something to consider in making plans on what college to attend, and how to finance it.

As much as STEM careers are discussed in the media, there's also good news for students interested in the arts and humanities. lists 25 top careers for humanities majors, and while most of them don't get to the high end of the salary scale, most of them dispel the idea that humanities majors are going to end up broke for all of their lives. Their list includes:

One area doesn't discuss is the opportunities in business that are wide open for Humanities majors. This is a debate that's been going on for many, many years. Are companies better off hiring people with Business degrees, where they have been trained to run any and all kinds of businesses, or are they better off hiring Humanities majors, who have studied the great ideas of the world, and can apply them to any setting, including the business world?

There isn't any data to show the “best” answer here, but past practice would suggest every company needs a mix of both. Studies may show that many CEOs come from liberal arts schools, but for every successful company run by a big thinker, there's a financial officer who's making the place turn a tidy profit, thanks to the training they received in business school. This means there's plenty of room for both Business and Humanities majors in the business world, a combination that has stood the test of time.

Return to Top of Page

In addition to looking for the best job prospects by major or career, many students are eager to know what fields are open based on the location of the job. More and more students are looking beyond their local boundaries, interested in starting fresh lives in a new part of the country, if not the world. We'll limit our discussion to the United States, and take a look at selected markets throughout the country. This information comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which identifies hot jobs by the percentage of growth—so that doesn't always mean the greatest number of jobs are in these fields, but it does mean the rate of increase is highest in these fields.

New York

The Big Apple reflects national growth in medical areas, including physical therapist aides and industrial psychologists, and the nation's needs for technology specialists is also reflected in the country's largest city. Local additions to the strong jobs list includes casino workers, insulation workers, convention and event planners, and statisticians. Cooks are also included in the New York list, a reminder of the upcoming national shortage of chefs that's expected to hit the country in the next couple of years.

Washington, DC

The job market in our nation's capital largely reflects the job market in New York, except for the need for casino workers, since Washington does not have a strong casino presence. Instead, workers in the DC area would do well to focus on careers in personal finance and in security, where the need for more workers will be greatest by numbers. Two interesting categories on this list also includes musicians and athletes. While the number of jobs in these areas isn't big, the fact that these careers are appearing on a hot list is noteworthy. Given the competitive nature of these fields, this need for openings is good news, to be sure.


The hot spot of the South has a remarkable need for healthcare workers of all types. While some health fields are represented on the national report, nearly every top spot in the Georgia report is health care related, setting it apart from the national norms. The only exceptions are business agents for artists and athletes (a big money field), and interpreters. Other than that, the medical field is bursting at the seams.


Detroit is included in this list because it has emerged from bankruptcy to find itself as a destination hot spot for young people, especially artists. Statewide, the national need for healthcare workers is reflected, but there is also a real need for workers in the skilled trades, including welders and brick masons. Engineers of different kinds are also needed in many areas, but not in the automotive area, where the Motor City never seems to run out of designers that want to make better cars.


Chicago mirrors Atlanta in its need for healthcare workers and translators. The need for anything in technology or business is remarkably small in Illinois, with Numeric Machine operators making the list, as well as analysts, but that's about it. Chicago will also be in need of convention and event planners.

San Francisco and Los Angeles

The home of the technology boon reports a remarkable need for construction workers, including marble setters, terrazzo workers, insulation workers, and stone masons. Two fields not found on many other reports that are booming in California are Foresters and Anthropologists, where the anticipated job growth is above 40% in both fields. The largest growing field in California is also not found in many other states, as California expects a 65% growth in its need for economists.

Return to Top of Page

If we look at all of these reports as a group, there seems to be a little bit of good news for everyone. The fastest growing area seems to be healthcare, a trend that started over fifteen years ago, and continues to expand as America gets older. From personal aides to industrial psychologists, these openings offer a wide range of salaries, and require everything from a high school diploma to advanced training at the doctorate level. If you're looking for an area where your employment will be readily available and the work demands are steady, healthcare is the go-to field for the foreseeable future.

If you're interested in a career with a little more risk and the possibility of a little more reward, the fields where the room is greatest seem to be writing, speaking, and business—specifically, entrepreneurism. This last trend is also one that's been with us for a very long time, and that's good; it shows us that the spirit of American individualism is alive and well, and still getting recognized in the marketplace. If you can manage the ups and downs of a career that is more than nine-to-five and the paychecks aren't consistent, these fields will work for you nicely. Best of all, most of them allow you to major in whatever you like, then learn the skills necessary to make a handsome living talking, writing, or manufacturing what you love.

Despite the across-the-board good news these reports bring, there are some who are hoping for more specific data about their specialty. This information isn't always readily available, and when it is, the sources can sometimes be limited by geographic region, or based on data that is incomplete. Still, data is data; if you're interested in finding out about a specific field, try these sources:

Complete an online search

Running a search using the phrase “hot jobs in Biology” isn't likely to get you much information, since most of the articles a search like this digs up are articles about trends in general employment, and not current issues in Biology. Using different combinations, like “Biology jobs” or “careers in Biology” may end up giving you many articles about all careers in Biology, but you'll likely also get an article or two that tells you where to find the growth in Biology careers.

Talk with an instructor

We've already encouraged you to talk with a college instructor about general career prospects in a given field, and the same advice holds when looking for information on current hiring trends and areas of job growth. Since college professors have to conduct research, they're often exposed to leaders in the businesses, private foundations, and government agencies associated with your field. That's an awful lot of connections to an awful lot of data about jobs. Make the most of it.

Talk with the local Chamber of Commerce

If you're looking for local advice on the jobs that are in demand, your local Chamber can be your best friend. The workers at the Chamber are paid to know the strengths and weaknesses of the local economy, and that includes a solid understanding of the job market. If you're heading to a new town, or looking for a place where you can get off to a solid start in your career, a call to the Chamber can give you the information you need.

Look on professional websites

Just like you turn to the Society of Engineers to find out what you can do with a degree in engineering, so you turn to the same resources to find out where those jobs are, and what the jobs of the future look like in that field. Not every page will offer detailed information, but it's a great place to start.

Return to Top of Page

The Plusses and Minuses of Landing a “Hot” Job

At first, it makes perfect sense to choose a career in a field where the demand is high and the need is great. But every job has its plusses and minuses, even if they're new, and even if they're popular. Here are some considerations as you consider if a growing job is for you:

Greater geographic mobility

More jobs usually means more places where you can work, not just in your home town, but in many towns. Some trends are local, but many have an impact felt from coast to coast—and that can be a big plus when you're young and looking for a place to call your own.

Greater upward mobility

Many of the emerging careers will be requiring more managers and administrators, and those positions are typically filled by line workers who know the field inside and out. If a field is growing fast, you may find yourself moving up fast—and that can be a good thing.

Greater innovation

Fields that have high needs usually have to find new ways to meet that need, which means that field needs people who think creatively and can solve problems others can't see. This is especially true in health care, where employee shortages seem to always occur. Finding a way to produce quality health care with less staff that still has a personalized touch is arguable the biggest task for the workforce of the future, and that's an exciting idea.

High risk/high reward

Not every field that needs more workers is brand new, but many of the emerging fields are trying to create new markets, or capture new markets. That means the pace of growth will be fast, and some ideas will work, but some won't. Those that do will be highly rewarded, and those that don't will soon be forgotten. Riding that wave isn't for everyone, and it's something to consider before taking the plunge into new waters.

Greater possibility for change

Innovation is usually seen as a good thing, but some people who like the “old ways” sometimes feel left behind when change comes their way—especially if it's change they don't like, or don't understand. If flexibility isn't one of your strengths, working in a growing field may not be for you. Think about that carefully.

Need for ongoing professional development

Every field offers training to keep their employees on top of the current trends of the profession. That's especially true in a field where the trends are changing every year—or every month. It will be important to be a good student when you enter an emerging field. Keep that in mind as you sort out your career interests.

High turnover

An emerging field often means a number of start-up companies, and that means some will get bought out by others, even if they're a success. If you're going to begin a career in one of these fields, be sure to understand the complete range of benefits available to you, especially stock options and buy-out language. These often won't come into play unless the company is taken over or merges, but once that happens, it's too late to change the rules of the game. The time to do that is now, so make sure you understand what could happen—and pay close attention to talk about mergers and sell-offs as you complete your daily work.

Another factor to consider in going into a field with high turnover is to look closely for the reasons why so many people take a position in this field, but then leave just as quickly. A long standing example of this is in the field of teaching, where workers train for five years, only to leave the profession after only five to eight years of work, according to different studies. Of course, there may be different reasons why so many people leave teaching after such a brief time, but there may also be something more to working in this field than the training suggests. If you're looking to join a field where people come and go quickly, be sure to talk to people in that profession to get the inside story on what it takes to be successful in that field. Job shadowing or interning may help you understand this as well, so it's always a good idea to include those experiences in your training for the field.

Return to Top of Page

More Resources

The Current Hot 10 Jobs

Hot jobs that pay well

Hot jobs that pay exceptionally well

Hot STEM jobs

Hot jobs in the arts and humanities

18 hot jobs for 2015

America's Fastest Shrinking Jobs

10 Best Industries for Starting a Business in 2015

5 Fast-Growing Small Business Industries

Best Jobs of the Future

Return to Top of Page

Popular with our students.

Highly informative resources to keep your education journey on track.

Take the next step toward your future with online learning.

Discover schools with the programs and courses you’re interested in, and start learning today.

woman in an office