8 Best College Degrees for Job Security in Today’s Market

A few years back, after working for peanuts for two years at a Boys and Girls Club, I decided to go back to school to become a teacher.

Teaching seemed like a great career choice: I loved working with kids and I knew that teaching would provide me with job security for the rest of my career.

It turns out that I was delusional.

From the outside, it seemed like teaching would be a recession-proof job that I could walk into once I had the proper certification. But the reality is that many areas face teacher gluts (especially among English teachers like myself) and public school budget cuts often result in pink slips for teachers. I was not certain about the future of my hard-won job for my entire teaching career.

While there is no career field that is absolutely immune to recessions or changes in technology, some degrees confer more security than others. Here are eight best college degrees for job security throughout your career:

While there is no career field that is absolutely immune to recessions or changes in technology, some degrees confer more security than others. Here are the eight best college degrees for job security throughout your career.

1. Actuarial Science

This field is all about estimating future probabilities and analyzing risks—and taking this job is very low risk, indeed. This is a well-paid and growing profession: actuaries have a median salary of over $96,000 per year, and the profession is growing at a rate of 18%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (The average rate of growth for all occupations is 7%).

Actuaries need to have excellent math skills, particularly in the fields of Calculus, statistics and probability. In order to become an actuary, you must have a bachelor’s degree in Actuarial Science, and pass a series of professional exams. Many actuaries work for insurance companies or the federal government, although actuaries are valuable assets to any number of major companies and fields that need someone to predict potential risks and costs.

2. Dental Hygiene

This two to three year associate’s degree can be a great option for individuals hoping to jump into the work force quickly. Dental hygienists generally perform teeth cleaning and initial exams of dental patients and help dentists with more complicated procedures.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, hygienists earn an average of $71,520 per year, or $34.38 per hour. As of 2014, more than half of hygienists worked part time, making this an ideal career path for anyone trying to balance work and family. The BLS anticipates a 19% growth in this career over the next eight years, meaning newly minted dental hygienists can probably expect to have many opportunities available to them.

3. Nursing

The demand for registered nurses is always high, since recessions don’t stop people from getting sick or injured. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the next eight years will see an increased demand for this profession—at growth rate of 16%—for a variety reasons, including

“technological advancements; an increased emphasis on preventative care; and the large, aging baby-boomer population who will demand more healthcare services as they live longer and more active lives.”

There are several paths to this profession, including earning a bachelor’s or associate’s degree in nursing, or earning a diploma from an approved nursing program. In addition to the education requirement, RNs must also pass a national licensing exam before they may begin their career. Since registered nurses may start their careers with a two-year college degree and can expect a median salary of over $66,000 per year, this is one of the least expensive yet lucrative college degrees a student can earn that will promise a long and secure career.

4. Physician Assistant

A physician assistant (also known as a PA) works with doctors to help examine, diagnose, and treat patients as part of a health care team. Though a physician assistant must work under the supervision of a physician, this is one way to practice medicine without having to go to medical school. In fact, for those interested in medicine but leery of med school, becoming a physician assistant will get you into the workforce sooner and for less money—and will give you more opportunity to interact with your patients, to boot. In addition to the master’s degree, you will also need to become licensed in your state to practice.

Like nursing, the need for physician assistants is projected to grow a great deal over the next ten years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a growth rate of 30% by 2024. The median salary for this position is just under $96,000 per year.

Related: 21 Online Job Search Sites to Find Your Next Job

5. Occupational Therapy

With the boomer generation projected to need help coping with all of the diseases and disabilities associated with age, this profession just keeps growing and growing. Occupational therapists do require some extra schooling—generally you will need to get a master’s degree in the field, as well as pass your state’s certification licensure requirements—but the additional time in school will be worth it for the great sense of job security. Over the next eight years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the field of occupational therapy will see 27% growth.

With median pay of just under $79,000 per year, a great deal of job flexibility–OTs can work with patients of all ages and walks of life in any number of venues, from hospitals to clinics to homes–and the feeling that they are making a measurable difference in their patients’ lives, occupational therapists report a very high level of job satisfaction to go along with a sense of job security.

6. Speech Language Pathology

Also known as speech therapists, speech language pathologists work with patients to diagnose, treat, and prevent communication disorders. Speech language pathologists can work with a variety of patients, from young toddlers who are developmentally delayed or on the autism spectrum, to adult or elderly patients recovering from a stroke, brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, or other disorders. About 40% of speech language pathologists work in schools, while the majority work from healthcare facilities like hospitals.

In addition to earning a master’s degree in speech language pathology, candidates will also likely have to be licensed in their home state, although requirements vary by state. The median salary is over $71,000 per year, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that this job will grow 21% over the next eight years.

7. Master’s Degree in Counseling

Mental health counselors and family and marriage therapists can help individuals cope with issues of addiction, depression, relationship problems, and emotional disorders. As the stigma surrounding therapy fades away, more individuals are willing to seek help with their problems, making this a growing field. In addition, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that growth is expected in this field.

“as insurance companies increasingly provide for reimbursement of counselors and marriage and family therapists as a less costly alternative to psychiatrists and psychologists.”

The median salary for this profession is relatively low at just over $42,000 per year. However, the projected growth over the next eight years is 19%, and this profession offers individuals an opportunity to help others overcome obstacles. This career requires both a master’s degree and a license in order to practice.

8. Doctor of Pharmacy

The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) reports that “a shortfall of as many as 157,000 pharmacists is predicted by 2020, according to the findings of a conference sponsored by the Pharmacy Manpower Project, Inc.” In addition to that expected shortfall, there will be an increased demand for pharmacists as the American population ages and needs more pharmaceutical care, making it clear that this is an excellent career for those wanting good job security.

The median salary for a pharmacist is nearly $121,000 per year. Pharmacists must have a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) as well as a professional license, which is granted after passing two exams.

The Bottom Line

Not all jobs are created equally secure. The key to having a long career in your chosen field is to pay attention to trends and to stay current with your education and professional development. Making sure you do that will help you remain a valuable asset to your employer and your field, even if you work in a career that doesn’t promise the kind of security these jobs offer.

Did your college degree provide job security? If not, did you return to school to get a different degree?

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  1. There is a common theme here, most are in the healthcare industry. We will forever need these individuals. I would also like to add CPAs to the list. I’m sure PT would agree as well! =)

  2. I may need to start all over and become a pharmacist. An estimated shortage of 157,000 pharmacists by 2020? That sounds like I could name my salary…

  3. Realizing that a nursing job is more recession-proof and its increasing demand, my auntie took up nursing after being laid off from her job in a construction firm. We are glad that she will be finishing her course next year. 

  4. I think people would GRIMICE when they look back on their life of trading time for money.  It’s a TRICK don’t do it.  CUT YOUR EXPENSES and free your life.  YOU don’t need all that junk anyway.

  5. Avatar AverageJoeMoney says:

    I find it interesting that most of these jobs follow the Baby Boomers. I wonder what happens to these fields once we crest that wave. Of course, that’s many years down the road….

  6. Avatar VeronicaHill79 says:

    Right on the money. I can concur that occupational therapists do really well, and fairly quickly. My aunt is an OT and she went from a really low income to making some decent money very quickly.

  7. I live right by OHSU a huge teaching hospital, so all my friends who are nurses have a hard time finding jobs since everyone moves to Portland, falls in love with it and wants to stay.

  8. Avatar OneSmartDollar says:

    A friend of mine from school is an actuary and you’re right it is recession proof.  You stated that you need a degree in Actuarial Science but he actually has an economics degree.

    1.  @OneSmartDollar Its true, you do not need a BS in Actuarial Science in order to to be an Actuary.  While having a BS in Actuarial Science will help in passing the professional exams, since must people that have a BS will have already passed the first exam if not the second as well.  Plus it will give you a jump start on the material that will be covered in following exams.

  9. “as insurance companies increasingly provide for reimbursement of counselors and marriage and family therapists as a less costly alternative to psychiatrists and psychologists.”
    While in theory this is true, the actual rate of reimbursement by insurance companies and state programs are really quite low.  As a result many in this field have chosen to specialize and go into private practice to avoid low reimbursement rates coupled with a ridiculous amount of paperwork.  I am a Licensed Professional Counselor in 3 states so I speak from experience.  Still, if I were recommending degree for mental health and similar work, I would go with a MSW-Master of Social Work as they tend to be more versatile.
    The need for nurses is also quite overstated across all shortage literature.  The reality now in this economy is that with state and hospital cutbacks, many nurses are being laid off or asked to take salary cuts.  To make it you need a specialty coupled with a lot of specialized training to set yourself apart.  Many resort to temp or placement firms but as you can imagine, they are quite saturated with an overabundance of clients with the same designation and nothing about a specialty that would help them stand out.As with any degree, have a plan for how you will either get a job or create an opportunity for yourself.  The degree in and of itself won’t guarantee you a position.

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