A reader writes: "Dear Annie: I'm a sophomore in college, trying to decide on a major. I like chemistry and math, and I'm good at them, but I also enjoy learning languages. Can you tell me which kinds of college degrees will be most likely to lead to a good job in three or four years?"
Annie's reply: To graduate with the most marketable sheepskin, you'd do well to apply your math skills, and maybe your chemistry acumen as well, and get a degree in engineering.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that the economy will generate 200,000 more engineering jobs by 2014, and many employers are already noticing a shortage of skilled workers in a variety of engineering fields - civil, mechanical, industrial, you name it. Annual pay for engineers in the U.S. now averages $72,965, well over twice the U.S. average of just under $30,000 for workers in all occupations.
Among the most promising fields now: chemical engineering. Says Mike Reed, an engineer in Pennsylvania: "In my field, there is a 0.2% unemployment rate, and the petroleum industry will be needing 40,000 more engineers (mostly chemical engineers) over the next 10 years. You can write your own ticket in this field. Most of my colleagues are earning six figures."
Software engineers are in demand, too. The number of software engineering majors has plummeted by about 40% over the past decade. "Companies will compete for a scarce resource by offering more money," notes Dale Welch, a partner at Boston-area staffing firm Winter, Wyman & Co. "This year we're seeing starting offers as high as $90,000 for top MIT grads. The norm seems to be between $60,000 and $70,000." That's a big jump from average starting pay of $45,000 just two years ago, and the trend seems likely to continue for several more years.
Two other hot majors: accounting and physical therapy.
"New and complex laws are creating tremendous demand for accounting skills," says John Challenger, CEO of Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. A sign of the times: Ernst & Young boosted its hiring of new accounting grads by 47% over the past two years (5,380 in 2006, up from 3,645 in 2004). The average U.S. accountant's salary in 2005 was $58,020.
As for physical therapy, "the aging population of baby boomers will create high demand for workers in this field," Challenger predicts, with about 56,000 new job openings by 2014. Currently, physical therapists' pay averages $65,350 a year.
If you do decide to pursue one of these majors, Challenger says, don't neglect your language skills: "Being multilingual will pay off in marketing, finance, banking, trade, social services, health care, and engineering" - especially if at least one of the languages you learn is an Asian one.