Matching your aptitudes to a higher-paying career

The economy is shifting—and changing where you can find better-paying jobs.

Like many people, you may be worried about the cost of college, especially the traditional four-year experience. Given the cost of college today, it makes sense to think hard about skills you learn there that could lead to higher-paying jobs in faster-growing career areas.

Healthcare careers, for example, are expected to expand 18% and contribute 2.4 million new jobs, from 2016 to 2026—more than any other occupation.

It should be no surprise that math skills can pay off in a world in which the “big data” generated by booming digital technology and the internet requires analysis.

Computer and information technology occupations are projected to add more than half a million new jobs as the need for cloud computing, data storage, and cybersecurity professionals continues to rise§.

Employment for statisticians and mathematicians is expected to grow 33%, generating 13,500 new jobs, from 2016 to 2026.

Here is a glimpse of some better-paying and faster-growing jobs in the U.S., and the education that can point you in their direction.

Applications software developer

These specialists create the applications that run computers or other devices and develop internet/intranet programs#. You’ll generally need a bachelor’s degree in computer science, software engineering, or a related field††.

The median salary in 2018 for software developers in applications was $103,620‡‡. Expected growth rate: 31%, for 255,400 new jobs, from 2016 to 2026§§.

Physician assistant (PA)

To diagnose and treat patients, a PA needs a master’s degree║║. PAs work in all areas of medicine under the supervision of physicians. Like Advanced Practice nurses, PAs should be in high demand.

The median salary in 2018 was $108,610 and is projected to grow to 37%, for 39,600 new jobs, from 2016 to 2026##.

Information security analyst

These IT professionals keep an organization’s computer networks and systems safe from cyberattacks. The job requires a bachelor’s degree, and some analysts have an MBA in information systems.

The median salary in 2018 was $98,350 and the expected growth rate: 28%, for 28,500 new jobs, from 2016 to 2026†††.

Mathematician and statistician

Businesses, engineering, healthcare, and other fields need mathematicians and statisticians to analyze data to solve problems and answer questions. Both professions typically require a master’s degree.

Mathematicians earned a median $101,900 and statisticians earned a median $87,780‡‡‡.

Expected growth rate: 30% for mathematicians (which adds only about 900 new jobs given that it is a small profession) and 34% for statisticians, accounting for 12,600 new jobs, from 2016 to 2026§§§.

There’s passion and then there’s aptitude

If you’re considering the path between school and career, take a hard look at your aptitudes as well as your passions.

The conventional advice—if you simply do what you love, success will follow—is wrong, says Rich Feller, professor of counseling and career development at Colorado State University and former president of the National Career Development Association.

“More important is to look at your natural aptitudes that cause you to learn something quickly and easily,” says Feller, who has worked to develop a system to track aptitudes. “Different jobs require different aptitudes and if you don’t have those talents, you will become discouraged and disengaged║║║.”

Picking a field of study based on interests alone—not integrating aptitude or job prospects—is one reason about 30% of college students### change their majors, and why some students veer away from high-demand fields such as computer programming and engineering, Feller says, even though they have the natural talent for those jobs. Aiming at a field where there will be significant job growth might be a sounder strategy.

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Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook.” Bls.gov. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/home.htm (accessed April 18, 2019).

Bureau of Labor Statistics. Rieley, Michael, “Big data adds up to opportunities in math careers.” Bls.gov. https://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-7/big-data-adds-up.htm (accessed April 18, 2019).

§Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook.” Bls.gov. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/home.htm (accessed April 18, 2019).

Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook.” Bls.gov. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/math/mathematicians-and-statisticians.htm (accessed April 18, 2019).

#Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook.” Bls.gov. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm#tab-2 (accessed April 18, 2019).

††Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook.” Bls.gov. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm#tab-4 (accessed April 18, 2019).

‡‡Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook.” Bls.gov. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm#tab-5 (accessed April 18, 2019).

§§Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook.” Bls.gov. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm#tab-6 (accessed April 18, 2019).

║║Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook.” Bls.gov. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physician-assistants.htm#tab-4 (accessed April 18, 2019).

##Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook.” Bls.gov. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physician-assistants.htm#tab-1 (accessed April 18, 2019).

†††Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook.” Bls.gov. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/information-security-analysts.htm (accessed April 18, 2019).

‡‡‡Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook.” Bls.gov. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/math/mathematicians-and-statisticians.htm#tab-5 (accessed April 18, 2019).

§§§Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook.” Bls.gov. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/math/mathematicians-and-statisticians.htm#tab-6 (accessed April 18, 2019).

║║║Interview with Rich Feller confirmed by email.

###U.S. Department of Education, “Data Point.” https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018434.pdf