20 Best Degrees to Get in 2021

Explore various degrees to get in 2021 at the bachelor’s level. See what majors are on top and what career opportunities they hold.

Best Degrees to Get

Studies show that on average those with bachelor’s degrees make $1 million more throughout their lifetimes than those with only high school diplomas. Some degrees, however, can bring much more. Scan the list below and weigh your potential options in salary and expected job growth.

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What Are the Best Degrees to Get?

Methodology: The following degrees were included based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics data for average annual salary and expected job growth over the next 10 years.

Click on an area you’re interested in to jump to that section of the page.

  1. Management Information Systems
  2. Marketing
  3. Finance
  4. Physics
  5. Information Technologies
  6. Systems Engineering
  7. Computer Science
  8. Engineering
  9. Mathematics
  10. Economics
  11. Business Management
  12. Statistics
  13. Nursing
  14. Accounting
  15. English
  16. Biology
  17. Human Resources
  18. Education
  19. Communication Studies
  20. Science Technologies

Both of these fields offer plenty of opportunity for growth, a lot of different job prospects, and plenty of job security.

Management Information Systems

database manager maintaining the servers in data center

  • Average annual salary: $146,360
  • Expected growth: 10%

If you’re good with computers, you probably know your way around networks, databases, servers, and software. All of these things are critical components of Management Information Systems (MIS).

Information systems are what businesses run on, and they require a lot of work to keep them going.

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A Management Information Systems major can help you learn how to handle things like cloud computing, data management, and web application development and prepare you to put your skills to work in a variety of technological fields.

As you can see, the rewards have the potential to be quite lucrative. Careers in this field often come with six-figure salaries and a certain amount of job security. There’s almost always a demand for computer specialists within big, global companies, so Management Information Systems is often considered one of the best college degrees for employment.

Marketing

event planner checking her schedule on her notebook

  • Average annual salary: $136,850
  • Expected growth: 7%

The core of a marketing degree is learning how to promote things. Whether it’s products for sale or services being offered by a company or charity, marketing is the art of persuasion.

As you might expect, the most common jobs for marketing majors are things like sales reps, market analysts, promotions managers, product managers, and creative directors.

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However, marketing degrees can help prepare you for a variety of jobs. Event planners and public relations often have this degree. You might also work in recruitment, human resources, mass media, or business management.

Marketing is a wide-ranging field, and it can be helpful in many potential career paths. If you’re the type of person who likes options, it is a degree to consider.

Finance

financial advisor closing a deal to a young couple

  • Average annual salary: $129,890
  • Expected growth: 15%

A finance degree is one of the best degrees to get for the future. It can open doors into many professions, including financial advisor, budget analyst, credit analyst, venture capitalist, investment banker, and hedge fund manager.

You might be wondering about the difference between finance and economics. While they’re interconnected in many ways, they’re two distinct disciplines, and there are big differences in everything from their coursework to their job prospects.

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Both fields share similarities with accounting as well, but they’re all separate areas of study.

You might enjoy a job in finance if you’re good with numbers and eager to explore the possibilities of such a wide-ranging degree. You can go to a lot of different places with a foundation in finance.

Physics

astronomer looking the night sky through an amateur telescope

  • Average annual salary: $122,850
  • Expected growth: 7%

Physics is another field with a large number of specialties. Most students seeking their degree have a concentrated area of studies, such as astrophysics, geophysics, molecular physics, or nuclear physics.

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Physicists may enjoy many job opportunities depending on their field. For example, an astrophysics major might become an astronomer or aerospace engineer; an atomic physics major might become a research associate or laser technology scientist.

Becoming a physicist typically requires an extended amount of schooling, but the drive can pay off. Many physicists make six figures annually.

Information Technologies

customer service support talking to a customer

  • Average annual salary: $122,840
  • Expected growth: 15%

Are you good with computers? Do you have a knack for creative thinking and problem-solving? Do you like working with people as well as machines?

Information technology (IT) is a wide-ranging field, and one of the most versatile college majors, with many different jobs. Even better, many people can get started with nothing more than an associate degree and don’t have to spend years in school before being qualified to work as an IT specialist.

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If you do want to get higher education in information technology, your pay and prospects will likely improve along with your degree level. The top earners in the field can reach more than $100,000 annually, so it might be worth getting a bachelor’s or master’s degree if you’re interested in having better job prospects.

Consider enrolling in an IT program if you enjoy technical, specialized work with a human element. Since IT so often intersects with customer service and cooperative problem solving, it’s a field where multi-talented workers can really shine.

Systems Engineering

Systems Engineer checking the database room

  • Average annual salary: $117,220
  • Expected growth: 2%

Systems engineering is a field that combines business, engineering, and computer science. It deals with various systems within an organization: how they work and how they can be improved.

There are system engineers in just about every industry, including oil, software, electronics, medicine, and technology.

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Some system engineers work in banks, firms, or government agencies, while some find employment in the private sector with companies and corporations. Many even work in “think tanks” devoted to different areas of research.

First-year system engineers, or the bottom earners, make on average around $68,000 annually. With time and experience, however, their pay may increase dramatically. Some system engineers who have been in the game for 20 years or more pull $185,000 annually.

Computer Science

Mobile Video Gaming Application Developer working on her computer

  • Average annual salary: $112,690
  • Expected growth: 5%

Computer science revolves around the development and application of various types of technology. Computers are the beating heart of the field, of course, but you might also study computing systems in relation to things like robotics and artificial intelligence.

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Jobs in computer science are usually quite technical. Depending on your areas of interest, you might find employment as a programmer, software developer, database administrator, computer hardware engineer, or information security analyst.

You may also explore different industries as a computer science major. Many companies need tech support, including fun and creative companies, so you might just find yourself working as a video game developer or digital marketer for a candy shop. The variety of potential career opportunities is what makes this degree one of the most popular majors in college.

Engineering

nuclear engineer working in a power plant

  • Average annual salary: $108,770
  • Expected growth: 4%

Engineering is another field with a lot of specializations. There are four main branches comprised of mechanical, chemical, civil, and electrical engineering, and there are dozens of sub-branches that include everything from aerospace engineering to petroleum engineering.

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Your first step as an engineering student will be determining where your interests lie. If you like the ocean, you might like marine engineering. If you’re looking for the best degrees to make money, you might be attracted to nuclear engineering and its $71,000 – $179,000 average salary.

Just make sure that you’re prepared to spend awhile in school. While a bachelor’s degree in engineering can help get your foot in the door, you will most likely need a master’s degree or higher for the most profitable, in-demand jobs.

Mathematics

mathematics professor teaching at a university

  • Average annual salary: $105,030
  • Expected growth: 33%

If you’re good with numbers, this may be the career for you. Not only can mathematicians make as much as $130,000 per year in big cities like District of Columbia and Washington, but demand is incredibly high. The entire field is expected to grow by 33 % in the next decade.

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How do mathematicians spend their time? It depends on their industry. Mathematicians work in a variety of industries, including academia, pharmaceuticals, statistics, engineering, and more. Their colleagues might include everyone from economic professors to automobile designers.

Mathematicians typically need a high level of education. While bachelor’s degrees are available, most jobs require a master’s degree as a matter of course. Even entry-level jobs can be quite competitive in terms of educational and professional requirements.

Economics

female manager of financial company talking to a client on the phone

  • Average annual salary: $105,020
  • Expected growth: 14%

Economics is a complex field. It looks at the creation, distribution, and consumption of goods and services, and it often intersects with other industries such as law, business, finance, and social sciences.

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If you’re good with data, an economics degree may result in a big payday. The average salary is a little more than $100,000 per year, but the top earners can take home as much as $185,000 per year.

The trade-off is that you may be expected to have top-tier credentials. A bachelor’s degree in economics may only qualify you for entry-level jobs. If you’re dreaming of a high position in a bank, financial firm, insurance company, or government agency, you may need to get a master’s degree or even a Ph.D.

Business Management

business manager talking to a colleague in an office

  • Average annual salary: $100,780
  • Expected growth: 4%

A business management degree can prepare you for work in many different fields, such as sales, finance, marketing, accounting, and supply chain operations.

It doesn’t carry the same prestige as an MBA, but it can qualify you for a variety of mid- to upper-tier jobs within companies and corporations, and you can use it as a foundation for further qualifications like a master’s degree.

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What is business management? It’s the art of keeping a business in good shape. It could involve everything from overseeing employees to handling the paperwork of accounts, products, and services.

Business management majors should be intelligent, detail-oriented students with a strong work ethic. You won’t be able to snooze your way through business courses. You should be ready to put in long hours, get your degree, and work your way up the corporate ladder.

Statistics

female statistician working on documents in her office table

  • Average annual salary: $91,160
  • Expected growth: 35%

Despite what you may think, statisticians don’t just stare at numbers all day. It’s true that a large part of their job involves organizing and analyzing data, but their work can be diverse, dynamic, and downright fun.

For example, sports statisticians monitor things like batting averages and seasonal scores. Biostatisticians can collect information on deadly viruses and diseases.

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A statistics degree can also open doors to jobs that aren’t necessarily about statistics. If you become an actuary or accountant, you might work within a company and help them crunch their numbers, manage their financial records, and make risk assessments for their goals.

Don’t be put off by the stereotypes surrounding STEM jobs. They can be quite lucrative for the open-minded student.

Nursing

nurse talking to a child and his parent in a clinic

  • Average annual salary: $73,300
  • Expected growth: 7%

Nurses are a vital part of the healthcare system, and their duties can range from changing IVs and taking vital signs to operating complex medical equipment and counseling patients about their options.

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There are several “levels” of nurses, and each new certification can help your skills grow. For example, you may go from a licensed practical nurse (LPN) to a registered nurse (RN) to an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).

One of the best things about a nursing career is that its job outlook is phenomenal. Industry experts are predicting a nursing shortage in the next decade, so there should be a demand for qualified nurses in the near future. If you like to help people and are interested in a career with a lot of potential growth opportunities, consider nursing.

Accounting

accountant working on documents while talking to a phone

  • Average annual salary: $71,550
  • Expected growth: 4%

Accountants are responsible for financial records. Becoming an accountant can help prepare you for a wide variety of jobs, everything from a government tax auditor to a sports accountant who works with NFL stars to manage their money could be possible.

There are several subsets of accounting work. For example, there’s forensic accounting to deal with fraud and white-collar crime, and there’s management accounting to keep a company profitable.

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A nice thing about accounting degrees is that they’re available at every level. Even an associate degree in accounting can prepare you for promising career opportunities, such as payroll clerks or entry-level bookkeepers.

Accountants don’t have to stay in school for years and years before being qualified to join the workforce. Most can get started quickly.

English

librarian attending a family in a public library

  • Average annual salary: $68,490
  • Expected growth: 2%

English degrees involve more than just reading and writing. They’re multi-faceted degrees that may teach you everything from linguistics to literary analysis, and they’re ideal for students who are interested in understanding how people talk, debate, tell stories and engage with each other.

English majors work in many different positions, including teachers, authors, editors, librarians, and historians. The degree can also be combined or concentrated on things like film and theater, so there is a wide range of careers for English degree holders.

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You may also use a bachelor’s degree in English as a springboard for something like a master’s degree in education or journalism.

If you love the arts, consider majoring in English. It can help prepare for many different jobs in the creative sector and broaden your horizons as a human being to boot.

Biology

geneticists working in a laboratory

  • Average annual salary: $63,000+
  • Expected growth: 4%

Biology is the study of living things. It can involve people, plants, animals, microorganisms, and other kinds of life.

Since it’s such a diverse field of study, many biologists choose to concentrate on something specific. If they like animals, for instance, they might find a job in zoology or marine biology; if they’re interested in healthcare, they might become geneticists or physiologists.

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It’s hard to pin down the exact salary range of biology majors since their careers can be so very different. Generally speaking, however, they enjoy an annual income of $63,000 or more, and their occupational outlook has a growth rate of 4%.

This translates into thousands of biology jobs opening up in the next decade.

Human Resources

human resources manager interviewing a job applicant in an office

  • Average annual salary: $61,920
  • Expected growth: 7-8% depending on specialization

Human resources is a field that focuses on the recruitment, compensation, benefits, training, and protection of a company’s employees. If someone has a complaint about a discriminatory co-worker, they go to human resources. If they have issues with their paycheck, they go to human resources.

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Human resources jobs can vary. There are several specializations, so you might become a benefits manager that handles bonuses and vacations or a placement specialist that recruits new employees.

A bachelor’s degree in human resources is usually enough to get you started in the field, so if you’re looking for a quick turnaround from student to working professional, this might be the degree for you.

Education

medical professor teaching a class of medicine students

  • Average annual salary: $61,660
  • Expected growth: 4%

Education is a noble calling, but the good news is that it can also be a profitable one. While it’s true that public school teachers tend to be underpaid, the salaries for legal and medical professors can reach $100,000 and more per year.

STEM subjects pay more than the humanities, and teachers in big cities like Chicago usually earn more than teachers in smaller towns like Memphis. Experience can also play a role in salary. Tenured professors tend to be high earners in their fields.

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If you think that you’d do well in front of a classroom, a degree in education is the first step. You can find them for every level of elementary, middle, and high school, and they’re available as bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorates.

It’s also common for teachers to major in their field of interest and obtain a master’s degree in education to qualify them as an instructor of it. The world always needs good teachers. If you’re willing to fulfill it, a degree in education is the way to go.

Communication Studies

female journalist getting ready on camera

  • Average annual salary: $61,150
  • Expected growth: 7%

Also known as “communications,” communication studies can encompass everything from mass media to politics and public relations. It examines the way that people share information, and it often utilizes that knowledge to sell products, reach agreements, and manage relationships between different parties.

There’s a lot that you can do with a communications degree. Jobs can range from marketing directors to public health educators.

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You can also combine a communications degree with other fields of study. For example, you might get a dual degree in communication studies and political science if you’re interested in cross-cultural exchange.

You might major in communication studies and minor in journalism to help prepare to become a writer or reporter. Communications is a broad field, so its employment options are broad as well. It’s a good degree if you like to have options.

Science Technologies

healthcare professionals using medical equipment in a safety lab

  • Average annual salary: $59,150
  • Expected growth: 14%

Science technology is another broad field. In fact, it’s so broad that it’s classified in many different ways, and you might have to poke around your chosen school to see how they offer it.

For example, the Illinois Institute of Technology has a Science, Technology, and Society major. York University offers Science and Technology Studies.

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The California Institute of Technology will let you enroll in an Interdisciplinary Studies Program (ISP) that can combine various science and tech courses.

Science technology is a highly complex area of study, and finding the right degree program for you is half of the battle. If you’re interested in the crossroads between science and tech, however, it might be a path worth taking.

What Are the Best Degrees to Get Online?

student studying on her computer

The best degrees to get online vary depending on your field of study. Some degree programs are better suited to a classroom than a digital learning environment. On the flip side, there are plenty of online programs that are just as vigorous as the ones on campus. How can you tell which is which? Here are a few factors to consider.

  • Labs: If you’re majoring in something like biology, chemistry, or astronomy, lab work is likely to be an essential part of the learning process. How is this handled with the online program?
  • Fieldwork: In the same vein as the above, some degrees will ask for fieldwork before you can graduate. Teachers need classroom experience; psychologists and social workers need to make rounds. Will the online program allow you to satisfy these requirements locally?
  • Academics: Are the same things taught in the online classes as the real-world ones? Do they have the same professors and use the same books? Will you learn what you need to know to become employable?
  • Support: Does the school offer web-based resources for learning? Do they have special platforms and systems for submitting online assignments? Is there tech support? Can you get in touch with your professors even without campus office hours?

There’s a lot more to getting an online degree than just taking quizzes digitally. Do your research to make sure that you’re choosing a convenient, accessible program.

Bachelor’s Degree Salary

Bachelor's Degree Salary

What are the best paying bachelor degrees? You might be surprised to learn that many people make six figures per year with nothing more than a BA or BS.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some high-paying careers include:

  • Petroleum Engineer ($137,720)
  • Advertising, Promotions or Marketing Manager ($135,900)
  • Financial Manager ($129,890)
  • Airline or Commercial Pilot ($121,430)
  • Human Resources Manager ($116,720)
  • Aerospace Engineer ($116,500)
  • Computer Network Architect ($112,690)
  • Actuary ($108,350)
  • Software Developer ($107,510)
  • Industrial Production Manager ($105,480)

The best degrees are the ones that will return the cost of your education. Everyone assumes that they’ll be able to make up the money that they spent on tuition, but only some degree programs offer a good return on investment. Rather than salary alone, look for a job that will deliver a good ROI.

Jobs that Require a Bachelor’s Degree in Anything

Jobs that Require a Bachelor's Degree in Anything

Specialized jobs are usually worth a pretty penny. But what about jobs that you can get with a bachelor’s degree in any subject? What are the highest-paying careers that often accept any major?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some careers include:

  • Software Developer ($107,510)
  • FBI Agent ($88,060)
  • Social and Community Service Manager ($67,150)
  • Market Research Analyst ($63,790)
  • Human Resources Specialist ($61,920)
  • High School Sports Coach ($61,660)
  • Public Relations Specialist ($61,150)
  • Fundraiser ($57,970)
  • Food Service Manager ($55,320)
  • ESL Teacher ($54,350)
  • Journalist ($46,270)

In addition to their high salaries, these jobs are also nice for career changes. You don’t have to start all over when you decide to switch occupations or industries. You can apply as long as you have a bachelor’s degree.

Accreditation for Bachelor’s Degree

logos of the six regional accreditors

Accreditation can help you determine the quality of a school and its degree programs. When a school is accredited, it undergoes a review process by objective, third-party organizations, and they ensure that the school meets certain standards for education.

Colleges in the U.S. are accredited by six regional institutions:

  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)

There are also special accrediting boards for various subjects. For example, journalism programs can be vetted by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, and accounting programs can be vetted by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

Another important thing about accreditation is that the government requires schools to be accredited in order to receive federal financial aid. This includes FAFSA and all of its grants and loans. If you’re applying for FAFSA, make sure that you’re enrolling in an accredited college.

Financial Aid for Bachelor’s Students

screenshot of FAFSA website

If you can’t afford to pay for your degree on your own, you may have several options for financial aid.

The most prominent is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Not only does it offer grants and both subsidized and unsubsidized loans, but it’s also a prerequisite for certain scholarships. They’ll ask you to apply for FAFSA before you’re eligible for their assistance.

As for the scholarships themselves, you can apply for “need-based” awards if you’re under a certain income bracket, or you can try for “merit-based” awards if you’re an honor roll student.

There are also special scholarships for women, minorities, veterans, and first-generation college students. You may even find scholarships based on your particular major.

Last but not least, if you’re already employed, check with their human resources department and see if they offer tuition reimbursement. Some companies will foot the bill for your college degree.

Questions Related to Choosing a Bachelor’s Degree

Here are our answers to a few more questions you might have.

What Majors are Most in Demand?

There are a few careers that are expected to grow substantially in the next decade:

  • Medicine: The nursing industry is expected to experience a shortage in the next decade, and other jobs like physician’s assistant and physical therapist have projected growth rates between 18 – 31 %. It’s a good time to go into medicine.
  • Mathematics: There’s a huge demand for mathematicians since it’s such a highly specialized field with a limited number of people who qualify for the work. You may need to stay in school for a long time to become a mathematician, but the payoff should be worth it.
  • Computer Science: As the world grows increasingly digital, computer science specialists are needed for everything from cybersecurity to web development. As a bonus, the highest-paying jobs in computer science can top $100,000 per year.

The best bachelor’s degrees for these subjects will vary. For example, you might become a nurse with a health or science background, or you might major in mathematics, statistics, or even economics to have a math-focused career.

What Degree Has the Most Job Opportunities?

The degrees with the most job opportunities are usually non-vocational ones. This means that they don’t train you for a particular job; they give you a general, all-around education that can be applied to many different jobs.

Here are a few examples of non-vocational degrees:

  • Business
  • Communications
  • English
  • Biology
  • Marketing

These degrees don’t prepare you for a specific career. Instead, they can help prepare you for the industry in general.

What Is the Most Useful Degree?

Everyone has their own definition of the “best” or “most useful” degree, but the truth is that it depends on where you want to work and what you want to accomplish. You’re the only person who can determine your own job satisfaction.

You should also think about your priorities as a future member of the workforce. Are you looking for the highest salary or the highest growth rate? Do you want to finish school as quickly as possible, or are you willing to get an advanced degree to increase your job prospects?

Is a Bachelor’s Degree Worth It?

group of friends having a dinner

Yes, a bachelor’s degree should be worth it for many students, both for the potential for increased job satisfaction and a likely higher salary.

If you’re on the fence about getting a bachelor’s degree, you should hop off on the side that contains a college campus. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, on average, degree holders make much more money than high school graduates alone, and having good credentials in a specialized, in-demand field can help put you on the fast track for a six-figure salary.

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Joy Cromwelle
WRITTEN BY
Joy Cromwelle
Joy is pursuing her Ph.D. in Public Policy & Foreign Policy and holds a Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management, as well as a Bachelor's in Business Administration. Joy's focus is helping non-traditional students find accelerated degree options and credit for prior learning opportunities.