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ON THE JOB

7 Great Careers for 2007

Check out these not-so-obvious options.

If someone asked me which careers were best, I wouldn't cop out and simply say, "It's a matter of what fits you." But here are seven careers that I believe, for many college-educated people, provide an ideal combination of money, status, sense of fulfillment and good quality of life, and have good job market prospects for the foreseeable future.

Orthodontist. It's one of the few medical specialties in which self-employment remains a possibility, and the average self-employed orthodontist earns more than $200,000 a year. Also, you develop a long-term relationship with most of your patients. And, at the end of treatment, you've succeeded with nearly all -- they walk out with a better smile. For more information, see the American Association of Orthodontists' Web site or William Proffit's book, Contemporary Orthodontics, fourth edition.

Optometrist. Same deal: high cure rate, self-employment possibility and six-figure average compensation. Plus, aging boomers mean increased demand for optometrists. See the American Optometric Association Web site or Primary Care Optometry, fifth edition, by Theodore Grosvenor.

Audiologist. I rate this just a bit lower than optometrist because, despite ever-improving hearing aids, the success rate is lower. So is the average compensation, but you'll hardly starve. Also, the degree requirement has been ratcheted up: Until recently, a master's would do. Now it's a four-year doctor of audiology. Still, it's an unusually rewarding career. The nation's most famous hearing-aid wearer? Bill Clinton. See the American Academy of Audiology's Web site or Introduction to Audiology, ninth edition, by Frederick Martin.

Physician Assistant. You derive most of the rewarding aspects of being a physician with far fewer headaches. You get to do health exams, diagnosis and treatment (even suturing) under a physician's often not-close supervision. Instead of a dozen post-bachelor training years, it's two. And there's far less insurance and government paperwork. Although salaries aren't doctorly, they're pretty healthy: averaging $80,000 a year. For more information, check the American Academy of Physician Assistants' Web site or Opportunities in Physician's Assistant Careers, by Terence Sacks.

Higher Education Administrator. A college campus is among of the most pleasant and stimulating work environments. And with education ever more viewed as the magic pill, longer legions of students are lining up to enroll. That means a better job market for you. Perhaps the most fun niche: student affairs administrator. You might coordinate orientation, student housing, or extracurricular activities. See the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators' Web site or Nancy Archer Martin's book, Career Aspirations & Expeditions: Advancing Your Career in Higher Education.

Landscape Architect. With just a bachelor's degree, you can be designing resorts, industrial parks and rich people's backyards. And today's newest religion is environmentalism, so there are lots of jobs in, for example, coastal habitat restoration. For more, check out America Society of Landscape Architects online or Landscape Architecture, fourth edition, by John Simonds.

Librarian. Forget about the image of librarian as mousy bookworm. Today's librarian is a high-tech information sleuth, a master of mining cool databases (well beyond Google) to unearth the desired nuggets. Plus you'll probably have regular hours and good job security. See the American Library Association's Web site or The Librarian's Career Guidebook, by Priscilla Shontz, and Straight from the Stacks: A First-Hand Guide to Careers in Library and Information Science, Laura Townsend Kane.

Does a specific career intrigue you? The next step is to check out that career's professional association's Web site (listed for all the careers above). If it's still interesting, read the book I list.

If the career remains in the running, find at least two people in the career (one can be misleading) willing to let you watch them in action for an hour or two. How to find professionals to shadow? Try the professional association site. It often includes a membership list or at least a list of its local chapters. Attend a chapter meeting, chat with a few people during a break and, voilĂ , you'll likely find people willing to let you observe.

Don't just watch; ask. These questions usually reveal the career's dirt as well as its delights: Describe a typical day. What are the best and worst things about this career? What's the wisest way to get trained? Are there particularly desirable niches within this career? Why do people leave this career? Anything else I should know before choosing this career? (A catch-all question is always a good idea.)

Of course, my favorite seven professions might be your nightmares. For one-paragraph introductions to more than 500 careers, you might look at the brand new third edition of the book Cool Careers for Dummies. Take that recommendation with a grain of salt -- I wrote the book.

Columnist Marty Nemko, PhD, is a career coach and author of Cool Careers for Dummies.