Top Ten Hottest Jobs

Not sure what to major in? Undecided about your career path? Consider a job in one of these fastest-growing fields. Not only are they in high demand, but they pay well, too.

All your life, people have asked you what you want to be when you grow up. Over the years, my responses have included firefighter, ballet dancer, race car driver and bull fighter (my parents were probably relived when I settled on mild-mannered reporter). But once you enter college, the inquiries about your future turn more pressing. After all, NASCAR 101 isn't part of the core curriculum at any respectable university I know of. The time has come to own up to that perennial question: What do you want to be now that you're grown up?

There are a lot of factors to consider, and your campus career center is chock-full of personality tests, career profiles and other tools that can help you zero in on your particular interests and aptitudes. But one thing to keep in mind is how easily you'll be able to find a job after you graduate and whether you'll make enough money to pay off your student loans. If you're undecided on your career path, you might take a closer look at fields that will see increased demand over the next few years, namely health care, technology and biological science.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many of the jobs that will grow the fastest between 2004 and 2014 are related to those fields. An increasingly aging population is driving much of the need in health care and biological science, while general business growth and an increasing concern over cyber security are creating more jobs in tech. Pursuing these hot industries not only will increase your job prospects, but also your earning potential -- the fastest-growing jobs also tend to have the highest salary growth.

Let's face it. Most people probably don't choose a major based on money. According to the Princeton Review, the second most popular college major (behind business administration) is psychology. On average, psych grads pull in a starting salary of about $30,200 -- one of the lowest pays of the major areas of study tracked by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The third most popular college major is elementary education, where the starting salary isn't much higher, at about $31,400.

Of course, if those subjects are your passion, it makes sense to pick them for your major. However, if you're not sure what you want to do, but you do know you want to land a good job after college, check out the top ten fastest-growing jobs, according to the BLS. We limit the list to jobs for college graduates. (See the box below for the top five fastest-growing fields for workers without a four-year degree.) The percentage listed indicates a job's expected growth rate between 2004 and 2014. Salary data is from 2004, the last year for which BLS had numbers available, and it denotes the median pay in that job, so starting salaries will be a bit lower.

1. Network systems and data communications analyst (54.6%)

Job description: Design, test and build networks for businesses, including their data, e-mail and voice-mail systems.
Why it's hot: More firms are looking to install or upgrade their networks to improve communication within the office and increase data accessibility.
Degree: Bachelor's degree in computer science, computer engineering or information science.
Median salary: $60,600
More information

2. Physician assistant (49.6%)

Job description: Work under a doctor's supervision to complete miscellaneous tasks physicians may not have time to handle, such as taking medical histories, writing prescriptions, giving patient exams and ordering lab tests.
Why it's hot: An aging population is creating a growing need for medical care. And with an increasing emphasis on keeping health-care costs low, demand is booming for physician assistants, who cost less than doctors.
Degree: Bachelor's plus a two-year physician-assistant program. Must pass a licensure exam.
Median salary: $69,410
More information

3. Computer applications software engineer (48.4%)

Job description: Uses computer languages to design, construct and maintain computer programs and applications software for consumers and businesses.
Why it's hot: Customized business software is a growing market.
Degree: Bachelor's in computer science or software engineering
Median salary: $79,930
More information

4. Computer systems software engineer (43%)

Job description: Configures, installs and maintains entire computer systems. May also set up a company's intranet and handle security issues.
Why it's hot: Businesses continue to implement new technologies to increase the efficiency of their computer systems. Concerns over security are driving organizations to invest more money in protecting their networks.
Degree: Bachelor's in computer science, computer information systems or software engineering
Median salary: $79,740
More information

5. Network and computer systems administrator (38.4%)

Job description: Run a business's on-site help desk for computer matters.
Why it's hot: More organizations are implementing networks and need the in-house support that comes with them.
Degree: Bachelor's, but not necessarily in a computer-related field.
Median salary: $58,190
More information

6. Database administrator (38.2%)

Job description: Determine the best ways to organize, store and deliver a company's data.
Why it's hot: Falling prices for computer hardware and software are driving more organizations to ramp up their computerized operations.
Degree: Bachelor's degree in computer science, information science or management information systems. Many employers seek workers with a master's of business administration (MBA).
Median salary: $60,650
More information

7. Physical therapist (36.7%)

Job description: Help people suffering from injuries or disease by administering physical treatments and exercises.
Why it's hot: An aging population means more people with physical limitations and disabilities.
Degree: Bachelor's and accredited physical therapy educational program. Must pass a licensure exam.
Median salary: $60,180
More information

8. Medical scientist (34.1%)

Job description: Conduct biomedical research to understand causes of health problems to develop treatment and techniques to improve human health.
Why it's hot: Hot health issues such as AIDS, cancer and Alzheimers are driving research. Medical scientists also help develop new drugs -- a hot field thanks to the aging population.
Degree: PhD in a biological science
Median salary: $61,320
More information

9. Occupational therapist (33.6%)

Job description: Help people with mental or physical handicaps learn daily tasks such as bathing and dressing, as well as other life skills such as using a computer and problem solving.
Why it's hot: An increasing number of seniors will need this kind of assistance in hospitals, nursing homes and their own homes. Also, a rising prevalence of special education programs for children with disabilities is driving a need for OTs in schools.
Degree: Master's required beginning in 2007. Must pass licensure exam.
Median salary: $54,660
More information

10. College instructor (32.2%)

Job description: Teach classes in a variety of academic and vocational subjects. Prepare lectures, grade exams and advise students.
Why it's hot: College enrollment is rising as the number of 18- to 24-year-olds increases. Also, more adults are returning to school to enhance career prospects.
Degree: Master's required for entry-level jobs. PhD required for tenure-track positions.Median salary: $51,800
More information


Although a college education is still your best bet for higher salaries and good job prospects throughout your career, you can still take advantage of fast-growing fields without a four-year degree. The top five jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, happen to be health care related. You may need a two-year associate's degree or other certification and training. We list the jobs' median hourly pay or annual salary, as of 2004. Starting salaries may run a bit lower.

1. Home health aide, $8.12 per hour
2. Medical assistant, $24,610 per year
3. Physical therapist assistant, $37,890 per year
4. Dental hygienist, $28.05 per hour
5. Dental assistant, $13.62 per hour

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