For the past several years, college graduates across the country have faced somewhat grim prospects. Employment rates have generally been low, and debt has been crushing. According to a bevy of recent research, however, things may soon be changing -- at least in some disciplines.
Business, computer science, health care and finance are among the fields where employment is actually growing for recent graduates, particularly those leaving school with an advanced degree. Although getting an education is still staggeringly expensive in most cases, the payback may be increasing.
Particularly for eligible military veterans and active-duty service members who can apply GI Bill benefits to their education, the time has perhaps never been better to pursue higher education.
While the economy has far from healed, companies in many major sectors are beginning to feel a bit of recovery. Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to job creation and new hiring. A study conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that employers anticipate hiring 13% more Class of 2013 college graduates than they hired from the Class of 2012.
Of course, these numbers are aggregate; the choice of major and degree program still matters tremendously. A person who graduates with a degree in fine arts is typically less likely to find immediate work than a peer with expertise in information technology (IT) or business management.
"While employers are seeking graduates from a broad range of disciplines, this fall they expressed particular interest in hiring new graduates with business-, computer science- and engineering-related degrees," NACE Executive Director Marilyn Mackes said in a press release shortly after the study's results were published. "Those most likely to increase their hiring of new college graduates include employers in chemical/pharmaceutical manufacturing; computer and electronics manufacturing; retail trade; finance, insurance and real estate; management consulting; and professional services."
Health-care and related services, such as nursing, are also expected to see a surge in new jobs as populations continue to age and more federal money is diverted to care initiatives.
To an extent, the same also applies to graduate studies. It used to be that getting a master's degree led to an automatic salary bump and, in many cases, preferred hiring. This is not always the case, at least not in every discipline.
"Graduate schools lure in prey by promising career advancement, but not all degrees deliver," Forbes magazine reported in 2012. Advanced degrees in computer science, IT, programming and engineering "have proven value," the article said. Those in the humanities, though? Perhaps not as much. "Sometimes, it seems an advanced degree in the humanities can actually hinder a career," Forbes said.
Much depends on the initiative of the candidate and their precise career goals. The bottom line, for most, is this: An advanced degree can pay off in today's economy, only if it is in a field with a demonstrated need for precise expertise. In these cases and when properly planned, the dividends can be huge.
Landing a career with better growth potential, pay grade and advancement is often worth the hefty price tag most schools today are charging. Even though most students finance their education through a combination of grants, loans and scholarships, having some confidence that the investment will lead to a high-paying job -- or at least a job that will be able to comfortably foot the repayments -- is wise.
Veterans and others eligible for GI Bill money can largely avoid this repayment conundrum, but making a good, sound choice with regard to how that money is used is nonetheless essential. In most cases, the bill will pay for one educational opportunity. Making a calculated decision is essential to making the most of the benefit.
In most cases, veterans have from 10-15 years after leaving the service or entering reserve status to use either Montgomery or Post-9/11 GI bill money. The money will typically cover all or most of the expenses associated with one degree program, be it for a bachelor's, master's, JD or Ph.D.
The benefits can only be used at accredited schools, though, and will impact the amount of money that students can pursue in federal financial aid. As such, a student who chooses a program that costs more than their GI Bill allotment will cover can choose to cover the remainder in financial aid, but only to an extent -- and all of this money must be repaid, usually with interest. Thus, it is still important to choose a program or career training track that will realize benefits both (a) to make the GI Bill allocation worth it; and (b) to enable the student to promptly make repayments on financial aid, as necessary.
In some cases, waiting until closer to the GI Bill expiration date may make sense. Given the economic prospects in the market today, though, a strong case can also be made for taking advantage of higher education now. Catching the bottom of the wave of what looks to be a new tide of employment opportunities is often advantageous.
Those with expertise or even just interest in the sciences, networking and computer technology, or health care of nearly any kind may find that the prospects today are actually more advantageous than they may be in five or 10 years' time.
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