Learning about potential employment growth in a particular job or field is a smart move when considering which career path you want to take. As a result, you will be able to choose a career that will provide you with enough job opportunities and earning potential to make the investment in your degree worthwhile.
Some of the fastest-growing career fields in the U.S. include nurse practitioners, information security analysts, web developers, logisticians, and marketing managers. Below are Intelligent.com’s picks for online degrees in these fields, and advice from UC-Irvine program coordinator and counselor Blanca Villagomez on what to consider when choosing a career, how to choose the right career, and the pros and cons of earning an online degree.
What to Consider When Choosing A Career
Choosing a career path is a significant life decision, especially if it means committing time, energy, and money to earn a degree. To make the best choice, “You’ll need to engage in a level of introspection to understand what your values, interests, and goals are,” Villagomez says.
To guide this reflection, Villagomez suggests students ask themselves the following questions:
- What are your professional goals? This can include leadership opportunities, high earning potential, self-employment, personal fulfillment, or a certain lifestyle, such as remote work or frequent travel.
- What are your core values? How might they align with your professional goals? It’s also important to clarify what’s important to you and understand how that can translate into a career path. Do you like helping others? Are you interested in using technology or science to solve problems? Is having a stable job and a high salary a priority? What kind of work-life balance do you seek?
- What careers that you’ve heard of intrigue you? Networking can come in handy here, as you can learn more about compelling careers by connecting with individuals in those fields either in-person or via online networking platforms like LinkedIn or Clubhouse.
- What skills do you currently feel most proud of? Students can develop and identify skills through working, volunteering, interning, or taking online classes. There are also free skill assessments online that can guide reflection on your strengths.
- What kind of work excites you the most? Think about hobbies, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, jobs, or internships you’ve participated in that sparked joy and satisfaction. This can offer clues to potential careers that align with your areas of interest. According to researchers, choosing a career you’re passionate about can have long-term benefits.
- What issues, problems, or topics are most interesting to you? What would you want to become an expert in? Who do you want to help or serve? This approach to career exploration encourages students to think about external factors, like who they might end up working with or what impact their job may have on the world.
Best Online Degrees for Fast-Growing Careers
Nurse practitioners, also known as advanced practice registered nurses, provide primary and specialty care to a variety of patient populations, including children, pregnant women, and the elderly. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that overall employment of nurse practitioners will increase 40% through 2031, thanks to anticipated retirements and increased demand for healthcare services, especially among the aging population. A master’s degree is the minimum education requirement for most nurse practitioner jobs. The typical education trajectory is a bachelor’s in nursing, followed by a Master of Science in Nursing with a nurse practitioner focus, although there are alternative paths.
For technology enthusiasts, data scientist is a fast-growing occupation with high earning potential. Data scientists work in a variety of settings collecting, organizing, and analyzing data, creating, testing, and updating algorithms, and using data visualization software to present findings. BLS projects that employment will grow 36% by 2031, thanks to an increased demand for data mining and analysis. Data scientists earn a median annual salary of $100,910. Most data scientist jobs require a bachelor’s degree, although some higher-level positions may seek candidates with a master’s or doctorate. Several majors teach the skills needed for data scientist positions, including computer science, mathematics, statistics, business, and engineering.
Information security analyst
Information security analysts are critical to protecting data and systems from security threats. They monitor networks for threats, maintain security measures, like data encryption and firewalls, and oversee emergency preparedness plans in the event of a security breach at a company. According to the BLS, the employment of information security analysts will rise 35% by 2031. For their efforts, information security analysts are paid a median annual salary of $102,600. For most information security analyst jobs, individuals need a bachelor’s degree to qualify. However, some entry-level positions may be available to those with an associate’s degree or certificate, while higher-level positions may seek candidates with a master’s degree. Computer science is the most common major for those who want a career as an information security analyst.
If you’re interested in building and maintaining websites, consider exploring a career as a web developer or digital designer. This career blends creative and technical skills and allows individuals a lot of flexibility in terms of industry and work environment. The BLS projects a 30% increase in web developer jobs through 2031. The median annual salary for web developers is $78,890. Education requirements for web developer jobs vary by position and employer. In some cases, a certificate and relevant work experience are sufficient qualifications. Meanwhile, other employers seek candidates with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
Medical and health services manager
This position combines healthcare and business, as medical and health services managers manage facilities, clinics, medical practices, and more. This means overseeing finances, operations, infrastructure, and regulations. According to the BLS, employment in this field is expected to grow 28% by 2031. They also report that the median annual salary for medical and health services managers is $101,340. Most medical and health services manager positions require a bachelor’s degree in a field like health administration or healthcare management. However, some higher-level positions may require a master’s degree in healthcare administration or health services.
Logisticians play a critical role in supply chains, managing a product’s lifecycle from design to disposal and overseeing activities like purchasing, transportation, and warehousing. According to the BLS, job opportunities for logisticians will increase by 28% by 2031 as the growth of e-commerce and the global supply chain increases demand for skilled logisticians to keep goods moving around the world efficiently. The median annual salary for a logistician is $77,030. Depending on the job, candidates will likely need either an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree to qualify. Individuals seeking management or leadership positions can gain the necessary skills with an MBA or master’s degree.
As the name implies, physician assistants (PAs) work with doctors or surgeons to provide patient care, including examination, diagnosis, and treatment. Many PAs choose a specialty, such as psychiatric care, family medicine, or OB/GYN care. Thanks to the growing role of PAs in healthcare, employment is expected to rise by 28% by 2031. PAs earn a median annual salary of $121,530. Individuals must have a master’s degree to qualify for PA positions. The standard educational path for individuals in this field is a bachelor’s degree in nursing, healthcare, or a related field, followed by a master’s in physician assistant studies. However, there are some alternative paths available for those who don’t have an undergraduate degree in healthcare.
As the world continues to address the causes and effects of climate change, individuals with sustainability skills and knowledge have become valuable in a variety of industries and roles. According to a LinkedIn study, jobs requiring green skills increased by 8% from 2017-2022. Jobs that fall under the sustainability umbrella include environmental engineers, environmental scientists, and sustainability management. Educational requirements will vary with each specific position, ranging from bachelor’s degrees to master’s or MBAs.
Growth marketing managers
Growth marketing managers are in charge of increasing interest and sales in products, services, and brands. They’re employed across a wide range of industries as organizations continue to rely on marketing to help them raise brand awareness and increase market share. The BLS projects that employment for marketing managers will rise 10% by 2031. The median annual salary for this career is $127,150. While a degree isn’t always required for these types of positions, an educational background in marketing, communications, or journalism can be helpful, especially for obtaining higher-level positions.
Human resources analytics manager
Human resources analytics managers, also known as training and development managers, work in multiple industries to help organizations train and develop their staff. Responsibilities typically include:
- Assessing employees’ training needs.
- Creating and implementing training programs.
- Managing budgets.
- Sometimes they teach training.
The BLS projects that employment in this field will rise 7% by 2031, thanks in part to the continued shift to remote work and the new training needs this presents. Human resources analytics managers earn a median annual salary of $120,130. Individuals who pursue this career typically need a bachelor’s degree in human resources, business, or a related field, although some jobs require a master’s degree or MBA.
How to Choose the Career That’s Best For You
“It’s never too early for students to start exploring different career paths,” Villagomez says. Once students have clarity on their professional goals, skills and interests, and core values, they should start more targeted research into the careers that interest them.
Thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever to learn more about potential career paths. “There’s a wealth of online resources for career exploration,” Villagomez says. “Students can watch videos on career tips, follow social media accounts and blogs that focus on career development, and subscribe to newsletters that offer weekly career tips.”
There are also plenty of ways to gain more firsthand insight into careers or fields you’re considering.
“Job shadowing is my favorite recommendation for students,” Villagomez says. “This is an opportunity to learn about what a typical day in that job looks like and gain a better understanding if that’s how you want to spend your time in the future.”
If students don’t have access to someone they can shadow, another option is an informational interview. “This is a really easy and flexible way to learn more about the careers you’re interested in,” Villagomez says. She says LinkedIn is an ideal platform for connecting with individuals in your prospective field. “Simply find professionals who are pursuing careers you’re interested in and send them a customized message asking them to connect. Once they’ve accepted your invitation, request a virtual 30-minute meeting with them to discuss their personal story and motivations, ask any questions you have about the field, and get tips for making an informed decision.”
Volunteering will also help you get more exposure to careers you’re considering. In addition to getting a closer look at the inner workings of a particular company or industry, volunteering is also an opportunity to develop valuable skills you can use in your degree program and your subsequent job search.
Pros and Cons of Starting Your Career With an Online Degree
There are many advantages to earning an online degree to launch your career, as well as some drawbacks students should be aware of (although they shouldn’t discourage students from this educational path).
Finish your degree faster:
“A great benefit of online programs is that many schools offer accelerated degrees that allow students to earn their degree more quickly than they would in a traditional program,” Villagomez says. “This can be great for individuals who are ready to enter the workforce” and aren’t necessarily seeking a traditional four-year college experience.
Enjoy more flexibility:
“The increased flexibility online programs offer is an advantage for students who need to maximize their time,” Villagomez says. In particular, she points out that asynchronous programs do not have scheduled meetings and allow students 24-hour access to lessons and assignments, meaning students can learn at their convenience.
Learn transferable skills:
Given the increased reliance on technology and remote work across the industry, online students enter the workforce with some in-demand skills. These can include being comfortable with livestream software and etiquette, working autonomously, and having strong time management, organizational, and self-motivation skills.
Not ideal for all learners:
- While the flexibility of online programs is advantageous for many students, it can also present some challenges. “The increased flexibility requires time management and prioritization skills, so students can balance work, family responsibilities, and their coursework,” Villagomez says. Additionally, students in virtual programs must do more to hold themselves accountable for completing work on time, as they may not have consistent check-ins with faculty and peers.
Less hands-on experience:
- Educational technology advancements have expanded how students learn online. However, some learning experiences can’t be replicated in a virtual setting. Villagomez encourages students to consider what type of experiential learning is necessary to prepare them for their chosen career field and seek out fieldwork experiences that will be beneficial for their career growth. “Meet with a career counselor at your institution to learn more about different ways you can gain skills if your program focuses on virtual learning.”
Disconnection from faculty and classmates:
- Because of the nature of online learning, which focuses more on independent study and technology-assisted communications, students may lack a sense of belonging with their peers and faculty. To combat this, Villagomez recommends attending virtual office hours with faculty to stay connected, seeking out social engagement opportunities for remote students, and hosting virtual study sessions with peers.
How Do Employers View Online Degrees?
According to a 2018 Northeastern University study, 61% of HR managers viewed online degrees as generally equal in quality to traditional degrees. Since the near-universal shift to online learning early in the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s likely that this number has increased. “Employers understand that online programs are just as reputable and competitive as traditional on-campus programs,” Villagomez says. “As long as the program is accredited, an online degree shouldn’t limit your ability to secure employment opportunities and advance your career.”
To some employers, having an online degree can actually be an asset. In order to succeed in their online programs, students must develop certain skills which can easily transfer to a work environment. This can include self-motivation, time management, organization, communication, and technical abilities. If you’re seeking a remote or hybrid job, having an online degree can demonstrate to potential employers that you are already comfortable working independently and remotely.
Encountering an employer who doesn’t value your online degree may indicate that it isn’t the right fit, says Villagomez. “My advice is always to seek an employer who values your knowledge, skills and worth.”
Interested in a degree instead?
Learn more about online degrees, their start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.