By Terence Loose
Are you considering returning to school and want to earn a degree that's attractive to future employers?
Now is a good time to be practical about what you study, says Susan Heathfield, About.com's Human Resources Guide.
"With the unemployment situation the way it is right now, I would be considering what degree to get more closely than any other time in history," says Heathfield. "If you want to be employable in this economy and the future, you have to have valuable skills."
With that in mind, we asked Heathfield what degrees employers might love - and which could make them frown.
We also consulted Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, and his department's 2012 study called "Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings." With the subheadline "Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal," this report studied the unemployment rates for recent (aged 22 to 26) and experienced (aged 30 to 54) college graduates in various majors.
Using the U.S. Department of Labor's most recent U.S. unemployment rate of 8.1 percent (April 2012), we considered unemployment rates above 8.1 percent as bad, and rates below 8.1 percent as good.
Keep that in mind as you learn more about college majors employers love and hate.
Do you have a passion for health care but want to pursue more of a leadership role? Consider earning a degree in health care administration.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor's 2010-2020 projections, 28 percent of all new jobs in the U.S. economy will be in the health care and social assistance industry.
So it's no wonder that the "Hard Times" report found a 2.9 percent unemployment rate for experienced health and medical administrative services grads.
"The cost of health care is now 18 percent of GDP (gross domestic product), our total economic activity," says Carnevale. "It's the biggest industry we have." And because management of that industry is such a large part of it, this is an attractive degree to employers, according to Carnevale.
Health services administration programs could include courses from accounting and health care law to health care ethics and epidemiology, according to the College Board, an organization of colleges and universities that administers tests such as the SAT.
Okay, so architecture might not be such a hated degree; it's just that there aren't many employers around to love it, says Carnevale.
Basically, it's all tied to the capital markets and the implosion of the housing market over the past few years. According to Carnevale, when Wall Street went under so did construction - which is closely linked to architecture field.
Perhaps that's why recent architecture graduates had an unemployment rate of 13.9 percent - the worst unemployment rate of all the listed degrees in the "Hard Times" report.
But if your passion still has you signing up for this degree, here are a few examples of the courses that are generally offered in an architecture program, according to the College Board: architectural design, building methods and materials, architectural history, and structural design.
If there's one thing we love to do in this age of the Internet, it's communicating. With everything from Twitter and Facebook to chat rooms and blogs blasting us every minute of every day, a degree in communications seems relevant.
The "Hard Times" report found a 7.4 percent unemployment rate among recent grads of communications. And the unemployment rate for experienced grads was even lower at 6.3 percent.
What's behind these strong numbers? Carnevale says communications is growing even though print journalism is not. He adds that "communications includes a lot of the Internet stuff and a lot of the institutional work."
Heathfield echoes this optimism, saying that a specialization in social media could help make you marketable now and well into the future. "But if you only do paper print advertising, you're a dinosaur," she warns.
Ready to learn more about social media and the communications field? The College Board says mass communications programs typically include courses in communication and mass media research, media law and ethics, mass media and society, or global perspectives in media.
We're not trying to stunt your growth as an artist here. But if you're planning to pursue a fine arts - or any arts - degree, Carnevale and his "Hard Times" report have some possibly uninspiring advice.
The report found that recent fine arts grads had a high unemployment rate of 12.6 percent. Experienced grads did fare a bit better, though, at 7.3 percent.
"There just isn't that much demand for the arts. We're taking the arts out of a lot of our schools," says Carnevale. "And at the same time a lot of people get degrees in the arts."
Carnevale advises considering a master's degree if you pursue the arts, which he says could open a lot of doors.
If you still want to study fine arts, your coursework depends on the area of art that you choose to study. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor notes that fine arts courses could include studio art, art history, and even core subjects like English and social science.
Are you thinking about putting your love for computers to the test by earning a degree in computer science?
Employers like what you're thinking, at least according to Heathfield and the "Hard Times" report. The report found that recent computer science grads had a 7.8 percent unemployment rate, while experienced computer science grads had an even lower unemployment rate of 5.6 percent.
What are some factors that might contribute to these low unemployment figures? Consider this: "There's just a whole wide range of what this degree can prepare you to do," says Heathfield. "You can do development, technology support, IT systems; you could move into the cloud and mobile world, data and network security, and identity theft."
The College Board says that computer science programs could include courses in artificial intelligence, digital system design, software engineering, or computer system organization.
Philosophy is a wonderful and fascinating field that delves into life's biggest questions: What is consciousness? Why should we be ethical? Why can't I find a job? Oh, sorry, that last one is not usually asked in school - but it may be asked when you graduate with a philosophy degree.
According to the "Hard Times" report, recent philosophy and religious studies grads had a high unemployment rate of 10.8 percent.
"Humanities degrees may make you a really well-rounded person, and I treasure my background in English, but they aren't giving you a skill that you can apply in the workplace unless you go on for advanced degrees," says Heathfield.
Carnevale agrees, adding that if students don't get a higher degree in philosophy, they often pursue a law degree or a teaching credential for more career prospects.
If you decide to stick with philosophy, the College Board lists some common courses such as epistemology, logic, ethics, and metaphysics. And to help put philosophy hopefuls at slight ease, the "Hard Times" report noted that experienced grads in this field had a more favorable unemployment rate of 6.8 percent.
Do you have a great bedside manner and a hankering to help those in need? Pursuing a nursing degree could be your calling. With an unemployment rate of 4 percent for recent grads and only 1.9 percent for experienced grads - according to the "Hard Times" report - it's probably safe to say that employers are quite fond of this degree.
Because nurses can't be outsourced, says Heathfield, and in the future world order, that's a big deal.
"Degrees that lead to careers that provide direct services to patients in health care will be in higher demand," she says. "Registered nurse is the prime example of this."
Nursing students may take commonly offered courses such as anatomy and physiology, health assessment, nutrition, or pharmacology, according to the College Board.
These careers are much more glamorous on the big screen than they are in reality.
Before you choose your degree, find out which ones you shouldn't bother with.
You lead a busy life. Find the right online degree program that works with your schedule.
Will 2013 be a good year for careers? Two experts weigh in.