Prepare for your future by pursuing one of these top jobs.

What if you could predict the future? When it comes to the job market, you might be able to do just that. By looking at research, trends, and technology, it's possible to make strong educated guesses about which jobs are going to be the most in demand (and the highest paying) in the next 10 to 20 years.

Today's college students and recent high school grads are in a unique position to take advantage of these predictions. While money certainly isn't everything in a career, it is becoming an increasingly important consideration for today's students. College is more expensive than ever before, which means getting a degree today is more of an investment than it used to be. Many students are making calculations when they consider which degrees are most likely to land them jobs, earn them money, and help them repay those sizable college loans.

In this landscape, it's important for students to know which jobs are the safest bets and what skills they'll need to compete in those employment markets. Below, we've leveraged U.S. News & World Report's list of “2018's Best Jobs” to create a guide to the fields savvy students might want to consider pursuing.

Software Developer

The reasoning: At a time when many jobs of the past are being replaced by robots, automated systems, and software, it makes sense to pursue the job at the top of the food chain. That job right now is software developer, which is ranked at the very top of the U.S. News & World Report list of 2018's Best Jobs. Between 2016 and 2026, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects this field to grow by more than a quarter-million jobs. The demand will lead to high salaries (the median is just over $100,000 per year) and extremely low unemployment rates.

The education: Most software developers have bachelor's degrees in computer science, software engineering, or similar majors. While some employers may prefer to see master's degrees in these fields, extra schooling is rarely necessary.

Conclusion: A good software developer can work anywhere these days. From getting a job with a startup to working with a major corporate enterprise, or even starting your own business, there are opportunities in virtually every industry and every geographic market you can think of. The pay isn't bad either, and the educational time investment is relatively low.


The reasoning: Dentistry is one of those fields that is always going to offer ample job opportunities, simply because the need for good dental health is never going to disappear. In fact, the field is growing, spurred by the increasing popularity of cosmetic dental treatments like teeth whitening and reshaping. The extra demand means dentists enjoy one of the highest median salaries of any field, just shy of $154,000 per year.

The education: Of course, becoming a dentist involves a considerable amount of education. Students must complete an undergraduate degree, usually in pre-dentistry or a science-related field, though there is no specific requirement. Then comes the Dental Acceptance Test (DAT) and getting into dental school, which is a highly competitive process. Students then complete four additional years of education at dental school followed by a pair of examinations to become licensed.

Conclusion: Becoming a dentist is not for the faint of heart. The road to licensure and employment is long, expensive, and challenging. The prize at the end of that road, though, is a high-paying job with lots of stability, flexibility, and work-life balance. The work itself is rewarding and fulfilling with the creation of positive, trusting relationships between dentists and their patients.

Physician Assistant

The reasoning: Most students who pursue medicine envision themselves being physicians, but becoming a physician assistant might be the better option. While the median salary of $101,480 per year is not quite as appealing as what a physician makes (median salary $196,000), there are a few major perks. Namely, physician assistants work in almost identical capacities as regular physicians, but they don't need anywhere near as much schooling.

The education: Physician assistants go through a 26-month accredited physician assistant program after their undergraduate education. They must then go through a certification exam to obtain licensure before they can start practicing. Compared to what physicians must do — at least four years of medical school followed by residencies, fellowships, and other specialty programs — the path to becoming a physician assistant is much less intense.

Conclusion: If you want the challenges and rewards of being a physician but can't stomach the long educational commitment and large student loans necessary to get there, becoming a physician assistant might be a worthy compromise.

Related: Top Entry-Level Jobs for Recent College Grads

Nurse Practitioner

The reasoning: A nurse practitioner is different than a standard registered nurse. Professionals in this job are sometimes referred to as “Advanced Practice Registered Nurses.” They go through more schooling than RNs, which affords them more autonomy in the workplace. APRNs can perform a lot of the same tasks as physicians, even providing primary care in some situations.

The education: As with physician assistants, nurse practitioners are afforded many of the professional opportunities physicians have, but with less schooling. Still, APRNs do need a bachelor's degree in nursing as well as a master's Nurse Practitioner degree. The master's degree can take two to four years, followed by a certification process to use the APRN title. It's a long process, but still slightly shorter than a physician's since there is no residency.

Conclusion: Nurse practitioners have a median salary of around $101,000 per year. There is expected to be a major shortage APRNs (and all healthcare professionals) in the coming years as the Baby Boomer generation ages. Perhaps the most attractive feature is that individuals working toward nurse practitioner status can take RN jobs after undergrad (median salary $68,450 per year), and then decide if they wish to continue to the higher-paying career path.


The reasoning: A properly aligned smile is one of the factors that many people use to define beauty. Well, that kind of beauty starts in an orthodontic office, where highly-trained professionals work to resolve issues with crooked teeth, overbites, and underbites. The process of designing orthodontic treatment strategies is unique for every patient, requiring the use of apparatuses like braces and retainers. The result is a demanding and extremely specialized job, but one that rewards its professionals handsomely. Perks of this job include high pay ($208,000 per year is the median), low stress, incredible work-life balance, job flexibility, rewarding relationships with patients, and virtually nonexistent unemployment levels.

The education: If there is a drawback to becoming an orthodontist, it's the education. Most orthodontists start with an undergraduate education, continue to dental school, and finish up with an orthodontic graduate program. The typical timeline is four years of undergraduate study, four years of dental school, and two or three years of graduate work.

Conclusion: If you are up for more than a decade of education after high school, then the substantial rewards of becoming an orthodontist are worth considering.

If you are thinking about one of these fields, make sure to do your homework beforehand. Look for employers in your preferred area and see if they require specific degrees or certifications. Also, look at schools that have widely acclaimed programs for the specialty you wish to pursue. These jobs may be in high demand, but employers will still verify your education to make sure you're qualified.

Click on the following link for more job-search advice.

Grads, are you pursuing one of these careers? A free resume critique will tell you how your resume stacks up.

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