The Best Emerging College Majors
If you want to set yourself up for a cutting-edge career with staying power, looking at emerging trends is a popular strategy. Start with these three questions: How is the world around you changing? What types of skills will be in demand in the workplace of tomorrow to respond and adapt to those changes? What can I study to help me learn those skills and become more marketable to future employers?
To help you start brainstorming, we’ve put together a list of the top emerging college majors that can help prepare you for the jobs of the future. Keep in mind, these majors aren’t necessarily the most popular right now — some are just being offered for the first time, or might only be available at a select number of colleges and universities. But if one of them is a good fit for your emerging career aspirations, it could be a good move to get in on the ground floor.
Here are 12 emerging college majors to explore.
You can barely get through a day without experiencing some sort of AI experience, which is why this emerging major is gaining in popularity — there’s even a U.S. News & World Report ranking for such programs.
What it entails: You’ll study computer hardware and software, computing theory, natural language processing, cognitive psychology and more.
Job prospects: In 2018, six out of the 15 emerging jobs are related in some way to AI, according to LinkedIn’s US Emerging Jobs Report. Expect AI to continue to infiltrate nearly every industry sector including manufacturing and financial services.
From augmented reality to virtual reality to everything in between, this cutting-edge technology is growing at a rapid pace. Colleges like Savannah College of Art and Design and Shenandoah University in Virginia are leading the way with majors that prepare students for work in these fields.
What it entails: Studies are geared toward students who wish to develop and produce narrative-driven experiences and programs across augmented and/or virtual reality platforms. Coursework involves 360-degree video and AR/VR content production and programming. Studies involve how to use AR/VR tools and software, engineering and computer science. Those who are more design-minded, will focus on more creative coursework.
Job prospects: From the military to healthcare to marketing gaming and entertainment, AR and VR technologies are popping up in a variety of industries. Jobs roles might include developers, 3D artists, design architects, software engineering and more.
According to a Coinbase study, 42 percent of the world’s top 50 universities have at least one class on cryptocurrencies and blockchain. While there aren’t any full-fledged majors in this technology that we could find (yet!), there are lots of concentration tracks and research centers being established due to the demand. It’s also one of the main focuses of NYU’s FinTech MBA program.
What it entails: Blockchain refers to a distributed recordkeeping technology made famous through the popularity of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. Students focusing on economics, finance, law and business, as well as those on a technology track, are adding blockchain studies to their class schedules.
Job prospects: Blockchain developer jobs had a 33x growth in 2018 from one year earlier, according to LinkedIn research. In fact, Blockchain-related jobs are the second-fastest growing in today’s labor market, according to TechCrunch, with 14 job openings for every one blockchain developer.
As of late 2018, 33 states and the District of Columbia have already passed laws legalizing marijuana in some form. As such, cannabis is becoming a booming business in those areas and beyond. Colleges like Northern Michigan University, Stockton University and Colorado State University are stepping up to help graduates entering this growing industry.
What it entails: Depending on the focus of the programs, students may be required to take courses like medicinal plant chemistry, cannabis law or other studies on cannabis from a social, historical or political perspective.
Job prospects: If full legalization occurred in all 50 states today, there would be an excess of 654,000 jobs, and would increase to 1 million jobs by 2025, according to New Frontier Data, an authority for the cannabis industry. If you are in a state or city that has legalized it (or is about to), your prospects should be solid. From production managers who oversee the growth of product to lawyers, accountants, chemists and botanists, this industry will be in need or all kinds of professionals. There’s even a cannabis-focused Executive Search and Staffing firm called CannabizTeam.
Tufts University describes its bachelor of science in data science degree as the principles and practices in data analysis that support data-centric real-world problem solving. With nearly all large organizations collecting and analyzing data to gain insight into their users, employees and operations, data scientists will be in high demand.
What it entails: Data science majors usually originate from the mathematics or computer science departments with coursework ranging from data mining and data infrastructure to machine learning, statistical modeling and more.
Job prospects: Data science specialist and data science manager were both included on LinkedIn’s list of emerging jobs, especially in demand across sectors like higher education, information technology and services, and computer software. Other related job titles include actuaries, operation research analysts and statisticians. Mathematical science occupations as a whole are projected to grow 27.9 percent from 2016 to 2026, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
We often think of robots as replacing jobs, but according to World Economic Forum research, even though robots will displace 75 million jobs globally by 2022, they will create 133 million new ones. SUNY Plattsburgh, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Lawrence Technological University and Carnegie Mellon University are among the pioneer schools offering robotics majors.
What it entails: Students learn about both the hardware and software components of robotics. The robotics major is sometimes interdisciplinary, meaning you’ll be learning skills that overlap computer science, physics and mathematics.
Job prospects: Robotics programmer, robotics engineer, robotics technician and robotics operators are just some of the job titles popping up in this “new” field.
With more and more hacks, data breaches and financial fraud taking place online, the need for information security specialists, cybersecurity professionals and digital forensic scientists will continue to grow. To develop professionals who can design and implement various security measures to protect an organization’s computer networks and systems and data, many schools are offering majors in digital forensics, cybersecurity or a related field.
What it entails: These majors integrate technology with criminal justice, teaching students how to identify and prevent cybercrimes, and conduct investigations. Coursework includes core technology and criminal justice classes, and skills like analyzing large data sets.
Job prospects: Employment of information security analysts is projected to grow 28 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations, says the BLS. Careers in cybersecurity include auditing and becoming a cybercrime investigator for law enforcement, government agencies, private corporations and more.
As the world looks for alternatives to fossil fuels, renewable energy companies will need skilled workers who can innovate and meet the demands of solar, wind and other green technologies gaining traction.
What it entails: There are a variety of renewable energy majors, some in engineering, others in technology, and those that are more public policy driven. Depending on the focus, students will delve into sustainable energy systems, as well as possible coursework in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and more. Most important, all studies are presented through the lens of renewable energy sources.
Job prospects: Whether it’s helping organizations meet “green” building codes and standards, or becoming a renewable energy policy expert, the job outlook is strong in renewable energy-related professions. In fact, the BLS reports that two of its fastest growing occupations for the period between 2016 to 2026 are solar photovoltaic installers (105 percent increase) and wind turbine service technicians (96 percent increase).
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (Drones)
Drones are everywhere these days — they are used to survey land, conduct surveillance and other law enforcement work, assess damage after natural disasters, and even to perform package deliveries. According to The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), 80 percent of patents associated with unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) technologies have been published since 2016, demonstrating the industry’s exponential growth. Naturally, some colleges — mostly those focused on aeronautics and aviation — are offering majors tailored for aspiring drone professionals
What it entails: Some coursework you can expect for this high-flying major include applied physics for aviation, aerodynamics, transportation safety, unmanned aircraft systems, computer science, engineering, geographic information systems (GIS) and more.
Job prospects: Graduates should leave school ready to pilot unmanned aircraft for private and commercial industries, as well as for government, military or law enforcement organizations. There are other non-pilot drone-related careers to consider including aerial photography and/or cinematography, mapping and modeling, and engineering.
Between Space X launches, capturing the first photo of a black hole and a commitment from NASA put humans on Mars in the near future, pay attention to this up-and-coming major. Astrobiology refers to the study of life in the universe. For anyone interested in the future of space exploration, and perhaps, the idea that humans may one day discover another habitable planet, this field of study is worth exploring.
What it entails: You’ll cover the “big” questions about life as we know it, from biochemical evolution to the origin and evolution of life on Earth. Coursework may include planetary science, extrasolar planets, along with a core curriculum of mathematics, physics and biology.
Job prospects: NASA lists a wide range of jobs that astrobiologists can pursue including researcher, careers in academia, science journalist, geoscientist, astronomer, science policy maker and more.
The global biotechnology market is expected to reach $727.1 billion by 2025, according to a new report by Grand View Research, Inc., assuring that the demand for skilled professionals will continue to rise. Majoring in biotechnology is a good bet if you’re looking to enter fields like genetic engineering, wish to research vaccines, or if you’re pursuing any number of pharmaceutical, agricultural or biotech-related paths.
What it entails: Many colleges offer the biotechnology major as either an undergraduate- or graduate-level program. You’ll learn core skills in applied genetics, molecular biology and biochemistry, as well as how to use biotechnology tools, work in laboratory settings and the ethics of it all.
Job prospects: From the pharmaceutical industry to government research entities to clinical laboratories and regulatory agencies, the opportunities for those with a biotech education are vast.
Whether or not we ever pass some version of the “Green New Deal,” businesses have been making sustainability commitments for some time now. Professionals who have the skills to help companies become more efficient, produce less waste and adopt “greener” policies that also boost the bottom line are in high demand.
What it entails: Sustainable business majors, concentrations or graduate degrees all focus on the economics of sustainability, and how to help organizations solve problems and become more socially responsible. Coursework may include natural resource management, environmental science and policy, supply chain and information systems.
Job prospects: Among the hot job titles in the industry are chief sustainability officer, global supply manager, sustainability manager, sustainability specialist and supply chain management and more employment across the public, private and non-profit sectors.