I recently received one of those local neighborhood magazines that seem to have popped up all over suburbs in the past few years. Inside there was an “education guide” with information about today’s most promising career paths. Wisely, it included both a section for promising college degree paths as well as trade and technical paths that prove lucrative and in-demand. The stigma of going the vocational route as opposed to seeking a college degree is breaking down as higher education costs rise and the downsides often outweigh the benefits. These are the promising careers of today – but what about tomorrow?

Let’s take a look.

Here’s what the article said are the top ten college degree paths with promising futures, based on projected salary, career prospects, and sustained relevancy of the field:

  1. Biomedical Engineering
  2. Biochemistry
  3. Computer Science
  4. Software Engineering
  5. Environmental Engineering
  6. Civil Engineering
  7. Geology
  8. Management Information Systems (MIS)
  9. Petroleum Engineering
  10. Applied Mathematics

Notice a trend there? Not a lot of liberal arts or history majors. No mention of writing, music, communications. Not even education or business. It’s all math and science – and if the trends are showing us anything, this article is probably right. Engineers will always need specific education in engineering. Doctors will always need science. But everything else? There’s likely a better way…

Now for the vocational trades with good pay and lots of opportunities:

  1. Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
  2. HVAC Technician
  3. Home Inspector
  4. Plumber
  5. Electrician
  6. Landscape Designer
  7. Radiation Therapist
  8. Dental Hygienist
  9. Ultrasonographer
  10. Respiratory Therapist

To me, that looks like a list of essential jobs that won’t be disappearing any time soon. Everyone’s going to need the services of at least a few of those folks at some point in their life, and that truth is unlikely to change.

The cost to attend a four-year college has increased by 213 percent over the past 30 years. The cost to attain the training necessary for the jobs on that second list is a tiny fraction of a traditional college path. They may require you to get your hands a little dirty, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

What’s the takeaway?

It’s becoming more and more clear that the value of a traditional four-year college degree is limited to a narrow list of majors. It’s definitely worth the time and investment if STEM-type industries are your future, but otherwise it’s certainly in your long-term interest to explore all available options.

Too many colleges and universities are afraid to embrace change, and just aren’t preparing students for what’s out there in a realistic way. They are more concerned with enrollment and getting paid than setting students up for success. Make sure, whatever path you choose, you have a long-term vision of where you want to be, so you can ensure the steps you’re taking are the most productive to reaching that goal.

And don’t forget, while all these jobs may still be important and relevant in 10 years, there will also likely be entire new industries and hundreds of other jobs that nobody has heard of today, that don’t exist yet, and that we can’t yet fathom. Preparing yourself for those opportunities is truly what today’s learning should be about.