UC San Diego News Center


Top Hot Careers for College Grads

Just what constitutes a hot job for a college grad?  For the fourth straight year, a research team at UC San Diego Extension examined that question.

“Too often a graduate hears ‘congratulations’ and ‘now what?’ It may take months for the implications of ‘now what’ to sink in,” says Mary Walshok, associate vice chancellor of public programs and dean of Extension. “This is why Extension has made a commitment to ongoing research on trends in the workplace and the economy.”

The 2012 study used wage and employment information gathered by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics and awarded points in four categories: The number of jobs in the field now, the 10-year projected growth from 2010 to 2020, the median wage and the work environment. The “work environment” label wraps together such factors as whether the job is indoors in an environmentally controlled setting, stress tolerance, time pressure, the amount of time spent dealing with unpleasant or angry people, the frequency of conflict situations, responsibility for others’ health and safety, and the consequences of mistakes.

Finally, a bridging parameter was used to account for the dilemma faced by so many college graduates struggling to find the right job in today’s economy: Can entry requirements for this field be met in two years or less by someone with a degree in a different area?

“In a changing and highly competitive job market, young graduates are often discouraged by their career horizons while working in low paid jobs,” says Walshok. “What we have learned through our work at UC San Diego Extension is that college grads increasingly need bridges to high quality employment. Those bridges help them understand where the job opportunities are, what the skill requirements are and how they can augment their Liberal Arts education with additional training and education to achieve their desired end – an interesting and challenging job with good compensation.”

After processing all the data, totaling the points and adding the bridging factor, 18 job categories emerge. There’s a clear pattern as to what directions our national workforce is taking: Ten of the in-demand listings are in computer-related fields, five are in medical, and three – cost estimators, personal financial advisors and management analysts – in a sense are occupations that process or adapt information generated by computers.

UC San Diego Extension, as the continuing education arm of the university has more than 56,000 enrollees annually in about 4,300 courses.

“UC San Diego Extension has put together an in-house research team under my direction which is doing more and more sophisticated assessments of employment trends and opportunities,” says Walshok. “To this end, this fourth special report on “Hot Careers for College Graduates” has taken a different tact. We have used an algorithm to draw up a list of 18 hot job categories that are typically within the reach of current and recent college graduates. Many of these jobs require some additional training beyond the college degree, but the ones we examined do not typically require Masters or Ph.D. degrees.

Veterinarians, registered nurses or advanced engineers are not on this list even though they are almost always in short supply. They are not included because they represent careers for which competitive admissions into long-term academic degree programs are typical. The occupations the report focuses on are careers for which an individual with a college degree and some additional education or training can qualify.

“Our experience with helping college grads build bridges to employment is heartening,” says Walshok. “We know it is possible for college grads to bridge into very high-quality jobs, many of which require technical skills, if they can find ways to increase their skills and networks through participation in an Extension Certificate.”

Top Five Hot Careers

For the full 2012 report that was released in June, go to Here is a synopsis of the top five jobs in the report.

1. Software Developers, Systems Software

The hottest of the hot careers is software developers for systems software, or more precisely, occupational category 15-1133 in the federal government’s Standard Occupational Classification codes that make accurate job comparisons possible. These software developers are the creative minds behind computer programs. They set up the underlying systems that run the devices or control networks. People with different occupational titles develop the applications that permit specific tasks and still others write the programming code and test it.

2. Physical Therapists and Assistants

Come 2020, gather all the physical therapists whose jobs did not exist in 2010 and they would fill San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium to overflowing.  There are expected to be 77,400 new jobholders, while the football stadium holds only 70,561. Some of the therapists, no doubt, would be watching a football game or soccer match and wondering which athletes might need their services in the future. This occupational field is experiencing an incredible growth rate of 39 percent over 10 years, or from 198,600 employed in 2010 to 276,000 in 2020.

The therapist assistant category is growing even faster at 46 percent, although the 30,800 new jobholders would only fill two-thirds of San Diego’s Petco Park, capacity 46,000. With a median pay of $49,960, some of the assistants would be found in Petco’s cheaper seats. Prerequisite to becoming an assistant is an associate’s degree. An assistant does more of the routine tasks, cleaning treatment areas, helping people to the site and assisting patients with insurance forms. But assistants also observe patients, help them do exercises and educate the entire family on what to do after treatment.

3. Software Developers, Applications

Chances are every college student has been a software applications customer many times over. Download a song, comparison shop, find directions to the weekend party, play a computer game, submit a job application online or share a goofy photo electronically – all these functions and widespread access to the Internet distribution system did not exist when they were born.  Applications developers, similar to the No. 1 hot job of systems developers, have their own classification, or 15-1132 in code jargon. This is a huge field, 520,800 already employed, and getting larger at a 10-year clip of 28 percent, slightly less than the systems developers’ projected 32 percent increase. Their median pay is comparable, $87,790 a year, and the qualifying process is similar.

4. Market Research Analysts/Data Miners

High pay alone does not constitute a hot job. Take market research analysts and the emerging but as yet unrecognized data mining occupational title. They are everywhere, in every aspect of the economy and the field leads all others in expected growth rate of 41 percent (116,800 positions) between 2010 and 2020. The median salary, however, is $60,570 a year. Companies use these analysts to study market conditions, form sales campaigns, establish customer satisfaction levels and even decide where to locate stores. Market research analysts help financial institutions decide whether to grant loans or credit cards.

5. Cost Estimators

Few occupations have such severe penalties for on-the-job mistakes as does that of cost estimators. If a cost estimator for a construction company overestimates the expense of erecting a building, the firm bids too high and probably does not win the project. If a cost estimator underestimates, the firm probably wins the project but may lose money on the work. Despite the stress of not being wrong or of racing to meet deadlines, despite the challenges of traveling to sometimes remote construction sites or the somewhat modest median salary of $57,860, cost estimator is a hot job. A primary reason is the expected growth in positions, an expected 36 percent increase and 67,500 new positions by 2020.