Want to major in a field of the future? Colleges have been responding to developments in technology and business by creating majors that hardly existed 5 or 10 years ago. Other more established fields are suddenly hot at the undergraduate level as demand for workers spikes. Consider several emerging options:
1. Biomedical engineering: The body's systems are prone to wear and tear, and biomedical engineers apply engineering science and technology to come up with fixes: They look for chemical signals in the body that warn of cancer, invent and improve medical devices and prosthetics, engineer new drugs and vaccines, and design robots to assist in surgery. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics names biomedical engineering the fastest-growing occupation between 2008 and 2018, with a 72 percent rate of job growth.
Undergraduate programs number about 64 now, according to the biomedical engineering accreditation body. The University of Washington and Ohio State University have rolled out programs, while schools with established majors include Johns Hopkins University, Duke University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and University of California—San Diego.
[See the best colleges for biomedical engineering.]
2. Computer game design: Today's game design students will join an industry expected to reach $82.4 billion globally by 2015, compared to $55.5 billion in 2010. Becker College, along with neighbor Worcester Polytechnic Institute, is a popular destination for prospective game designers. Others include DePaul University, Michigan State University, and Rochester Institute of Technology.
"This is affecting the way we train people—think firefighters, military, but also corporate—the way we shop ... and the way products are pitched to us," says Lucia Dettori, associate dean of DePaul's College of Computing and Digital Media.
Graduates work in game production, development, design, art, programming, computer graphics, and human computer interaction. They are also software engineers at gaming studios and in architecture, medicine, law, and other industries using interactive simulation.
3. Environmental studies/sustainability: Programs in environmental studies are spreading as energy, water, food, and climate promise to be defining issues of the century. Students at the University of Wisconsin—Madison can now major in either environmental studies or environmental sciences, for example.
Environmental studies is an interdisciplinary degree, requiring students to select among courses in health, food and agriculture, energy, biodiversity, climate, history and culture, land use, and policy.