Looking for an academic direction with terrific growth potential? Some traditional fields are newly hot at the bachelor's level; in other cases, enterprising colleges are creating new majors in emerging fields. Here are some hot majors you might want to consider.
1. Biomedical engineering: The folks standing at the intersection of the life sciences, engineering and medicine are working on such advances as an artificial kidney to help 2 million people worldwide give up their dependency on dialysis, and "designer" blood clots created from artificial platelets to save wounded soldiers on the battlefield.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the field will see a 62 percent growth in jobs between 2010 and 2020. The Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor boast top 10 programs in the field.
[Explore the best colleges for biomedical engineering.]
2. Biometrics: This field teaches students how to build automated identification devices, such as facial recognition systems. As biometric readers replace photo IDs and passwords in both the public and private sectors, the industry is expected to grow to $363 million by 2018, according to New York-based Transparency Market Research.
West Virginia University and Davenport University are the pioneers offering undergrad degrees in the discipline, says Bojan Cukic, professor of computer science and electrical engineering at WVU. Grads with a strong foundation in biometrics can pursue careers as security consultants, intelligence analysts or biometric system designers.
3. Forensic science: More experts are needed to operate the new, sophisticated tools to prevent and investigate crimes. Forensic science focuses on using technology to analyze evidence. Students should expect "tons of math and science, plus learning to interface with the criminal justice system," says Timothy Palmbach, chair of the forensic science department at the University of New Haven.
About 15 U.S. bachelor's degree programs are now accredited by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in forensic science or forensic chemistry, including Pennsylvania State University, Loyola University Chicago and Texas A&M University.
4. Computer game design: The global market for video and online games is expected to reach $82 billion by 2017, according to DFC Intelligence, a San Diego-based market research company.
Budding designers must learn skills such as animation, audio design, programming and production management – expertise that can also be employed to create simulated training environments in which, for example, emergency personnel respond to an earthquake.
More than 200 colleges and universities now offer majors in game design, development and programming, including the University of Southern California, University of Utah, George Mason University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Becker College and Drexel University.
5. Cybersecurity: Large companies and governments are moving aggressively to protect their computer systems. Between 2014 and 2016, the Pentagon plans to add more than 4,000 experts at its Cyber Command. Specialists in cybersecurity can also expect to find openings in health care, energy and at security services firms.
The National Security Agency is identifying centers of excellence in cyber operations, starting with Dakota State University, the Naval Postgraduate School, Northeastern University and the University of Tulsa.
In one essential course at DSU, "students learn to 'lift the hood' of the software program, see how it works, determine where it is vulnerable and then write code to exploit that vulnerability," says Josh Pauli, associate professor of cybersecurity.
[See photos of the hot college majors.]
6. Data science: The International Data Corp., a Massachusetts-based technology market research firm, says the global volume of computerized data is doubling every two years. This will help create some 4.4 million jobs worldwide by 2015, estimates Connecticut-based technology research firm Gartner Inc. Interested students should consider a major in data science or business analytics (No. 7 below).