Still out on what major to choose? Not sure what you want to do after college?
We took the list of the fastest growing occupations in the U.S. from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov) and interviewed people in nearly every career area. Here’s what they do day to day, and their advice on how to pursue the same career.
We got all the national average salary info from the BLS; the other info is straight from the professionals themselves. We hope it helps you discover a career for yourself! Read on for our careers guide!
National average salary: $84,900
Job: Pharmacy manager at The Pharmacy Counter in Oregon, Ohio
Education: Bachelor’s in pharmacy
Typical day: I receive prescription orders from physician offices, fill patient prescriptions, and counsel patients on how to take their medications properly.
Classes, skills: Typical courses include anatomy and physiology, organic chemistry, medicinal chemistry, pharmacology, pharmaceutics and pharmacokinetics. These courses will enable you to understand the drug’s chemical structures, how they are metabolized inside the human body, how to properly dose medications, and even how to compound them in a laboratory.
In the know: What I like most about my job is that it is mentally stimulating, and there are different challenges every day. The worst part about my job is that sometimes we are so busy I don’t have time to take a lunch break. Knowing that I can make a difference in someone’s life is worth the hard work.
National average salary: $61,320
Job: Scientist, Allograft Materials Research, Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation in Edison, N.J.
Education: Bachelor’s in biomedical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, master’s in tissue engineering (2007) from New Jersey Institute of Technology
Typical day: I develop new products, like synthetic skin grafts, and establish procedures to make new product and transfer to manufacturing. I also work with leading surgeons and scientists to establish product and patient safety.
Classes, skills: Get a Ph.D. in biochemistry, biology or chemistry; a master’s degree in biomedical engineering or biotechnology; or a medical degree.
In the know: The best part of the job is the reward of being able to utilize the gift of donated tissue to provide grafts to improve the quality of life for those in need. Recently, a set of 4-year-old conjoined twins were separated, and the grafts that I developed from donated skin were used to cover the exposed organs and muscle from the separation.
The worst part of my job is the same as everyone else’s job. Sometimes it gets dull; research can take a long time. Do it if you love science, technology, and interacting with people.
National average salary: $54,950
Job: Marriage and Family Therapist, Strong Behavioral Health Child & Adolescent Outpatient Services
Education: Master’s in marriage and family therapy at the University of Rochester, School of Medicine and Dentistry
What they do: Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) are trained in psychotherapy and family systems. They diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage, couples and family systems.
Classes, skills: Get a master’s degree, doctorate degree, or enroll in a post-graduate clinical training program.
In the know: The best part of my job is getting to help families and constantly learning new things about how people live and relate.
I can honestly say that, going into this career field, you are constantly on your toes and need to be ready for anything. Every day brings a new challenge, and sometimes it can be emotionally and physically draining. If you enjoy working with people, are flexible and can think outside the box, then this may be the field for you!
Occupational therapy assistant
National average salary: $38,430
Job: Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant at Kirkhaven in Rochester, N.Y.
Education: Associate’s degree in occupational therapy
Typical day: Careers guide- Occupational therapy is a pretty open field, with lots of specialties. OT for me is a lot like teaching in a geriatric classroom. Except instead of teaching math or grammar, I’m teaching the jobs of life, things we take for granted: washing, dressing, cooking, etc.
Classes, skills: You can expect to take a lot of science and human relations classes in school. I wish I’d paid better attention to Spanish. It would make communicating with some patients a whole lot easier.
In the know: The worst part about my job is paperwork. The best part is making a difference in someone’s life. I love it when a patient comes back to visit after they’ve been discharged with a big smile and a plate of homemade cookies, saying, “I never would have been able to do this without you.”
National average salary: $69,410
Job: Geriatric physician assistant for Strong Health
Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physician assistant from Daemen College in Buffalo, N.Y.
Typical day: PAs can work in OB/GYN, pediatrics, emergency medicine, internal medicine, surgery and any of the subspecialties of medicine.
My typical day consists of seeing and treating patients at rehab and long-term care centers who are having acute medical problems, ordering and evaluating lab and imaging results, medication management and admitting and discharging patients to and from the facilities.
Classes, skills: Most of the classes are science related. Important skills to have are the ability to communicate with patients, families and other health professionals, and the ability to think and make decisions quickly. Another important skill is the desire to always keep learning, as there are new medications and treatments being developed daily.
In the know: I get to work with a number of other professionals (nurses, doctors, other PAs, social workers, dieticians, etc.) and get the chance to establish a relationship with my patients and often their families, too.
It’s very rewarding to help someone recuperate from an illness or recover from an injury or surgery. On the other end of the spectrum, it’s hard to watch someone who was once vibrant go through the stages at the end of life. However, I can help them spend the last of their days with dignity and help ease suffering.
National average salary: $58,344
Job: Program director of the dental hygiene program at West Liberty State College in West Liberty, W. Va.
Education: Master’s in dental hygiene
What you do: Dental hygienists work in a variety of settings providing dental cleanings, dental sealants, fluoride treatments, periodontal therapy, exposing dental radiographs and oral hygiene education.
Practice settings include dental hygiene education, public health dental clinics, hospital dentistry clinics, military service, dental product sales and marketing, research, health promotion and more.
Classes and skills: Classes in biology, anatomy, microbiology, chemistry, nutrition and the dental sciences are required.
In the know: Working in the educational environment is exciting and challenging. Every year presents new opportunities to work with students from many states and cultural backgrounds. Dental hygiene is a wonderful career for those who enjoy working closely with people in the health care environment. Teaching the public about proper oral hygiene practices and preserving smiles is so rewarding!
National average salary: $88,410
Elise Harb, O.D., M.Sc., F.A.A.O.
Job: Assistant professor, New England College of Optometry; Attending pediatric optometrist, New England Eye Institute
Education: Optometry doctorate, residency in pediatric optometry, master’s in vision science
Typical day: I see patients 50 percent of my week in teaching hospitals with fourth-year optometry students. I do research in the field of myopia (nearsightedness) development, and teach lectures and small discussion groups in the area of pediatric optometry.
In the know: I love my profession and working with children for the challenge and rewards it offers. In addition, good vision is an important aspect of a child’s life due to the impact it has on their learning.
For a woman, optometry is an especially optimal career. The number of women optometrists is ever increasing due to the flexibility it allows for family life.
Medicolegal death investigator
Job: Executive director for the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators in St. Louis, Mo. I am also an investigator for Franklin and St. Charles counties and an adjunct professor.
Education: Because until very recently there has never been a national standard for death investigation, there is no baccalaureate degree specifically for this. Other forensic programs incorporate a couple of classes into their curriculum that emphasize death investigation techniques. It used to be that most people received on-the-job training for this position. Today, most offices want some kind of criminal justice or medical background (nurse, paramedic, etc).
Classes, skills: Medicine, law, local statutes, photography, computer skills
Typical day: Investigate any death that falls under the jurisdiction of the m.e./coroner. The medicolegal death investigator is responsible for the decedent, whereas the local law enforcement is responsible for processing the scene (CSIs). The medicolegal death investigator performs scene investigations emphasizing information developed from the decedent and determines the extent to which further investigation is necessary.
National average salary: $104,363
Ryan Uribe, D.C.
Job: Chiropractic physician at KC Metro in Kansas City, Mo.
Education: Bachelor’s in biology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, doctor of chiropractic degree from Cleveland Chiropractic College
Typical day: Examine patients, determine underlying reason for complaints and develop comprehensive treatment plans including spinal/extremity adjusting, physical therapy, diet and exercise. I can take and interpret X-rays, request special imaging, perform lab work and refer to other health care professionals.
Classes, skills: Four-year doctorate program including in-depth studies in anatomy, physiology, clinical exam/diagnosis, special emphasis on manual spinal and extremity adjusting, and at least two years of experience working as an intern in various clinical settings.
In the know: What I like most about my job is getting results where no one else has; promoting health and wellness, not just treating symptoms; and professional freedom.
What I like least is the normal necessary paperwork involved in any medical profession.
I would recommend that students considering the chiropractic field have a solid understanding and background in the sciences.
National average salary, general physician: $166,420
Dr. William Walters, Army National Guard
Job: Emergency medicine physician at Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Mass.
Education: Basic training in Fort Knox, Ky. I’ve also been a combat medical specialist, paramedic and registered nurse. I have a bachelor’s degree in biology from SUNY College at Oswego and a medical doctorate from MCP Hahnemann University School of Medicine in Philadelphia.
Typical day: Heal the sick and raise the dead. Seriously, I use everything that I’ve learned and done to assess patients from infants to the elderly, identify life-threatening illnesses or injuries, and intervene to save their lives. Pretty cool stuff.
Classes, skills: Endotracheal intubation (placement of intravenous lines directly into the neck, chest or heart), administration of every medication available, and opening the chest cavity directly to seal a bullet wound to the heart.
In the know: Medicine is not for everyone. The hours are long, the commitment is intense. It takes heart, intelligence and courage. The hardest part in becoming a physician is wanting it badly enough to sacrifice the time to learn the material. It takes focus and determination that I never would have developed without the training I received all the way back at Fort Knox.
Substance abuse counselor
National average salary: $33,920
Job: Credentialed alcoholism and substance abuse counselor
Education: Associate’s degree in human services from Monroe Community College, bachelor’s degree from Nazareth College. I have also taken several graduate courses specific to the field of addiction.
Typical day: A counselor in any setting will meet with other treatment providers daily to review cases; conduct individual, group and family therapy sessions; and prepare and present lectures for patient education on all aspects of addiction and recovery. Treatment/discharge planning and coordination is the most fundamental aspect of the job. It is also the most creative part, because it involves working together with the client to identify who they really are and how they can build a satisfying life free from the prison of addiction.
Classes, skills: If this is a field you are interested in, I would strongly recommend attending an open self-help meeting, like AA, NA or CA. Courses in psychology and social work, especially as they pertain to family systems, are going to be invaluable. Anatomy and pharmacology will go a long way, too, in understanding and teaching the disease concept.
In the know: There is a huge spiritual aspect to doing this type of work. People who are at their absolute bottom let you into their cringe zone to partner with you to save their lives. This is sacred ground, and the stories you are gifted with will stay with you forever.
The absolute worst and most powerless part of my job is going to the funerals of those who are unable to recover from this disease. Learn how to take excellent care of yourself because this type of work really takes it out of you emotionally.
Math and science
National average salary: $51,080
Job: Associate consultant/hydrologist
Education: Bachelor’s degree in hydrology and water resources from University of Arizona; master’s (pending) of engineering in water resources engineering from University of Arizona
Typical day: During the last five years, I have worked on a variety of projects including clean-up of contaminated soil and groundwater, installing a variety of treatment systems and installing groundwater monitoring wells.
In the know: Internships are key when applying for jobs after college. I also recommend obtaining your professional license as soon as possible. Professional licensing requirements are state specific, so it is important to view these requirements shortly after graduating.
National average salary: $72,300
Job: Research scientist for Cornerstone Research Group, Inc. in Dayton, Ohio
Education: Bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Dayton
Typical day: A typical day involves bench-level molecular synthesis and characterization using different techniques including chromatography, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, chemical synthesis, shape memory polymer and more.
Classes, skills: Organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, spectroscopy, biochemistry and research writing. Useful skills at my job include the ability to work independently and with others on projects. You have to develop good lab practice including taking safety precautions and keeping a good lab notebook.
In the know: I like the variety of research projects that I get to work on. I enjoy the shock value of working with next-generation materials, and honing my skills as a chemist while learning new things each day.
As with any research position, learning to accept your failures along with your successes can be difficult, and that is what I find most challenging about my job.
National average salary: $66,590
Amy E. S. Stone, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Job: Clinical assistant professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida
Education: Bachelor’s degree, doctorate in veterinary medicine, doctorate in philosophy
Typical day: I teach veterinary students how to be general-practice, small-animal veterinarians. We see animals and clients all day together, so that the students get an idea of what is involved in regular veterinary clinics.
Classes, skills: Four-year undergraduate degree with recommended prerequisites, vet school
In the know: I love teaching the students and treating the animals. The worst part of my job is cat bites. I would advise anyone who wants to be a veterinarian to make the best grades possible, work for a veterinarian (even volunteer) to gain experience and to understand the requirements of the vet school that you would like to attend.
National average salary: $76,340
Job: Senior consulting actuary with EMB America LLC in Libertyville, Ill.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in math from the University of Nebraska, economics minor
Typical day: As a consultant, I spend about six days a month on the road. The work varies. It might be designing a rating plan for a company’s private passenger auto or homeowner’s class plan. It might be reviewing how a company does their homeowner’s business and how it might change. It can include reviewing a company’s loss reserves and helping determine what dollars they should have available to pay for the losses.
Classes, skills: I took a lot of economic courses, many of which were insurance classes. Other skills that have proven valuable would include communication skills and public speaking.
In the know: As a consultant, I like the wide variety of jobs that we work on, and the ability to work with lots of different companies and people. The parts I don’t like are the billing and some of the other administrative aspects of the job.
To any aspiring actuary, I would recommend taking a good business background in college besides the math. One of the attributes that makes many actuaries valuable to their company is their ability to solve problems and look at an entire picture. Actuaries help businesses assess risk and develop policies, such as insurance, to cover those risks, such as death, disability, death and property loss. (Think Ben Stiller’s character in the movie “Along Came Polly”.)
Computer software engineer
National average salary: $79,955
Job: Software engineer at MIT Lincoln Laboratories, a government-funded military research organization
Education: Master’s degree in systems and software engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Typical day: I’m building an environment that monitors computers for new files and the network for certain data. On a typical day, I’m coding about 90 percent of the time.
Classes, skills: Having a good understanding of object-oriented programming was important. Good background in database design and Access, Java and Web development all helped me get this job.
In the know: Software engineering in general is a relatively lonely job. It’s not unusual to be working solo or in small groups. This can be good or bad depending on how social you are. I find I get drawn to managing so that I can be more “people” involved, instead of just coding all day.
The technology is constantly changing, which requires keeping up on current technology, even on your own time.
Network systems and data Communications analyst
National average salary: $63,918
Job: Network administrator at Extradev, Inc. (The fine company that hosts nextSTEPmag.com!)
Education: Some college; Microsoft Certified System Administrator
Typical day: Monitor day-to-day status and activity of network devices and servers. Schedule and perform daily backups of servers on and off the network. Build, install and implement new equipment to the network. Troubleshoot and repair issues that arise with existing equipment. Perform help desk support for customers.
Classes, skills: I have a military background and training in computers and networking. Take high school and college courses in computers, programming and networking.
In the know: The thing I like the most about this job is working with computers and being able to accomplish tasks in different locations from one centralized place over the network. I have a passion for computers and networking that drives me to learn more each day.
The thing I like the least is running into an issue I can’t fix right away. I am a team player—you have to be in this field, because no one knows everything.
Instructional coordinator/curriculum developer
National average salary: $48,790
Job: Instructional coordinator/career consultant
Education: Bachelor’s in accounting, master’s in human resource management
Typical day: I founded my own company, Transitional Futures, after developing a passion for career development. In my private practice, I work with high schools to redesign their career programs.
Classes, skills: It is important to be assertive and have strong leadership skills. I must sell my services to the client. I also need to have strong research and organizational skills. It is important to be organized and manage my time.
Creativity is a big part of my job. I create new ideas that will be effective and easily implemented. Having both certifications and advanced degrees in this profession is important.
In the know: I love my job because it allows me to interact with people and help students choose the path that’s best for them.
I also love the flexibility of my job. I think that students who enjoy education but do not necessarily want to be up in front of the classroom all the time will enjoy this profession.
National average salary: $51,800
Job: Philosophy instructor in Portland, Ore.
Education: Bachelor’s in philosophy and English from State University of New York at Geneseo; master’s and doctorate in philosophy from Syracuse University
Typical day: My week gets divided into days where I am on campus, versus those where I work from home. On a typical campus day, I teach for an hour, or one hour and 50 minutes, per class. I teach three to four courses per term.
On days when I work from home, I spend a few hours grading, preparing lectures, and catching up on my own writing and reading.
Classes, skills: One needs a lot of perseverance in my position. Graduate school is very difficult; you have to be willing to put in the time and have people continually criticize your work and ideas. To teach, you have to be patient, fair, and be willing to do some public speaking.
In the know: What I most like about my job: my flexible schedule, encouraging students to think for themselves, and continually widening my own base of knowledge. What I like least about my job: dealing with plagiarism.