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Five in-demand graduate degrees and their careers

Today's volatile job market has people thinking about the value of graduate degrees. While not all graduate programs can lead to heightened employability or a boost in salary (for example, a Ph.D. in art history or British literature may not enable you to easily enter the field of online marketing or to gain a salary increase in your software developer job), those who earn certain graduate degrees are expected to see significant gains in employment opportunities over the next few years.

Five fast-growing careers

1. Industrial-organizational psychologist

Industrial-organizational psychologists are expected to experience a whopping 53 percent growth in employment between 2012 and 2022. The 2013 national median pay for this job was $80,330, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Those who choose this career path seek to improve work environments by applying their knowledge of human psychology to help managers, employees and teams better navigate such things as training, employee morale and management styles. In order to become an industrial-organizational psychologist, one typically needs to earn a master's degree in psychology.

2. Physician assistant

This career in the medical field is projected to achieve a national job growth rate of 38 percent between 2012 and 2022, and the annual median salary was $92,970 in 2013, according to the BLS. Physician assistants work with a team of physicians, nurses and medical assistants to treat and develop health plans for patients. They conduct physical exams, make medical diagnoses, prescribe medications, review patients' medical histories and even engage in health promotion programs. Becoming a physician assistant typically requires the completion of an accredited master's degree program in physician assistant studies.

3. Physical therapist

The BLS expects this hands-on profession to have a projected job growth of 36 percent between 2012 and 2022. In 2013, the BLS reported that physical therapists had a national median annual salary of $81,030. Physical therapists work with physically injured patients to help them regain strength and mobility. Their typical duties include diagnosing patient injuries, setting up recovery plans (including recommended exercises and stretches) and monitoring patients' progress as they regain physical strength. In order to become a physical therapist, one must complete an accredited Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree (DPT) program. In addition, they must earn a license in order to practice.

4. Advanced practice registered nurse (APRN)

Those who pursue specialized nursing roles can look for a projected job growth of 31 percent between 2012 and 2022. Types of APRNs include nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and clinical nurse specialists. Their salary depends on their specialization. For example, according to the BLS, nurse midwives earned a national annual median salary of $92,290 in 2013, while nurse practitioners earned $92,670. APRNs develop patient care plans and may provide specialty or primary health care to patients. While APRNs' typical responsibilities vary depending on their specialty, their workday may include recording patients' medical history; performing physical exams and medical diagnoses; developing patient care plans alongside physicians, physician assistants, and medical assistants; administering patient medications and treatments; prescribing medicines; and conducting research. Becoming an APRN requires at least a master's degree in one's area of specialty. Advanced practice registered nurses must be registered nurses (RNs) before they can become APRNs. APRN programs prefer candidates who first have a bachelor's degree in nursing from an accredited program. APRNs, like registered nurses, must also pass a national certification exam and obtain a license.

5. Software developers

This technology-focused career field is expected to experience job growth of 22 percent between 2012 and 2022. The national median annual salary in 2013 was $92,660 per year for application developers and $101,410 per year for systems software developers, as reported by the BLS. While software developers generally only need a bachelor's degree in computer science (CS), a graduate degree in CS may be desirable or required for certain jobs.

Sources:

Fastest Growing Occupations, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/fastest-growing.htm

Industrial-Organizational Psychologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193032.htm

Most New Jobs, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/most-new-jobs.htm

Nurse Midwives, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291161.htm

Nurse Practitioners, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291171.htm

Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm

Physical Therapists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291123.htm

Physical Therapists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm

Physician Assistants, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291071.htm

Physician Assistants, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physician-assistants.htm

Psychologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm

Software Developers, Applications, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes151132.htm

Software Developers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm

Software Developers, Systems Software, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes151133.htm

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