The top recession-proof master’s degrees for graduate students

  • With coronavirus weighing on the economy, advanced degrees may seem like a viable option in a restricted job market. 
  • These degrees will pay off in the long run, executives, recruiters, and career experts said. 
  • Consider a master’s in supply-chain management, cybersecurity, or artificial intelligence to break into high-demand tech roles.
  • Also look at nursing, healthcare, teaching, and even marketing or communications, all skills in demand now.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Certain industries have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 crisis. Business Insider recently reported that in April, the hospitality and leisure industries led the pack for layoffs.

The dismal economic situation begs the question: Are there any advanced degrees that college students should target if they’re considering higher education — that’ll almost guarantee them a job even in a recession?

Business Insider tapped senior-level executives and other business and career experts for their insights and predictions on what degrees they expect to stay evergreen.

Master’s in supply-chain management

With an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business, Adam Sanders spent a decade working in leadership in the finance and marketing sectors for major financial technology companies, managing large marketing budgets. Today, as the founder and director of Successful Release, an organization dedicated to helping disadvantaged populations find financial and professional success, he hires and advises a lot of new graduates. 

Sanders explained that an advanced degree in sourcing and supply-chain management will have staying power because “the outbreak of COVID-19 has really illustrated how fragile our supply chain can be.” 

Adam Sanders

Adam Sanders.

Adam Sanders

“With many businesses shut down permanently and even more trending in that direction, there is going to be an increasing demand for quality sourcing and supply-chain management professionals,” he shared.

According to Sanders, every company will need to find opportunities to become more efficient and eliminate risks. 

“When recessions hit, professionals who can save a company money while improving operations are very valuable,” Sanders stated.

Master’s in computer science, data science, computer engineering, or biomedical technology

Allison Cheston, an NYC-based career advisor with a specialty in career development and leadership training for millennials and Gen Z’s, said that the degrees most in demand today are technical and touch on hard skills.

“These will be necessary to support not only the technology industry but every industry since tech is now the backbone of work today,” Cheston said. 

Allison Cheston

Allison Cheston.

Allison Cheston

Advanced degrees in computer science, data science, and computer engineering — as well as in biomedical science and technology, such as biomedical engineering and biomedical informatics — will continue to be prized, according to Cheston. 

“Knowing how to code will be urgently required by employers, and most jobs today have a technical component requiring the ability to analyze and map trends,” she said.

Gaurav Sharma

Gaurav Sharma.

Gaurav Sharma

Gaurav Sharma, a banker turned financial consultant and founder of Bankers By Day, which provides guides on building a career in banking and finance, agreed with Cheston. 

“It’s not that the tech sector is immune to economic downturns,” Sharma said. “It’s just that when the latent growth rate is so high, an economic downturn still means you get to stay in the green.” 

Sharma also believes that this specific crisis is unique because it forces businesses to deliver products and services remotely, which is increasing tech demand further. 

“For example, banks are accelerating their fintech product development schedules, and more companies want their apps up and running for taking online orders,” he said. “And as network traffic increases, so does the demand for … network engineers and so on.”

Master’s in software development, data analytics, or technology management 

Of the many IT specialties, software development, data analytics, and technology management were three other areas that career experts singled out as safe bets for advanced degrees. 

Michele Mavi

Michele Mavi.

Michele Mavi

Career strategist and coach Michele Mavi has 15 years of experience helping people advance their careers and organizations hire top talent. After serving as an executive recruiter with clients like Eileen Fisher, Bulgari, and Deloitte and running internal recruiting for Atrium Staffing, she moved into corporate training and coaching to further her passion for talent development.

Mavi explained that the need for a responsive tech infrastructure that can adapt to any situational challenge is more evident than ever. 

“We saw it on a small scale with Hurricane Sandy,” Mavi said. “Companies scrambled to make operating remotely for a short while work for them. Now, nearly every company needs to find a digital safety net and have a work-from-home plan in place, which requires lots of IT management.” 

Mavi added that the need to keep improving current digital solutions — and developing new ones for households and organizations to be able to work more effectively — will be a major focus for the long term, as will be employees who make sense of the analytics behind it all.

Jonathan Hill

Jon Hill.

Jonathan Hill

“The world is increasingly happening in a digital sphere and I don’t see this trend reversing any time in the near future,” Jon Hill, CEO and chairman of executive search and recruiting firm The Energists, said. “As brick-and-mortar entities struggle, more people will be turning to online alternatives. Those who are able to develop and maintain these virtual options will continue to be in high demand.”

Master’s in cybersecurity

Sharon Seemann, VP of marketing at venture capital firm YL Ventures, identified cybersecurity as “the most stable option out there today.”

“Unless there’s some kind of ‘techpocalypse,’ cybersecurity is not only a field that’s here to stay, but one that’s only going to keep growing and diversifying,” Seemann said. “Every single digital IoT [internet of things] device we use [to connect computing devices to everyday objects], from our cars to automatic fridges to our Nest thermostats, needs protection. And every new innovation and upgrade is going to need a team of security experts behind it to keep it viable in the market.”

Another reason that Seemann thinks that cybersecurity is a smart educational investment is that there’s a well-documented talent shortage in cybersecurity. 

Sharon Seemann YL Ventures

Sharon Seemann.

Sharon Seemann

“The demand very dramatically outweighs the supply,” Seeman said, adding that this is a gap that women can help fill if they select to beef up their educational background.

“Women often feel discouraged from pursuing this type of career, and this lack of motivation to join the cybersecurity workforce is only exacerbating the issue,” she said. “Women have so much to offer here and, frankly, the industry does seem to be working its way into becoming a far more hospitable place for them. Women can help accelerate the cultural change they wish to see and fill in those critically empty slots.”

Master’s in artificial intelligence 

Deepu Prakash, senior vice president of process and technology innovation at custom software-development company Fingent, pointed to earning a master’s of science in artificial intelligence as a solution for the future.

Deepu Prakash

Deepu Prakash.

Deepu Prakash

“According to [Montreal-based startup] Element AI, there were a little below 10,000 professionals with the AI development skills — considering the pace at which the AI field and its associated tech field is developing, an incredibly low number,” Prakash said. “So there is a demand and supply headache here. With more enterprises adopting [this] technology in the future, it will be in demand always.”

Master in nursing or healthcare administration

Unsurprisingly, many career experts suggested that degrees in healthcare — and mental health, Cheston noted — were recession-proof.

“Screening and treatment for disease, especially as the age of the population in the US continues to rise, will require advanced degrees,” Cheston said. 

Mavi added that the need for caregivers is on the rise. “Additionally, with the outcome of the current pandemic still unknown and fears of future outbreaks looming, healthcare and nursing are areas that will undoubtedly be growing,” she said. 

Master’s in English, communications, or marketing

Cheston suggested that there will always be demand for liberal arts majors in English, history, and philosophy. 

“Careers that are not automated will continue to require those who can think, communicate, and write,” she said. 

But as a caveat, Cheston added that to make them recession-proof, these degrees will also require master’s-level education in a compatible subject, such as business or law. 

“Liberal arts majors typically get paid less out of college than do those with tech and science degrees, but pay scales rise later, especially following grad school,” she said.

Sharma had marketing on his list of recession-proof advanced degrees as well. 

“There are certain businesses that are inherently anti-cyclical,” Sharma said. “Fast-moving consumer goods, utilities, pharma, etc. fall into this bracket. These companies tend to require a lot of marketing and sales staff to manage their various channels of distribution, market assessment teams, creating sales through push and pull strategies, and so on. A good marketer will, therefore, always be in demand.”

Master’s in psychology for user experience research 

Neal Taparia founded and sold Imagine Easy Solutions, a software company, and also served as general manager and vice president at Chegg, a NYSE public company. Taparia has hired well over 100 employees, and for the newest company he’s been incubating, Solitaired, he’s been hiring for a number of roles. 

Neal Taparia founded and sold Imagine Easy Solutions

Neal Taparia.

Neal Taparia

He believes that a master’s in psychology for user experience research is valuable because as people continue to use more and more digital products, companies will have an increased need to build strong product teams and create good user experiences. Therefore, he maintained that a key role companies are hiring for is user experience researchers, who conduct studies on what drives people to use products, how they use them, and what areas need improvement. 

“A master’s in psychology has a lot of this investigatory work, analysis, and of course psychological underpinnings, which translates well to being an effective user experience researcher,” Taparia said. 

Master’s in math, economics, or machine learning

Taparia predicted that companies will continue to hire for data roles, like data scientists and data analysts, to gain a deeper understanding of their business and build machine-learning models that help them automate processes and predict customer behavior. 

“Those who have a master’s in math or economics will have experience dealing with large data sets and building models that companies need,” Taparia said. He added that this competency isn’t only found from a math background, and might also be found in advanced degrees in subjects like neurobiology and machine learning.

Master’s in accounting or finance 

“In a recession, when money becomes tight, knowing what to do with it becomes the biggest question on everyone’s mind,” Mavi said. “As they say, you can only count on two things in life, and taxes are one of them. You’ll be needed in any economy.” 

Hill agreed that accounting — and other financial services such as finance, economics, and business — will remain strong despite a recession. 

“This has been made very apparent recently,” Hill said. “Even as many sectors have been brought to a standstill, businesses in the financial sector have continued to be in demand, whether that’s tax preparation and auditing or insurance-related careers like actuaries, underwriters, or claims adjusters.”

Master’s in education or teaching

Company review site Glassdoor lists teachers as first on its list of recession-proof jobs, noting that teachers in public school systems “are often members of labor unions, which can make their positions more difficult to layoff.” 

“Whatever economy you’re in, schools are in session and kids need to learn … even if that’s done remotely,” Mavi concluded. 

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