Theme-Park Engineering And 3 Other Non-Traditional College Degrees That Can Pay Off

Most people know that degrees in things like economics, business, mathematics, and medicine can lead to high-paying real-world jobs, while a degree in Tuvan throat-singing, while fascinating and important, won’t necessarily help you make a down-payment on a house. But there are some non-traditional college degrees that could result in a nice paycheck.

The folks at BankRate.com have put together a round-up of eight such degree programs, from which we’ve culled the following four:

Theme-Park Engineering
Engineering degrees generally lead to high-paying jobs (assuming one uses that degree to become an engineer, and not just to cover a hole in the wall), so why not be the kind of engineer that builds super-cool rides for theme parks?

The president of a theme-park industry consulting firm tells BankRate that entry-level jobs in the business start around $50,000, with mid-career salaries somewhere in the $70-80K/year range.

Turf Grass Management
Think golf courses and pro sports fields stay all green and flat because some kid comes by with a riding mower once a week? No, it’s a complicated field (pun intended) involving a lot more than just some sprinklers and seed, and combines botany, biology, and business management, along with hands-on experience.

“We have an extensive internship program,” says the director of the Center for Sports Surface Research at Penn State. “To get good jobs, (students) need to have experience and the degree… The ones that tend to rise to the top are the ones with some of the best communication and management skills (and) skills in agronomy and plant science.”

But that work can pay well, with turf management gigs earning around $65,000 while golf course superintendents earn at least $80,000.

Game Design
If you’ve ever sat through the (often interminable) credits at the end of a video game, you know that many, many, many people put in time on the project. And many of them make a decent living, with game designers averaging $75,000, while more specialized fields — programmers ($92K), game producers ($84K) and audio professionals ($81.5K) — average even higher. Of course, these are averages and the pay can vary wildly from company to company.

Decision Sciences
Here’s a degree for big-brained problem-solvers.

“Sometimes we solve transportation distribution logistics problems,” explains the executive director of the Center for Decision and Information Technologies at the University of North Texas, which offers a degree in the field. “We solve information technology problems… We might work on market research problems, financial analysis problems (or) distribution problems.”

Folks with these skills often end up at consulting firms where they could make big bucks, but even the starting salary — between $52,000 and $65,000 — is nothing to sneeze at.