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10-Year Careers: High-Growth Occupations For Which You Can Prepare Online

When a person embarks on a new career, there are often two main considerations: how much the position pays and whether there will be ample job opportunities into the future. Luckily, the Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes both the salary prospects and the projected growth across US occupations, offering valuable insight into the employment needs of the country.

The BLS’s Occupational Outlook Handbook (2016-17 edition) contains a list of the 20 jobs with the highest projected growth in openings between 2014 and 2024, including five fields which can be prepared for online: wind turbine technicians, nurse practitioners, statisticians, operations research analysts, and personal financial advisors. What follows is a discussion of each career’s expected growth, salary ranges, and examples of accredited online programs to train for these dynamic fields.

Wind Turbine Technician

According to the BLS (Dec. 2015), wind turbine technicians, also known as “wind techs,” occupy the fastest growing job in the country. By illustration, the BLS projected a stunning 108 percent increase in openings in this field between 2014 and 2024, more than 15 times the average growth predicted across all occupations during that time (7 percent)! And the addition of 4,800 fresh openings is only part of the good news: this career also pays very well relative to similar occupations requiring some college but no degree.

As proof of point, the BLS (May 2015) reported that the 3,950 wind turbine technicians around the country earned an average annual salary of $53,030, nearly 10 percent higher than the mean salary for all US occupations ($48,320). In more detailed terms, here were the wage percentiles in this field:

  • 10th percentile: $37,010
  • 25th percentile: $43,150
  • 50th percentile (median): $51,050
  • 75th percentile: $60,250
  • 90th percentile: $71,820

A majority of wind techs prepare for this career by attending a two-year technical or vocational program, which provides instruction in areas such as electrical maintenance; braking systems; mechanical inspections; programmable logic control operations; and other areas. In addition to coursework, wind techs generally get at least one year of on-the-job experience or an apprenticeship prior to gaining more professional autonomy. They may also pursue certification through an organization such as the ETA® International.

ETA® International’s Renewable Energy program, which includes the Small Wind Installer (SWI) certification, requires hands-on training from an ETA-approved training provider. The only schools that may currently issue ETA’s SWI are Blue Rock Station, Festo Didactic (formerly Lab-Volt), Greene Technology Center, Heartland Community College, Kellogg Community College, Marcraft and Progressive Educational Systems. In every case, an in-person, hands-on skills assessment is required.

The US Department of Energy provides an interactive list of wind energy programs across the country, including online training options. For example, the Pinnacle Career Institute based in Kansas City, MO offers an 11-month online wind turbine certificate program. PCI has sent its graduates to work at companies such as Skyclimber, Siemens, Tradesman International, Granite Services, Vestas, and others. Distance-based classes include the fundamentals of electricity; industrial safety; principles of wind energy; wind physics operations & maintenance; and alternative energy systems. Additionally, students complete a two-week boot camp at its KC campus to practice occupational safety skills and complete training for three certifications: Tower Climb, OSHA 10 and First Aid/CPR.

The Ecotech Institute based in Aurora, CO provides a hybrid associate of applied science (AAS) degree in wind energy technology with the first two semesters completed online. Students complete online classes in AC circuitry; wiring schematics & blueprints; turbine fundamentals; electric motors & control systems; renewable energy fundamentals; and other areas. During the second year, students receive in-person training on a 20-ton Winergy Eichoff gearbox to learn in-depth about instrumentation and maintenance of the turbines. To learn how much this program costs, please refer to EI’s net price calculator.

For people with bachelor’s degrees, the Pennsylvania State University’s Online World Campus has a distance-based graduate certificate in wind energy, featuring nine units of advanced classes such as wind turbine aerodynamics; analysis of wind turbine performance, aeroacoustics & loads; engineering of wind projects; and other relevant areas. This program costs $821 per credit. Notably, the classes can be applied toward the school’s online master’s degree of professional studies in renewable energy and sustainability systems (iMPS-RESS).

Lastly, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) provides valuable open courses on energy systems, including free training and materials relevant to wind energy. Professor Dick K.P. Yue states, “The idea is simple: to publish all of our course materials online and make them widely available to everyone.” Some of the courses relevant to wind techs include introduction to sustainable energy; environmental policy & economics; and the fundamentals of advanced energy conversion, among others.

Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners occupy the seventh fastest growing career in the country. In fact, the BLS (Dec. 2015) reported that NPs would see openings in their field swell 35 percent between 2014 and 2024, five times the projected growth across all jobs during that same decade (7 percent). With the expected addition of 53,400 fresh positions in that ten-year period, relatively high salary prospects, and convenient online programs, this healthcare profession is one of the hottest careers for the future.

The BLS (May 2015) found that the 136,060 NPs around the country earned an average annual salary of $101,260 with the following wage percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $70,540
  • 25th percentile: $84,860
  • 50th percentile (median): $98,190
  • 75th percentile: $117,200
  • 90th percentile: $135,830

Most importantly, there is a wealth of online nurse practitioner programs across the country which comprise two elements: distance-based coursework and in-person clinical preceptorships completed in facilities close to a student’s home. Please note that a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) is a typical entry-level requirement for this career and a majority of online graduate programs in nursing require at least a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) prior to enrollment, although there are exceptions.

For example, Frontier Nursing University of Hyden, KY offers an abundance of online NP programs accommodating different points of academic entry and specializations. Frontier boasts NP program tracks in the family health, women’s health, and psychiatric-mental health subfields. For the distance-based MSN and doctor of nursing practice (DNP) programs, students typically only have to visit campus once per year and complete most of their in-person training at approved local healthcare facilities. Online classes in the MSN programs include principles of health promotion; epidemiology & health statistics; evidence-based practice; advanced pathophysiology; advanced health assessment; and pharmacology for advanced practice across the lifespan. The DNP courses include principles of independent practice; nurse as educator; translating evidence; and leadership & organizational theory. Programs generally cost $550 per credit hour and additional fees may apply.

The University of South Alabama (USA) of Mobile also provides various MSN and DNP programs across several specializations: adult-gerontology (acute or primary care); family health; neonatal; pediatric (acute or primary care); family psychiatric-mental health; women’s health; and dual role (family/adult-gerontology acute care). In the online MSN-PMHNP program, for example, students complete courses such as scientific underpinnings of advanced nursing practice; introduction of family psychology; health promotion & disease prevention; healthcare policy & finance; and more. These programs cost $469 per credit hour for Alabama residents and $938 for out-of-state students.

Lastly, Georgetown University has a hybrid NP degree in the family health specialization which requires five on-campus visits to DC throughout the 19 months of the program. In addition to 650 clinical hours, students take classes such as healthcare ethics; foundations of health systems & policy; and primary care of the family, among others. The program costs $1,928 per credit hour.


The ninth fastest growing career in the country is statistician, openings for which the BLS (Dec. 2015) expects will swell 34 percent between 2014 and 2024, adding 10,100 fresh openings in this field. It’s also a very well-compensated position. As proof of point, the 29,870 working statisticians in the US earn a mean annual salary of $84,440 with the following percentiles (BLS May 2015):

  • 10th percentile: $44,900
  • 25th percentile: $59,750
  • 50th percentile (median): $80,110
  • 75th percentile: $104,390
  • 90th percentile: $130,630

The typical entry-level education in this field is a master’s degree in mathematics, statistics, or a related subject, although some employers may consider bachelor’s degree-holders with adequate skills and experience. There are many accredited online statistics programs across the country.

For instance, Colorado State University based in Fort Collins provides a 31-credit online master of applied sciences (MAS) in statistics, which can be completed in one year. Distance-based classes include computing skills for statistical analysis; regression models & applications; probability with applications; quantitative reasoning; survey statistics; nonparametric methods; and methods in simulation & computation, among other advanced coursework. This program costs $749 per credit.

North Carolina State University based in Raleigh also offers an online master of statistics degree with didactic learning in linear models; statistical consulting; statistical programming in SAS & R; principles of clinical trials & epidemiology; statistical reasoning with big data; and other relevant subject matter. For NC residents, the program costs $12,224 total.

Lastly, Stanford University’s Center for Professional Development in Palo Alto, CA provides an online MS in statistics. This program features 45 units of multidisciplinary work across subjects such as probability; stochastic processes; linear algebra mathematics; theoretical statistics; applied matrix theory; programming methodology; data mining & analysis; theory of investment portfolios & derivative securities; and other areas. It costs $1,400 per quarter-unit with most courses comprising 3-5 quarter-units.

Operations Research Analysts

Operations research analysts—professionals who apply mathematical modeling to assist corporate management teams with systems optimization and other goals—occupy the 13th fastest growing career in the country. The BLS (Dec. 2015) anticipates a 30 percent increase in openings between 2014 and 2024, or the addition of 27,600 jobs. Similar to statisticians and NPs, this high-growth field is well-compensated and most employers call for at least a master’s degree.

The BLS (May 2015) reported that the 95,860 operations research analysts nationwide earned an average annual salary of $84,180 and these wage percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $43,520
  • 25th percentile: $57,310
  • 50th percentile (median): $78,630
  • 75th percentile: $105,900
  • 90th percentile: $132,500

There were several online colleges to meet the training needs in this profession. For example, Columbia University of New York City offers a fully online 12-credit certificate in operations research with classes such as introduction to probability & statistics; optimization models & methods; stochastic models; simulation; and quantitative corporate finance. This program costs $1,858 per credit hour and may include additional fees.

The University of Southern California (USC) Viterbi School of Engineering provides an online master of science (MS) in operations research engineering comprising at least 30 credits of coursework in areas such as network flows; linear programming & extensions; elements of stochastic processes; performance modeling & simulation; web technology for industrial engineering; and enterprise-wide information systems, as well as electives such as optimization and financial engineering. USC’s program takes 1.5-2 years of full-time study to complete, and costs $1,774 per unit.

Georgia Tech based in Atlanta also has an online MS in operations research focused on subjects such as wind engineering; data & visual analytics; high performance computing; power system engineering; statistical digital signal processing & modeling; spatial array processing; nonlinear systems & control; data mining & statistical learning; and numerical linear algebra, among other topics. As one of the more affordable options, it costs $1,092 per credit hour plus additional fees.

Personal Financial Advisors

Personal financial advisors represent the 14th fastest growing career in the US with a projected 30 percent increase in jobs between 2014 and 2024 (BLS Dec. 2015), much more robust than the 7 percent average growth predicted for all American occupations. Not only will the expected addition of 73,900 fresh openings in the coming decade create a wealth of opportunities, but this is also a relatively lucrative career, especially among those requiring a bachelor’s (as opposed to a master’s) degree.

By illustration, the BLS (May 2015) reported that the 197,580 working personal financial advisors received an annual average salary of $118,050 and the following percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $39,300
  • 25th percentile: $57,190
  • 50th percentile (median): $89,160
  • 75th percentile: $153,320
  • 90th percentile: Exact figure not available (>$187,200)

These professionals tend to be well-compensated for their expertise in tax preparation, accounting, estate planning, investment strategy, and risk management, among other areas. There are various credentialing entities in this occupation, including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. Additionally, the North American Securities Administrators Association has a list of state licensing entities.

Franklin University based in Columbus, OH provides an online bachelor of science (BS) degree in financial planning, and related programs in financial management and business economics. The web-based BS features instruciton in business law; principles of finance; risk management & insurance planning; retirement savings & income planning; and financial plan development, among other areas. As part of FU’s program, students prepare for the CFP certification exam. This is also one of the more affordable programs at $494 per credit hour.

The University of California, Berkeley provides an online certificate program in financial planning and analysis with 16 semester units of instruction across areas such as corporate financial analysis & modeling; enterprise risk management; international finance; intermediate corporate finance; introduction to managerial accounting; and presenting quantitative data effectively. The certificate program costs approximately $6,345 total.

Boston University offers an online financial planning program to prepare students for the Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP) credential. The seven distance-based courses include introduction to financial planning; risk management; investments; tax planning; retirement planning & employee benefits; estate planning; and a capstone course. For the 2016-17 year, this certification program costs $768 per credit and may include additional fees.

For those seeking to go the distance, the University of Missouri of Columbia provides two online CFB-registered programs: an applied MS (36-credits) and a graduate certificate program (18-hours). Each program requires courses such as advanced financial counseling; fundamentals of personal financial planning; and estate & gift planning, among other important areas. These programs are also comparatively affordable at $352.60 per credit hour of instruction.

How to Prepare for a Lucrative, High-Growth Career through Online Education

The five careers covered in this guide represent varying levels of academic preparation, but they share three important features: they’re all relatively well-paying, are expected to be high-growth into the coming decade, and are all jobs for which a person can prepare online. Notably, four of the five careers require a strong background in statistical analysis—nurse practitioner, statistician, operations research analyst, and personal financial advisor—and prospective online students are advised to seek out coursework in that versatile subject to prepare for a range of careers. Above all, the ability to train online for a job opens up career possibilities regardless of geographic and time-related constraints; while the rapid evolution of technology can be dizzying, so too are the expanding horizons for what people can accomplish.

Some Often-Overlooked Considerations for Selecting an Online Program

Distance-based educational programs take on varied structures. Didactic coursework can be delivered in one of three formats: synchronous, asynchronous, or hybrid (i.e., blended). Synchronous learning features live communication where students log in from different locations at the same time. This is a fixed form of distance-based instruction, test-taking, or discussion. By contrast, asynchronous course delivery allows students to view online lectures or complete assignments on their own schedules, within a given timeframe. Finally, hybrid or blended classes comprise both online and in-person components such as clinical evaluations and immersive campus-based "intensives".

Students interested in online learning should verify three often-overlooked things prior to applying to an online program: campus visitation requirements, accreditation status, and state authorization. First, since many distance-based programs include some days of in-person instruction, it’s crucial to check that these sessions are feasible, and not overly cumbersome. Second, programmatic or institutional accreditation indicates that a school has met a baseline set of requirements in terms of quality. There are many accrediting organizations and aspiring students should ensure that their program or school has received approval from an entity recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Lastly, state authorization refers to the differing regional laws surrounding online education. If a student’s institution of choice is located in a different state, sometimes he or she may not be able to enroll. This information is generally on school websites or can be ascertained from program coordinators.

Jocelyn Blore

After graduating from UC Berkeley, Jocelyn Blore traveled the world for five years as a freelance writer. She lived in Japan, Brazil, Nepal and Argentina. In 2015, she took an 11-month road trip across the US, finally settling into Eugene, Oregon. She currently serves as the managing editor for several websites on distance-based programs in nursing, engineering and other disciplines. When Jocelyn isn’t writing about schools or interviewing professors, she enjoys satirizing global absurdities on her blog, Blore’s Razor.