With the overall unemployment rate ranging consistently between 9% and 10% for much of 2011, it was a worrying time for both independent business owners and job seekers alike. The final quarter of 2011 saw the beginnings of a recovery, however, with December's figures revealing an overall unemployment rate of just 8.5%. It appears as though students and job seekers can start to make genuine plans for future prosperity. (For more, check out How To Combat Youth Unemployment.)

Computer Science
With fresh hope for job seekers of all ages in 2012, what educational degrees should students and adult learners be targeting? Well, in terms of gaining a diverse qualification that can be utilized across several potential industries and market sectors, a degree in computer science stands as one of the most viable options. Job prospects for those with a computer science degree or Ph.D. are excellent and expected to improve still further, with a 24% rise in employment opportunities having been forecast between 2008 and 2018.

Finding the niche market that will play a prominent role in these rising opportunities is also important. The research sector is one that provides great opportunities for those educated in computer science, as it is becoming harder to correlate and understand the vast quantities of research data that is now accessible. The relentless advancement in networking technology and computing speed is also having a significant impact on new computer system design, so there is an especially high demand for emerging graduates with the relevant skills.

Business and Finance
We live in an age where accepted working methods are changing, as networking technology continues to improve to allow businesses to save money through outsourcing. This not only creates the opportunity for skilled workers to market themselves independently, but also to establish a service-based professional business that can thrive within its market sector. With this in mind, a business degree can teach you the ability to manage the financial and operational aspects of commerce, which will allow your marketable skill to thrive in 2012 and beyond.

A business degree has other benefits. It emerged as one of the most popular online degrees in 2009, according to Eduventures, as more than 250,000 students undertook business courses to help create a diverse skill set. In addition to this, a business degree helps graduates understand professional ethics and provides a well rounded and meaningful education that can be applied to any work place or industry. (To learn more, see Should You Head Back To Business School?)

Petroleum Engineering
While some degree courses have an established reputation for providing excellent salaries and long-term job prospects, others emerge as a consequence of changing economic and social factors. Undertaking a degree in petroleum engineering may not be everyone's immediate choice when choosing a major, but there are several factors that make this course one of most beneficial to students across the U.S. According to PayScale, salaries start at approximately $97,000 per year and can rise to more than $150,000 once graduates have established themselves. It certainly stands as one of the most financially rewarding degrees.

Aside from these significant and immediate financial rewards, the global demand for energy makes a career as a petroleum engineer one that affords an opportunity for travel and an enhanced level of job security. As a specialist industry, it also boasts a relatively low turnover of staff, with the result that many of its current employees have held a long and distinguished career. With a high number of the sector's workers set to retire between now and 2021, graduates can not only look forward to immediate career opportunities but also positions of long-term employment.

The Bottom Line
As we can see, there are many different factors that define a degree's overall worth, and more specifically its value to you and your individual range of skills and interests. However, it's important that both young and mature students remember that any degree course that they choose must have relevance in the modern employment market, and relate to thriving sectors that offer long-term career opportunities and stability. (For more on school, see The Declining Value Of A College Degree.)