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5 Jobs Where You Can Make a Difference

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A new study suggests that today's college graduates are looking for jobs that have a positive social impact. According to research from Rutgers University's John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, 72 percent of current college students say having a job that makes a difference is either very important or essential. That's in comparison to 59 percent of Millenials and 49 percent of GenXers.

Despite graduating into a tough job market, the survey also suggests that students prioritize a job with a purpose over a hefty paycheck. For example, 58 percent said they would take a 15 percent pay cut to work for an organization with values that they said matched their own, while 45 percent said they would take the same pay cut to work in a position that made a social or environmental impact.

Making a difference in the workplace can happen in ways large and small. Some companies are committed to sustainable business practices or giving back to the community, while other occupations contribute to society by their very nature. Check out our list of careers that can make a difference -- many offer strong growth projections and a paycheck to match (all salary information below is based on bls.gov data).

5 careers that can make a difference

1. Marriage and family therapists

Marriage and family therapists focus on helping individuals and families develop and maintain healthy relationships. These counselors, who typically have a master's degree in counseling, may specialize in issues such as substance abuse, stress or self-esteem. Some counselors focus on helping families work through a difficult event such as a divorce or death in the family, while others may provide long-term counseling for families dealing with a chronic disease, traumatic event or mental illness.

The demand for mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists is expected to grow significantly from 2012 to 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with 29 percent growth projected during that period. Bls.gov suggests the increase is due to improved insurance coverage for counseling services, population growth and increased awareness about mental health.

MFT Median wage in May 2013: $46,930

 

2. Environmental science and protection technician

Younger Americans are well aware that responsible use of natural resources and smart environmental policy is key to a sustainable future. Environmental science and protection technicians are on the ground monitoring environmental hazards and protection efforts by inspecting business or outdoor spaces, collecting and testing samples, and reporting on their findings. Typically, an associate degree in biology, chemistry or a science related field is required.

Environmental science and protection technicians may work for state or local governments enforcing existing laws or they may work in the private sector to help businesses meet regulations. Faster-than-average job growth of 19 percent is projected from 2012 to 2022, according to bls.gov.

Median wage in May 2013: $45,470

 

3. Civil engineer

You may not think of a civil engineering career as one that makes a difference, but these professionals are responsible for designing much of the world around you. From safe and efficient water systems to public housing projects, civil engineers create basic infrastructure for everyday life. Additionally, many schools are now offering courses or entire programs dedicated to the idea of sustainable engineering, which focuses on designs that use resources responsibly.

Job growth is expected to be 20 percent from 2012 to 2022, according to bls.gov projections. Most civil engineers have a bachelor's degree in engineering and licensure may be required. According to bls.gov, about 20 percent of civil engineers go on to earn a master's degree, which is typically required for management roles.

Median wage in May 2013: $85,640

 

4. Physical therapist

Physical therapists typically work with patients recovering from an injury or illness or suffering from a chronic condition, and they play a major role in helping those patients recover mobility and movement. These highly educated professionals, who typically have a doctoral degree in physical therapy, work with other health care providers such as doctors and physical therapy aides, to develop and implement a plan for patients.

Rapid growth of 36 percent is projected from 2012 to 2024, according to bls.gov, and that growth should be driven by two main developments: an aging population and advancing medical technology.

Median wage in May 2013: $82,180

 

5. Health educator

As the health care industry focuses more on wellness and disease prevention, trained professionals who can teach Americans how to adopt a healthy lifestyle are seeing increased demand for their services. Most health educators have a bachelor's degree in health education or public health, and some employers may look for candidates with the Certified Health Education Specialist credential.

Demand for these specialists is driven by a desire to cut health care costs, and faster than average growth of 21 percent is projected from 2012 to 2022, according to bls.gov. About 37 percent of health educators work in the health care industry, and another 23 percent work in government. The rest work for various public and private businesses, educational institutions or non-profits.

Health Educator median wage in May 2013: $53,800