Figuring out what you want to do with the rest of your life is typically no easy task, no matter what your age. The question can be especially vexing for high school and college students, who often have no real-world work experience from which to draw.
The good news is that today's high school and college students have a wealth of career information at their fingertips. One of the most widely used online career guides is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' "Occupational Outlook Handbook" (OOH), a 10-year employment forecast released every two years.
The OOH website generates more than 100 million page views a year and is intended to be a starting point for students exploring their career options, according to a BLS spokesman. Internships, part-time work and interviews with people who are employed in a field you are considering are also a crucial part of the career-exploration process, experts say.
"We try to connect students with mentors and our alumni to talk about the pros and cons of a particular industry and what a career path in that industry looks like," said Diana Gruverman, senior director of the Wasserman Center for Career Development at New York University.
The most recent "Occupational Outlook Handbook," released in January 2014 and containing employment projections through 2022, offers detailed information on 580 different occupations, representing about 84 percent of the U.S. job market in 2012.
If you are interested in becoming a psychologist, for instance, you can visit the OOH website to get information on what psychologists do, what they earn, the settings in which they work, educational requirements and the outlook for the profession in terms of job growth. You can also get information about different types of psychologists, traits that are critical to the field of psychology and links to industry associations.
The OOH contains widely followed projections for the fastest-growing occupations over a 10-year period. Not surprisingly, the most recent handbook reports that many of the fastest-growing occupations through 2022 are in the health-care sector, which is enjoying rising demand due to the aging U.S. population and expanded insurance coverage under Obamacare.
There are several issues to consider when using OOH projections to evaluate your career options. For one thing, some of the fastest-growing occupations in the U.S. economy are low-wage jobs, such as personal-care aids and retail clerks.
Personal-care aids, who help clients with self-care and household tasks and provide them with companionship, are projected to be the fastest-growing occupation through 2022, as measured by numeric change in employment. In 2012 they earned a median salary of slightly less than $20,000 per year.
The handbook's projections are also based on certain assumptions, including the assumption that the economy will reach full employment by 2022. There is, of course, a risk that the economic recovery will falter and that technological advances will undermine growth projections for certain occupations, particularly those involving routine tasks that can be automated, said David Passmore, a professor at Pennsylvania State University who analyzes the labor market. He is also director of Penn State's Insititute for Research in Training and Development.
"You have to analyze any jobs you're considering and ask yourself whether they are routine in nature. If so, they will eventually be gone," said Passmore, adding that automation is already a threat to certain kinds of occupations, from supermarket clerks to radiologists.
That said, below is a rundown from the latest OOH of the 10 fastest-growing jobs through 2022 that require a bachelor's degree.
The OOH also contains a list of the 10 fastest-growing jobs that require a master's degree (see below).
—By Anna Robaton, special to CNBC.com