For many Americans, a high salary is one of the most important factors that help determine our college major, career, or even where in the world we choose to live. Although education can play a role, there are some high paying jobs that do not even require a college degree.
Despite the variety of career options in today’s marketplace, only a small fraction of all potential jobs actually pay over six figures. With costs of living, state and federal taxes, and inflation on the rise, more people are looking for high paying careers. Unfortunately, some of these industries aren’t able to keep up with the influx of eager job seekers, even with their advanced degrees and impressive credentials. Below, find a detailed list of the highest paying jobs in America.
Doctors and Surgeons
Considering health professionals are vital to society’s medical health and wellness, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that doctors and surgeons are number one in the ranking of highest paid jobs in America. And just like many other top careers, becoming a doctor or medical professional requires extensive education, training, time, and student debt.
Doctors must spend four years for an undergraduate degree, another four years of medical school to complete a doctorate degree, and follow up with three to eight more years of residency or an internship, depending on their specialization. The number of years required after medical school depends on the complexity of the doctor or surgeon’s specialty.
Physicians and surgeons both diagnose and treat injuries, diseases and illnesses their patients suffer from. Job duties may include examining the patient, reviewing their symptoms and medical history, performing and analyzing diagnostic tests, and prescribing treatment options, such as medication, surgery or physical/mental therapy. Surgeons take it a step further and operate on patients in order to cure them of their ailments, such as removing cancerous tumors, repairing broken bones, or correcting physical deformities.
Because careers in medicine require many years of schooling and residency, doctors and surgeons are, on average, among the best-paid professions. Because general practitioners outnumber surgeons, median salaries for primary care physicians top $205,000 per year, and median salaries for specialty physicians are approximately $360,000. To learn more, check out our list of highest paid doctors.
Average Annual Salary: $215,000
Current Employment: 700,000
Everybody needs to visit the dentist at least once a year to maintain healthy teeth, and U.S. dentists are paid very well to keep our smiles in beautiful shape, structurally and aesthetically. Similarly, visits to the orthodontist have become commonplace amongst teenagers needing braces for straighter teeth.
After going through undergraduate studies, aspiring dentists must go to dental school and get a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM). Those who opt to study one of the nine specialties in dentistry may have to complete 2-4 more years of education, a 1 or 2 year residency, and pass additional exams after obtaining their initial dentistry license.
Dentists detect and treat issues with patients’ teeth and gums, as well as other regions of the mouth. Dentists not only clean and whiten teeth, perform root canals, install veneers, implants and crowns, extract wisdom teeth, and perform corrective surgery on gums, but also advise patients on important aspects of oral health and hygiene. On the other hand, orthodontists practice a branch of dentistry focusing on patients with imperfect positioning of teeth and facial growth issues, such as the abnormal shape, positioning and development of the jaw. A good bedside manner – especially for those dentists and orthodontists who work with children – is a must, and attention to detail can help detect early signs of oral health problems and save patients from mouth pain and financial woes later on.
Average Annual Salary: $200,000
Current Employment: 105,000
Chief Executive Officers
One of the few top-paying jobs that doesn’t involve a background in science and/or medicine is that of a chief executive officer, or CEO. CEOs may be the leaders of their companies and you may be constantly reminded of million dollar salaries, stock option plans, and perks for executives of public companies, but don’t forget that small businesses or failing ones can also have CEOs with relatively low pay.
There are no set prerequisites to becoming a CEO, though this position usually takes years of working up the ladder in a company or starting in managerial leadership roles. The educational background and on-the-job experience requirements for CEOs vary from company to company, though some famous CEOs, such as Bill Gates, Ralph Lauren, and Richard Branson, never even finished college. However, unless you are the founder or entrepreneurial driver behind a company’s success, most CEOs are extremely well educated with both undergraduate and graduate degrees, usually in technical fields like engineering, computer science, finance, or law.
Chief executive officers are responsible for overseeing a company’s operations and setting its strategic direction by determining which projects and/or capital expenditures to research, pursue, and fund. They develop company-wide policies and direct operational activities. This requires strong leadership, communication, analytical, problem-solving and decision-making skills.
Average Annual Salary: $180,000
Current Employment: 275,000
Psychiatrists are in charge of diagnosing and treating mental health disorders. Psychiatry requires many years of schooling and practical experience via internships and special programs, but the job benefits, particularly the salary, makes it a great career option.
After finishing an undergraduate degree, potential psychiatrists must complete an additional four years of doctorate schooling in order to achieve an M.D. or D.O. degree from an accredited medical school. Additional years of residency are required; three of them must be completed in the field of psychiatry. Afterwards, one must obtain a license in order to practice psychiatry. Psychiatrists must go through much of the same educational and professional regimen that traditional doctors and surgeons do, especially because they are licensed to prescribe medication, hence the increased pay compared to psychologists.
Psychiatrists diagnose and treat mental health issues. This is done through psychotherapy, hospitalization, medication, or other means of therapeutic treatment. Job duties include counseling and advising patients as well as prescribing medications for mental disorders. There are several specialties within the field of psychiatry, such as adult, adolescent and child, addiction, organizational, geriatric, neuro, and forensic psychiatrists.
Average Annual Salary: $180,000
Current Employment: 25,000
Careers in law are some of the most well-paid positions, but to become a lawyer, you must first invest a significant amount of time, energy, and money into the LSATs, law school, internships, and your State’s Bar Exam.
After your basic Bachelor’s Degree, which is usually in political science, journalism, philosophy, history, or another subject that will prepare you for the rigorous writing demands of the legal field, you take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) and apply to continue your education in law school for the next three years. During that time, it’s recommended that you participate in moot courts, writing for your school’s Law Review, government or law firm internships, and pursue other avenues through which to gain valuable, on-the-job experience. Once you have your law degree, you must pass your State’s Bar Exam in order to practice law.
Lawyers enjoy widespread options when it comes to utilizing their J.D.’s. Some become public defenders or district attorneys, while others specialize in tax law, family law, intellectual property, mergers and acquisitions, criminal or civil law. A lawyer’s responsibilities can include advising and representing individuals, businesses or governments in both civil and criminal cases. Additionally, lawyers draft documents, submit briefs, negotiate contracts, etc.
There are many possible careers for those with law degrees, but the best paid lawyers generally work at the top private law firms, spending countless hours on case research, witness gathering, and trial preparation. The average lawyer in the private sector makes about $140,000 versus government lawyers who make between $85,000 and $130,000. Check out our list of highest paid lawyers and legal jobs for more details.
Average Annual Salary: $135,000
Current Employment: 575,000
Engineering and Natural Science Managers
Most high paying jobs that involve science are in the medical field, but that’s not the case with a career as a natural sciences manager in research and development, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and agricultural engineering.
A Bachelor’s Degree in engineering or a natural science-related subject is a minimum requirement for individuals who want to become high-level scientists, managers, or lead/supervising engineers; however, a Master’s or Doctorate Degree is highly recommended for credibility, respect and prestige in the science community. In addition to a graduate level education, science managers tend to work as researchers in their respective fields prior to taking on managerial positions at private companies, whereas engineers can start in entry-level roles and advance.
Natural sciences and engineering managers supervise the designing and development work of their teams and offer guidance, direction and coordination help on projects. Whether a manager chooses to specialize in working with engineers, chemists, physicists, biologists, or architects, lead scientists and engineers need strong technical experience, analytical and leadership skills and the ability to maintain a high standard of quality in the research and developmental processes they are supervising. Typical work environments include offices and/or laboratories.
Average Annual Salary: $130,000
Current Employment: 250,000
Well-educated, mathematically-inclined individuals with an eye for detail, problem-solving abilities and strong management skills excel as finance managers.
Finance managers need a minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree, likely in finance, accounting, or economics, and several years of experience in a similar occupation, such as investment banking, audit, securities sales, financial analysis, loan underwriting, and trading. It’s also a good idea to obtain your Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certification prior to applying for the position.
Finance managers oversee a company, division, department, or project’s financial health. Finance managers, including CFOs, VPs or Directors, prepare numerous financial documents, monitor business activity reports, forecast income and budget expenses, and strategize for maximal long-term financial growth and stability within the organization. Finance managers work in banks, insurance companies, investment firms, and other businesses that require in-house financial management. Long and sometimes irregular hours are a part of the job.
Average Annual Salary: $125,000
Current Employment: 480,000
Advertising, Promotions, Sales and Marketing Managers
Marketing spans across multiple mediums: direct marketing, social media marketing, content marketing, print advertising, as well as traditional television and radio. For sales and marketing experts who want to be in charge of advertising campaigns and closing deals while enjoying one of the highest paying jobs in America, a career as a sales, advertising or marketing manager could be the best choice.
Any aspiring marketing and sales executive needs to have at least a Bachelor’s Degree (preferably an MBA) and 3 to 5 years of work experience prior to applying for this position, although proven skills and expertise can replace a formal education. The more experience, successful campaigns, and credibility you have, the better your chances of getting hired with a reputable company.
Your prime objective is to generate consumer interest in the products and/or services your company offers. Marketing managers focus on developing policies, programs and campaigns to improve and/or maintain a brand’s image as well as promote specific products/services to new and existing customers. Sales managers must then ensure the company converts those advertising dollars into actual revenue by soliciting, organizing and coordinating the distribution to wholesalers, retailers, and customers.
Managers work with the art and graphics department, sales agents, copywriters, finance staff members, and other individuals involved in the process. In the end, everyone works together to target market segments with unique messages, develop pricing strategies and maximize growth, market share, and profits.
Average Annual Salary: $120,000
Current Employment: 500,000
Air Traffic Controller, Airline Pilots, Co-Pilots, Flight Engineers
Employed almost exclusively by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), air traffic controllers work in control towers or facilities close to airports and are responsible for the safe operation and movement of air traffic. On the other hand, the cockpit crew needs no introduction – they safely transport you via airplane from one destination to another at more than 30,000 feet in the air.
Compared to other occupations on this list of top paying jobs, careers in air traffic control require relatively light educational experience prior to landing the job (see High Paying Jobs Without A Degree). The basic requirements include an U.S. citizenship, a degree in air traffic management from the FAA, and the completion of an FAA training course after passing a pre-employment aptitude test. Air controllers with previous traffic control experience from the military may not need the FAA education requirements to qualify.
Commercial pilots usually have an Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree from a civilian flight school, and must have a commercial pilot’s license and an instrument rating if they paid to transport passengers or cargo.
With long hours and passenger safety concerns, both pilots and air traffic controllers are infamous for being two of the most stressful jobs out there. Air traffic controllers are responsible for regulating flight paths and movements, keeping airplanes safe distances apart, and minimizing air traffic delays. Extreme concentration and attention to detail is required at all times, and you can expect to work at night and/or weekends in addition to day shifts.
Average Annual Salary: $120,000
Current Employment: 100,000
If you want to help people by working in the medical field, but don’t want to pursue the top-paying doctor/surgeon route, then working as a pharmacist could be a great alternative.
To become a pharmacist, you must obtain a Bachelor’s Degree, take the PCAT, attend pharmacy school and acquire a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.), a 4-year professional degree. Afterwards, pharmacists must pass two exams to get licensed.
Pharmacists, who top our list of best paying jobs for women, are crucial to the care and well-being of individuals who need medication. Pharmacists are responsible for dispensing prescription drugs, advising patients on correct dosage amounts, and answer questions regarding side effects.
Pharmacy is a booming career, projected to grow by an above-average 25% through 2020, adding nearly 70,000 new pharmacists to the labor force. Pharmacists are well-paid for their long years of schooling and specialized knowledge.
Average Annual Salary: $115,000
Current Employment: 275,000
Top Paying Jobs
As we can see from the above list of highest paying jobs, technical and science-based careers tend to have the best salaries and not surprisingly, all are among the best careers for the future. Management positions in which a leadership role is assumed and business-savvy is required also tend to pay top executives quite generously in addition to corporate perks. Despite their differences, most of these top paying careers have something in common: they require several years of education and/or experience in order to even qualify for the job. This massive investment of time, energy, and money on education and experience may only be worth it for a select group of people, but ultimately, these long hours and concentrated efforts eventually pay off in the form of fulfilling, respected careers with great pay.