Graduating with a college degree requires a sincere commitment to academics and a laser-focus on achieving one’s goals. Many top degree programs require four years of rigorous coursework at the very least, while some of the highest-paying fields require eight or more years in school along with a residency and/or on-the-job training.
Like most things in life, however, the spoils tend to go to those who work the hardest. Spend enough time in school and you could get a lot more than a career; you could graduate to a lifetime of bigger earnings and a lifestyle others envy.
But, it all starts with the career field and college degree you pursue. If you’re looking for a high-paying career with an awesome return-on-investment, consider these possibilities:
#1: Physicians and Surgeons
- Annual Mean Salary in 2016: $205,560
- Highest-Paying States: New Hampshire ($272,820), Wyoming ($259,940), and Minnesota ($253,440)
Physicians and surgeons earn a lot of money, and for good reason. They often spend ten years or longer in college, then spend years in residency still. Not only that, but they’re charged with saving people’s live. If any job is worth high pay, a job in medicine should fit the bill.
Fortunately, physicians and surgeons are paid handsomely for the skills and expertise. Surgeons alone earned an annual mean wage of $252,910 nationally in 2016, while physicians and surgeons combined earned $205,560 on average. OBGYN’s pulled in an average salary of $234,310 last year, which was the most for any medical specialization.
- Annual Mean Salary in 2016: $178,670
- Highest-Paying States: Delaware ($236,130), North Carolina ($236,020), and Alaska ($234,240)
Dentists also spend ample time in college, mostly because dentists need to earn a bachelor’s degree and a medical degree. Still, this has traditionally been time well spent for dental students since the average salary for dentists was $178,670 last year.
If you’re curious about dentistry but want to rake in bigger paychecks than most, it’s worth noting that you could boost your earnings by pursuing a specialty. For example, oral and maxillofacial surgeons earned an annual mean wage of $232,870 last year.
#3: Nurse Anesthetist
- Annual Mean Salary in 2016: $164,030
- Highest-Paying States: Montana ($242,140), Wyoming ($233,400), and California ($215,530)
Nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia and monitor patient’s vital signs, normally under the supervision of a surgeon, anesthesiologist, or dentist. Because these professionals need to earn a bachelor’s degree and a graduate degree, it typically takes 7-8 years to become certified to work in this field.
Still, this is one “nursing career” where high pay is the norm. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top 25 percent of earners in this field pulled in an average of $189,880.
#4: Airline Pilots, Copilots and Flight Engineers
- Annual Mean Salary in 2016: $152,770
- Highest-Paying States: Colorado ($207,680), Texas ($199,610), and Washington ($199,560)
According to the BLS, most commercial pilots only need a high school diploma and on-the-job training to find entry-level work. To become an airline pilot, however, you typically need a bachelor’s degree. To become a flight engineer, you typically need more training and even more time in school.
Still, any one of these careers can be lucrative, as evidenced by the amazing average wage for these three careers combined. Also keep in mind that, according to government data, the top 25 percent of earners in these careers brought in an average of $195,550 last year.
#5: Petroleum Engineers
- Annual Mean Salary in 2016: $147,030
- Highest-Paying States: Colorado ($161,200), Texas ($158,430), and Louisiana ($148,130)
Petroleum engineers devise strategies to recover more oil and natural resources from our planet’s reserves. Due to the importance of this job – and how much money is at stake – these professionals are paid handsomely for their knowledge and expertise.
You may only need a bachelor’s degree for this job, but you’ll earn an average wage of $147,030 nationally as of 2016. According to government figures, the top 25 percent of workers earned even more – an average salary of $179,450 last year.
#6: Computer and Information Systems Managers
- Annual Mean Salary in 2016: $145,740
- Highest-Paying States: New York ($175,530), California ($169,420), and New Jersey ($168,520)
Computer and information systems managers typically need a bachelor’s degree in computer science combined with applicable career and management experience. Once they find employment, these workers are in charge of overseeing and directing all of their employer’s computer-related activities.
Because these professionals need to stay on top of their game when it comes to technology and trends, they are typically paid rather well. As the BLS notes, the top 25 percent of computer and information systems managers earned an average salary of $170,670 last year.
#7: Marketing Manager
- Annual Mean Salary in 2016: $144,140
- Highest-Paying States: New York ($188,640), Delaware ($173,850), and New Jersey ($167,860)
Marketing managers typically get their start with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and a stint as a market analyst or marketing specialist. From there, they gain valuable on-the-job and management experience until they can climb the ranks as a marketing manager.
Because this career requires both marketing expertise and the management of other marketing professionals, it tends to pay rather more than most. While the average marketing manager earned $144,140 last year, the top 25 percent earned an average salary of $178,690 nationally.
#8: Architectural and Engineering Managers
- Annual Mean Salary in 2016: $143,870
- Highest-Paying States: Texas ($167,230), California ($166,580), and Colorado ($162,100)
While some architectural and engineering managers start careers with a bachelor’s degree and management experience, master’s degrees are also common. Either way, these workers oversee a variety of architectural and engineering projects. They typically hire and fire employees, help design plans, and direct projects once they’re underway.
While all architectural and engineering managers earned exceptional salaries in 2016, some industries paid more than others. Oil and gas extraction paid the highest salaries in 2016, with professionals in this field earning an average salary of $201,900.
- Annual Mean Salary in 2016: $139,880
- Highest-Paying States: California ($162,010), New York ($161,260), and Massachusetts ($158,760)
If you have a knack for creating compelling arguments and want to dedicate your life to helping others, a career in law can be both rewarding and profitable. Unfortunately, a law career typically starts with at least 8 years of school – four years in a bachelor’s program and several more pursuing a law degree.
Lawyer salaries vary widely, although almost all legal professionals enjoy comfortable salaries. As of 2016, the average lawyer earned $139,880 nationally. However, the BLS reports the top 25 percent of earners brought home an average of $176,580.
#10: Financial Managers
- Annual Mean Salary in 2016: $139,720
- Highest-Paying States: New York ($193,470), Delaware ($167,750), and New Jersey ($165,560)
Most financial managers hit the ground running with a bachelor’s degree and 5 or more years of experience in a related field such as accounting, business, or securities. These workers prepare financial statements for their organization while also overseeing employees who do financial reporting and budgeting.
Because of the importance of this work, financial managers are typically paid well in terms of both compensation and benefits. While the annual mean wage for this career was $139,720 last year, the top 25 percent earned an average salary of $168,790. Financial managers who worked in pipeline transportation, securities and commodities, and beer, wine, and liquor sales earned more than their peers in other industries, however, with average wages of $221,330, $202,380, and $198,720 respectively.