What Are the Highest Paying Careers for College Graduates?

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Experts say that college graduates earn $1 million more than non-graduates over the course of their career. If you pick the right career, you can earn even more. Unemployment rates are low, growth is strong and professionals enjoy a healthy work-life balance in many of these desirable fields. You’re putting a significant amount of time and money toward your degree, so potential earnings are a wise thing to consider. Every year, U.S. News & World Report publishes a list of the nation’s best-paying careers. This information is compiled using data from The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can also use this database to research other career opportunities.


Nine of the 10 best-paying careers are in the health care field. Anesthesiologists, surgeons, obstetricians and oral surgeons all make more than $200,000 each year. Dentists, psychiatrists and family doctors also top the list of highest-paid professionals. If you like helping people but can’t stand all of the blood and guts that pre-med students deal with, you can earn more than $80,000 per year as a pharmacist, nurse or physical therapist.


Everyone knows that CEOs earn a tremendous amount of money, but it takes time to get there. You can make your business degree work for you in a career as a market research analyst or marketing manager in the style of “Mad Men.” Marketing experts and art directors earn anywhere from $60,000 to $120,000 depending on their status in the company. Financial managers and sales managers are also on the list of top-paying careers outside the health care industry.


Careers in information technology pay well and give professionals the ability to work for themselves. IT and information systems managers earn $130,000 per year on average. Systems analysts with business administration degrees often earn more than $80,000, but those who specialize in information security can earn even more. Software development and web development are also top-paying careers in the tech field.


Engineering is a varied field that challenges a student’s creativity and analytic thinking. Petroleum engineers and engineering managers earn anywhere from $134,000 to $150,000 annually. Civil engineers and mechanical engineers who are responsible for turning concept drawings into working objects earn more than $80,000 per year.

Other Careers

Other careers that consistently rank among the top in earnings include law, aviation and natural sciences. In 2013, lawyers earned $130,000 on average. Lawyers also have the freedom to work for themselves or for a company. Pilots, copilots and flight engineers are well compensated with an annual average salary of $128,000. If you’re interested in chemistry, biology, physics and cutting-edge research, you could earn $130,000 as a natural sciences manager. Construction mangers who started in the trades earn more than $80,000 annually by overseeing building projects and budgets.

If these careers don’t interest you, many other areas of study can lead you to a specialty that pays well above average. For example, engineering students can increase their expected salary by 40 percent if they focus on nuclear energy instead of construction. Many careers pay well because there is a high demand for a small number of graduates. In the end, it’s up to you to find the course of study that will provide you with a satisfying, well-paying career that complements your natural skills and abilities.

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