There are many factors to take into consideration when choosing a major and future career path, from skill set to passion to what’s sometimes considered to be the elephant in the room: money. While you don’t want to base your entire life on your future salary, you’re probably curious about which degrees and careers pay the best—and rightfully so! Income is important to consider as you decide what professions could be a good fit for you. Here are the top five highest-paying career fields to consider and what these jobs involve.
1. Doctors and surgeons
It’s no secret that health care is a successful and growing field, not to mention physicians are highly trained, so it makes sense that doctors and surgeons come in with top pay. Within health care overall, anesthesiologists rank first with an average annual salary of $311,000, followed closely by oral surgeons, OB-GYNs, general surgeons, and orthodontists, all ranging from $267,000 to the low $300,000s. These jobs involve quick decision-making and are high pressure with long hours; for example, anesthesiologists are responsible for using the right amount of anesthesia for a patient’s surgery, and even a small margin of error can result in huge consequences. Oral surgeons and orthodontists work to resolve issues in a patient’s mouth either through routine procedures like wisdom teeth removal or more specialized ones such as reconstructive surgery of the jaw after an accident or unique medical event. OB-GYNs provide appropriate gynecological care to women of all ages as well as prenatal, natal, and postnatal care for new babies coming into the world. Finally, general surgeons perform a variety of surgeries depending on the ailment of the patient.
Pursuing any one of these professions will require extensive schooling. The typical path is to obtain a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as Biology, Chemistry, or Biochemistry. Prospective doctors then need to take the MCAT entrance exam and apply to medical school, which typically takes four more years. After that, you would take the USMLE to become medically licensed and complete a residency program, which usually lasts another four years. After this process is complete, you need to become fully certified in your state and find a job, usually at a hospital. While that may sound like a lot of hoops to jump through, the future of these career paths is bright. As a whole, the field is expected to grow 3% by 2030.
2. Chief executives
It stands to reason that the CEO of a company would be among the highest-paying careers out there, coming in at an average of $213,020. As the highest-ranking employee, chief executive officers often work from a big-picture view, overseeing various departments and ensuring that their company is carrying out its mission and vision statements as well as steering the organization in new and innovative directions. This position involves many meetings and often a heavy travel schedule, particularly when there are offices spread across the country or conferences to attend.
The route to the top of a company varies, but most CEOs obtain either a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, an MBA, or both. Many who founded their own company majored in Engineering or Computer Science before getting an MBA later to run the company once it got off the ground. It’s important to note that you won’t immediately ascend to this salary level; it normally comes after years of working your way to the top or establishing your start-up on a large scale. But the position is rapidly growing, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting that chief executive jobs will increase 8% by 2030.
3. Airline pilots and flight engineers
Airline pilots and flight engineers make just shy of $200k at an average of $198,190 per year. This may not be the career for you if you have a fear of heights or flying, but it’s fast growing and expected to grow 14% by 2030. Pilots are responsible for flying planes, overseeing the cabin crew, and navigating turbulent weather, takeoff, and landing. They also communicate with air traffic control and are assisted by the copilot, another highly paid professional who is second-in-command in the air. Becoming a commercial airline pilot is a process built on practice, practice, and more practice. Pilots typically major in Aviation before getting certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. From there, they build up thousands of hours of experience before they can be hired by an airline.
Flight engineers, on the other hand, are responsible for checking the mechanics of a plane before takeoff and continuing to monitor the electrical systems throughout the flight. They’re typically instrumental in the creation of the flight plan and can also step in to pilot the plane if the pilot or copilot are unable to. Flight engineers can major in a variety of related areas, from Aeronautical Engineering or Mechanical Engineering to Aviation Mechanical Engineering or Thermodynamics. After a bachelor’s degree, they obtain their commercial pilot’s license and become federally licensed before seeking employment.
4. Computer and information systems managers
Nearly every well-established company has an IT department, and with IT comes a manager. Managers in computer and information technology make $162,930 on average. And as technology only becomes more widespread and intricate, this position is highly desirable, with an estimated growth rate of 11% by 2030. Computer and information systems managers oversee the operations of a company’s technology, from their databases to processing systems to the computer programming itself. They oversee those implementing new strategies and provide insight and advice on how to use technology effectively and efficiently to meet company objectives.
To become a manager in this field, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in a technology-related field. Majors might include Computer Science, Data Analysis, Information Systems, or Software Development. While some do pursue master’s degrees, this isn’t a requirement to get a job in the field. Beyond education, it takes years to work up to the position of manager. Starting out in an entry-level IT position and working your way up over the course of 10–15 years is the most common way to reach the rank of manager.
5. Architectural and engineering managers
Architecture and engineering have long been known as steady, successful, and stable fields, but did you know they rank fifth in pay? With an average salary of $158,970, this career path offers the perfect opportunity for detail-oriented workers who enjoy project-based assignments. The jobs involve detailed and specific knowledge of either the architectural or engineering fields as well as managerial experience to prepare for directing others who work under your oversight. Both jobs include compiling exact specifications, examining the viability of a project, finding ways to improve efficiency and stability, and consulting with clients to come to an agreement on budget and vision for projects.
Some roles are more technical than others, which affects the path of education you may need to take for your career. Most pursue a bachelor’s degree and major in either Architecture or some form of Engineering. Then they get the appropriate certification or license in order to practice. From there, some get their MBA for roles focusing more on administration, while others earn master’s degrees in fields specific to engineering or architecture, such as a Master of Engineering Management. Long story short: Most people on this career path have their master’s, although they often work a few years before heading to graduate school with the hopes of becoming a manager. These careers aren’t the fastest growing compared to others (they’re projected to increase 4% by 2030), but they continue to have steady openings.
While these careers may be five of the highest-paying jobs in America, there are still many others worth mentioning as front runners and dependably high earning, including financial planners and wealth advisors, advertising and marketing managers, nurse practitioners, and judges or magistrates. If any of these positions sound interesting to you, don’t hesitate to do some research for more information and learn how to jump into these exciting careers. And while it’s important to stay abreast of profitable majors and jobs, don’t forget that if you don’t enjoy your future career, all the money in the world won’t make you happy. As Marsha Sinetar said, “Do what you love, and the money will follow.”
Want to explore even more potential majors and career paths? Check out our article on 12 Up-and-Coming Majors to Consider for College.