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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Stacy Rapacon, Online Editor
| December 12, 2018
If you're hoping to rake in the biggest bucks, be ready to invest in yourself first. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, higher levels of educational attainment typically lead to higher levels of pay. For example, while workers with a high school diploma earn a median $712 a week, those with a bachelor's degree pull in $1,173 weekly, and those with a professional degree make a median $1,836 a week. (The median for all workers is $907 a week.)
Indeed, the top earners in our own job rankings show that more years of studying (and tuition money) can certainly pay off. Among our 30 of the Best Jobs for the Future, these
are the 15 that post the highest typical earnings. And though we favored jobs that don't necessarily call for a huge investment in education to get started, the generous paychecks and promising growth projections of these positions still pushed them toward the top of our list—despite six usually requiring advanced degrees and the rest needing at least a bachelor's.
Unless otherwise noted, all employment data was provided by Emsi, a labor-market research firm owned by Strada Education. Emsi collects data from dozens of federal, state and private sources, including reports from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and surveys from the U.S. Census Bureau. The total number of jobs listed for each occupation is for 2017. Projected 10-year job growth figures represent the percentage change in the total number of jobs in an occupation between 2017 and 2027. Annual earnings were calculated by multiplying median hourly earnings by 2,080, the standard number of hours worked in a year by a full-time employee. Jobs are listed by median earnings, from lowest to highest.
Total number of jobs: 249,909
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 12.0% (All jobs: 9.7%)
Median annual salary: $86,711 (All jobs: $43,992)
Typical education: Bachelor’s degree
We swear this is a totally unbiased ranking, but we obviously believe in the value of expert financial guidance. This is especially true as pensions become a thing of the past and Americans are compelled to take responsibility for building their own wealth. Baby boomers, in particular, are ripe to seek out more professional help as they plan for and enter retirement in droves.
You usually have to be a college grad to get on this career path. A bachelor's degree in finance, economics, accounting or a similar field would best prepare you for dealing with money matters, but most employers don't specify a required major. Certification from the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards—which requires you to earn a bachelor's degree, have at least three years of relevant work experience and pass a rigorous exam on a wide range of financial issues—adds to your credibility. Licensing is required to sell certain types of insurance and investment products.
Total number of jobs: 80,712
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 18.5%
Median annual salary: $87,199
Typical education: Doctoral degree
Americans are increasingly becoming pet owners and spending more on their furry (and scaly, slimy and feathery) family members. In fact, 68% of U.S. households, or 84.6 million homes, own a pet, according to a 2017-18 survey from the American Pet Products Association (APPA). That’s up from 56% of U.S. households in 1988, the first year of the APPA National Pet Owners Survey. And spending on pets is expected to rise to $72.1 billion in 2018 from $69.5 billion in 2017 and $43.2 billion just ten years ago.
The veterinary services industry is an obvious beneficiary. And on top of providing classic care to more pets, vets are offering many new services as medical advances are expanding to treat species beyond humans. That includes cancer treatments, kidney transplants and other complicated procedures.
To become a veterinarian, you must earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, which typically takes four years after getting a bachelor’s degree. Expect to take many science classes, including biology, zoology and animal science, as well math, humanities and social science courses. You must also be licensed to practice in the U.S.; requirements vary by state.
Total number of jobs: 288,653
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 11.6%
Median annual salary: $93,750
These workers basically do everything that makes an organization run. That might include tasks such as maintaining facilities, recordkeeping, planning and supervising activities and much, much more. Especially as companies focus on efficiency—in terms of production, costs and energy usage—it’s no wonder why attentive administrative services managers are in high demand.
You typically need a bachelor’s degree to land this gig, but educational requirements vary by employer. You usually also need up to five years of related work experience. Official certification may also help your resume stand out, especially for specialized positions. For example, prospective records and information managers could benefit from getting an official Certified Records Managers designation through the Institute for Certified Records Managers. It requires certain educational and work experience standards, passing a six-part exam and annual membership fees of $200.
Total number of jobs: 110,914
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 27.2%
Median annual salary: $95,506
Increasing digital dangers are pushing companies of all stripes to beef up their information security and hire more white hats. Banks and financial institutions, as well as tech firms, are particularly big employers of information security analysts. You can also find opportunities in hospitals and doctors' offices, where the move to keep more digital records pushes the need to protect patients' privacy.
To get started developing and implementing measures to safeguard an organization's computer network, you likely need a bachelor's degree in computer science, programming or another tech-related field. You may also need up to five years of work experience, perhaps as a network or systems administrator, to secure a management role. A master's of business administration in information systems can help you stand out in the applicant pool. Becoming a certified information systems security professional or gaining some other similar certification can also give you a boost.
Total number of jobs: 371,020
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 21.0%
Median annual salary: $96,517
The increasing demand for medical services calls for more people to manage them. Health services managers may oversee the functions of an entire medical practice or facility—as a nursing home administrator, for example—or a specific department, as a clinical manager for, say, surgery or physical therapy. Health information managers work specifically on maintaining patient records and keeping them secure, an especially important task as everyone is shifting to digital.
A bachelor's in health administration is the ticket to this profession, but a master's in health services, long-term-care administration or public health is also common among these workers. You may need to be licensed to run certain types of facilities, such as a nursing home, for which all states require licensure, or an assisted-living facility. Check with your state's department of health for details.
Total number of jobs: 2.3 million
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 12.0%
Median annual salary: $99,754
Being a boss is, of course, a prosperous path for your future, vague as the title might be. General managers oversee operations that are too varied and difficult to fit into more squarely defined management positions. Their work might include strategic planning, developing work policies, making staff schedules and a multitude of other responsibilities necessary to make things happen on a daily basis.
Education and experience requirements vary widely by industry, company and even department. Typically, you need at least a bachelor’s degree and many years of work experience in order to take charge. But in some instances, workers without a college degree can make their way up the ladder into management. On the other hand, some employers may prefer applicants with a master’s in business administration.
Total number of jobs: 878,990
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 30.4%
Median annual salary: $100,857
Why become an app developer? Check the palm of your hand (or maybe in the couch cushions) for the answer. The proliferation of mobile technology is driving demand for development of new applications of all kinds, from news and games to music and social sharing. Systems software developers, who create the operating systems for computers and mobile devices, are also poised for prosperity. From about 409,800 jobs currently, the workforce is projected to grow 13.3% by 2027. Systems software developers earn a median income of $106,653 a year.
A college degree in computer science, software engineering or a related field is a standard requirement to land most software-development jobs, but a master's degree can give you a leg up on the competition. Without a bachelor's degree, you can break into the tech field as a web developer, a role that typically requires just an associate's degree to get started and pays a median salary of about $58,409 a year. Also, the number of such jobs is expected to grow 17.2% to nearly 193,627 positions by 2027. Beyond formal education, expect to keep learning throughout your career in any tech job; you need to stay on top of new tools, computer languages and other advances.
Total number of jobs: 172,102
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 35.2%
Median annual salary: $103,947
Typical education: Master's degree
Advancing technology, greater focus on preventive care and an aging population will mean a growing number of patients requiring care in hospitals, doctors' offices, long-term-care facilities and even private homes. Nurse practitioners (NPs) are highly sought after to meet that need. NPs able to provide much of the same care as full-fledged doctors, including performing routine checkups and writing prescriptions, and they can work independently. Exact guidelines vary by state.
NPs need to become registered nurses before pursuing their master's degrees, which could take up to three years to complete. In addition to an RN license, NPs may also need a second license and certification. Each state sets its own specific requirements; check with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing for more information.
Nurse anesthetists—another type of advanced practice nurse, also requiring a master's degree and special licensing, but focused on the area of anesthesia—make bank, too. They typically earn $165,636 a year. Their ranks are expected to grow 18.0% over the next 10 years. For more, see the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists.
Total number of jobs: 112,463
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 35.3%
Median annual salary: $104,986
Typical education: Master’s degree
Want to avoid the time and cost of medical school, but still be a vital part of medical teams, working alongside physicians, surgeons and other health workers? Physician assistants (PAs) are trained to diagnose and treat patients and are able to write prescriptions and order tests. In some areas, they may serve as primary care providers in clinics where physicians visit just sporadically, perhaps one or two times a week. But a PA’s specific duties and how strictly they must be supervised by a physician or surgeon vary by state.
To get started, you need at least two years of postgraduate study to earn a master's in this field. Accredited programs are competitive, so you ought to have patient-care experience—such as working as an EMT or paramedic, nursing assistant or other similar care provider—to round out your application. Volunteering at hospitals or clinics or with special-needs or at-risk groups, such as orphans or homeless people, can also bolster your experience. You need a license to practice, too.
Total number of jobs: 176,205
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 10.2%
Median annual salary: $106,809
The low national unemployment rate indicates heightened competition among employers to attract and retain top employees—an area human resource experts can help businesses with. They can work to ensure they are offering comparable wages, benefits packages and work policies. Human resources managers, specifically, can also help improve workforce efficiency within an organization, assisting top executives to identify and fill staffing needs.
Before you can reach the ranks of manager, you need to clock in five years or more of related work experience. Human resources specialists, which offer entry-level opportunities in the field, have promising futures, too. Over the next decade, their numbers are projected to grow at a rate of 9.4%, and their median pay is $60,757 a year. You typically need a bachelor’s degree in human resources, business or a related field to get started as a specialist. Employers may also prefer or even require you to become a certified HR professional through the Society for Human Resource Management, the HR Certification Institute or other similar programs. A master’s degree can also help give you a leg up on the competition.
Total number of jobs: 610,056
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 19.1%
Median annual salary: $122,733
Managing a company’s cash flow is a good way to direct income into your own coffers. Financial managers get paid handsomely to build long-term financial plans that help organizations achieve their goals by controlling risk, maximizing returns on investment and deploying cash wisely. Many of these workers are employed by finance and insurance firms, but a broad mix of organizations—including those in professional, scientific and technical services, government and manufacturing—benefit from their expertise.
While a bachelor’s in finance, economics or other related field is typically the minimum education level expected for this job, many employers are looking for people with a master’s in business administration or similar. You also need to invest five or more years of work experience in another financial or business occupation before you get to control the purse strings. Some starting positions that can lead you toward this career path include being an accountant, securities sales agent or financial analyst.
Total number of jobs: 384,340
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 14.4%
Median annual salary: $138,142
With the computerization of everything from phones and coffeemakers to cars and airplanes, you'd be hard-pressed to find a business that doesn't rely on computers in one way or another. That puts the folks who run the computers in very high demand. Computer systems managers plan, coordinate and direct all the IT activities of an organization, helping to ensure its technological needs are being met and implemented effectively.
You need at least five years of related work experience, as say an analyst in the same field, in order to move up to manager. To get started, a bachelor's degree in information technology or another computer-related field is typical. But you can also qualify with a liberal arts degree and techie talents you developed outside of a standard four-year program. On the other hand, a graduate degree can give you an edge in a highly competitive field.
Total number of jobs: 143,243
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 13.9%
Median annual salary: $154,901
The link between oral health and overall health has been proven strong, pushing more Americans to regularly seek dental care and giving dentists ample opportunity to work. Their career prospects also benefit from the aging population, with people increasingly keeping their real teeth longer (rather than opting for dentures) and needing plenty of help combating their deterioration.
On top of being comfortable spending your days poking around other people’s mouths, you have to endure many years of schooling to become a dentist. You typically need a bachelor’s degree to apply to dental school, which generally takes four years to complete. If you want to be a specialized dentist—such as an endodontist, who performs root canals, or an oral pathologist, who focuses on cancer and other oral diseases—you also need to complete a two- to four-year residency program.
Total number of jobs: 141,107
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 16.0%
Median annual salary: $189,738
The health-care field has long been lauded as a solid source of many prosperous careers. After all, no matter what happens in politics, the economy or the overall job market, people always need medical attention at various points throughout their lives. As generalists, family practitioners are able to perform regular checkups and care for an array of everyday afflictions such as sinus and respiratory infections in patients of all ages. That can translate into a practice with a steady stream of patients.
You need to endure many years of schooling before you can get started on this path. After first getting your bachelor’s degree, typically in the sciences, you have to get into medical school, which typically requires four years to complete. Then, you spend another three years training in an approved residency program. Finally, after you become board-certified, you can officially become a practicing family doctor.
Total number of jobs: 393,399
Projected job growth, 2017-2027: 13.7%
Median annual salary: $200,774
Health care coverage may be a hotly debated issue in the U.S., but the need for quality health care is universally acknowledged. And physicians are still considered the top dogs for diagnosing and treating patients, especially when it comes to more specific health issues. Some specialties included in this group of doctors are allergists, cardiologists, dermatologists and radiologists.
Whatever your area of focus, expect to spend many years—and tuition dollars—on studying it. From the start of college, more than a decade will have passed before you finally become a board-certified practicing physician. And in that time, plenty of people pile on the student loans. In 2016, medical-school graduates carried a median $190,000 in debt, according to the American Medical Association.
*Bolded data at top refer specifically to physicians whose specialties are not included in detail by the Department of Labor. It does not include anesthesiologists, family and general practitioners, internists, obstetricians and gynecologists, pediatricians or psychiatrists.