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10 Featured Careers With High Earnings Potential

Jan 09, 2012 | By Aimee Hosler

Woody Allen once said, "Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons." It's true: money can't buy you happiness, but it can make life more comfortable. Both the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce agree that more education usually means better salaries, but it can a balancing act. Sure, doctors and lawyers turn a pretty penny, but how much of those earnings are offset by student debt?

In most cases your lifetime earnings more than make up for your educational investment, but you don't have to get a PhD to do well. Truly! Don't believe us? Here are 10 careers with high earnings potential to prove it.

10 high-salary careers that don't (always) require years of school

Note: All salary data is from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

1. Chief executives

CEOs prove that an entrepreneurial spirit can be just as valuable as a business degree. According to a 2011 report from Georgetown's CEW, CEOs rank first among high earners with some college training, with associate degrees or with bachelor's degrees. 2010 median salary: $165,080.

2. Firefighters

Firefighters' greatest reward may be the respect they earn saving lives, but that doesn't mean they aren't well paid: the CEW ranked these first responders second among the highest earners with associate degrees. 2010 median salary: $45,250; high earners topped $75,000.

3. Construction managers

Leadership and trade skills both tend to pay well, and construction managers have both. The CEW ranks them among the highest with no or little college training. 2010 median salary: $83,860.

4. Computer and information systems managers

These computer experts are a prime example of how education really can pay off: both the U.S. Department of Labor and the CEW rank them among the highest earning professionals with bachelor's degrees. 2010 median salary: $115,780


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5. Computer software engineers

Like their information systems manager cousins, computer software engineers rank among the highest paid professionals with bachelor's degrees. 2010 median salary: $94,180.

6. Petroleum engineers

According the CEW, those with bachelor's level engineering degrees don't just earn more than equally-trained grads, they earn more than grads of any discipline, period. Meanwhile, the BLS notes that of all the different types of engineers, petroleum engineers usually earn the most. 2010 median salary: $114,080.

7. Marketing and sales managers

The CEW reports that marketing managers rank among top earners of virtually all educational levels from limited college training through graduate degrees. 2010 median salary: $112,800.

8. Financial managers

While the CEW notes that graduate-level finance degrees place these money gurus among the nation's top earners, the BLS reports that experience tends to trump education. 2010 median salary: $103,910.

9. Nurse anesthetists

For nurse anesthetists, a little extra nursing school goes a long way. While undergraduate-degree-holding registered nurses earned $64,690 on average in 2010, CNN Money reports that nurse anesthetists, who must earn graduate degrees, earned $156,000 the same year.

10. Air traffic controllers

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, air traffic controllers are among the top 25 highest paid professionals in the country, and they can usually get by with two to four years of training. 2010 median earnings: $108,040.

Major matters

What if you want to go to college--how can you be sure your investment pays off? Sometimes what you study matters most. According to the CEW, the following are the nation's highest paying majors on average: engineering, computer and mathematics, business and health.

Ready to take advantage of these statistics? Our school directories can point you to online colleges or campus-based schools in these (and many other) disciplines.