Bureau of Labor Statistics

High-wage occupations by typical entry-level education, 2017

| January 2019

Overall, wages are higher in occupations typically requiring a degree for entry than in occupations typically requiring less education. But that’s not always the case.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) assigns occupations to education categories on the basis of what is typically required to enter those occupations. As chart 1 shows, the median annual wage in occupations that typically require a degree at the entry level was higher than $37,690, the median wage for all occupations in 2017. (A median wage is the point at which half of workers earned more than this amount and half earned less.)

View Chart Data

Chart 1. Median annual wage by typical entry-level education, 2017
Typical entry-level education Median annual wage, 2017(1)

Total, all occupations

$37,690

Doctoral or professional degree

103,820

Master's degree

68,090

Bachelor's degree

72,830

Associate's degree

52,830

Postsecondary nondegree award

37,670

High school diploma or equivalent

36,100

No formal educational credential

23,480
Footnotes:

(1) Data exclude wages of self-employed workers.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections.

The top-paying occupations that typically don’t require a degree for entry also exceeded $37,690, even though the overall median annual wage for occupations in these categories paid less than that. The tables that follow show some of the variation among high-wage occupations in different education categories. For example, the best-paying occupations in which the typical entry-level education is a high school diploma had a median wage topping that of some of the highest paying associate’s degree-level occupations in 2017.

For each occupation listed, the tables also show the experience typically required at the entry level; on-the-job training typically required to attain competency; and annual openings, on average, projected from 2016 to 2026.

Doctoral or professional degree

The highest paying education category is occupations that typically require a doctoral or professional degree for entry. The BLS Occupational Employment Statistics program does not publish wages for occupations that have a median annual wage greater than or equal to $208,000. Therefore, table 1 shows mean, rather than median, wages.

Table 1.

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Table 1. Highest paying occupations that typically require a doctoral or professional degree for entry, 2017
Occupation Mean annual wage, 2017(1) Work experience in a related occupation On-the-job training Occupational openings, projected 2016–26 annual average

Anesthesiologists

$265,990 None Internship/residency 1,400

Surgeons

251,890 None Internship/residency 1,900

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons

242,740 None Internship/residency 300

Obstetricians and gynecologists

235,240 None Internship/residency 900

Orthodontists

229,380 None Internship/residency 300

Psychiatrists

216,090 None Internship/residency 1,100

Family and general practitioners

208,560 None Internship/residency 5,600
Footnotes:

(1) Data exclude wages of self-employed workers. The Occupational Employment Statistics program does not publish wages for occupations with a median annual wage that is greater than or equal to $208,000. Occupations in this category include most doctoral and professional degree-level occupations. Therefore, mean wages are shown.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections.

The occupation of family and general practitioners is projected to have 5,600 openings each year, on average, from 2016 to 2026, the most of the highest paying occupations that typically require a doctoral or professional degree for entry.

Master’s degree

All of the occupations listed in table 2 pay more than $100,000 per year at the median. This is the only educational category in which all of the highest wage occupations typically don’t have requirements for experience or on-the-job training.

Table 2.

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Table 2. Highest paying occupations that typically require a master's degree for entry, 2017
Occupation Median annual wage, 2017(1) Work experience in a related occupation On-the-job training Occupational openings, projected 2016–26 annual average

Nurse anesthetists

$165,120 None None 2,800

Political scientists

115,110 None None 700

Computer and information research scientists

114,520 None None 2,500

Physician assistants

104,860 None None 10,600

Nurse practitioners

103,880 None None 14,400

Mathematicians

103,010 None None 300

Economists

102,490 None None 1,600
Footnotes:

(1) Data exclude wages of self-employed workers.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections.

The occupation of nurse practitioners is projected to have 14,400 openings annually, on average, from 2016 to 2026, the most of the highest paying occupations that typically require a master’s degree for entry.

Bachelor’s degree

The bachelor’s-level occupations shown in table 3 paid more than six of the seven highest paying master’s-level occupations—and chief executives tops even the highest paying master’s-level occupation, nurse anesthetists. However, all but petroleum engineers typically require work experience in a related occupation for entry.

Table 3.

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Table 3. Highest paying occupations that typically require a bachelor's degree for entry, 2017
Occupation Median annual wage, 2017(1) Work experience in a related occupation On-the-job training Occupational openings, projected 2016–26 annual average

Chief executives

$183,270 5 years or more None 20,000

Computer and information systems managers

139,220 5 years or more None 32,500

Architectural and engineering managers

137,720 5 years or more None 13,600

Airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers

137,330 Less than 5 years Moderate-term on-the-job training 8,100

Petroleum engineers

132,280 None None 2,800

Marketing managers

132,230 5 years or more None 21,300

Financial managers

125,080 5 years or more None 56,900
Footnotes:

(1) Data exclude wages of self-employed workers.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections.

The occupation of financial managers is projected to have 56,900 openings each year, on average, from 2016 to 2026—the most of all the highest paying occupations shown in each education category.  

Associate’s degree

The highest paying occupation in table 4 is air traffic controllers, which had a wage that was more than triple the median wage for all workers. In this occupation, workers typically need long-term on-the-job training to become competent in their job tasks.

Table 4.

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Table 4. Highest paying occupations that typically require an associate's degree for entry, 2017
Occupation Median annual wage, 2017(1) Work experience in a related occupation On-the-job training Occupational openings, projected 2016–26 annual average

Air traffic controllers

$124,540 None Long-term on-the-job training 2,400

Radiation therapists

80,570 None None 1,200

Nuclear technicians

80,370 None Moderate-term on-the-job training 800

Funeral service managers

78,040 Less than 5 years None 2,000

Nuclear medicine technologists

75,660 None None 1,300

Dental hygienists

74,070 None None 17,500

Diagnostic medical sonographers

71,410 None None 5,400
Footnotes:

(1) Data exclude wages of self-employed workers.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections.

The occupation of dental hygienists is projected to have 17,500 openings each year, on average, from 2016 to 2026, more than any of the other highest paying occupations that typically require an associate’s degree for entry.

Postsecondary nondegree award

Repair occupations are among the highest paying postsecondary nondegree award occupations shown in table 5. Aircraft mechanics and service technicians is the only occupation in the table that typically doesn’t have requirements for work experience or on-the-job training in addition to completing an academic program.

Table 5.

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Table 5. Highest paying occupations that typically require a postsecondary nondegree award for entry, 2017
Occupation Median annual wage, 2017(1) Work experience in a related occupation On-the-job training Occupational openings, projected 2016–26 annual average

Electrical and electronics repairers, powerhouse, substation, and relay

$78,410 Less than 5 years Moderate-term on-the-job training 2,100

First-line supervisors of fire fighting and prevention workers

76,170 Less than 5 years Moderate-term on-the-job training 4,400

Ship engineers

73,110 Less than 5 years None 1,300

Captains, mates, and pilots of water vessels

70,920 Less than 5 years None 4,400

Insurance appraisers, auto damage

62,100 None Moderate-term on-the-job training 1,500

Aircraft mechanics and service technicians

61,020 None None 10,900

Electrical and electronics installers and repairers, transportation equipment

60,840 None Long-term on-the-job training 1,300
Footnotes:

(1) Data exclude wages of self-employed workers.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections.

And the 10,900 openings projected each year, on average, from 2016 to 2026 for aircraft mechanics and service technicians is another way this occupation stands apart from the other highest paying occupations that typically require a postsecondary nondegree award for entry.

High school diploma or equivalent

Wages for the top-paying high school-level occupations were more than double the median for all occupations. Each of the occupations listed in table 6 typically requires either work experience in a related occupation or on-the-job training—or both experience and training.

Table 6.

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Table 6. Highest paying occupations that typically require a high school diploma or equivalent for entry, 2017
Occupation Median annual wage, 2017(1) Work experience in a related occupation On-the-job training Occupational openings, projected 2016–26 annual average

Nuclear power reactor operators

$93,370 None Long-term on-the-job training 500

Transportation, storage, and distribution managers

92,460 5 years or more None 9,700

First-line supervisors of police and detectives

87,910 Less than 5 years Moderate-term on-the-job training 7,100

Power distributors and dispatchers

82,510 None Long-term on-the-job training 1,000

Detectives and criminal investigators

79,970 Less than 5 years Moderate-term on-the-job training 7,500

Elevator installers and repairers

79,480 None Apprenticeship 3,000

Commercial pilots

78,740 None Moderate-term on-the-job training 4,000
Footnotes:

(1) Data exclude wages of self-employed workers.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections.

The occupation of transportation, storage, and distribution managers is projected to have 9,700 openings annually, on average, from 2016 to 2026, the most of the highest paying occupations that typically require a high school diploma or equivalent for entry.

No formal educational credential

As table 7 shows, mine shuttle car operators had the highest median annual wage of the occupations that typically don’t require a formal educational credential for entry. On-the-job training is typically required for competency in all of the occupations shown.

Table 1.

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Table 7. Highest paying occupations that typically don't require a formal educational credential for entry, 2017
Occupation Median annual wage, 2017(1) Work experience in a related occupation On-the-job training Occupational openings, projected 2016–26 annual average

Mine shuttle car operators

$56,890 None Short-term on-the-job training 100

Continuous mining machine operators

54,620 None Moderate-term on-the-job training 1,400

Rotary drill operators, oil and gas

53,980 None Moderate-term on-the-job training 2,600

Loading machine operators, underground mining

52,420 None Short-term on-the-job training 300

Tapers

51,620 None Moderate-term on-the-job training 2,100

Athletes and sports competitors

51,370 None Long-term on-the-job training 1,700

Service unit operators, oil, gas, and mining

48,290 None Moderate-term on-the-job training 6,400
Footnotes:

(1) Data exclude wages of self-employed workers.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections.

The occupation of service unit operators in oil, gas, and mining is projected to have 6,400 openings each year, on average, from 2016 to 2026, the most of the highest paying occupations that typically don’t require a formal educational credential for entry.

For more information

A complete list of occupational wages, as well as typical entry-level education requirements and projected openings, is available from the BLS Employment Projections program. Additional wage data are available from the Occupational Employment Statistics program.

About the Author

Elka Torpey is an economist in the Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections, BLS. She can be reached at torpey.elka@bls.gov .

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Suggested citation:

Elka Torpey, "High-wage occupations by typical entry-level education, 2017," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 2019.

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