Top Careers in the United States

careers in united states

These days, with the troubled economy slowly beginning to recover, it’s more important than ever to be strategic when deciding which major to pursue.  Salary range and the level of demand for a position are two important factors to consider when deciding your future.

The most sought-after and well paying careers demand a minimum of 7 years of education and training.  Becoming a doctor or a surgeon, for example, demands 8 years of higher education, followed by anywhere from 3 to 8 years of internships and residencies. In an effort to make the process of choosing a career path less stressful, we have compiled a sampling of the most sought-after and well paying careers in the United States.


1. Dentist

Let’s face it – nobody wants a gap-filled, yellow smile.  For that reason, dentists earn on average, a whopping salary of $161,750 to $204,670.  There is a high demand for dental examinations, treatments, diagnoses, and cosmetic dentistry, making this one of the highest-paid careers in the United States.  Dentists in New Hampshire for instance, earn an average annual salary of $237,430.

The road to becoming a dentist is a long one. It involves four years of undergraduate school with a concentration on sciences, followed by four years of basic and clinical training.  While it takes nearly a decade to become a dentist, the reward is well worth it.  The unemployment rate within the field of dentistry is 0.7%.

2. Doctor or Surgeon

Doctors and surgeons earn between $168,650 and $234,950 annually.  While this figure is in the same ballpark as a dentist’s salary, becoming a physician requires eight years of schooling and up to 8 years of internships and residencies.   In 2011, anaesthesiologists were the highest-paid doctors in the country, averaging a salary of $234,950 per year.  While the idea of spending over a decade training to become a doctor may sound daunting, your area of expertise will always be in demand.

3. Lawyer

Lawyers are in school for 7 years, slightly less than dentists, and significantly less than the average medical student.  Lawyers earn an average annual salary of $130,490, depending on their speciality. Lawyers in the private sphere tend to earn more than those in the public sector. A government lawyer will earn roughly $81,000 per year, while a legal-services professional will take home around $137,000 annually.

Top Paying Industries for Lawyers:

  • Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing – $215,760
  • Motor Vehicle Manufacturing – $187,360
  • Speciality Hospitals – $184,610

4. Pharmacist

With a meagre unemployment rate of 3.1%, and an average salary of $113,390, a career as a pharmacist is a very smart choice.  The ageing population, along with the complexity of today’s medicines, are expected to increase the popularity of this career choice. Becoming a pharmacist involves completing a four-year professional degree in Pharmacy and being licensed – a process which involves passing two exams.

5. Careers in Aviation

The Aviation industry can be very lucrative.  Pilots, co-pilots, and air traffic engineers earn an average salary of $118,070 per year. While these careers are among the top paid, they are also among the most stressful.  If you’re drawn to aviation, but being among the clouds isn’t quite your style, consider a career as an air traffic controller – these individuals earn only slightly less than their mile-high comrades, with annual earnings averaging out to $114,460.

As we stated earlier, planning out a career path is more important today than ever.  These 5 careers, while among the most fiscally satisfying, demand high levels of stress, attention, and more often than not, six-figure student loans.  All in all, what you put in is what you get back, so choose a career wisely!


Kirstin Le Grice is a recent graduate of University of Colorado and a staff writer for CollegeFocus, a website dedicated to helping students deal with the challenges of college, including housing, finance, style, health, relationships, and transferring from a community college to a four-year university. You can follow CollegeFocus on Twitter at @CollegeFocus101 and Facebook at www.fb.com/collegefocus.