These jobs ask for loads of education before you can get in the door, but pay you little in return.
Jobs come in all shapes and sizes. There are good ones, bad ones, stressful ones, carefree ones, high-paying ones, and ones that are a little light in the paycheck department.
It's easy to rationalize a few extra years in school for a job that will return your investment, but don't get caught chasing after a job that requires loads of education and pays little.
Unless you love school and hate money, of course. But that's probably not the case.
To help you hold onto a little more of your time and money, we've singled out a few careers that, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, require at least a bachelor's (and sometimes more), but report median salaries under $50,000.
And just to keep the universe in balance, we've also included alternative careers that require much less school, but still see relatively high salaries. So keep reading to find out which careers pay off after your studies, and which aren't worth their weight in textbooks.
Careers That Require a Lot of School But Don't Pay Off:
Career #1: Mental Health Counselor
Are you the go-to person when your friends need advice? Feel like you are wise beyond your years? Then you might consider the career of a mental health counselor.
Why It Doesn't Pay Off: Before you commit, ask yourself this: Are you ready to spend extra time in school to earn the requisite master's degree and then log another 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience in order to become licensed as a professional? Because that's what the U.S. Department of Labor says it will take to prepare for this career of diagnosing disorders like depression and anxiety.
"You're talking about people's mental condition here, so that's something that requires a master's and several years of schooling before you can start making money," says Kent Lee, the Phoenix-based career expert and CEO of Perfect Resume, which provides interview coaching and resume writing services. "After that, it's also a pretty competitive field for getting jobs."
And what do you get in return for all that hard work and competition? The median pay for a career as a mental health counselor is just $40,080, according to the Department of Labor.
Careers That Are Short on School, Big on Pay:
Career #1: Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
Median Annual Salary: $65,860
Top Ten Percent of Earners: $91,070
Bottom Ten Percent of Earners: $44,990
Are you a patient, level-headed person who can easily keep cool? A well-paying career as a diagnostic medical sonographer could have you delivering some bad news to patients. The good news? This solid career does not require an advanced degree - or even a bachelor's.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, sonographers are responsible for using imaging equipment to diagnose and assess patients' medical conditions. The Department of Labor says they're also taught to read the images so they can communicate their findings to physicians.
Payoff Potential: One reason for the high salary sonographers fetch may be the long hours they're forced to log at a hospital or doctor's office, says Lee. Sometimes that even includes holidays and weekends. But while hours on the job might be long, he says, for the amount of schooling you'll need, pay is certainly competitive.
How Much School? You shouldn't need an advanced degree to prepare for a career as a diagnostic medical sonographer. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor says you will need to complete an associate's or postsecondary certificate. Employers might also require that you are professionally certified.
Career #2: Reporter and Correspondent
Maybe you've been told you're good with words, so you're leaning toward a job in journalism. Sure, reporters may look snazzy and authoritative in their fancy suits on television recounting the day's headlines. But how much do you really know about this profession?
Why It Doesn't Pay Off: If you think delivering the news brings home the bacon, you might be surprised to find out that reporters and correspondents make a median annual salary of only $35,870, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. "So many people want to be reporters, and I think most people, quite honestly, have no idea how little most of them make - even the ones you see on TV." says Lee.
Making matters worse, the Department notes that employers typically require candidates to have a bachelor's in journalism, communications, or a related field, plus relevant internships. Some local paper reporters, says Lee, take home salaries in the high $20,000 to mid $30,000 range, well-below the national median pay - and certainly less than exciting after spending four years in school preparing.
Career #2: Police Officer
Median Annual Salary: $55,270
Top Ten Percent of Earners: $89,310
Bottom Ten Percent of Earners: $32,350
Think you've got the guts and bravery to serve your community as an ambassador of the law? Then you might want to look into a career as a police officer. You might have to attend an academy, but you won't need to spend years slaving away in school to learn how to uphold the law.
In the life of a police officer, it seems like no two days of work are exactly the same. The U.S. Department of Labor says police officers do a mix of patrolling for crime, arresting criminals, conducting traffic stops, or even testifying in court.
Payoff Potential: "Think about it - policemen are risking their lives," says Lee, which is a big reason pay skews on the higher side." One thing to keep in mind, however, is that even though there's little schooling and good pay, a police officer job can be dangerous and stressful. "Also the hours are long and often are well into the night/early morning." Well, two out of three ain't bad.
How Much School? Education requirements for this job run the gamut. According to the Department of Labor, police officer candidates usually have at least a high school diploma or GED and have graduated from the agency's academy. Many applicants have completed some college coursework or have a degree. Many colleges and universities offer programs in criminal justice or law enforcement, says the Department.
Career #3: Recreational Therapist
What is a recreational therapist? The U.S. Department of Labor says they help patients with disabilities and illnesses - both physical and emotional. You're an active and compassionate person, so this career is a natural fit, right? Maybe so. But if you pick this profession, just know that the educational road ahead could be long and the pay disappointing.
Why It Doesn't Pay Off: First off: You'll probably need a bachelor's in therapeutic recreation or a related field, says the Department of Labor. The Department also notes that most employers prefer to hire candidates who are licensed and certified, which can require an exam and a supervised internship of about 480 hours. Even with all those credentials, the median annual pay the Department reports for this job is only $42,280.
And yet, according to Lee, this field can actually be quite competitive. But for the back-breaking and often emotional trauma you could have to deal with, it might not be worth the compensation and amount of schooling required, he says.
Career #3: Computer Programmer
Median Annual Salary: $74,280
Top Ten Percent of Earners: $117,890
Bottom Ten Percent of Earners: $42,850
Been called a techie one too many times in your life and finally ready to do something about it? No, don't send people viruses. Look into pursuing a high-paying job as a computer programmer, which requires a strong foundation in computer languages - but not a PhD in them.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor says that most programmers learn coding languages like C++ and Java to create software programs for computers. Programmers also test, fix bugs, and update programs when needed.
Payoff Potential: According to Lee, you can't go wrong with computer programming, as the skills involved in creating instructions for computers to perform certain tasks is specialized knowledge that not a lot of people have. What that means, says Lee, is big salary jobs that fewer people are qualified for.
How Much School? One possible first step to pursuing a computer programming career is getting an associate's or bachelor's, as the U.S. Department of Labor lists these as two degrees that programmers have. The Department of Labor says that most programmers study computer science or a related subject.
Career #4: Curator
Love visiting museums and discussing art? You might think being a curator is right up your gallery, but if you're not exactly thrilled at the prospect of grad school, then think again.
Why It Doesn't Pay Off: Turns out, being opinionated about a Jackson Pollock actually requires some serious school. In most cases, you're looking at a master's so you're well-versed in a given style of art or medium to lecture and write about it, says Lee, which will obviously take more time to earn.
The U.S. Department of Labor does say most museum curators have a master's, though some jobs may only require a bachelor's and work experience. Some museums also like candidates with doctoral degrees. That's a lot of years spent in the classroom for a relatively low median pay, which the Department of Labor says is $49,590.
To top it off, if you walk down this career path, you'll inevitably encounter other obstacles. "The problem here is competition," says Lee, as there are only so many museums or galleries to work in.
Career #4: Paralegal
Median Annual Salary: $46,990
Top Ten Percent of Earners: $74,410
Bottom Ten Percent of Earners: $29,420
Okay, so pay could be a little higher in this profession. But considering that you don't have to spend several years in law school and can still work as a meaningful part of a law firm, paralegal compensation really isn't that bad.
Paralegals assist lawyers in various ways. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, they are often responsible for keeping together the documents of a case, researching information on laws and regulations, and collecting affidavits for evidence in court. They also write and file legal reports, says the Department of Labor.
Payoff Potential: You can make a decent salary on relatively little schooling in this field, says Lee, but "you have to love research." Much of your professional life will largely entail hours and hours of researching cases and filing paperwork, which is precisely why it pays, he says. A paralegal's tasks are absolutely integral to lawyers putting together arguments for court, and their salaries reflect that.
Next step: Click to Find the Right Paralegal Program.
How Much School? One path for preparing for a career as a paralegal could be earning an associate's in paralegal studies, says the U.S. Department of Labor. If you already have a bachelor's degree in a different field, the Department of Labor also notes that you may be able to earn a certificate in paralegal studies.
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