There are a lot of great-paying jobs out there - but if you're going after one, you'll need the right preparation.
The annual mean wage for workers in the U.S. is $45,790, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That's a decent figure, but what if your career paid almost double? Good news: There are a number of jobs in the U.S. that pay over $85,000.
But what separates these high-salary jobs from the rest of the pack? "The technical expertise and industry-specific knowledge required," says Kathleen Brady, career coach and author of "Get a Job! 10 Steps to Career Success." "In some instances, advanced degrees and licensing is also required, thereby compelling employers to offer higher salaries," Brady adds.
Of course, a high-paying position may come only after years of experience or high-level promotions - but that doesn't mean these jobs are entirely out of reach.
If you're interested in following a career path that could lead to a salary over $85K per year, check out the list below. You might be surprised by how many of them don't require more than a bachelor's degree.
Career #1 - Actuary
Risk pays - quite literally. Believe it or not, there are professionals whose job it is, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, to assess all kinds of risks - mostly for the insurance industry. If you're the kind of person who's good at math and likes to figure out problems, you might make a good actuary yourself.
As an actuary, you might use math, statistics, and financial theory to figure out the risk of some event occurring - whether an accident, sickness, or even natural disaster, says the Department of Labor. With your assessment, you can help insurance companies develop policies that minimize the cost of that risk.
But how much do these risk assessors make? According to the Department, the median annual wage for an actuary is $93,680, with the lowest paid ten percent still earning $55,780, and the highest paid ten percent earning $175,330.
"This career has a high salary because it is a specialized field that requires a bachelor's degree," says Barbara Safani, Owner of Career Solvers and author of "Happy About My Job Search: How to Conduct an Effective Job Search for a More Successful Career." "It is also necessary to pass a series of exams to become certified as an actuary."
Next step: Click to Find the Right Business Program.
Is This Career For You? "People drawn to this career path would likely prefer to deal with facts and data and enjoy a slower-paced environment that affords them time to examine detailed information to form effective policies," says Brady.
"The best candidates have a strong background in math, statistics, and business," Safani adds. "They should be critical thinkers with good deductive reasoning skills."
How To Prepare: If you're interested in this field, you'll need a bachelor's degree, according to the Department, and professionals typically major in business, mathematics, statistics, or actuarial science. You'll also need to pass a series of exams to obtain professional certification, the Department adds.
Career #2 - Medical and Health Services Manager
It takes great leadership and organizational skills to head up a health care facility - be it a hospital or a nursing home. But once you learn what medical and health services managers make, you may feel up for the task and want to pursue this career.
As a medical and health services manager, the U.S. Department of Labor says you might manage the finances of your facility, deal with patient fees and billing, create work schedules for your staff, and make sure your facility keeps up to date - and compliant - with new laws and regulations.
And for all those duties, the pay isn't bad at all. The Department of Labor says the median annual wage for medical and health services managers is $88,580, with the lowest paid ten percent making $53,940 a year and the highest paid ten percent making $150,560 a year.
Is This Career For You? Brady says "medical and health services mangers must be creative problem solvers with strong interpersonal skills."
Why? Safani offers some clues: "Managers will be needed to organize and manage medical information and health care staffs in all areas of the industry." Sounds like a tall order.
How To Prepare: Ready to get serious about a career as a medical and health services manager? The Department has this to say about how to prepare: "Prospective medical and health services managers have a bachelor's degree in health administration." Master's degrees in health services, long-term care administration, public health, public administration, or business administration are also common in field.
Career #3 - Sales Engineer
Are you fascinated by science and technology, but prefer being out in the world talking to people over being cooped up in a lab? You might want to consider preparing to pursue a career as a sales engineer. The best part? It pays really well.
As a sales engineer, you might sell complex scientific and technological products or services to businesses, reports the U.S. Department of Labor. That could entail having an extensive knowledge and understanding of the scientific processes that make these products work - and the ability to use your technical skills to explain the benefits of these products to potential customers, the Department of Labor says.
And now for the good part. According to the Department, the median annual wage for sales engineers is $91,830, with the lowest paid ten percent earning $55,660, while the top ten percent earns $150,970 a year.
Next step: Click to Find the Right Engineering Program.
Is This Career For You? "People with strong math skills, analytical tinkerers who like to fix things and understand how they work, and strong interpersonal skills tend to do well in this field," according to Safani. "Sales engineers need to be on the bleeding edge of technology and those with knowledge of the latest technologies will be highly compensated."
How To Prepare: You'll typically need a bachelor's degree in engineering or a related field to get started, notes the Department. Those with a degree in business or in a science, such as chemistry, and little or no previous sales experience, may also be called sales engineers, notes the Department.
Career #4 - School Principal
Want to make an impact on future generations? It might be time to consider pursuing a high-paying career as a school principal, so you can help create a great educational environment for children to grow and learn in.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, as an elementary, middle, or high school principal, you might manage the day-to-day operations of your school. That could include supervising teachers and other staff, making sure they have the tools and resources they need, and helping to maintain discipline and a safe environment for both students and staff.
Principals earn an excellent salary, too. The Department of Labor says the median annual wage for school principals is $87,760, with the lowest paid ten percent earning $58,530 a year, and the highest paid ten percent earning $130,810 a year.
Is This Career For You? This could be one position that you work up to with experience. As Safani notes, "Generally principals start out as teachers and grow into more administrative positions such as department chairs, deans, or assistant principals before assuming a principal role. Most also hold a master's degree in education administration or leadership."
And you might need other credentials and skills. "Most states also have licensing requirements," says Brady. "Along with basic business administration knowledge such as budgeting, human resources, and strategic planning, principals must also have knowledge of principles and methods for curriculum design, public safety and security, applicable laws and government regulations, and psychology."
How To Prepare: According to the Department, most schools will require principals to have a master's degree in education administration or leadership. The Department also echoes Safani, saying that principals often gain experience in education by working as a teacher before entering a master's program or applying for a job as a school principal.
Career #5 - Physician Assistant
The prospect of years and years in medical school can scare many prospective doctors away - but there's an alternative. If you feel called to the medical profession, consider preparing to pursue a career as a physician assistant and potentially cut down on some years in school.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, as a physician assistant (also called PA), you might practice medicine under the direction and supervision of a physician or surgeon. That could mean doing physical exams on patients, ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests like x-rays, or even prescribing medicine.
And although they don't get paid like doctors, physician assistants are doing all right for themselves. According to the Department of Labor, the median annual wage for physician assistants is $90,930, with the lowest paid ten percent earning $62,430 a year, and the top paid ten percent earning $124,770 a year.
Is This Career For You? "People with patience, empathy, and an interest in caring for others tend to do well in this field," says Safani.
And Brady agrees, adding "PAs are typically compassionate and service orientated professionals with keen diagnostic and analytical skills. They are active listeners with strong deductive and inductive reasoning skills, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, social perceptiveness and strong verbal communication skills."
How To Prepare: According to the Department of Labor, PAs typically need a master's degree, which is completed through an accredited educational program and typically requires two years of study at minimum. Most of those applying for a master's degree program already have some work experience and a bachelor's degree. All states also require physician assistants to be licensed, the Department says.
Career #6 - Computer and Information Systems Manager
Computers baffle some people - but not you. Which means it could be time for you to build on your computer-savvy and prepare for a high-paying career as a computer and information systems manager.
As a computer and information systems manager, you might analyze your company's computer needs, recommend and install upgrades to computer hardware and software, and negotiate with technology vendors to get the best service for your company, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
And who knew that all that time spent in front of a screen could pay off? The Department of Labor reports the median annual wage for computer and information systems managers is $120,950, with the lowest paid ten percent earning $74,940 a year, and the top paid ten percent earning $187,199 or greater a year.
Is This Career For You? "Someone with strong analytical and organizational skills is likely to be drawn to an IT role," says Brady. "To advance to manager, they need to possess active listening skills, critical thinking and problem solving skills, social perceptiveness, strong written and verbal communication skills along with judgment, decision-making, and leadership skills," she adds.
How To Prepare: According to the Department, you'll typically be required to have a bachelor's degree in computer or information science as well as some related work experience to get started in this field. Many of computer and information systems managers have a graduate degree as well. In this case, says the Department, a master's in business administration (MBA) is common.
* All salary information is from the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012.
Next Article: Flexible Degrees To Earn In Your Spare Time »