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100 Best Careers - 2018

This is the third annual edition of the Thrivent Mutual Funds 100 Best Careers in America. We’ve ranked the top careers based on both pay and opportunity, and categorized them by level of post-high school education or training.

With the cost of higher education constantly on the rise, it may pay to know where you might receive your best return on investment in terms of a rewarding career.

The 2018 edition of the 100 Best Careers in America is intended to help you decide on an educational path that may lead to a fulfilling, well-paying career in an occupation with a growing demand.

We’ve broken the 100 Best Careers list into three categories:

  • Jobs that require a four-year degree
  • Jobs that require a graduate degree (masters or doctorate)
  • Jobs that require two years of postsecondary education or less (associate’s degree, special certification, apprenticeships, and other shorter-term education or training programs)

Careers listed in each section were selected and ranked based on two primary factors – median income and opportunity. While pay is important, a growing job market for a particular occupation is also important. 

For instance, the median pay for computer programmers is about $80,000 a year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. But because companies have been outsourcing programming to workers in countries where wages are significantly lower, computer programming jobs in the U.S. have actually been declining, so that occupation did not make the cut – although a plethora of other computer and technology-related occupations did make the list. Another example would be the category of barbers, stylists and cosmetologists. While jobs in that profession are expected to grow by 64,000 over the next decade, the median salary is under $25,000 a year, which is well below the salary level of the 100 careers that did make the list. Clearly you could earn a solid living in many of those professions, but generally speaking, the 100 occupations listed here are the ones that appear to have the potential to provide the best combination of opportunity and income. 

Most of the salary and job growth information cited in the following tables comes from the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook. You can find additional information on any of the jobs featured in the list by visiting that site.

Willow Gerhard, Marketing Associate, also contributed to this report.

1. Dental Hygenists

2017 Median Pay: $74,070 per year

Number of Jobs (2016): 207,900

Job Outlook (2016-26): 20% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +40,900

2. Diagnostic Medical Sonographers

2017 Median Pay: $71,410 per year

Number of Jobs (2016): 67,300

Job Outlook (2016-26): 23% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +15,600

3. Web Developers

2017 Median Pay: $67,990 per year

Number of Jobs (2016): 162,900

Job Outlook (2016-26): 15% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +24,400

4. Police and Detectives

2017 Median Pay: $62,960 per year

Number of Jobs (2016): 807,000

Job Outlook (2016-26): 7% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +53,400

5. Radiologic and MRI Technologists

2017 Median Pay: $60,070 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 241,700

Job Outlook (2016-26): 13% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +30,300

6. Respiratory Therapists

2017 Median Pay: $59,710 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 130,200 

Job Outlook (2016-26): 23% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +30,500

7. Computer Support Specialists

2017 Median Pay: $52,810 per year  

Number of Jobs (2016): 835,300

Job Outlook (2016-26): 11% (Faster than average) 

Employment Change (2016-26): +88,500

8. Electricians

2017 Median Pay: $54,110 per year

Number of Jobs (2016): 666,900

Job Outlook (2016-26): 9% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +59,600

9. Plumbers, Pipefitters and Steamfitters

2017 Median Pay: $52,590 per year

Number of Jobs (2016): 480,600

Job Outlook (2016-26): 16% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +75,200

10. Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians

2017 Median Pay: $51,770 per year

Number of Jobs (2016): 335,700

Job Outlook (2016-26): 13% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +42,700

11. Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

2017 Median Pay: $56,690 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 46,800

Job Outlook (2016-26): 28% (Much faster than average) 

Employment Change (2016-26): +13,200

12. Industrial Machinery Mechanics

2017 Median Pay: $51,360 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 346,900

Job Outlook (2016-26): 7% (As fast as average) 

Employment Change (2016-26): +23,200

13. Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians

2017 Median Pay: $55,270 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 55,000

Job Outlook (2016-26): 10% (Much faster than average) 

Employment Change (2016-26): +5,500

14. Paralegals and Legal Assistants

2017 Median Pay: $50,410 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 285,600

Job Outlook (2016-26): 15% (Faster than average) 

Employment Change (2016-26): +41,800

15. Architectural and Civil Drafters

2017 Median Pay: $54,170 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 207,700

Job Outlook (2016-26): 7% (As fast as average) 

Employment Change (2016-26): +14,600

16. Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses

2017 Median Pay: $45,030 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 724,500

Job Outlook (2016-26): 12% (Faster than average) 

Employment Change (2016-26): +88,900

17. Heating, Cooling and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers

2017 Median Pay: $47,080 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 332,900

Job Outlook (2016-26): 15% (Much faster than average) 

Employment Change (2016-26): +48,800

18. Firefighters

2017 Median Pay: $49,080 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 327,300

Job Outlook (2016-26): 7% (As fast as average) 

Employment Change (2016-26): +23,500

19. Physical Therapist Assistant and Aides

2017 Median Pay: $46,920 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 140,300

Job Outlook (2016-26): 30% (Much faster than average) 

Employment Change (2016-26): +23,500

20. Carpenters

2017 Median Pay: $45,170 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 1,025,600

Job Outlook (2016-26): 8% (As fast as average) 

Employment Change (2016-26): +83,800

21. Heavy Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers

2017 Median Pay: $42,480 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 1,871,700

Job Outlook (2016-26): 6% (As fast as average) 

Employment Change (2016-26): +108,400

22.Surgical Technologists

2017 Median Pay: $46,310 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 107,700

Job Outlook (2016-26): 12% (Faster than average) 

Employment Change (2016-26): +12,600

23. Masonry Workers

2017 Median Pay: $42,900 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 292,500

Job Outlook (2016-26): 12% (Faster than average) 

Employment Change (2016-26): +34,200

24. Broadcast and Sound Engineering Technicians

2017 Median Pay: $42,650 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 134,300

Job Outlook (2016-26): 8% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +10,700

25. Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics

2017 Median Pay: $39,550 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 206,300

Job Outlook (2016-26): 6% (As fast as average) 

Employment Change (2016-26): +45,900

26. Medical Records and Health Information Technicians

2017 Median Pay: $39,180 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 206,300

Job Outlook (2016-26): 13% (Much faster than average) 

Employment Change (2016-26): +27,800

Dental Assistants

2017 Median Pay: $37,630 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 332,000

Job Outlook (2016-26): 19% (Much faster than average) 

Employment Change (2016-26): +64,600

Data Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook, April 2018

1. Financial Managers

2017 Median Pay: $125,080 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 580,400

Job Outlook (2016-26): 19% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +108,600

2. Computer and Information Systems Managers

2017 Median Pay: $139,220 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 367,600

Job Outlook (2016-26): 12% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +44,200

3. Advertising, Promotions and Marketing Manager

2017 Median Pay: $129,380per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 249,600

Job Outlook (2016-26): 10% Faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +23,800

4. Sales Managers

2017 Median Pay: $121,060per year

Number of Jobs (2016): 385,500

Job Outlook (2016-26): 7% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +302,500

5. Software Developers

2017 Median Pay: $103,560 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 1,256,200

Job Outlook (2016-26): 24% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +302,500

6. Medical and Health Services Managers

2017 Median Pay: $98,350 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 352,200

Job Outlook (2016-26): 20% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +72,100

7. Human Resource Managers

2017 Median Pay: $110,120 per year

Number of Jobs (2016): 136,100

Job Outlook (2016-26): 9% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +12,300

8. Computer Network Architects

2017 Median Pay: $104,650 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 162,700

Job Outlook (2016-26): 6% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +10,500

9. Information Security Analysts

2017 Median Pay: $95,510 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 100,000

Job Outlook (2016-26): 28% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +28,500

10. Actuaries

2017 Median Pay: $101,560 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 23,600

Job Outlook (2016-26): 22% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +5,300

11. Administrative Services Managers

2017 Median Pay: $94,020 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 281,700

Job Outlook (2016-26): 8% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +28,500

12. Construction Managers

2017 Median Pay: $91,370 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 403,800

Job Outlook (2016-26): 11% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +44,800

13. Computer Systems Analyst

2017 Median Pay: $88,270 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 600,500

Job Outlook (2016-26): 9% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +54,400

14. Mechanical Engineers

2017 Median Pay: $85,880 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 288,800

Job Outlook (2016-26): 9% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +25,300

15. Management Analysts

2017 Median Pay: $82,450 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 806,400

Job Outlook (2016-26): 14% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +115,200

16. Civil Engineers

2017 Median Pay: $84,770 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 303,500

Job Outlook (2016-26): 8% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +32,200

17. Financial Analysts

2017 Median Pay: $84,300 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 296,100

Job Outlook (2016-26): 11% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +32,200

18. Database Administrators

2017 Median Pay: $87,020 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 119,500

Job Outlook (2016-26): 11% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +13,700

19. Operations Research Analyst

2017 Median Pay: $81,390 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 114,000

Job Outlook (2016-26): 27% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +31,300

20. Network and Computer Systems Administrators

2017 Median Pay: $81,100 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 391,300

Job Outlook (2016-26): 6% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +24,000

21. Operations Research Analysts

2016 Median Pay: $79,200 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 91,300

Job Outlook (2014-24): 30% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 27,600

22. Architects

2016 Median Pay: $76,930 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 112,600

Job Outlook (2014-24): 7% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 7,800

23. Registered Nurses

2016 Median Pay: $68,450 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 2,751,000

Job Outlook (2014-24): 16% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 439,300

24. Accountants and Auditors

2016 Median Pay: $68,150 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 1,332,700 

Job Outlook (2014-24): 11% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 142,400

25. Technical Writers

2016 Median Pay: $69,850 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 52,000

Job Outlook (2014-24): 10% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 5,300

26. Environmental Scientists and Specialists

2016 Median Pay: $68,910 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 94,600

Job Outlook (2014-24): 11% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 10,200

27. Market Research Analysts

2016 Median Pay: $62,560 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 495,500

Job Outlook (2014-24): 19% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 92,300

28. Medical and Clinical Lab Technologists

2016 Median Pay: $61,070 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 164,800

Job Outlook (2014-24): 14% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 23,100

29. Loan Officers

2016 Median Pay: $63,350 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 303,200

Job Outlook (2014-24): 8% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 24,500

30. Social and Community Service Managers

2016 Median Pay: $63,530 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 138,500

Job Outlook (2014-24): 10% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 13,200

31. Social and Community Service Managers

2017 Median Pay: 64,100 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 147,300

Job Outlook (2016-26): 18% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +26,500

32. Cost Estimators

2017 Median Pay: $63,110 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 217,900

Job Outlook (2016-26): 11% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +22,900

33. High School Teachers

2017 Median Pay: $59,170 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 1,018,700

Job Outlook (2016-26): 8% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +76,800

34. Training and Development Specialists

2017 Median Pay: $60,360 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 282,800

Job Outlook (2016-26): 7% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +32,500

35. Special Education Teachers

2017 Median Pay: $58,980 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 439,300

Job Outlook (2016-26): 8% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +33,300

36. Dietitians and Nutritionists

2017 Median Pay: $59,410 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 68,000

Job Outlook (2016-26): 15% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +104,100

37. Elementary School Teachers

2017 Median Pay: $57,160 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 1,410,900

Job Outlook (2016-26): 7% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +104,100

38. Human Resources Specialists

2017 Median Pay: $60,350 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 547,800

Job Outlook (2016-26): 7% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +38,900

39. Middle School Teachers

2017 Median Pay: $57,720 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 630,300

Job Outlook (2016-26): 8% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +47,300

40. Public Relations Specialist

2017 Median Pay: $59,300 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 250,600

Job Outlook (2016-26): 9% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +22,900

41. Medical and Clinical Lab Technologists

2017 Median Pay: $51,770 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 335,700

Job Outlook (2016-26): 13% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +42,700

42. Kindergarten Teachers

2017 Median Pay: $54,230 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 154,400

Job Outlook (2016-26): 8% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +12,300

43. Film and Video Editors and Camera Operators

2017 Median Pay: $58,210 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 59,300

Job Outlook (2016-26): 13% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +7,600

44. Fundraisers

2017 Median Pay: $55,640 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 90,400

Job Outlook (2016-26): 15% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +13,400

45. Appraisers and Assessors of Real Estate

2017 Median Pay: $54,010 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 80,800

Job Outlook (2016-26): 14% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +11,700

46. Social Workers

2017 Median Pay: $47,980 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 682,100

Job Outlook (2016-26): 16% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +109,700

47. Meeting, Convention, and Event Planners

2017 Median Pay: $48,290per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 116,700

Job Outlook (2016-26): 11% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +12,700

48. Athletic Trainers

2017 Median Pay: $46,630 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 27,800

Job Outlook (2016-26): 23% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +6,300

Data Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook, April 2018

1. Anesthesiologists*

2017 Median Pay: $386,050 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 33,000

Job Outlook (2016-26): 15% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +51,00108,600

2. General Surgeons*

2017 Median Pay: $322,000 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 45,000

Job Outlook (2016-26): 14% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +6,500

3. Family and general practitioners*

2017 Median Pay: $219,000 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 134,800

Job Outlook (2016-26): 14% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +19,200

4. Dentists

2017 Median Pay: $158,120 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 153,500

Job Outlook (2016-26): 19% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +29,300

5. Lawyers

2017 Median Pay: $119,250 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 792,500

Job Outlook (2016-26): 8% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +65,00

6. Nurse Practitioners

2017 Median Pay: $110,930 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 203,800

Job Outlook (2016-26): 31% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +64,200

7. Pharmacists

2017 Median Pay: $124,170 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 312,500

Job Outlook (2016-26): 6% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +17,400

8. Physician Assistants

2017 Median Pay: $104,860 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 106,200

Job Outlook (2016-26): 37% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +39,600

9. Optometrists

2017 Median Pay: $110,300 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 40,200

Job Outlook (2016-26): 18% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +7,200

10. Health Specialties Teachers, postsecondary

2017 Median Pay: $90,840 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 210,400

Job Outlook (2016-26): 19% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +40,000

11. Elementary, Middle and High School Principals and Administrators 

2017 Median Pay: $94,390 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 251,300

Job Outlook (2016-26): 8% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +19,800

12. Physical Therapists

2017 Median Pay: $86,850 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 239,800

Job Outlook (2016-26): 28% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +67,100

13. Engineering Teachers, postsecondary

2017 Median Pay: $98,360per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 47,600

Job Outlook (2016-26): 15% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +6,900

14. Postsecondary Education Administrators

2017 Median Pay: $92,360 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 180,000

Job Outlook (2016-26): 10% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +18,200

15. Veterinarians

2017 Median Pay: $90,420 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 79,600

Job Outlook (2016-26): 19% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +15,000

16. Occupational Therapists

2017 Median Pay: $83,200 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 130,400

Job Outlook (2016-26): 24% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +31,000

17. Statisticians

2017 Median Pay: $84,760 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 40,300

Job Outlook (2016-26): 33% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +13,500

18. Medical Scientists

2017 Median Pay: $82,090 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 120,000

Job Outlook (2016-26): 13% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +16,100

19. Business Teachers, postsecondary

2017 Median Pay: $80,300 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 104,200

Job Outlook (2016-26): 18% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +18,900

20. Speech-Language Pathologists

2017 Median Pay: $76,610 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 145,100

Job Outlook (2016-26): 18% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +25,900

21. Biological science teachers, postsecondary

2017 Median Pay: $78,240 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 62,300

Job Outlook (2016-26): 15% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +16,300

22 Nursing instructors and teachers, postsecondary

2017 Median Pay: $71,260 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 67,900

Job Outlook (2016-26): 24% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +16,300

23. Art, drama, and music teachers, postsecondary

2017 Median Pay: $66,930 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 112,500

Job Outlook (2016-26): 12% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +14,700

24. Chiropractors

2017 Median Pay: $68,640 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 47,400

Job Outlook (2016-26): 12% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +5,900

25. Instructional Coordinators

2017 Median Pay: $63,750 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 163,200

Job Outlook (2016-26): 11% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +17,200

26. School and Career Counselors

2017 Median Pay: $55,410 per year 

Number of Jobs (2016): 291,700

Job Outlook (2016-26): 13% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2016-26): +36,700

Data Sources:

*Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2017

U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook, April 2018

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