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100 best careers in america article

Higher education isn’t easy and it certainly isn’t cheap. If you or your children plan on investing that much time, money and effort to attend a higher education institution, it might be helpful to know which careers offer the best return on your higher education investment – and the best opportunity to land a job within that profession.

The 2017 Thrivent Mutual Funds 100 Best Careers in America is intended to help you decide on an educational path that will 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 aerospace engineers is over $100,000 a year, but aerospace engineering positions are projected to decline by 1,600 jobs over the next decade, so that occupation did not make the cut. On the flip side, hairdressers and stylist jobs are expected to grow by 64,000 over the next decade, but the median salary is just $23,710 a year, so that occupation also did not make the cut. Clearly there are exceptions – professionals in lower paying occupations who are able to beat the odds and earn a better income – but, generally speaking, the occupations listed here are the ones that give you the best opportunity for a career placement with a competitive salary. 

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.

1. Dental Hygenists

2016 Median Pay: $72,910 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 200,500

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 37,400

2. Web Developers

2016 Median Pay: $66,130 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 148,500

Job Outlook (2014-24): 27% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 39,500

3. Diagnostic Medical Sonographers

2016 Median Pay: $69,650 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 60,700

Job Outlook (2014-24): 26% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 27,600

4. Radiologic and MRI Technologists

2016 Median Pay: $58,960 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 230,600

Job Outlook (2014-24): 9% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 20,700

5. Computer Support Specialists

2016 Median Pay: $52,160 per year 

Number of Jobs (2014): 766,900

Job Outlook (2014-24): 12% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 88,800

6. Respiratory Therapists

2016 Median Pay: $58,670 per year 

Number of Jobs (2014): 120,700 

Job Outlook (2014-24): 12% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 14,900

7. Electricians

2016 Median Pay: $52,270 per year  

Number of Jobs (2014): 628,800

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 85,900

8. Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians

2016 Median Pay: $55,570 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 52,000

Job Outlook (2014-24): 22% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 11,500

9. Plumbers and pipefitters

2016 Median Pay: $51,450 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 425,000

Job Outlook (2014-24): 12% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 49,100

10. Industrial Machinery Mechanics

2016 Median Pay: $49,100 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 464,400

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 73,400

11. Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

2016 Median Pay: $56,070 per year 

Number of Jobs (2014): 41,900

Job Outlook (2014-24): 40% (Much faster than average) 

Employment Change (2014-24): 16,800

12. Paralegals and Legal Assistants

2016 Median Pay: $49,500 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 279,500

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 21,200

13. Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses

2016 Median Pay: $44,090 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 719,900

Job Outlook (2014-24): 108% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 117,300

14. Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers

2016 Median Pay: $45,910 per year 

Number of Jobs (2014): 292,000 

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 39,600

15. Firefighters

2016 Median Pay: $48,030 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 327,300

Job Outlook (2014-24): 5% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 17,400

16. Carpenters

2016 Median Pay: $43,600 per year 

Number of Jobs (2014): 945,400

Job Outlook (2014-24): 6% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 60,400

17. Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides

2015 Median Pay: $42,980 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 128,700

Job Outlook (2014-24): 40% (Much faster than average) 

Employment Change (2014-24): 51,400

18. Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers

2016 Median Pay: $41,340 per year 

Number of Jobs (2014): 1,797,700

Job Outlook (2014-24): 5% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 98,800

19. Surgical Technologists

2016 Median Pay: $45,160 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 99,800

Job Outlook (2014-24): 15% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 14,700

20. Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technicians

2016 Median Pay: $38,950 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 163,400

Job Outlook (2014-24): 18% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 29,000

21. Masonry Workers

2016 Median Pay: $41,230 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 252,900

Job Outlook (2014-24): 15% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 37,300

22. Broadcast and Sound Engineering Technicians

2016 Median Pay: $42,550 per year 

Number of Jobs (2014): 70,900

Job Outlook (2014-24): 12% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 8,400

23. Massage Therapists

2016 Median Pay: $39,860 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 168,800

Job Outlook (2014-24): 22% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 36,500

24. Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics

2016 Median Pay: $38,470 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 739,900 

Job Outlook (2014-24): 5% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 39,100

25. Dental Assistants

2016 Median Pay: $36,940 per year 

Number of Jobs (2014): 318,800

Job Outlook (2014-24): 18% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 58,600

26. Medical Records and Health Information Technicians

2016 Median Pay: $38,040 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 188,600

Job Outlook (2014-24): 15% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 29,000

Data Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook, December 2016

1. Software Developers

2016 Median Pay: $102,280 per year 

Number of Jobs (2014): 1,114,000

Job Outlook (2014-24): 17% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 186,600

2. Computer and Information Systems Managers

2016 Median Pay: $135,800 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 348,500

Job Outlook (2014-24): 15% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 53,700

3. Financial managers

2016 Median Pay: $121,750 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 555,900

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 37,700

4. Advertising and Marketing Manager

2016 Median Pay: $127,560 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 225,200

Job Outlook (2014-24): 9% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 19,700

5. Human Resources Managers

2016 Median Pay: $106,910 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 122,500

Job Outlook (2014-24): 9% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 10,800

6. Medical and Health Services Managers

2016 Median Pay: $96,540 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 333,000

Job Outlook (2014-24): 17% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 56,300

7. Computer Systems Analysts

2016 Median Pay: $87,220 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 567,800

Job Outlook (2014-24): 21% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 118,600

8. Computer Network Architects

2016 Median Pay: $101,210 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 146,200

Job Outlook (2014-24): 9% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 12,700

9. Information Security Analysts

2016 Median Pay: $92,600 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 82,900

Job Outlook (2014-24): 18% (Much faster than average) 

Employment Change (2014-24): 14,800

10. Actuaries

2016 Median Pay: $100,610 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 24,600

Job Outlook (2014-24): 18% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 4,400

11. Management Analysts

2016 Median Pay: $81,330 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 758,000

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 103,400

12. Administrative Services Managers

2016 Median Pay: $90,050 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 287,300

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 23,500

13. Construction Managers

2016 Median Pay: $89,300 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 373,200

Job Outlook (2014-24): 5% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 17,800

14. Civil Engineers

2016 Median Pay: $83,540 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 281,400

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 23,600

15. Mechanical Engineers

2016 Median Pay: $84,190 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 277,500

Job Outlook (2014-24): 5% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 14,600

16. Biomedical Engineers

2016 Median Pay: $85,620 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 22,100

Job Outlook (2014-24): 23% (Much faster than average) 

Employment Change (2014-24): 5,100

17. Environmental Engineers

2016 Median Pay: $84,890 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 55,100

Job Outlook (2014-24): 12% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 6,800

18. Financial Analysts

2016 Median Pay: $81,760 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 277,600

Job Outlook (2014-24): 12% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 32,300

19. Database Administrators

2016 Median Pay: $84,950 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 120,000

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 13,400

20. Network and Computer Systems Administrators

2016 Median Pay: $79,700 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 382,600

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 30,200

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. High School Teachers

2016 Median Pay: $58,030 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 961,600

Job Outlook (2014-24): 6% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 55,900

32. Cost Estimators

2016 Median Pay: $61,790 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 213,500

Job Outlook (2014-24): 9% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 18,700

33. Special Education Teachers

2016 Median Pay: $57,910 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 450,700

Job Outlook (2014-24): 6% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 28,100

34. Dietitians and Nutritionists

2016 Median Pay: $58,920 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 66,700

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 11,000

35. Training and Development Specialists

2016 Median Pay: $59,020 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 252,600

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 18,900

36. Elementary School Teachers

2016 Median Pay: $55,800 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 1,358,000

Job Outlook (2014-24): 6% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 78,300

37. Human Resources Specialists

2016 Median Pay: $59,180 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 482,000

Job Outlook (2014-24): 5% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 22,000

38. Middle School Teachers

2016 Median Pay: $56,720 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 627,500

Job Outlook (2014-24): 6% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 36,800

39. Public Relations Specialists

2015 Median Pay: $58,770 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 240,700

Job Outlook (2014-24): 6% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 14,900

40. Kindergarten Teachers

2016 Median Pay: $55,490 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 159,400

Job Outlook (2014-24): 6% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 9,500

41. Film and Video Editors and Camera Operators

2016 Median Pay: $59,040 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 58,900

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 6,400

42. Fund Raisers

2016 Median Pay: $54,130

Number of Jobs (2014): 73,400

Job Outlook (2014-24): 9% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 6,900

43. Appraisers and Assessors of Real Estate

2016 Median Pay: $51,850 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 85,800

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 6,800

44. Social Workers

2016 Median Pay: $46,890 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 649,300

Job Outlook (2014-24): 12% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 74,800

45. Vocational Education Teachers

2016 Median Pay: $50,600

Number of Jobs (2014): 138,500

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 9,100

46. Interpreters and Translators

2016 Median Pay: $46,120 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 61,000

Job Outlook (2014-24): 29% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 17,500

47. Meeting, Convention, and Event Planners

2016 Median Pay: $47,350 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 100,000

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 9,900

48. Athletic Trainers

2016 Median Pay: $45,630 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 25,400

Job Outlook (2014-24): 21% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 5,400

Data Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook, December 2016

1. General Surgeons*

2017 Median Pay: $352,000 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 46,000

Job Outlook (2014-24): 20% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 9,100

2. Anesthesiologists*

2017 Median Pay: $364,000

Number of Jobs (2014): 33,700

Job Outlook (2014-24): 21% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 7,100

3. Family and general practitioners*

2017 Median Pay: $209,000 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 139,800

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 14,300

4. Dentists

2016 Median Pay: $159,770 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 151,500

Job Outlook (2014-24): 18% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 26,700

5. Lawyers

2016 Median Pay: $118,160 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 778,700

Job Outlook (2014-24): 6% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 43,800

6. Nurse Practitioners

2016 Median Pay: $107,460 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 170,400

Job Outlook (2014-24): 31% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 53,400

7. Pharmacists

2016 Median Pay: $122,230 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 297,230

Job Outlook (2014-24): 3% (Below average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 9,100

8. Optometrists

2016 Median Pay: $106,140 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 40,600

Job Outlook (2014-24): 27% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 11,000

9. Physician Assistants

2016 Median Pay: $101,480 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 94,400

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 28,700

10. Health Specialties Teachers, postsecondary

2015 Median Pay: $90,840 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 210,400

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 40,000

11. Engineering teachers, postsecondary

2016 Median Pay: $97,530 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 46,000

Job Outlook (2014-24): 13% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 6,000

12. Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals and Administrators

2016 Median Pay: $92,510

Number of Jobs (2014): 240,000

Job Outlook (2014-24): 6% (As fast as average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 14,000

13. Physical Therapists

2016 Median Pay: $85,400 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 210,900

Job Outlook (2014-24): 34% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 71,800

14. Postsecondary Education Administrators

2016 Median Pay: $90,760 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 175,100

Job Outlook (2014-24): 9% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 15,200

15. Veterinarians

2016 Median Pay: $88,770 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 78,300

Job Outlook (2014-24): 9% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 6,900

16. Occupational Therapists

2015 Median Pay: $81,910 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 114,600

Job Outlook (2014-24): 27% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 30,400

17. Statisticians

2016 Median Pay: $80,500 per year 

Number of Jobs (2014): 30,000

Job Outlook (2014-24): 34% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 10,100

18. Medical Scientists

2016 Median Pay: $80,530 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 107,900

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 9,000

19. Speech-Language Pathologists

2016 Median Pay: $74,680 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 135,400

Job Outlook (2014-24): 21% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 28,900

20. Business Teachers, postsecondary

2016 Median Pay: $77,490 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 106,800

Job Outlook (2014-24): 9% (Faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 9,400

21. Biological science teachers, postsecondary

2016 Median Pay: $76,650 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 64,300

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 10,400

22. Nursing instructors and teachers, postsecondary

2016 Median Pay: $69,130 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 81,800 

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 13,200

23. Art, drama, and music teachers, postsecondary

2016 Median Pay: $68,650 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 120,700

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 13,000

24. Chiropractors

2016 Median Pay: $67,520 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 45,200

Job Outlook (2014-24): 17% (Much faster than average)

Employment Change (2014-24): 7,900

25. Instructional Coordinators

2016 Median Pay: $62,460 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 151,100

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 10,500

26. School and Career Counselors

2016 Median Pay: $54,560 per year

Number of Jobs (2014): 273,400

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

Employment Change (2014-24): 22,500

Data Sources:

*Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2017

U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook, December 2016

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