Careers that require the most schooling

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May 4, 2021
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Careers that require the most schooling

In the 21st century, career demands have increased and many careers require a significant amount of school. Doctors, lawyers, scientists, and teachers all require specialized training that prepares them for work in their fields. Not only do they need to earn college degrees, but many must go on to postgraduate work that is both rigorous and extensive. The cost of this additional education can be high, but many of the careers on this list offer great monetary and personal rewards.

StudySoup used 2020 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Projections to compile a list of the 25 highest-paying occupations that require the most schooling. All of the jobs on this list require workers to have either a doctorate or a professional degree, which is usually an additional three to four years of schooling after receiving a bachelor’s degree. The BLS lists 63 occupations as requiring this type of education, and this story ranks them by the median annual wage in 2020, with ties being broken by each job’s 2019 employment. Any occupation that has “all other” in its name was omitted from the list, as these are typically groups of jobs and are not representative of a single profession.

Several facts stand out, both from the BLS data and this list. Of the 63 occupations listed in the BLS as needing a doctorate or professional degree, 20 were in the medical field (31.7%), 34 were in the higher education field (54%), and four were in the legal field (6.3%), while the rest of the jobs were in miscellaneous fields. Representing a variety of fields, 20% of the careers on this list involve postsecondary teaching. The medical field is a lucrative one and has the 10 highest-paying jobs on the list.

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#25. Atmospheric, earth, marine, and space sciences teachers, postsecondary

- 2020 median annual wage: $94,520
- 2019 employment: 13,100 (13,400 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: none
- On-the-job training needed: none

Most postsecondary teachers are required to have a doctorate in a related field, though many community colleges may only require a master’s degree. Those employed as postsecondary teachers in the sciences teach courses like structural geology, micrometeorology, and atmospheric thermodynamics that are part of the physical sciences and marine and space sciences. They may also perform research and write papers for submission to academic journals.

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#24. Administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers

- 2020 median annual wage: $97,520
- 2019 employment: 15,400 (15,400 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: 5 years or more
- On-the-job training needed: short-term on-the-job training

These legal careers require a vast knowledge of the law and court proceedings and require a law degree, and experience working in the field—though some administrative law judge, hearing officer, and adjudicator positions require only a bachelor’s degree. Judges and hearing officers are hired by the federal government or local and state government. These jobs entail overseeing legal proceedings in a courtroom, conducting pretrial hearings, issuing legal decisions, and facilitating negotiations between opposing parties.

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#23. Health specialties teachers, postsecondary

- 2020 median annual wage: $99,090
- 2019 employment: 254,000 (306,100 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: less than 5 years
- On-the-job training needed: none

Health specialties teachers provide instruction in areas like laboratory technology, public health, pharmacy, dentistry, therapy, and veterinary medicine. These instructors also grade papers and do other administrative duties related to teaching such as holding conferences with students. Normally a terminal degree such as a doctorate in a related field is required, though many two-year colleges may only require a master’s degree.

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#22. Veterinarians

- 2020 median annual wage: $99,250
- 2019 employment: 89,200 (103,400 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: none
- On-the-job training needed: none

Veterinarians are responsible for the treatment of sick and injured animals, performing surgery, and offering other care and diagnoses. They are essentially animal doctors and handle examinations and the administration of vaccines to prevent disease. Veterinarians must complete a four-year undergraduate degree and then continue on to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, which takes four years and earns them the abbreviated title DVM or VMD.

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#21. Engineering teachers, postsecondary

- 2020 median annual wage: $103,600
- 2019 employment: 44,600 (48,400 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: none
- On-the-job training needed: none

These advanced-level teachers provide instruction in engineering courses related to the development of instruments, services, machines, and materials. A doctorate is often required in the specific area of engineering such as civil, chemical, industrial, electrical, mechanical, and petroleum engineering. Postsecondary engineering teachers can either teach or conduct research while also teaching.

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#20. Economics teachers, postsecondary

- 2020 median annual wage: $107,260
- 2019 employment: 16,800 (17,600 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: none
- On-the-job training needed: none

Postsecondary economics teachers teach courses related to economics. Many of these teachers also conduct research in conjunction with teaching. To teach economics at this level, an advanced terminal degree is often required.

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#19. Law teachers, postsecondary

- 2020 median annual wage: $116,430
- 2019 employment: 21,300 (22,800 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: less than 5 years
- On-the-job training needed: none

Unlike many postsecondary teachers, law teachers don’t have postdoctoral degrees. Instead, they normally have experience working as lawyers and have law degrees. They teach courses on law and often also do research and may even practice law while teaching.

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#18. Optometrists

- 2020 median annual wage: $118,050
- 2019 employment: 44,400 (46,300 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: none
- On-the-job training needed: none

Optometrists handle eye examinations and the diagnosis, treatment, and management of diseases and disorders of the eye. Though they do not go to medical school, optometrists are referred to as Doctors of Optometry (DO) and must complete an undergraduate degree, where they often focus on science-centric subjects. In addition, they must complete four years at a college of optometry and may go on to complete an optional residency in a specific area of practice.

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#17. Astronomers

- 2020 median annual wage: $119,730
- 2019 employment: 2,300 (2,400 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: none
- On-the-job training needed: none

Those hoping to become astronomers should plan on acquiring a doctorate in the field of astronomy or physics, which usually takes five to seven years to complete. Course work will include studying astrophysics, stellar and planetary physics, and cosmology. Once working in the field, astronomers can focus on research, and they can work in an observatory, museum, or planetarium or find employment with a government agency such as the military or NASA.

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#16. Lawyers

- 2020 median annual wage: $126,930
- 2019 employment: 813,900 (846,300 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: none
- On-the-job training needed: none

Lawyers can practice many different types of law including entertainment, corporate, family, and patent law. This career requires a significant amount of schooling, about seven years beyond high school, including acquiring a bachelor’s degree, attending a law school, and taking and passing the LSAT, which is required to actually practice law. Lawyers speak with clients, represent them in court, and must have the ability to do intensive research and file complicated legal documents.

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#15. Pharmacists

- 2020 median annual wage: $128,710
- 2019 employment: 321,700 (311,200 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: none
- On-the-job training needed: none

A Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.), a four-year professional degree, is required to become a pharmacist, though a hybrid degree is also an option. To gain licensure, pharmacists must pass two exams—the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) and the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE), though the MPJE is not required in every state. Pharmacists prescribe medications and advise patients while working from either store or hospital pharmacies.

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#14. Physicists

- 2020 median annual wage: $129,850
- 2019 employment: 18,200 (19,500 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: none
- On-the-job training needed: none

Physicists study energy and matter and conduct research, carry out and design experiments, and develop scientific theories based on these experiments and observations. Physicists require a doctorate, and they often work in research laboratories and observatories and can be employed by the government or private companies. The career outlook for these scientists is bright, with employment projected to grow by 7%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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#13. Podiatrists

- 2020 median annual wage: $134,300
- 2019 employment: 10,500 (10,600 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: none
- On-the-job training needed: internship or residency

Though podiatrists are doctors, they do not go to a traditional medical school. Those seeking to work in this field must spend four years acquiring a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine degree from an accredited podiatry school. These doctors who treat conditions of the feet, ankles, and lower legs, must also complete a three-year residency at a health care facility or hospital. There are also licensure requirements to meet after residency is completed, and the requirements may vary by state.

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#12. Judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates

- 2020 median annual wage: $141,080
- 2019 employment: 29,900 (30,900 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: 5 years or more
- On-the-job training needed: short-term on-the-job training

The responsibilities in this field include advising, adjudicating, arbitrating, and overseeing the execution of justice in a court of law. Judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates often sentence defendants and hand down legally binding rulings in court cases. They typically have a law degree and experience working as lawyers.

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#11. Dentists, general

- 2020 median annual wage: $158,940
- 2019 employment: 132,100 (135,700 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: none
- On-the-job training needed: none

Dentistry requires a significant amount of schooling beginning with an undergraduate degree, which is followed by four years of dental school. Licensure is also required. Some of the job responsibilities include diagnosing oral disease, promoting oral health, creating treatment plans, and interpreting diagnostics such as x-rays.

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#10. Pediatricians, general

- 2020 median annual wage: $177,130
- 2019 employment: 32,500 (32,000 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: none
- On-the-job training needed: internship or residency

Pediatrics is a specialty field of medicine and doctors must first complete four years of medical school before moving onto a three-year pediatric residency program. Pediatricians treat and diagnose illness, injuries, and disease in infants, children, teenagers, and young adults up through the age of 21. They also administer vaccinations.

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#9. Family medicine physicians

- 2020 median annual wage: $207,380
- 2019 employment: 119,300 (126,600 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: none
- On-the-job training needed: internship or residency

Family medicine physicians provide diagnostic and preventive care and treatment to both individuals and families. The required education for this field includes four years of medical school as well as three years in a family medicine residency. Some practitioners may devote an extra year to a fellowship to focus on a specific area of medicine such as geriatrics or obstetrics. Individuals must also pass board exams in the field of family medicine.

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#8. Prosthodontists

- 2020 median annual wage: $208,000+
- 2019 employment: 600 (600 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: none
- On-the-job training needed: internship or residency

Prosthodontists work on the design of prostheses that help patients deal with clinical conditions involving the teeth, jaw, and maxillofacial tissues. They also diagnose and treat these conditions. The required schooling to become a prosthodontist includes acquiring a doctorate from dental school, obtaining dentistry licensure, completing three years of residency training, and obtaining specialty certification in prosthodontics.

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#7. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons

- 2020 median annual wage: $208,000+
- 2019 employment: 5,600 (5,700 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: none
- On-the-job training needed: internship or residency

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons perform surgery and handle any related procedures on the hard and soft tissues of the oral and maxillofacial regions to treat defects, injuries, and disease or to improve function and appearance. They may also diagnose oral and maxillofacial region issues. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons must complete four years of dental school as well as four years in a surgical residency program based in a hospital and they must be qualified in both dentistry and medicine.

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#6. Orthodontists

- 2020 median annual wage: $208,000+
- 2019 employment: 7,200 (7,300 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: none
- On-the-job training needed: internship or residency

Orthodontists are responsible for the examination, diagnosis, and treatment of oral cavity anomalies and dental malocclusions. They also create treatment plans surrounding corrective appliances to help with the appearance of the teeth and the realignment of the teeth and jaw to produce and maintain normal function. Orthodontists must complete four years at an accredited dental school, two to three years in an accredited orthodontics residency program, and pass the National Board Dental Examination.

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#5. Obstetricians and gynecologists

- 2020 median annual wage: $208,000+
- 2019 employment: 20,300 (20,100 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: none
- On-the-job training needed: internship or residency

An obstetrician specializes in obstetrics, which deals with all aspects of pregnancy, from prenatal care to postnatal care. They also deliver babies; gynecologists do not, though gynecologists specialize in female reproductive health and diagnose and treat issues related to the ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes, and breasts. Obstetricians can also provide therapies, such as fertility treatments, to help women get pregnant.

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#4. Psychiatrists

- 2020 median annual wage: $208,000+
- 2019 employment: 27,900 (31,300 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: none
- On-the-job training needed: internship or residency

Psychiatrists have many day-to-day responsibilities that may include referring a patient for psychological testing, evaluating mental and emotional illnesses, and following up by recommending and designing a treatment plan. These medical doctors have specialized training in the field of psychiatry and can conduct psychotherapy and prescribe medications and other medical treatments. 

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#3. Anesthesiologists

- 2020 median annual wage: $208,000+
- 2019 employment: 33,800 (34,000 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: none
- On-the-job training needed: internship or residency

Anesthesiologists specialize in perioperative care, developing anesthetic plans, and administering anesthetics. A one-year internship and a three-year residency in anesthesia follow four years of medical school. These doctors may go on to pursue more training in the form of a fellowship and they may work in a variety of settings including hospitals, surgical centers, or health care providers’ offices.

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#2. Surgeons, except ophthalmologists

- 2020 median annual wage: $208,000+
- 2019 employment: 39,600 (38,800 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: none
- On-the-job training needed: internship or residency

Not only do surgeons operate in both hospital and medical care facilities, but they also diagnose and treat illness and injury as it relates to surgery. Surgeons can specialize in different areas of medicine, but they all require a significant amount of schooling, including four years for an undergraduate degree, which normally focuses on some sort of pre-medical program; a four-year stint in medical school; and depending on their specialty, three to seven years in internship and residency programs.

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#1. General internal medicine physicians

- 2020 median annual wage: $208,000+
- 2019 employment: 49,500 (49,200 projected employment in 2029)
- Work experience in a related field needed: none
- On-the-job training needed: internship or residency

Commonly referred to as “general internists,” these physicians attend medical school, and at least three of their seven years are spent learning to diagnose, treat, and prevent adult illnesses. They also require residency training, must take a board certification exam, and are not limited to one type of medical issue or organ system because they have a broad range of medical knowledge. These doctors can practice in a wide variety of settings including hospitals, where they are often called hospitalists.

This story was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio. 

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