IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The highest paid careers in America today

A pharmacist makes an average salary of $112,160.
A pharmacist makes an average salary of $112,160.Getty Images

A salary is one of the most compelling factors for individuals deciding on a career path, a degree or even where to live — because some parts of the U.S. pay higher wages, on average, for the same position. Although education can determine a worker's salary and even employment, not all high-paying jobs require advanced degrees. With data recently released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), took a look at the most highly compensated occupations in the country, based upon BLS job definitions. The BLS also breaks down average salaries geographically and by industry. The jobs listed here are placed in categories according to career path. The numbers are from 2011 — the most recent figures available. Here are the highest paying jobs in the country.

No. 15: Pharmacist

•Average Salary: $112,160

•Current Employment: 272,320

Pharmacists are not only responsible for dispensing prescription drugs, but they also provide patients with information pertaining to potential side effects and correct dosage amounts. Pharmacists are required to have a doctor of pharmacy degree (Pharm.D.), a four-year professional degree. They also must be licensed, which requires passing two exams. The highest paid pharmacists in the country are found in the sparsely populated states of Alaska ($125,330) and Maine ($125,310), according to the BLS. The third highest paying state, however, is California ($122,800) with 22,960 currently employed in the profession. California is also home to the three highest paying metropolitan areas for this occupation: El Centro ($163,410), Napa ($140,230) and Santa Cruz-Watsonville ($140,220). While these cities have the highest pay scales, the rest of California drops the individual state incomes below Alaska and Maine.

No. 14: Air traffic controller

•Average annual salary: $114,460

•Current employment: 23,580

Air traffic controllers regulate air traffic, managing the movement of aircraft between various altitudes and areas while following strict safety regulations. Qualifications to be an air traffic controller include completing an air traffic management degree from a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified school, achieving a qualifying score on the FAA pre-employment test and completing a training course at the FAA Academy, according to the BLS. Those without previous air traffic control experience (military) must be younger than 31 to become an air traffic controller. The highest concentration of air traffic controllers can be found in Alaska (1.86 per 1,000 jobs), New Hampshire (0.84 per 1,000 jobs) and New Mexico (0.57 per 1,000 jobs). Anchorage, Alaska, has the highest concentration of air traffic controllers of any city in the U.S., according to the BLS, with 580 employees or 1.86 per 1,000 jobs. However, Alaska has one of the lowest annual salaries for this career at $96,270 which is far below the national average ($114,460).

No. 13: Sales manager

•Average annual salary: $116,860

•Current employment: 328,230

Sales managers are responsible for planning, directing and coordinating the distribution of products and services to corporate clients or customers. The position also involves understanding the marketplace, analyzing sales statistics and monitoring customer preferences. To become an entry-level sales manager, it highly beneficial to have a bachelor’s degree. However, it is not required by all firms. California employs the most sales managers with 53,190 employees or 3.79 sales managers per 1,000 jobs, while New York has the highest annual average wage at $169,710 for its 15,730 employees. This number is greatly influenced by the New York Metropolitan area, which has the highest annual average wage for cities at $179,210.

No. 12: Airline pilots, co-pilots and flight engineers

•Average annual salary: $118,070

•Current employment: 68,350

The BLS combines the cockpit crew — pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer — into one category. Tasked with transporting both passengers and cargo, these jobs, more often than not, take place at 30,000 feet in the air. Although they are high-paying jobs, they are also among the country’s most stressful — with long hours and the responsibility for the passengers' safety. The cities with the greatest number of pilots, co-pilots or flight engineers compared to overall jobs are Anchorage, Alaska (5.37 per 1,000 jobs) and Salt Lake City, Utah (2.16 per 1,000 jobs).

No. 11: Financial manager

•Average annual salary: $120,450

•Current employment: 477,690

Financial managers can be involved in a range of activities, including planning directing or coordinating the accounting, investing, banking, insurance, securities and other financial concerns of a branch, office or department, according to the BLS. Financial managers must usually have a bachelor’s degree and more than five years of experience in another business or financial occupation, such as loan officer, accountant, auditor, securities sales agent or financial analyst. The areas with the highest employment of financial managers per 1,000 jobs are the District of Columbia (10.59 per 1,000), Connecticut (7.54 per 1000), Massachusetts (5.86 per 1,000), New Jersey (5.73 per 1,000) and Rhode Island (5.70 per 1,000).

No. 10: Industrial-organizational psychologist

•Average annual salary: $124,160

•Current employment: 1,230

This job concentrates on applying principles of psychology to the workplace, for human resources, administration, management, sales and marketing. This type of psychologist helps to shape policy, trains employees and undertakes organizational analysis, working with management to improve worker productivity. This is an uncommon profession: The BLS only collects data on industrial-organizational psychologists in Minnesota, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and the District of Columbia. Industrial-organizational psychologists need a master’s, specialist, or doctoral degree in psychology. Practicing psychologists also need a license or certification.

No. 9: Computer and information systems manager

•Average annual salary: $125,660

•Current employment: 300,830

For computer and information systems managers, the primary job is to coordinate activities in data processing, information systems, systems analysis and computer programming. Generally, this type of position requires a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a similar field. Then they need an additional five years of experience before rising to this position. The top-paying industry for computer and information systems managers is the motion picture and video industry. Individuals in those areas receive an annual mean wage of $162,520 according to the BLS. The city with the highest concentration of this job is Washington, D.C., where 5.73 out of every 1,000 jobs are computer and information systems managers.

No. 8: Marketing manager

•Average annual salary: $126,190

•Current employment: 168,410

Tasked with organizing marketing policies and programs, marketing managers determine demand for products and services offered by their firms. They also identify new customers, develop pricing strategies and strive to maximize company profits and market share. This position does not require a degree, but a bachelor’s degree is highly recommended. The top-paying metropolitan area for marketing managers is Framingham, Mass., with an average annual salary of $170,610. However, New York ($163,480) and New Jersey ($146,970) are the highest-paying states for marketing managers’ services.

No. 7: Natural science manager

•Average annual salary: $128,230

•Current employment: 47,510

Natural sciences managers plan, direct or coordinate activities in life sciences, physical sciences, math and other science-related fields, according to the BLS. It’s a relatively broad career path, with natural science managers working in various areas of the economy, including research and development, pharmaceuticals, agricultural engineering and even government. Natural sciences managers need at least a bachelor’s degree in a natural science or a related field. Most natural sciences managers work as scientists before becoming managers. Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C., has the highest concentration of jobs in a metropolitan area with 5.13 natural science managers per 1,000 jobs. Olympia, Wash., comes in second with 3.03 per thousand.

No. 6: Architectural and engineering managers

•Average annual salary: $129,350

•Current employment: 184,530

Architectural and engineering managers plan, coordinate, and direct activities in architecture and engineering, including research and development in these fields. Most of their work is done in an office. Before becoming an architectural and engineering manager, one must complete a bachelor’s degree and have at least five years of related experience in the chosen field. Employment of architectural and engineering managers is expected to grow by 9 percent in the decade from 2010 to 2020 — slower than the average for all occupations, according to the BLS. In 2011, Alaska was the highest-paying state for this occupation with an average mean wage of $160,640. The industries that pay the most for this occupation are pipeline transportation of crude oil ($186,800) and oil and gas extraction ($167,060).

No. 5: Lawyer

•Average annual salary: $130,490

•Current employment: 570,950

The legal profession isn’t the easiest industry to break into, with minimum formal requirements in most states requiring seven years of school (four undergraduate, three law school) and a passing grade on the bar examination. Lawyers represent clients in both criminal and civil proceedings, draw up documents and advise clients on legal matters. Lawyers working for the private sector are compensated more generously than those in the public sphere: legal-services professionals make $137,170 on average in the private sector, while government lawyers make between $81,960 and $129,430.The top three highest paying industries for lawyers are petroleum and coal products manufacturing at around $215,760 per year, motor vehicle manufacturing at $187,360 and specialty hospitals (excluding psychiatric and substance abuse) at $184,610.If you are a lawyer practicing in the District of Columbia, then you are in good company. Approximately 29,010 lawyers are located there, or 45 lawyers per 1,000 jobs. They are also the most highly paid, with an average annual salary of $161,050.

No. 4: Petroleum engineer

•Average annual salary: $138,980

•Current employment: 30,880

The booming oil industry and the specialized skills required for petroleum engineers create one of the most highly compensated jobs in the country. Petroleum engineers develop plans for oil and gas extraction, production, and tool modification, overseeing drilling operations and providing technical advice. On average, petroleum engineers working for the oil and gas extraction industry made an annual salary of $150,890. Heavy reliance on natural resources dictates which states have the highest employment of petroleum engineers. Texas employs the most at 18,060 with an average salary of $146,770 annually. Next is Oklahoma with, 3,090 employees paid $146,770, and Louisiana, with 2,440 paid around $120,720.

No. 3: Chief executive officer

•Average annual salary: $176,550

•Current employment: 267,370

They may be at the top of their company, but on average, CEOs only rank third as far as compensation is concerned. CEOs are responsible for formulating policies, coordinating operational activities and planning the overall direction of companies or public sector organizations. The qualifications depend on the company, but many firms want their CEOs to have at least a bachelor’s degree and considerable amounts of work experience. The cities that pay the most to the highest level of management are Stamford, Conn., ($234,030), Columbus, Ind., ($230,330), and Medford, Ore., ($225,100).

No. 2: Orthodontists and dentists

•Average annual salary: $161,750-$204,670

•Current employment: 101,400

The services of dentists and orthodontists are practically essential in this day and age. The high demand for the examination, diagnoses, and treatment of diseases, injuries and malformations of teeth and the gums makes this occupation among the most highly paid professions in the United States. The top-paying states for dentiststs this year are New Hampshire, with an annual average salary of $237,430, and Delaware, where the average salary stands at $210,440. Orthodontists — whose specialty is straightening teeth — have an average salary of $90,120 per year. That figure might seem low but it takes into account orthdontists who don't have a private practice and work instead in general medicine and surgical hospitals.

No. 1:  Doctors and surgeons

•Average annual salary: $168,650-$234,950

•Current employment: 618,000-plus

Doctors and surgeons are usually at the top the list when it comes to the highest paid occupations in the country. As is the case with others on this list, becoming a doctor or surgeon requires extensive education and training. Doctors are required to have four years of undergraduate education, four years of medical school and between three and eight years of an internship and residency, depending on their specialization or area of surgery. The salaries of doctors also vary greatly by concentration: Anesthesiologists are the highest-paid workers of 2011 at $234,950, while other high-paying medical positions include surgeons ($231,550), OB/GYNS ($218,610), and oral and maxillofacial surgeons ($217,380). Salaries also fluctuate based on location. For example, Arkansas is the top-paying state for family and general practitioners ($215,500) with Iowa ($213,460) and Nevada ($204,990) ranking second and third. According to the BLS, self-employed physicians who own or are part-owners of a medical practice generally have higher incomes than salaried physicians.

More from

America’s highest-paying jobs 2012

‘Useless’ degree, awesome jobs

Industries hit hardest by the recession

Best jobs for loners