How to Pick A Career With Potential To Earn $95,000 A Year

Go from earning an annual salary of $15,163 two years before getting an Associate’s degree to earning an annual salary of $95,727 five years after completing that degree. Not possible you say? It is possible according data supplied by the Chancellor’s Office of the California Community College System. See BUZZ Today about this important information.

Buzz Today Source: California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office Tracking Wages of California College Completers Salary Surfer is a web application designed for students and families that provides an estimate on the potential median wages to be earned after completing an award or certificate in 179 of the most widely enrolled disciplines.

To take advantage of this career income data you need to know a lot more about this dramatic increase in earning power in such a short period of time. The education referenced is an Associate’s degree earned in the California Community College System.  The career is that of Physician’s Assistant and can be verified at the salary web site maintained by the California community college system.

This information about the Physician’s Assistant career opportunity has several important things to tell us. First, it is not always necessary to earn a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree to earn a decent living. I do show in the book “Your Future is Calling” that in general, average incomes are directly related to the level of education. That is, on average, Bachelor’s degree holders make more than Associate’s degree holders. But what the Physician’s Assistant career shows, is that this is not true for all degrees and professions. When we reference O*NET we see that the average annual salary for a secondary school teacher with a Bachelor’s degree is $55,050,

The second thing the opening sentence shows us is that there are a large number of students who started out at very low levels of income but through an education, ended up earning over $95,000 per year. This is very impressive upward social mobility.  The message is: “It is still possible in America to significantly improve one’s life circumstances”. But you have to have good data and know what you are doing.

A word of caution is warranted at this point. When we return to the Salary Surfer site we see the impact of technology on career opportunities. An Associate’s degree in Journalism started at $14,664 and five years after graduation this career had a median salary of only $17,347. This is a direct result of the decline in publishing.

So what is the “bottom line” in this career choice discussion? All is not doom and gloom as so often portrayed in the media.  There are very good career options in the US economy and there are others that are not so attractive. The key is to have good, objective data to help you make your choices. My recommendation is that the three sources referenced here be used before you enroll in any degree program. The sources are: Salary Surfer, O*NET and my book “Your Future is Calling.” The book shows you how to put it all together and a lot more.

Good Paying Jobs That Do Not Require a Bachelor’s Degree

There are good paying jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree but they do require skills that are changing as our world changes. Learning is still key to a better future. But how do you decide what to learn?  The answer is that you should begin with “who you are” then decide what to study that can lead to a better future for yourself and your loved ones. Buzz TodaySource: O*NET  The O*NET program is the nation’s primary source of occupational information. Every occupation requires a different mix of knowledge, skills, and abilities, and is performed using a variety of activities and tasks. The data base defines the set of occupations across the world of work. Based on the Standard Occupational Classification the O*NET-SOC taxonomy currently includes 974 occupations 

With so many occupations to select from, it is no wonder that readers are challenged to find just the right combination of factors needed to fit exactly “who they are”.  In this post we explore the important characteristics of a few of the 974 choices to show how a new career can be chosen.  I recommend that you look at several important characteristics for any career you may be considering.  These are:

* The size of the profession. This gives you an indication of how many jobs in this profession there are in the US economy. Here size matters. Larger professions provide more opportunities.

* Growth in the profession is another important parameter for you to consider.  As our world changes opportunities in different careers are changing as well.  Some careers attractive just a few years ago have already been impacted by changes.  A good example is desktop publishing.  Only a few years ago this was a growing job opportunity.  Today this profession is much less attractive with a very limited growth prospect.

* Earnings are another important piece of information in your career choice. Incurring student debt to earn credentials in a poorly paying occupation is a path to a dismal future.

* How well the occupation fits you is another important factor. This is the part about “who you are”.  Here again you need good data about personality and the characteristics of those already in the profession.

Here is data on a few of the 974 careers.  All of these require less than a bachelor degree and are reasonably accessible through education at a community college at a reasonable investment level.

Patrol Police Officer

This is a profession that, with the right personal history, is relatively easy to enter.  42% of current officers entered the profession directly from high school but an associate’s degree provides better prospects.  It is a large profession with 664,000 current positions growing by 249,000 (2010-2020).  The median pay is $55,270 per year.  This profession requires personal attributes that include integrity, self control, stress tolerance and attention to detail.

Dental Hygienist

This is a reasonably large job classification with 182,000 current positions with over two thirds occupied by professionals with an associate’s degree making it a relatively easy profession to enter through a very affordable path at a local community college. Growth is projected to be over 29% (2010-2020) and compensation in 2012 was highly attractive with an annual median income of $70,210.  In addition to technical training required, personality attributes that align with the requirements of the job include a good-natured and cooperative attitude.


This is a large employment category with employment of 256,000 with good growth projected over the next decade.  The median salary in 2012 was $46,990 annually. Apprenticeships by state are available.  In addition, certificates are available from The Association of Legal Assistants/Paralegals.   Personal attributes including attention to detail, dependability, and integrity.

Registered Nurse
This is a huge profession with 2010 employment at 2,737,000 with projected openings by 2020 of 1,207,400 professionals. This size and growth are being driven by new medical technology and the aging of the baby boomers. Compensation is attractive at a 2012 median level of $65,470 annually. Personality attributes important in this profession include concern for others, dependability, stress tolerance, self control and attention to detail.

Summary:   All of these careers can be entered with learning that is less than the traditional bachelor’s degree.  This makes learning a key but manageable entry to these attractive professional careers.

How To Determine If College Can Help You and Improve Your Life

College is not for everyone. The question for you is whether college can help you have a better life.   Successful billionaires who dropped out of college are a popular topic these days. But these are less than a dozen people out of the tens of millions of us mere mortals trying to figure out how to create a fulfilling life for ourselves – what I call in Your Future is Calling, doing what fits who you are.  The odds are overwhelming that learning and earning a degree will improve your chances of having a better life.

Let’s look at scientific research for answers that can help you improve your life.       Buzz Today Source:  American Economic Review:  …estimate the returns to schooling by contrasting the wage rates of identical twins with different schooling levels.  The research takes monozygotic twins (from the same egg) which means that the twins are genetically identical and have similar family backgrounds.  What the researchers found was that an additional year of schooling increases wages by 12-16%.

The challenge you face is to determine the best course of action for yourself, not what has worked for someone else, including the billionaires cited above.  One way for you to think about this is to ask yourself if you are likely to become a  billionaire by not going to college.  Here I am not talking about winning the lottery.  Winning the lottery is a chance outcome not a plan.

On the other hand, you can make the odds of success work in your favor.  Here I am sharing three pieces of research that show how, on average, learning substantially improves your earning power.

Improve Your Life Item #1   The Twins research cited in BUZZ Today shows that for each year of schooling wages are increased 12-16%.  This is a truly amazing opportunity and is highly consistent with the data we see in Item #2 below.

Improve Your Life Item #2  For the American population as a whole, holders of bachelor’s degrees make 1.97 times the wages of a high school graduate.  This spread has actually grown over the past forty years.  The ratio was 1.44 in 1978.  What this means, is that a college degree has become even more important not less than important over the years.  You can see this data for yourself on page 13 of my book Your Future is Calling.   What you will also see is that the multiplier stays through recessions as well as good times.  Note also that the 1.97 for a four year bachelor degree is very consistent with the twins research in Improve Your Life Item #1 above.

Improve Your Life Item #3   The California Community System, with 112 campuses, are collecting data about the financial success of their graduates.  Details for 266 degrees and certificates are listed in tables at SalarySurfer.  The important information in this data is that it shows what the graduating students were earning 2 years before their schooling, then the wages of these same graduates earned 2 years and 5 years after graduation. As an example, graduates with a two year paramedic degree the data is:
2 years before:   $19,510
2 years after       $52,774
5 years after       $64,298
Under any scenario, these results represent a significant improvement in the lives of these graduates.

Some are able to improve their lives without formal education but for the vast majority of Americans, an education vastly increases the chances for an improved life.  It is up to you to determine which of the hundreds of careers best fits who you are.