Many American workers are treading water or worse, suffering from declining wages, thanks to an uneven economic recovery from the Great Recession.
That has prompted new economic research into what types of workers are benefiting the most in the post-recession years, leading some academics to note that occupations requiring college degrees are enjoying most of the gains. While pursuing a medical or legal degree is one way to earn a six-figure job, Americans have plenty of other opportunities to find high-paying work, but most involve specialized training, according to a new study from employment site Glassdoor.
Income of more than $100,000 places a worker in the top 20 percent of American earners, but beyond that is the psychological boost of earning six figures, often thought of as a hallmark of success. Many Americans are finding themselves farther away from that threshold, however, because the inflation-adjusted median household income has dipped from a high of almost $58,000 in 1999 to just under $54,000 in 2014.
Some of the jobs on Glassdoor's list don't require a college degree, but all of them require specialized skills.
"What's surprising is that while the job descriptions for these roles often require or highly desire at least a college education, it's not mandatory to get hired," said Scott Dobroski, Glassdoor career trends analyst. "These skill sets are incredibly tough to come by, so when an employer finds a candidate with them, they'll want to learn more about that person or even offer them a job soon."
However, Dobroski added, "if you're in the running with others who do have a college degree, the nod could go to that other person if you both relatively have similar qualifications otherwise."
While dozens of occupations pay more than $100,000 annually, Glassdoor noted that this list is designed to shed light on high-paying jobs that some Americans may not be aware of. Read on to learn more.
Nurse practitioner: $100,000
These health care professionals, who diagnose and treat illnesses, require years of training. The first step is to become a registered nurse, followed up with additional training. Some nurse practitioner programs offer either master's or doctoral programs. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing recommends that practitioners earn a doctoral degree, which can require several years of study.
Equity research associate: $100,000
Americans are increasingly investing in the stock market, generating a need for equity analysts who can research companies and their industries. Becoming an equity research associate requires several key abilities, including analytical and financial skills. Communication and written skills are also important. This role typically requires a bachelor's degree and experience with financial modeling.
Physician assistant: $100,392
These medical professionals are licensed to practice and prescribe medicine, and can be found working in hospitals and physicians' offices.
Finding a job as a PA requires specialized training in a competitive medical program that takes about three years to complete and requires 2,000 hours of clinical rotations. After that, the next steps are receiving certification and a state license.
Regional sales executive: $103,500
Top sales execs earn total median pay of $103,500, but a large chunk of that stems from commissions and bonuses, given that Glassdoor found the base salary for this role is about $65,000.
While this job may not require a college degree, many workers in the field hold one, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most also have worked as a sales rep earlier in their careers.
Drilling engineer: $116,500
This position requires a college degree in petroleum engineering or a related field, although it's open to those without graduate degrees. Some drilling engineers oversee safe drilling operations, usually on a rig or in the field, while others work in offices. Travel is a frequent part of the job.
Geophysicists study the earth and work on a range of problems, from studying earthquakes to evaluating mineral deposits or environmental issues.
Securing a job as a geophysicist may start in high school, with students taking math and science classes before heading into a STEM-related college program (one that focuses on science, technology, engineering or math). Many jobs also require graduate work. Geophysicists are in demand in the corporate world, as well as with government agencies.
Special agent: $125,000
Working as a special agent for a government agency such as the FBI or Department of Defense can pay off. Glassdoor found the median pay for this role comes in at $125,000 annually.
Qualifications vary according to the type of job, with some requiring a degree in criminology or a related field. For instance, the FBI says it's looking to hire U.S. citizens between 22 to 36 years old who hold a bachelor's degree. While new hires make less than six figures, experienced FBI agents can make a base salary of more than $130,000.
Becoming a dentist requires years of training, usually starting with a bachelor's degree with a major in a science field. From there, would-be dentists take the Dental Admission Test and apply to dental school, which can be competitive. Students also need to complete a two to four-year residency in their field, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
While taking care of someone else's teeth might not appeal to everyone, the field pays well and is growing faster than average: The BLS projects 18 percent growth through 2024.
Airline pilot: $134,000
Becoming a commercial pilot is often the first step to jumping into airline piloting, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While a college degree isn't necessarily for commercial pilots, most airline pilots do need one, the agency noted.
Total median pay for airline pilots is $134,000. You would need a commercial pilot's license from the Federal Aviation Administration as well as an Airline Transport Pilot certificate.
Software architect: $139,000
These software experts oversee which systems will work best for a company. It's typically a job that requires years of training, starting with a computer science degree and excellent programming skills. Aside from being good with computers, these professionals also need to have excellent interpersonal skills because they're often working with corporate executives and the company's tech team to set a computer strategy.
Reservoir engineer: $143,000
A job in this field of petroleum engineering pays well, but would-be reservoir engineers will need specialized training. Most oil companies are looking for hires with a bachelor's or master's degree in petroleum, chemical or mechanical engineering.
Reservoir engineers estimate oil reserves through computer modeling and figure out how best to reach and retrieve the reserves.