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Highest Paying Graduate Jobs in America: Competition, growth & employment analysis

How competitive are the highest-paying jobs in the country? That was the question at the heart of our analysis, where we analyzed salaries, employment figures, and level of competition for a range of the top jobs and what kind of career ladders graduates were about to climb.

It’s important that graduates understand more about the job market they are looking to enter, especially with the rising cost of college. This can help them to decide career paths and look at how competitive their interviews may be. 

We analyzed the top 20 highest-paid jobs in the country and their respective entry-level positions. It’s important to note that the data has a lot of medical and dental roles due to their higher average salaries, however, there are a number of careers that don’t fit these categories too.

Contents

Key findings: 

Highest-paid graduate jobs in the US

The highest paid roles in the country, and their entry-level post-graduation roles are shown in the following table. Anesthesiologists take the top spot with the highest average salary, followed by general surgeons, then oral surgeon specialists. 

Rank Graduate Role Starting Salary Highest Paid Role Average Highest Paid Salary
Rank1 Graduate RoleAnesthesiology resident Starting Salary$63,000 Highest Paid RoleAnesthesiologists Average Highest Paid Salary$261,730
Rank2 Graduate RoleSurgical resident Starting Salary$57,000 Highest Paid RoleSurgeons Average Highest Paid Salary$252,040
Rank3 Graduate Role Oral and maxillofacial surgery resident Starting Salary$54,000 Highest Paid Role Oral and maxillofacial surgeon Average Highest Paid Salary$237,570
Rank4 Graduate Role Obstetrics and gynecology resident Starting Salary$56,000 Highest Paid Role Obstetricians and gynecologists Average Highest Paid Salary$233,610
Rank5 Graduate RoleOrthodontist resident Starting Salary$60,000 Highest Paid RoleOrthodontists Average Highest Paid Salary$230,830
Rank6 Graduate RoleProsthodontist resident Starting Salary$60,000 Highest Paid RoleProsthodontists Average Highest Paid Salary$220,840
Rank7 Graduate RolePsychiatric resident Starting Salary$56,000 Highest Paid RolePsychiatrists Average Highest Paid Salary$220,430
Rank8 Graduate RoleFamily medicine resident Starting Salary$57,000 Highest Paid RoleFamily medicine physicians Average Highest Paid Salary$213,270
Rank9 Graduate RoleResident Starting Salary$57,000 Highest Paid Role Other physicians and ophthalmologists (not pediatric) Average Highest Paid Salary$203,450
Rank10 Graduate Role Internal medicine resident Starting Salary$57,000 Highest Paid RoleGeneral internists Average Highest Paid Salary$201,440
Rank11 Graduate Role Business development consultant Starting Salary$50,000 Highest Paid RoleCEO Average Highest Paid Salary$193,850
Rank12 Graduate RolePediatric resident Starting Salary$57,000 Highest Paid RoleGeneral pediatricians Average Highest Paid Salary$184,410
Rank13 Graduate RoleRegistered nurse Starting Salary$40,000 Highest Paid RoleNurse anesthetists Average Highest Paid Salary$181,040
Rank14 Graduate RoleDental resident Starting Salary$55,000 Highest Paid RoleGeneral dentists Average Highest Paid Salary$178,260
Rank15 Graduate RoleDental resident Starting Salary$55,000 Highest Paid RoleOther dental specialists Average Highest Paid Salary$178,040
Rank16 Graduate RoleFirst officer Starting Salary$49,000 Highest Paid RoleAirline pilots/Co-pilots Average Highest Paid Salary$174,870
Rank17 Graduate Role Entry level petroleum engineer Starting Salary$63,000 Highest Paid RolePetroleum engineers Average Highest Paid Salary$156,780
Rank18 Graduate Role Computer systems specialist Starting Salary$45,000 Highest Paid RoleComputer systems managers Average Highest Paid Salary$156,390
Rank19 Graduate RoleArchitectural intern Starting Salary$41,000 Highest Paid Role Architectural & engineering managers Average Highest Paid Salary$152,930
Rank20 Graduate Role Marketing analyst Starting Salary$50,000 Highest Paid RoleMarketing director Average Highest Paid Salary$149,200

For some roles, for example a CEO, we had to review existing data into what the most likely first role was for people on that specific career ladder. In real terms however, there are of course many paths to these final highest-paid positions.

Number of qualified graduates per role in highest-paid careers

Just being in the highest-paid field is not quite everything aspiring students or graduates should look into though.

We took graduate figures in each field alongside average annual jobs from the Bureau for Labor Statistics (BLS) to assess the competition of people per role at the start of the graduate career ladder to see who had the toughest start. 

TODO GRAPH AND TABLE

Role Average Salary Graduates per role (Competition)
RoleProsthodontist resident Average Salary$57,000 Graduates per role (Competition)51.63
Role Oral and maxillofacial surgery resident Average Salary$54,000 Graduates per role (Competition)27.02
RoleOrthodontist resident Average Salary$60,000 Graduates per role (Competition)19.97
Role Obstetrics and gynecology resident Average Salary$56,000 Graduates per role (Competition)14.13
RolePsychiatric resident Average Salary$56,000 Graduates per role (Competition)10.97
RoleAnesthesiology resident Average Salary$63,000 Graduates per role (Competition)10.82
RoleDental resident Average Salary$55,000 Graduates per role (Competition)10.43
RoleSurgical resident Average Salary$57,000 Graduates per role (Competition)7.29
RolePediatric resident Average Salary$57,000 Graduates per role (Competition)6.90
RoleArchitectural intern Average Salary$41,000 Graduates per role (Competition)5.82
RoleDental resident Average Salary$55,000 Graduates per role (Competition)5.14
Role Family medicine resident Average Salary$57,000 Graduates per role (Competition)4.37
RoleResident Average Salary$57,000 Graduates per role (Competition)3.01
RoleInternal medicine resident Average Salary$57,000 Graduates per role (Competition)2.23
Role Business development consultant Average Salary$50,000 Graduates per role (Competition)0.97
Role Entry level petroleum engineer Average Salary$63,000 Graduates per role (Competition)0.81
RoleFirst officer Average Salary$49,000 Graduates per role (Competition)0.40
RoleRegistered nurse Average Salary$40,000 Graduates per role (Competition)0.10
Role Marketing analyst Average Salary$50,000 Graduates per role (Competition)0.06
Role Computer systems specialist Average Salary$45,000 Graduates per role (Competition)0.03

At the top end of the scale, those looking to become prosthodontists are facing the toughest competition at the start of their career, with 52 graduates per role, with computer support specialists having it the easiest, almost guaranteeing a role per graduate. 

Prosthodontist graduates have an average of 52 people to compete with for just one entry level role

Alongside computer support specialists, the data shows the following roles are almost guaranteed to get a job in their field after graduating due to there being less than one person competing per role:

In terms of the highest expected average salary and competition, Dental residents who are on track to be ‘General dentists’ (as dictated by the BLS) have the highest entry-level average salary ($121,000) as well as only 5 people per role to compete with. 

Medical residents on track to be in the ‘Other physicians and ophthalmologists' category also have a low competition (three people per vacancy) with an average salary of $57,000. 

Training costs for the highest-paying jobs in the US

As well as the competition and average starting salaries, we wanted to take a further look into the training coasts of each role. These are all averages and use out-of-state figures, as well as an average between private and public institutions to provide a median figure. 

Role Training Cost Average Salary People Per Role (Competition)
RoleProsthodontist resident Training Cost​$251,233 Average Salary$57,000 People Per Role (Competition)51.63
RoleOrthodontist resident Training Cost​$251,233 Average Salary$60,000 People Per Role (Competition)19.97
RoleDental resident Training Cost​$251,233 Average Salary$55,000 People Per Role (Competition)10.43
RoleDental resident Training Cost​$251,233 Average Salary$55,000 People Per Role (Competition)5.14
Role Oral and maxillofacial surgery resident Training Cost$248,920 Average Salary$54,000 People Per Role (Competition)27.02
Role Obstetrics and gynecology resident Training Cost$248,920 Average Salary$56,000 People Per Role (Competition)14.13
RolePsychiatric resident Training Cost$248,920 Average Salary$56,000 People Per Role (Competition)10.97
RoleAnesthesiology resident Training Cost$248,920 Average Salary$63,000 People Per Role (Competition)10.82
RoleSurgical resident Training Cost$248,920 Average Salary$57,000 People Per Role (Competition)7.29
RolePediatric resident Training Cost$248,920 Average Salary$57,000 People Per Role (Competition)6.90
Role Family medicine resident Training Cost$248,920 Average Salary$57,000 People Per Role (Competition)4.37
RoleResident Training Cost$248,920 Average Salary$57,000 People Per Role (Competition)3.01
Role Internal medicine resident Training Cost$248,920 Average Salary$57,000 People Per Role (Competition)2.23
RoleArchitectural intern Training Cost$179,376 Average Salary$41,000 People Per Role (Competition)5.82
Role Entry level petroleum engineer Training Cost$150,000 Average Salary$63,000 People Per Role (Competition)0.81
Role Business development consultant Training Cost$91,620 Average Salary$50,000 People Per Role (Competition)0.97
Role Marketing analyst Training Cost$91,620 Average Salary$50,000 People Per Role (Competition)0.06
RoleFirst officer Training Cost$83,995 Average Salary$49,000 People Per Role (Competition)0.40
RoleRegistered nurse Training Cost$63,000 Average Salary$40,000 People Per Role (Competition)0.10
Role Computer systems specialist Training Cost$51,900 Average Salary$45,000 People Per Role (Competition)0.03

Those in medical training have the highest training cost at an average of just over $251,000, with computer support specialists having less than a quarter of this amount at $51,900. 

With computer support specialists having the lowest graduate competition and the lowest in training fees, it’s the smartest financial choice, out of the highest-paid roles in the country, for those choosing a new career. 

Fastest growing future job opportunities in the highest-paid careers

We also wanted to know what the job outlook for the highest paid careers looks like over the next 10 years to see how they compare to a competitive start. 

Entry Level Role (ordered by fewest graduates per role) Highest Paid Roles (Promotions) Highest Paid Jobs Available 2019 Highest Paid Jobs Available 2029 Percentage increase (2019-2029)
Entry Level Role (ordered by fewest graduates per role) Computer systems specialists Highest Paid Roles (Promotions) Computer and information systems managers Highest Paid Jobs Available 2019461,000 Highest Paid Jobs Available 2029507,100 Percentage increase (2019-2029)10.00%
Entry Level Role (ordered by fewest graduates per role) Marketing analyst Highest Paid Roles (Promotions)Marketing director Highest Paid Jobs Available 2019286,300 Highest Paid Jobs Available 2029303,478 Percentage increase (2019-2029)6.00%
Entry Level Role (ordered by fewest graduates per role)First officer Highest Paid Roles (Promotions) Airline pilots, co-pilots, and flight engineers Highest Paid Jobs Available 201985,500 Highest Paid Jobs Available 202989,775 Percentage increase (2019-2029)5.00%
Entry Level Role (ordered by fewest graduates per role)Registered nurse Highest Paid Roles (Promotions)Nurse anesthetists Highest Paid Jobs Available 201944,900 Highest Paid Jobs Available 202946,696 Percentage increase (2019-2029)4.00%
Entry Level Role (ordered by fewest graduates per role)Pediatric resident Highest Paid Roles (Promotions)General pediatricians Highest Paid Jobs Available 201932,500 Highest Paid Jobs Available 202933,800 Percentage increase (2019-2029)4.00%
Entry Level Role (ordered by fewest graduates per role) Business development consultant Highest Paid Roles (Promotions)Chief executives Highest Paid Jobs Available 2019287,900 Highest Paid Jobs Available 2029299,416 Percentage increase (2019-2029)4.00%
Entry Level Role (ordered by fewest graduates per role) Internal medicine resident Highest Paid Roles (Promotions)General internists Highest Paid Jobs Available 201949,500 Highest Paid Jobs Available 202951,480 Percentage increase (2019-2029)4.00%
Entry Level Role (ordered by fewest graduates per role)Resident Highest Paid Roles (Promotions) Other physicians and ophthalmologists (not pediatric) Highest Paid Jobs Available 2019429,500 Highest Paid Jobs Available 2029446,680 Percentage increase (2019-2029)4.00%
Entry Level Role (ordered by fewest graduates per role)Family medicine resident Highest Paid Roles (Promotions) Family medicine physicians Highest Paid Jobs Available 2019119,300 Highest Paid Jobs Available 2029124,072 Percentage increase (2019-2029)4.00%
Entry Level Role (ordered by fewest graduates per role)Psychiatric resident Highest Paid Roles (Promotions)Psychiatrists Highest Paid Jobs Available 201927,900 Highest Paid Jobs Available 202929,016 Percentage increase (2019-2029)4.00%
Entry Level Role (ordered by fewest graduates per role) Obstetrics and gynecology resident Highest Paid Roles (Promotions) Obstetricians and gynecologists Highest Paid Jobs Available 201920,300 Highest Paid Jobs Available 202921,112 Percentage increase (2019-2029)4.00%
Entry Level Role (ordered by fewest graduates per role)Surgical resident Highest Paid Roles (Promotions)Surgeons Highest Paid Jobs Available 201939,600 Highest Paid Jobs Available 202941,184 Percentage increase (2019-2029)4.00%
Entry Level Role (ordered by fewest graduates per role)Anesthesiology resident Highest Paid Roles (Promotions)Anesthesiologists Highest Paid Jobs Available 201933,800 Highest Paid Jobs Available 202935,152 Percentage increase (2019-2029)4.00%
Entry Level Role (ordered by fewest graduates per role)Architectural intern Highest Paid Roles (Promotions) Architectural and engineering managers Highest Paid Jobs Available 2019198,100 Highest Paid Jobs Available 2029204,043 Percentage increase (2019-2029)3.00%
Entry Level Role (ordered by fewest graduates per role) Entry level petroleum engineer Highest Paid Roles (Promotions)Petroleum engineers Highest Paid Jobs Available 201933,400 Highest Paid Jobs Available 202934,402 Percentage increase (2019-2029)3.00%
Entry Level Role (ordered by fewest graduates per role)Dental resident Highest Paid Roles (Promotions) Other dental specialists Highest Paid Jobs Available 20196,200 Highest Paid Jobs Available 20296,386 Percentage increase (2019-2029)3.00%
Entry Level Role (ordered by fewest graduates per role)Dental resident (general) Highest Paid Roles (Promotions)General dentists Highest Paid Jobs Available 2019132,100 Highest Paid Jobs Available 2029136,063 Percentage increase (2019-2029)3.00%
Entry Level Role (ordered by fewest graduates per role)Orthodontist resident Highest Paid Roles (Promotions)Orthodontists Highest Paid Jobs Available 20197,200 Highest Paid Jobs Available 20297,416 Percentage increase (2019-2029)3.00%
Entry Level Role (ordered by fewest graduates per role) Oral and maxillofacial surgery resident Highest Paid Roles (Promotions) Oral and maxillofacial surgeons Highest Paid Jobs Available 20195,600 Highest Paid Jobs Available 20295,768 Percentage increase (2019-2029)3.00%
Entry Level Role (ordered by fewest graduates per role)Prosthodontist resident Highest Paid Roles (Promotions)Prosthodontists Highest Paid Jobs Available 2019600 Highest Paid Jobs Available 2029612 Percentage increase (2019-2029)2.00%

Computer support specialists (focusing on systems or users), yet again, fare the best in our analysis, having the highest job outlook at 10% up to the year 2029. As they also have the lowest graduates competing per role, with a high number of projected openings, there will be an exacerbated skills shortage whereby candidates can be competitive in their job hunts and find high salaries and good work benefits.

Dental graduates will have the toughest competition over the next 10 years with smaller job growth of 2-3%

Generally, dentistry graduates and similar roles in the field have a lower job outlook out of the top 20 highest paid roles, with particular lack of growth for prosthodontists. This does indicate that the tough competition for graduates planning to become prosthodontists will likely not change over the next decade. 

Unemployment in the highest paid jobs in the US

To understand the industries and risk involved per role later on in their career, we reviewed the unemployment figures as a way to understand volatility in these high-paid roles. Here’s what graduates may be facing at top:

Top Level (Highest Paid) People Employed Unemployment Rate No. of Unemployed
Top Level (Highest Paid)Psychiatrists People Employed27,900 Unemployment Rate4.10% No. of Unemployed1,143.90
Top Level (Highest Paid)Marketing directors People Employed286,300 Unemployment Rate2.70% No. of Unemployed7,730.10
Top Level (Highest Paid)CEOs People Employed287,900 Unemployment Rate2.70% No. of Unemployed7,773.30
Top Level (Highest Paid) Architectural and engineering managers People Employed198,100 Unemployment Rate2.00% No. of Unemployed3,962.00
Top Level (Highest Paid)Petroleum engineers People Employed33,400 Unemployment Rate1.50% No. of Unemployed501.00
Top Level (Highest Paid) Computer and information systems managers People Employed461,000 Unemployment Rate1.30% No. of Unemployed5,993.00
Top Level (Highest Paid)Nurse anesthetists People Employed44,900 Unemployment Rate1.00% No. of Unemployed449.00
Top Level (Highest Paid) Airline pilots, co-pilots, and flight engineers People Employed85,500 Unemployment Rate0.80% No. of Unemployed684.00
Top Level (Highest Paid)General pediatricians People Employed32,500 Unemployment Rate0.70% No. of Unemployed227.50
Top Level (Highest Paid)General internists People Employed49,500 Unemployment Rate0.30% No. of Unemployed148.50
Top Level (Highest Paid) Other physicians and ophthalmologists (not pediatric) People Employed429,500 Unemployment Rate0.30% No. of Unemployed1,288.50
Top Level (Highest Paid) Family medicine physicians People Employed119,300 Unemployment Rate0.30% No. of Unemployed357.90
Top Level (Highest Paid) Obstetricians and gynecologists People Employed20,300 Unemployment Rate0.30% No. of Unemployed60.90
Top Level (Highest Paid) Oral and maxillofacial surgeons People Employed5,600 Unemployment Rate0.30% No. of Unemployed16.80
Top Level (Highest Paid)Surgeons People Employed39,600 Unemployment Rate0.30% No. of Unemployed118.80
Top Level (Highest Paid)Anesthesiologists People Employed33,800 Unemployment Rate0.30% No. of Unemployed101.40
Top Level (Highest Paid) Other dental specialists People Employed6,200 Unemployment Rate0.20% No. of Unemployed12.40
Top Level (Highest Paid)General dentists People Employed132,100 Unemployment Rate0.20% No. of Unemployed264.20
Top Level (Highest Paid)Prosthodontists People Employed600 Unemployment Rate0.20% No. of Unemployed1.20
Top Level (Highest Paid)Orthodontists People Employed7,200 Unemployment Rate0.20% No. of Unemployed14.40

This is where the story starts to change a little bit, because prosthodontists who have such a competitive start to the industry actually have a relatively low unemployment rate. This is likely due to the fact that those who do not land roles in the prosthodontist specialty can move to other areas of dentistry, which all benefit from a very low unemployment rate. 

Psychiatrists face unemployment the most out of all highest-paid roles in the country

Psychiatrists however have the highest unemployment rate out of the top paid roles in the US. They also have around 11 people per entry level role, indicating a competitive start to the industry alongside a somewhat volatile growth. 

Summary

To conclude, out of the highest paying graduate jobs, computer systems specialists will have one of the highest salaries ($156,390) in the country when they push further through their career, and the competition at the start of their career ladder is close to nonexistent. People looking to train in a new field should definitely consider this if they’re tech-minded, especially with the projected job growth of 10% in the field up to 2029. 

Prosthodontist graduates face the toughest competition at the start of their careers with 52 other graduates fighting for those places. The position is incredibly well-paid in the long-term though, reaching an average of $220,840 annual salary, but many will move into other areas of dentistry due to the competition. 

Overall, the highest paying graduate roles in the country generally have low levels of competition and candidates can expect high salary growth throughout their careers. 

This analysis does reveal that many of these high-paying graduate roles are vastly underserved however: there is not enough talent to fill the positions available due to the current skills shortage in the country, particularly in tech roles.

Methodology

The list of highest-paying jobs was dictated by data from the Bureau for Labor Statistics figures ordered by average salaries. We then researched which entry-level role was most likely to be taken by a graduate to get to these high-paying roles. For the role of CEO, a sales and business development background was assumed. Medical and dental residents numbers were proportionally split to each specialty from the overall number of graduates in these fields. 

The BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook was used to gather data on salary, number of jobs available, job outlook, and 2019-2029 employment projections for the top 20 highest-paid roles. 

The US News Best Jobs Rankings was used to analyze unemployment figures per role. Salary information was often sourced from Payscale and ZipRecruiter’s own data per job role, we took the median average salary for entry-level positions as dictated by their own analysis. In some instances, such as various specialties of dentistry, we took the average entry-level salary of dental residents, hence why salaries may be similar or identical. 

Graduate numbers, career path information, medical places and specialties information was sourced from a range of industry analyses, jobs boards and reports. 

Sources

Average training and degree costs were sourced from industry analyses: 

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