16 Jobs That Pay Less Than You Think

Being of great service to the world does not guarantee a big paycheck

AFP/Getty ImagesZoologists make an average of $52,186 annually.
By Max Nisen

Prestigious work that requires loads of education doesn't always land you a fat salary.

In fact, some of the most highly respected professions out there - ones that take years of schooling and help create essential medical products, towering skyscrapers, and academic breakthroughs - don't pay nearly as much as you might imagine.

That's especially true when you realize that computer engineers headed to the Bay Area can earn six figures right out of college, and that surgeons earn an average of $358,000.

Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on the mean salary of full-time civilian workers between 2009 and 2011, we've picked out some of the most prestigious jobs that have surprisingly low earnings.

2013 NRL Grand Final Countdown
Getty Images

Head chef

Job description: This job covers the whole spectrum, from celebrity chef-owners of restaurants to lead chefs at somebody else's restaurant and the most senior chef at a chain restaurant. But despite the long hours, late nights, and lack of holidays off - and their glamorous portrayal in the media - it's only the first group who make the big bucks.
Average annual earnings: $38,297
Educational requirements: None required, though it's increasingly common for chefs to attend culinary school.

Post-doctoral fellow

Job description: Works with scientists to conduct research in the area of their expertise in order to develop skills and publish before pursuing a job as a full researcher or professor.
Average annual earnings: Varies by type and funder, but at entry, the NIH offers a $45,000 stipend.
Educational requirements: A Ph.D is required.

Graphic designer

Job description: Design and execute visual material, by hand or using software, for logos, advertising material, and more.
Average annual earnings: $48,345
Educational requirements: Usually a bachelor's in graphic design is expected.

Getty Images


Job description: Advise people on healthy eating habits or on achieving a specific health goal.
Average annual earnings: $49,032
Educational requirements: Most people with this job have a bachelor's and some supervised training. Additionally, many states require a license.


Job description: These are elected positions, and the salary figure is for full-time staffers, which may not include all state and local elected officials. They debate, draft, and vote on laws at the federal and state levels.
Average annual earnings: $49,510
Educational requirements: None explicitly required, but the majority of legislators, particularly on the national level, have at least a bachelor's degree. Many have professional degrees as well, most commonly a J.D.

AFP/Getty Images

Zoologists and marine/wildlife biologists

Job description: These biologists study the behavior and characteristics of wild animals.
Average annual earnings: $52,186
Educational requirements: Entry-level jobs require at least a bachelor's degree, but a master's is required to move beyond that. Academic and research jobs generally require a Ph.D.


Job description: Pay for professors in areas like physics or economics is higher. Professors teach students beyond the high-school level, in addition to conducting research and writing papers and sometimes books.
Average annual earnings: $59,860 (area, ethnic, or cultural studies), $64,955 (mathematical science), $67,953 (English language and literature)
Educational requirements: Generally a Ph.D is required. A master's might be enough for some teachers at community colleges.

Accountants and auditors

Job description: Accountants serve a variety of functions: calculating, reporting, and checking financial information for individuals and companies. Auditors perform systematic evaluations of data, records, statements, or performance for a legal or other purpose.
Average annual earnings: $60,845
Educational requirements: Both jobs generally require at least a bachelor's, and those with an accounting degree will often work towards becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Some employers prefer a master's or an MBA with a focus on accounting.


Job description: Psychologists diagnose and evaluate mental and emotional disorders, as well as conducting research on the same.
Average annual earnings: $62,731
Educational requirements: Most states require a doctoral degree, though some states allow people with a master's degree to get licensed and practice in certain cases.

House construction.
UIG via Getty Images


Job description: Architects plan and design buildings and other types of structures.
Average annual earnings: $64,481
Educational requirements: The majority of accredited architecture programs in the United States that grant the license needed to practice are five-year programs that combine a bachelor's and master's. Two-year master's programs are available as well, though some skip the master's degree. A license is required.

Credit analysts

Job description: These analysts look at credit data and financial statements of people and companies to determine the risk of extending a loan or credit.
Average annual earnings: $66,163
Educational requirements: Becoming a credit analyst generally requires at least a bachelor's degree.

Budget analysts

Job description: Help companies, organizations, or the government organize finances and set program budgets.
Average annual earnings: $66,414
Educational requirements: At least a bachelor's degree, and sometimes a master's for more senior roles or certain institutions.

Network systems and data communications analysts

Job description: Analyze, design, test, and maintain networks including local area networks, Internet, intranet, and more.
Average annual earnings: $67,106
Educational requirements: Most positions require a bachelor's degree, though it's possible to get such a job with a two-year degree and related work experience.

Health Overhaul Medical Devices


Job description: Chemists study the properties, structures, and reactions of substances, and often use it to develop new products or processes for making them.
Average annual earnings: $68,730
Educational requirements: A bachelor's is the minimum, but research jobs require a master's or Ph.D.

Biomedical engineer

Job description: These are engineers who work on building solutions for problems in biology and medicine.
Average annual earnings: $72,016
Educational requirements: There are some undergraduate programs that offer degrees in biomedical or biomechanical engineering, but others get a more general engineering degree and a master's focusing on biomedical applications.


Job description: They perform eye exams and make just a fraction as much as some medical professionals. For comparison, the average physician earns $184,979 a year, and dentists, who undergo a similar amount of training, earn $155,671.
Average annual earnings: $94,134
Educational requirements: A bachelor's degree is required, followed by a four-year stint in optometry school to earn an O.D. A residency sometimes follows that for those who want to pursue a particular specialty.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

Surgical techs make 12 bucks an hour A surgical assistant makes a dollar 50 an hour more than the folks who clean the O.R.

November 08 2013 at 12:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You left out Clergy. Many/most major denominations require a three-four year masters and in 30 years I barely cracked $40 K. There are long hours, and one is expected to run a small business, like everyone, be a religious scholar, a competent counselor, have a perfect family, and yet be at every function and available whenever someone is in crisis, not to mention we must work weekends and holidays. I loved almost every minute of it, but the pay is poor. School teachers may have similar education and may start at similar low salaries, but they get two months off each summer plus every holiday and teachers I know with 20 - 30 years experience are VERY well paid for the 10 month per year job.

November 07 2013 at 4:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Regional airline pilot. You can have 70 peoples life in your hands, plus others on the ground and you are paid 24k a year or less. What is more is you have to have a place to stay at major bases which are located in costly cities. Thus you need to spend money on either hotel rooms or rent a room each month. On average ten nights a month. If you can find a hotel room for $20 a night, thats your months pay gone just staying in a hotel room waiting to be called to work. Try finding a hotel room in NY or LA or Chicago next to the airport for $20 a night. Now you wonder why we have so many accidents with regional aircraft- Anyone with any experience cannot AFFORD to work there.

November 07 2013 at 10:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm just a plain old cable crane operator in a steel mill and make over 80 K a year. Who knew?

November 06 2013 at 7:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Your co-pilot on the next regional airline flight you take would be making less than you think. A low number of $20,000 wouldn't be off by much.

November 06 2013 at 6:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What BS US Congressmen make four times that, and thats only a small part of their take!

November 06 2013 at 3:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Ron BOSS's comment

There are 535 members of congress. How many state legislators are there? How many city council members? How much do they make? If anything, the amount in the article is overstated.

November 06 2013 at 4:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Aircraft Mechanics make less then they should. They should make a lot more considering their huge responsibality.

November 06 2013 at 2:27 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Max Lilly

Big shortage of trained "piping engineers and CAD Operators" throughout the United States and overseas. Average salary, depends on history of experience. Budgets, schedules, drawing pipe fittings, vessels, instrument, details, anything mechanical. Last job I was on paid $40 an hour. Good hunting.

November 06 2013 at 11:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

today's wages same as or lower than 25 yrs ago

November 06 2013 at 11:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What about a social worker? I have a Master's Degree in Counseling and was a Director of Social Services in a nursing home for 4 years. Of course, this was years ago, but I never made more than 10.00 dollars an hour.
I thought my job was very important being an advocate for patients and their families

November 06 2013 at 10:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Search Articles

Picks From the Web