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The 11 Top-Paying Jobs Straight out of College

By Lauren Hughes

Whether you are headed to college, or already working your way towards your degree, you probably already know that having a college degree pays. On average, workers with a college education earn nearly twice those who only have a high school diploma. But do you know that salaries for college grads vary widely? You might be interested in social work, or theology, but these fields probably won't give you the opportunity to make the big bucks, especially the first few years after graduation. It's smart to look ahead at what jobs have the best earning potential right out of college, particularly if you have school loans to start paying back. Put yourself on the right track with one of the 11 highest-paying jobs straight out of college:

11. High School Teacher
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You read right – high school teacher is one of the top-paying jobs right out of college. We tend to think of teachers as woefully underpaid, but in reality teachers can earn a decent living the first year after graduating. Of course, being a teacher has other perks, too, like short work days and summers off. Remember, though, that teaching, particularly at the high school level, usually also requires putting in time prepping and grading papers and tests after the last bell of the day. What you'll earn your first year teaching will vary depending on the subject matter you teach, and your geographic location.

What you can expect to make: $43,000
from $42,000 (Math teacher) to $52,000 (Spanish teacher)

10. Nurse
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Nursing can be a wonderful career choice, and not only because of the healthy starting salaries available. Nurses are nearly always in high demand, and that demand is expected to continue in the future as the population ages. Starting salaries for nurses vary widely depending on the level of education (a 2-year or 4-year program) and on the area of specialization. A career in nursing can be very rewarding, and not just financially. You will have the opportunity to help care for and heal people. On the flip side, though, you also have to deal with their bodily fluids. So you may be well-paid, but you will be earning every penny!

What you can expect to make: $47,000
from $39,000 (perioperative nurse) to $64,000 (nurse trainer)

9. Web Designer
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Careers in teaching and in nursing require you to be a people person, and that might not be a good fit for you. If you are more at home with technology, a career as a web designer might be right for you. The salary for those starting out in web design can vary quite a bit, but tends to be relatively high. As companies have begun to rely on their websites more and more for not only branding themselves but for driving sales, the need for skilled web designers has grown. Many mid-size and larger companies now have web designers in-house. A degree in computer science or marketing is ideal, but it's also smart to have a portfolio of websites you've worked on during internships or personal projects to help sell yourself to prospective employers.

What you can expect to make: $58,000
from $40,000 (graphic web designer) to $88,000 (flash web designer)

8. Pharmaceutical Representative
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Pharmaceutical representatives (also known as drug reps) stand to make good money right off the bat. In addition, pharmaceutical reps also often benefit from perks like the use of company cars. However, working as a pharmaceutical rep can be quite demanding. Lots of travel is usually required; a typical day might see you going to several doctors' offices discussing the benefits of a particular drug. While pharmaceutical reps must be well versed in science, they also must be good with people and have excellent communication skills, as this is essentially a sales job. For those willing to put in the work, the pay is very good. And you can rest easy knowing that you'll probably always have a steady supply of pens and pads of sticky notes!

What you can expect to make: $59,000
from $55,000 (pharmaceutical sales representative) to $73,000 (pharmaceutical specialty sales representative)

7. Financial Analyst
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If you're numbers-oriented, working as a financial analyst could be a lucrative job even right out of college. With the recent weakness of the economy, the field has taken a hit, but there is still a demand for qualified people. The highest salaries in the field are available only to those with an advanced degree, but even those with a bachelor's degree in an appropriate area like accounting or finance can earn a bundle.

What you can expect to make: $66,000
from $57,000 (financial operations analyst) to $97,000 (strategic financial analyst)

6. Internet Marketer
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The internet has come a long way since its invention in the 1960's. As the internet has grown and developed, its money-making potential has exploded. The field of internet marketing has grown with it to exploit and create new opportunities to sell an ever-increasing number of products and services online. Currently, internet marketing includes things like search engine optimization, e-mail marketing, and the use of blogs to promote a business or product. But the field is rapidly expanding and changing, providing lots of opportunities for those with a background in business and knowledge of current technology.

What you can expect to make: $67,000
from $43,000 (internet marketing specialist) to $124,000 (internet marketing sales executive)

5. Network Systems Administrator
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Many companies today, both large and small, rely on in-house network administrators to maintain and troubleshoot the complex computer networks that enable a company's day-to-day functioning. Not only are network administrators needed to keep the networks running smoothly, but they are usually also responsible for ensuring the network's security through firewalls and the like. Network administrator jobs are desirable because of the good pay, so expect to work hard gaining the technical knowledge and hands-on experience necessary to compete with other well-qualified applicants.

What you can expect to make: $69,000
from $62,000 (network systems engineer) to $99,000 (network systems administrator)

4. Engineer
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If you excel in science and math and are looking for a well-paying job out of college, engineering is an obvious choice. Graduates with a degree in engineering can work in any of a wide variety of branches, including civil, chemical, and nuclear to name a few. Starting salaries will vary somewhat depending on the chosen branch, but all are well-paying. You should plan on developing not only deep technical knowledge, but also excellent communication skills in order to nab the best job. And be prepared to explain to people that your job doesn't involve driving a train!

What you can expect to make: $72,000
from $67,000 (electrical engineer) to $69,000 (engineering geologist) to $123,000 (VP of engineering)

3. Actuary
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When you were five years old, you probably never answered "actuary" to the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" But maybe you'll start to consider answering that way once you see the high earning potential of actuaries, even fresh from getting that bachelor's degree. Working as an actuary involves evaluating risks, and so the majority of actuaries work for insurance companies. True, you will need a strong background in finance and statistics to get a job as an actuary, but all the training can pay off handsomely in a secure, well-paid position.

What you can expect to make: $79,000
from $65,000 (enrolled actuary) to $93,000 (life actuary)

2. Software Developer
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Software developer (sometimes known as a software engineer) is undeniably a smart career choice in any job market. Salaries for well-trained and smart software developers continue to be high and demand is likely to stay strong for a long time to come. This is one career that will require ongoing learning and updating of skills even after you've landed that plum job, though. On the plus side, some companies offer other perks and benefits, like telecommuting and flextime options, and a chance to earn bonuses over and above the base salary. In addition, entry-level software developers often get the opportunity to move to more senior positions within a few years.

What you can expect to make: $84,000
from $52,000 (internet software engineer) to $93,000 (software engineer/developer)

1. Investment Banker
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The recent financial crisis has taken some of the shine off investment banking. Jobs are not as plentiful as they once were and there is a lot of competition. But the reality remains that investment banking is the most lucrative field for newly-minted grads. Of course, they're not just handing out the dough over at investment banks. You should expect to put in long hours, particularly during your first few years, and you should be prepared for sometimes intense pressure. Investment banking is not for the meek, or those who highly value their leisure time. But for those who are looking to make the big bucks, it may just be the perfect career to pursue.

What you can expect to make: $112,000
from $73,000 (associate) to $116,000 (investment banker)


Lauren Hughes is a freelance writer specializing in education and career issues and a stay-at-home mom. She has a background in higher education and in the book industry as both a bookseller and a buyer. Lauren writes about online colleges for EarnMyDegree.com

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