It’s probably safe to say that one of the main reasons people go to college is to find a fulfilling, high-paying job when they’re done.
But, as it turns out, college education and a prestigious job title do not necessarily mean you’ll be raking in cash.
Some gigs, like architect or optometrist, actually pay below what some might expect.
Using data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics on the mean salary of full-time civilian workers, we’ve picked out some of the most prestigious jobs that have surprisingly low earnings. We’re not saying they’re all “low-paying jobs” — but rather that they pay less than you might think.
Here are 20 of them.
Max Nisen and Aaron Taube contributed to earlier versions of this article.
Average annual earnings: $119,980
Job description: They diagnose, manage, and treat conditions and diseases of the human eye and visual system, but make just a fraction as much as some other medical professionals. For comparison, the average pediatrician earns $175,400 a year, and dentists, who undergo a similar amount of training, earn $170,940.
Educational requirements: A bachelor’s degree is required, followed by a four-year stint in optometry school to earn an OD. A residency sometimes follows that for those who want to pursue a particular specialty.
Average annual earnings: $95,090
Job description: These engineers work on building solutions for problems in biology and medicine.
Educational requirements: Some undergraduate programs offer degrees in biomedical or biomechanical engineering, but other paths include a more general engineering degree and a master’s focusing on biomedical applications.
Average annual earnings: $86,600
Job description: Psychologists diagnose and evaluate mental and emotional disorders. They also conduct research on the same.
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.
Average annual earnings: $85,190
Job description: Professors teach students beyond the high-school level in addition to conducting research and writing papers and sometimes books. Pay for professors in areas like physics or economics is higher.
Educational requirements: Generally a Ph.D. is required. A master’s might be enough for professors at some colleges or universities.
Average annual earnings: $83,850
Job description: Chemists study the properties, structures, and reactions of substances and develop new products or processes for making them.
Educational requirements: A bachelor is the minimum, but research jobs require a master’s or Ph.D.
Average annual earnings: $82,300
Job description: These analysts look at the credit data and financial statements of people and companies to determine the risk of extending a loan or credit.
Educational requirements: Becoming a credit analyst generally requires at least a bachelor’s degree.
Average annual earnings: $80,860
Job description: Genetic counselors assess individual or family risk for a variety of inherited conditions, such as genetic disorders and birth defects. They provide information and advice to other healthcare providers, or to individuals and families concerned with the risk of inherited conditions.
Educational requirements: Typically need at least a master’s degree in genetic counseling or genetics, although some earn a PhD.
Architect, surveyor, or cartographer
Average annual earnings: $80,300
Job description: Architects plan and design buildings and other types of structures.
Educational requirements: Most accredited architecture programs in the US 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.
Average annual earnings: $79,830
Job description: Help companies, organizations, or the government organize finances and set program budgets.
Educational requirements: At least a bachelor’s degree and sometimes a master’s for more senior roles or certain institutions.
Accountant or auditor
Average annual earnings: $78,820
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 another purpose.
Educational requirements: Both jobs generally require at least a bachelor’s, and those with an accounting degree will often work toward becoming a certified public accountant. Some employers prefer a master’s or an MBA with a focus on accounting.
Average annual earnings: $75,580
Job description: Web developers design, create, and modify websites. They also analyze user needs to implement content, graphics, performance, and capacity.
Educational requirements: An associate degree in web design or related field is typically required.
Average annual earnings: $69,480
Job description: Editors plan, review, and revise content for publication. They might also review proposals and drafts for possible publication.
Educational requirements: A bachelor’s degree in communications, journalism, or English is typically required.
Zoologist or marine/wildlife biologist
Average annual earnings: $67,760
Job description: These biologists study the behavior and characteristics of wild animals.
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 PhD.
Average annual earnings: $66,380
Job description: Historians research, analyze, interpret, and present the past by studying a variety of historical documents and sources.
Educationalrequirements: Most positions require a master’s degree. Some research positions require a doctoral degree.
Average annual earnings: $54,680
Job description: Design and execute visual material, by hand or using software, for logos, advertising material, and more.
Educational requirements: A bachelor’s in graphic design is typically expected.
Marriage and family therapist
Average annual earnings: $54,150
Job description: Diagnose and treat mental and emotional health issues to help couples and families have more fulfilling relationships.
Educational requirements: Graduate degree required, either a master’s or a doctorate.
Average annual earnings: $53,060
Job description: They help people, families, and children deal with issues in their everyday lives.
Educational requirements: While social workers can have just a bachelor’s degree, some choose to get their master’s.
Chef or head cook
Average annual earnings: $52,160
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 is only top-tier chefs and chef-owners who make the big bucks.
Educational requirements: None required, though it’s increasingly common for chefs to attend culinary school.
Average annual earnings: $49,040
Job description: Surgical technologists, also called operating room technicians, assist in surgical operations and help prepare ORs, arrange equipment, and assist doctors during surgeries.
Educational requirements: A postsecondary certificate or an associate degree is typically needed.
Average annual earnings: $47,620
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.
Educational requirements: None explicitly required, but most legislators, particularly on the national level, have at least a bachelor’s degree. Many have professional degrees as well, most commonly a JD.