10 Jobs With Great Return on Investment

These jobs offer some of the best pay and promise for the educational investment.


Slide Show: 10 Jobs With Great Return on Investment


Air traffic controller

  • Most common degree: Long-term, on-the-job training
  • Median pay: $111,870
  • This may be one career where high stress equals high reward. Controllers work in traffic control towers, radar rooms, or en route centers, handing off your flight as it passes through their airspace. While employment growth should exceed 13 percent between 2008 and 2018, there will be many more job opportunities as about half of the nation's controllers are expected to retire this year, according to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

    Petroleum engineer

    • Most common degree: Bachelor's
    • Median pay: $108,020
    • When it comes to jobs for which the typical degree is a bachelor's, only airline pilots earn more than petroleum engineers. For one thing, engineers' salaries reflect the technical skills required, says Margaret Watson of the Society of Petroleum Engineers. But the salaries are also a result of supply and demand, as there are relatively few graduates in petroleum engineering—some enter the field with degrees in other engineering disciplines, as well—and demand is expected to increase as more engineers reach retirement age. The job also comes with a great deal of responsibility, as engineers may work on multimillion dollar projects. Petroleum engineers have options, according to the Society of Petroleum Engineers: They can help design and oversee drilling operations; work on optimizing production processes; and become reservoir engineers. While some petroleum engineers work for energy giants like ExxonMobil and Chevron, others may consult or work for the government.

      Nuclear power reactor operator

      • Most common training: Long-term, on-the-job training
      • Median pay: $73,320
      • Nuclear power reactor operators might start their careers as plant equipment operators while they become familiar with the operations. In fact, reactor operators need at least three years of experience working in a power plant—including at least one year in a nuclear plant. To earn the right to control the equipment as reactor operators, they must be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Employment of nuclear power reactors is expected to grow by 20 percent between 2008 and 2018.

        Transportation inspector

        • Most common training: Work experience in a related occupation
        • Median pay: $55,250
        • Transportation inspectors make up a broad group, including aircraft inspectors, cargo inspectors, and motor vehicle emissions inspectors. Employment for this group is expected to jump more than 18 percent between 2008 and 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Aircraft inspectors often get their start as aircraft mechanics, and while mechanics can learn their trade on the job, it's more common to attend an FAA-certified Aviation Maintenance Technician school for one to two years.

          Subway operator

          • Most common training: Moderate-term, on-the-job training
          • Median pay: $53,220
          • Subway and streetcar operators generally work for public transit agencies. Very often, the first step for operators is to work as bus drivers within that transit system. Training programs for subway and streetcar operation can last as long as six months and are followed by exams. Employment of subway and streetcar operators is expected to jump about 19 percent between 2008 and 2018.


            • Most common degree: First professional
            • Median pay: More than $166,400
            • Prosthodontics has come a long way since George Washington's wooden teeth. Today, prosthodontists use sophisticated techniques and materials to replace missing teeth or restore damaged ones, as well as work on jaw and joint problems. The prosthodontics education starts with dental school and tacks an extra three years in an ADA-accredited graduate program. The educational requirements are of a similar breadth as those for physicians, but employment of prosthodontists is expected to jump nearly 28 percent between 2008 and 2018. (You might make more focusing on teeth, too. Consider that the median income for family and general practitioners is $157,250.)