The 10 Highest-Paying Fields For College Professors
College professors are a distinguished bunch, what with their advanced degrees and tweed jackets with patched elbows. However, for some professors, the patches might not be a fashion statement.
Consider that postsecondary vocational education instructors earned an average of only $53,130 in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Only graduate teaching assistants made less, and at that annual salary, elevator installers, web developers and dental hygienists all make more. Not that the people in those professions don't work hard and deserve their income, but those jobs typically require an associate degree while college instructors may be required to have a master's degree or doctoral degree.
Government data also points to criminal justice, education and fitness as being on the bottom end of the pay scale for postsecondary teachers. Instead of toiling away in a low-paying field, you may want to try one of these instead — here are the ten highest-paying fields for professors, based on mean annual wage information from the BLS.
(Note: "Law, criminal justice, and social work teachers, postsecondary" originally placed at number seven on this list, with a mean annual wage of $87,900, but we chose to omit this broad category in favor of keeping it a list of more detailed occupations.)
1. Law teachers — $126,270
Lawyers get paid well so it's probably not surprising that their teachers also earn good salaries. With a nationwide average of $126,270, postsecondary law teachers earn far and away the highest average income of postsecondary instructors in any discipline.
Of course, it's not easy to become a law teacher. The University of Chicago notes the path to teaching often involves a person graduating from law school, then working for a law review and holding a judicial clerkship, preferably with the Supreme Court if possible. Easy, right?
On second thought, maybe law teachers deserve all that income.
2. Health specialties teachers — $112,950
Health specialties teachers land in the number two spot for average annual income, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These instructors don't teach biology or nursing, but they cover just about everything else.
Dentistry, medicine, pharmacy and therapy are all topics covered under the umbrella of health specialties teachers. Like law teachers, these individuals have often paid their dues by working diligently in their chosen field before moving into the classroom. In return, they pull down average annual incomes of $112,950.
3. Health teachers — $102,260
Other postsecondary health teachers don't earn as much as those who work in specialties, but their income is nothing to sneeze at. With an average six-figure income of $102,260, health teachers may cover topics such as public health or health information.
These teachers may also be able to work with less education and experience than law and health specialties teachers. Those teachers generally need a professional degree and years in the field before being hired. On the other hand, health teachers may find some job openings only require a master's degree in health or a related field. What's more, some community colleges may hire people with a bachelor's degree to teach vocational programs.
4. Economics teachers — $102,120
Economics teachers round out the six-figure income positions for postsecondary instructors. They earned an average of $102,120 in 2014 with those in Massachusetts earning the highest incomes in the field, at an average of $129,580.
However, if you want to be a top tier economics professor, expect to face some tough competition. A 2013 analysis coming out of the University of Chicago found the top 15 Ph.D. programs in economics brought in 59 percent of their faculty from six top schools. In fact, 39 percent of the faculty came from only two schools: Harvard and MIT.
If you're not concerned about landing a job at one of the most prestigious schools in the country, a master's or doctoral degree in economics from any graduate school may get you in the door at many colleges and universities.
5. Physics teachers — $90,500
The Physics Teacher Education Coalition says there is a serious shortage of high-school physics teachers, so earning a master's or doctoral degree in the subject could open up teaching opportunities at both the secondary and postsecondary levels.
Those who taught at the college level in 2014 had average annual income of $90,500, but with enough time and energy, professionals in the field have the potential to earn much more.
6. Environmental science teachers — $86,200
Not to be confused with forestry and conversation science teachers, environmental science teachers are all about exploring the topics of sustainability, pollution and climate, among other things. They could have an environmental science degree or may come from a variety of backgrounds, including microbiology, agricultural science and alternative energy, but they tend to be committed to taking an interdisciplinary approach to studying the environment.
Nationwide, postsecondary environmental science teachers earned $86,200 in 2014, but if you want to earn the really big bucks, head to Michigan where these teachers averaged $113,060 that year.
7. Chemistry teachers — $83,360
Chemistry professors at research institutions are just as likely to be conducting their own research in the lab as they are to be teaching students. At other undergraduate schools, they may be giving lectures, grading papers and overseeing student experiments. Meanwhile, community colleges hire postsecondary chemistry teachers to teach science classes to students in technical programs as well as those who expect to eventually transfer their credits to a four-year institution.
According to the American Chemical Society, tenure track positions can be highly competitive and those applying need a doctorate. However, community college teachers may be able to land a job with only a master's degree. Overall, postsecondary chemistry teachers earned an average of $83,360 in 2014.
8. Political science teachers — $82,670
Government drama, political maneuvering and international intrigue may all be topics de rigueur for political science teachers. Some many focus on U.S. politics while others specialize in international relations. Political theory and comparative politics are also common areas of instruction for postsecondary political science teachers.
As with other fields, a doctoral degree is typically needed for anyone wishing to become a professor with tenure. Those with a master's degree in political science may find jobs as adjunct faculty or at the community college level. With average incomes of $82,670 nationally, teaching about politics sure beats working in politics when you consider the average wage of elected officials at all levels was only $40,430 in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
9. Anthropology and archaeology teachers — $81,410
Not sure what to do with that degree in anthropology or archaeology? Well, if you stay in school long enough, you could use it to teach others about how human societies and behavior have changed over the years.
Earning an average of $81,410 per year, postsecondary anthropology and archaeology teachers teach both undergraduate and graduate students. They may also lead field work and undertake their own research in between classes.
10. Social sciences teachers — $78,690
Rounding out the top ten best paid subjects for college professors is social sciences. by Bureau of Labor Statistics standards, this category serves as a catch-all for any social sciences teacher who doesn't fall neatly into another category such as economics or history.
They may be teaching in specialized areas such as art history or linguistics or in general social sciences topics. Depending on the level they want to teach, they need to have experience in their field and likely a master's or doctoral degree in social sciences.
If you dream of being a professor but want make sure any patches on your clothes are strictly for show, try studying one of these ten fields that get an A+ in income potential.
1. Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor, May 2014
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition
3. Paths to Law Teaching, University of Chicago, http://www.law.uchicago.edu/careerservices/pathstolawteaching
4. The Path to Being an Economics Professor: What Difference Does a Graduate School Make? Zhengye Chen, University of Chicago, March 2, 2013, https://research.stlouisfed.org/conferences/moconf/2013/The%20Path%20to%20Being%20An%20Economics%20Professor.pdf
5. U.S. Physics Teacher Shortage and the Need for PhysTEC, Physics Teachers Education Coalition, http://www.phystec.org/webdocs/shortage.cfm
6. About AESS, Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences, http://www.aess.info/content.aspx?page_id=22&club_id=939971&module_id=35440
7. Chemistry Professor, American Chemical Society, http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/careers/college-to-career/chemistry-careers/chemistry-professor.html
8. Graduate Programs, Department of Political Science, Columbia University, http://polisci.columbia.edu/academic-programs/graduate-programs