What You Actually Need For A High-Paying Career

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Looking for a high-paying career? Find out exactly what you need to get started.

By Diana Bocco

Looking for a career that pays the big bucks? Earning a degree is a good place to start, but keep in mind that for many high-paying careers, a degree alone might not make the cut.

That's because high-caliber careers tend to be highly competitive, so a degree without other credentials is often no longer sufficient to achieve success in certain fields, according to Roy Cohen, a career coach and the author of "The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide." "Once the bar has been set higher - and continues to be reset - candidates must begin to accumulate additional skills, experience, certifications, and degrees to give them a unique and competitive advantage," he says.

But don't get discouraged just yet. Here's a breakdown of seven high-paying careers, and insight from experts about the skills, certifications, or expertise that could put a little extra hop in your step as you start down the long path to pursue them.

Career #1: Computer Systems Analyst

Median annual wage*: $79,680
Bottom 10 percent of earners: $49,950
Top 10 percent of earners: $122,090

Imagine if you could take your business-minded side and marry it with your technically-inclined self to use all of your best skills. You can - in a lucrative career as a computer systems analyst.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, computer systems analysts study an organization's computer systems and procedures, and then make recommendations to help the organization operate more efficiently and effectively. They also oversee system updates and make sure the new systems meet the company needs.

Click to Find the Right IT and Information Systems Program.

Credentials You'll Need: To pursue a career as a computer systems analyst, you'll first need a bachelor's degree in a computer-related field. According to the Department of Labor, that's what most computer systems analysts have. Dr. Michael Goul, chair of the information systems department within Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business, says that most computer systems analysts have a bachelor's in either computer or information science.

He also adds that those wishing to start a career as a computer systems analyst should be able to demonstrate both technical and business skills. Goul recommends that students focus on improving their skills in the areas of database, programming, analytics, and systems analysis and design methodologies, as well as marketing, management, and business communication.

Career #2: Financial Analyst

Median annual wage*: $76,950
Bottom 10 percent of earners: $47,130
Top 10 percent of earners: $148,430

Numbers are your friend, and you can see yourself using your number-crunching talents to analyze data and make financial recommendations. Sound like you? Then you may want to take a closer look at what it takes to prepare to pursue a high-paying career as a financial analyst.

Financial analysts help individuals and corporations make smart investment decisions so they can build or expand their investment portfolios, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. To do this, they evaluate financial data and market fluctuations, and study business trends. They also analyze a company's finances to determine what type of investment is best for them, the Department of Labor says.

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Credentials You'll Need: A bachelor's degree in economics, finance, statistics, business administration, accounting, or a related field is usually the minimum requirement to get started in this career, according to the Department. For advanced positions, employers often require a master's in business administration or a master's in finance, says the Department.

Cohen has an idea as to why: "Financial analysts are often recruited from MBA programs for positions that involve greater responsibility and some decision-making," he says. That's because MBAs with a concentration in finance tend to have rigorous curriculums that focus specifically on business training and advanced financial modeling far beyond what is taught at the undergraduate level, Cohen explains.

"And for employers who are involved in structuring complex financial transactions and solutions, this training is essential and often not provided in undergraduate programs," Cohen adds.

Career #3: School Principal

Median annual wage*: $87,760
Bottom 10 percent of earners: $58,530
Top 10 percent of earners: $130,810

A school principal position is ideal for those who want to remain involved in the educational field, but not necessarily lead a classroom anymore. That's because principals might instead lead an entire school at the administrative level - and get paid handsomely to do it.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, elementary, middle, and high school principals oversee the general inner-workings of a school, including everything from supervising the staff to ensuring the school has the proper tools and budget to function properly. School principals also monitor teachers and keep track of test scores to track the school's progress toward federal and state standards, the Department of Labor says.

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Credentials You'll Need: To prepare for a career as a school principal, you'll likely need a minimum of a master's degree in education administration or education leadership, according to the Department.

Most states also require that candidates receive a certificate from the state's department of education, says Tracy Brisson, the Founder and CEO of The Opportunities Project, a talent development and recruitment consulting agency.

"While certification requirements differ across states, the requirements for certification are generally a master's degree in educational administration, a clinical internship experience as a school leader, and a certain amount of years of professional teaching experience," Brisson explains.

Career #4: Human Resources Manager

Median annual wage*: $99,720
Bottom 10 percent of earners: $59,020
Top 10 percent of earners: $173,140

If you think you might enjoy being the liaison between an organization's employees and its management - in good times and in bad - a career as a human resources manager might be the right fit for you. The good pay might also suit you.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, human resources managers are in charge of hiring, recruiting, and managing staff at organizations. They also advise managers on company policies, handle staffing issues, and supervise budgetary goals.

Click to Find the Right Human Resources Program.

Credentials You'll Need: To prepare to pursue a career as a human resources manager, you'll typically need a minimum of a bachelor's degree in human resources or business administration, according to the Department of Labor. It's also possible to get an undergraduate degree in a different subject, and then take additional courses in human resources-related subjects - such as industrial psychology or industrial relations - to be better prepared, the Department explains. A master's degree might be necessary if you want better opportunities for advancement.

And if you're interested in more strategic roles, consider getting certified as a PHR (Professional in Human Resources) or SPHR (Senior Professional in Human Resources), says Jackie Brito, the assistant dean of MBA admissions at the Rollins College Crummer Graduate School of Business. Why? "Having these credentials tells an employer that you have the body of knowledge to apply to any HR role and that you are committed to continued learning," Brito explains.

Career #5: Software Developer

Median annual wage*: $90,060
Bottom 10 percent of earners: $55,190
Top 10 percent of earners: $138,880

Are you tech-savvy enough to not only do the technical work of creating an application, but also have a creative side to dream it up as well? Consider a career as a software developer, where you could use a combination of those skills every day and hopefully earn top dollar while doing it.

Software developers are the masterminds behind all software you see and use today. They not only design and develop those software programs and systems, but they also conduct tests and upgrades and ensure software maintenance goes smoothly, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Software developers also create flowcharts to help guide code writers when building a program.

Click to Find the Right Computer Science Program.

Credentials You'll Need: Interested in preparing to go after a career as a software developer? The Department of Labor points out that most software developers have a degree in a computer or software-related field, such as software engineering or computer science.

But Laura Bartkiewicz, a technical recruiter for Eliassen Group, an IT recruiting firm, prefers the computer science degree. "In my experience, a computer science degree is more important and beneficial if the goal is to become a software developer," she says. Candidates should also try to get internships while they're still at school, as this will help them stand out as an entry-level candidate, Bartkiewicz adds.

Because the IT industry is booming at the moment, a master's degree (or even working towards one) in computer science is a major advantage for entry-level candidates, Bartkiewicz says. She adds that another thing to consider is to become certified. "Whether it's a Java Certification, or a Microsoft Certification, those credentials are an added bonus to employers that show you've passed a test and excelled in your domain."

Career #6: Art Director

Median annual wage*: $80,880
Bottom 10 percent of earners: $43,870
Top 10 percent of earners: $162,800

Do you have a creative side and strong visual communication skills? You may want to get started preparing to pursue a career as an art director. From what we can tell, it pays big.

Art directors are in charge of creating the visual style of magazines, TV shows, and product packaging, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. They supervise design staffs, and determine which art or photos are the most appropriate to express the concept the company has in mind. Art directors also develop budgets for each project, and then consult with clients and designers to find the best look, the Department of Labor says.

Click to Find the Right Graphic Design Program.

Credentials You'll Need: To get started as an art director, you'll need a bachelor's degree in a subject related to art or design, according to the Department. It also notes that you'll need previous work experience for this position. For example, depending on the industry, art directors may have worked previously as graphic designers, illustrators, copyeditors, photographers, or in another art or design occupation.

However, just as important as a degree is a strong portfolio resulting from that degree, according to Jolon Bankey, the managing director and hiring manager for Havas Magma Studios, a digital advertising and hiring agency. Why? Because a portfolio shows a potential employer what you're capable of doing and offering the company. "Without one, they might as well not show up for the interview," Bankey says.

He adds that in addition to an arts degree, employers also want to see some other studies mixed in, like psychology or semiotics: "This ensures that they are thinking about the most effective and interesting ways to engage their audience with the work, and they are more likely to go outside the box to achieve the best results."

Career #7: Medical and Health Services Manager

Median annual wage*: $88,580
Bottom 10 percent of earners: $53,940
Top 10 percent of earners: $150,560

Okay, you know you want to work in health care, but working with patients directly was never high on your to-do list. Maybe you should consider a high-paying career on the administrative side of health care, as a medical and health services manager.

Medical and health services managers plan and coordinate health services within hospitals, doctors' offices, or clinical departments, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. They might manage the finances of the facility, update systems and regulations based on the latest laws, and handle the organization of work schedules and patient billing. They also work to ensure optimal efficiency and quality in the medical services offered, says the Department of Labor.

Click to Find the Right Health Care Administration Program.

Credentials You'll Need: Typically, you'll need a minimum of a bachelor's degree in health administration to get started, according to the Department. Master's degrees in public health or public administration, health services, long-term care administration, or business administration are also common.

Why is a master's important? "A master's degree in management or business administration will increase your marketability," Brito adds. That's because a master's can help you tie together health services knowledge, while experience with solid business skills increases your value proposition, Brito says.

* All salary information from the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Employment and Wages data, May 2012.

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