Remember Career Day back in school? You spent a couple of hours circling a gymnasium, talking to firefighters, salesmen, nurses and more, learning about possible career paths. You might have taken an aptitude test to determine the best profession for you. What is almost certainly guaranteed, however, is that after all that searching and planning, you probably didn't sit down with your folks and say, "Mom, Dad, I've finally decided. I want to a be...an undertaker!"
But, being a funeral director is nothing to sneeze at -- you can make a surprisingly nice living hanging out with the dearly departed. In fact, GOBankingRates found 30 jobs -- all a little out of the ordinary -- that pay above the U.S. median wage of $41,954. The careers were ranked from lowest to highest paying. Also, to give you a holistic picture, GOBankingRates found each profession's education and training requirements, essential job duties and projected job growth from 2020 to 2030.
So, sure, you might not have grown up thinking you'd spend your lunch hour with someone who wasn't exactly, well, "alive" per se. But after you see your potential salary, you might just consider making a career change.
Last updated: Sept. 28, 2021
Median hourly wage: $19.56
Median annual wage: $40,685
Help people get squeaky clean with work as a soap boiler. Small- to medium-sized soap producers need soap boilers for a multistep process that turns fats into "neat soap" used for bars and powders. Brittanica describes the soap-making process pretty colorfully, stating you would be dealing with a "grainy, curdy mass of soap" and "pasty boiling mass (that) is treated with brine." So long as you don't mind dealing with something out of a John Carpenter movie, you could make this your job with only a high school diploma.
Median hourly wage: $20.94
Median annual wage: $43,555
Ever dreamed of seeing your name up in lights? Well, while you wait for your big break, you can always put other people's names up instead. Billboard installation has no education requirements -- you'll be doing long-term training on the job instead -- and is set to see 6% job growth from 2020 to 2030.
Median hourly wage: $19.78
Median annual wage: $41,142
The written word will always require a proofreader -- even when the words are written in dots. Braille proofreaders catch errors before books, scripts and more go to print, helping blind individuals get the information they need. The job requires a bachelor's degree and, of course, the ability to read braille.
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Median hourly wage: $20.63
Median annual wage: $42,910
You ever wonder how singers and actors make multiple costume changes so quickly during live performances? That's where costume attendants come in. In this position, you would be selecting and fitting costumes for entertainers, as well as taking care of the costumes between performances. So, if Lady Gaga needs to change from a meat dress to a ball gown to a power suit covered in Christmas lights all in a matter of minutes, you'd be in charge of making it happen. All you need is a high school diploma, some short-term training and the willingness to get whipped in the eye with a flank steak.
Automatic Door Repairer
Median hourly wage: $20.78
Median annual wage: $43,222
With the word "automatic" in the name, you'd think these doors could pretty much take care of themselves, but, alas, that's not the case. Automatic door repairers install, service and repair the doors you often see in places like supermarkets and hotels. To get the job, you'll need a high school diploma and moderate on-the-job training. This profession is also set to see an impressive 12% job growth from 2020 to 2030.
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Median hourly wage: $20.33
Median annual wage: $42,286
From classic stripes to Pixar characters, as an airplane painter, you would be responsible for zhuzhing up boring old airplanes with fresh designs. All you need is a high school diploma and moderate on-the-job training, and you could be making a little more than $2,000 over the U.S. median salary annually.
Median hourly wage: $20.76
Median annual wage: $43,181
Fallers, better known as lumberjacks, use their knowledge of tree characteristics and cutting techniques to take down trees Paul Bunyon-style. It's a somewhat easy business to break into -- woodsmen and women only need a high school diploma and moderate on-the-job training.
Logging workers in general are set to see 7% job growth through 2030. Plus, you might come away looking like the Brawny paper towel guy, who everyone knows is a total fox.
Forest Fire Inspector
Median hourly wage: $20.26
Median annual wage: $42,141
As it turns out, Smokey the Bear was right: Only you can prevent forest fires. Well, you, and other forest fire inspectors. In this role, you would inspect the forest for fire hazards, enforce fire regulations and recommend forest fire prevention or control measures. You need an associate's degree for the gig but there are no formal training requirements according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Acoustic Ceiling Tile Installer
Median hourly wage: $23.47
Median annual wage: $48,818
Ever heard a musician say, "Wow, the acoustics are great in here"? Well, you could be responsible for making the acoustics great in there. With no education requirements and just some moderate on-the-job training, you'll be ready to put acoustical tiles and other shock-absorbing materials on walls and ceilings to reduce or reflect sound.
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Median hourly wage: $23.32
Median annual wage: $48,506
If you're a bit of a pyromaniac, consider a job as a seismograph shooter. They set off explosives that loosen the earth so that seismograph readings can be done, usually to reveal petroleum deposits. You need a high school diploma, up to five years of experience in the industry and long-term on-the-job training in order to blow things up like a pro.
Seismograph shooters are set to see an 8% rise in job growth between 2020 and 2030.
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Median hourly wage: $22.90
Median annual wage: $47,632
If you don't mind co-workers who aren't that talkative, why not give embalming a try? Preparing bodies for internment is truly an integral job, and the pay reflects it; you'd make nearly $8,000 more than the U.S. average salary annually. The only requirements are an associate's degree and long-term training in the workplace, but sensitivity and reverence don't hurt either.
Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator
Median hourly wage: $23.60
Median annual wage: $49,088
There's no way around it: Wastewater treatment is the definition of a dirty job. In this position, you'd be in regular contact with sewage, sludge, grease traps and sewer lines -- not exactly great dinner table conversation. However, the pay could make all of that unpleasantness worth it. The median annual wage of a wastewater treatment plant operator is already $49,088 on average, but you can earn more based on location and experience. For instance, Los Angeles County is currently hiring and the starting pay for this role is $89,468. That's nearly $50,000 more than the U.S. median salary.
This industry is set to see a 3% drop in job growth between 2020 and 2030, but as long as people have a need for the restroom, it will probably stick around.
Median hourly wage: $24.86
Median annual wage: $51,709
Who knew something so important could have such a silly name? Dinkey operators work with dinkey engines, operating power controls and levers to transport rock, timber, coal and other materials. You'll find this job in railroad yards, industrial plants, quarries, construction projects and similar locations. It just takes a high school diploma and moderate on-the-job training.
Underwater Demolition Driver
Median hourly wage: $26.35
Median annual wage: $54,808
When you attend your high school reunion, there are going to be few things as satisfying to say to your former bully as, "Oh, what do I do now? I'm an underwater demolition driver." Like something out of a Bond film, these folks use scuba gear and tools to rig explosives underwater for detonation. They also inspect, repair and install equipment and structures beneath the surface.
You need a postsecondary nondegree award -- meaning a formal certification -- and moderate on-the-job training for this career. Commercial diving can also expect a 17% bump in job growth from 2020 to 2030.
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Median hourly wage: $25.16
Median annual wage: $52,333
Love the sea? A bridge tender is the person responsible for permitting boats passage through waterways. You're not exactly a captain, sure, but it's nautical enough that no one would begrudge you wearing a jaunty cap and a nice pair of boat shoes to the office. It's a great deal, too -- you only need a high school diploma and moderate training to make well above the national median salary.
Median hourly wage: $24.08
Median annual wage: $50,086
Like Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes and Nancy Drew before you, it's time to pick up the magnifying glass -- read: a telephoto lens and a bag of corn nuts to tide you over -- and get to work. As a private investigator, you'd be gathering, analyzing, compiling and reporting information for your clients about potentially unlawful individuals or organizations. You only need a high school diploma and moderate on-the-job training to do the work. And, in case you're an optimist who thinks people have become kinder and more trustworthy over the years, know that detectives and investigators are going to see a projected 13% jump in job growth from 2020 to 2030.
Median hourly wage: $25.12
Median annual wage: $52,250
If you grew up loving the ballet but had two left feet that refused to be en pointe, there are other ways of participating in the art form. With a bachelor's degree and just shy of five years work experience, you can land a job composing the next great ballet.
Median hourly wage: $26.14
Median annual wage: $54,371
Are you the type to go where the wind blows you? Well, consider letting it nudge you toward a job as a windtech. People with this job inspect, diagnose, adjust and repair wind turbines. They also perform maintenance on turbines, fixing any mechanical, electrical or hydraulic issues. You need a postsecondary award for this job and long-term training, but the job security makes it all worth it -- windtechs will see a nearly 70% increase in job growth from 2020 to 2030.
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Median hourly wage: $26.61
Median annual wage: $55,349
Sure, you can be a regular old mechanic who works on regular old cars. But why do that when you can work on a truly unique beast -- the bulldozer? Used in mining, logging and construction, bulldozers require regular maintenance and repairs like any other vehicle. The real difference is you'll encounter slightly fewer infant car seats in the back. A high school diploma and moderate on-the-job training is needed to land this job.
Hearing Aid Specialist
Median hourly wage: $25.37
Median annual wage: $52,770
In somewhat disturbing news, hearing aid specialists are expected to see an 11% rise in job growth from 2020 to 2030. You can probably blame it on all the parents who've blasted the Baby Shark song to appease their child overlords. Regardless, it's good news for hearing aid specialists who only need a high school diploma and moderate training in the workplace. In this role, you would fit customers with hearing aids, test their hearing and the efficacy of the instrument. You would also take ear impressions and prepare, design and modify ear models.
Median hourly wage: $26.01
Median annual wage: $54,101
Ah yes, the undertaker. Though it might not have been your first choice on career day, this job is a respected and essential one that helps those in mourning. Also known as funeral directors, you need an associate's degree, postsecondary certification and moderate to long-term training to have this job. You'd be responsible for arranging and directing funeral services, coordinating transportation of bodies to the mortuary, interviewing family members, selecting pallbearers and more. It's a tough job that requires boundless compassion, but in the end, you'd earn a salary well over the national average.
Median hourly wage: $29.64
Median annual wage: $61,651
When the convicted serial killer stands up unexpectedly, turns with wild eyes to the jury and shouts, "You'll pay for this! Mark my words!" -- well, someone needs to mark his words. As a stenocaptioner, you would use equipment to capture and transcribe all of the pretrial and trial proceedings, as well as other important information. The role requires a postsecondary nondegree award and short-term training on the job.
Median hourly wage: $31.06
Median annual wage: $64,605
Did the town mill burn down from a lightning strike to its roof, or was Old Man Withers trying to cash in on the insurance money? As a fire investigator, you would be the judge. You'll inspect buildings to detect fire hazards and gather facts to determine the cause of fires and explosions -- potentially uncovering crimes.
With a postsecondary certification, prior experience as a firefighter and moderate on-the-job training, this isn't the easiest job to land, but it sure pays well. The industry also has a projected job growth rate of 11%.
Median hourly wage: $30.01
Median annual wage: $62,421
There are biologists, chemists, geneticists and physicists -- and then there are scientists who get paid to look at dirt. Soil scientists study the physical, biological, chemical and mineralogical composition of soils and make a pretty penny to do it. A bachelor's degree is needed for this job, but the BLS doesn't cite any previous experience or training requirements. Also, agriculture and food scientists, which include soil scientists, will see an approximate 9% increase in job growth from 2020 to 2030.
Median hourly wage: $31.40
Median annual wage: $65,312
Most people can only break a glass by having one too many margaritas and then tripping over the family dog. If you can do it with your voice, you might be cut out for the opera. You need a bachelor's degree and long-term training to land this gig, but when you do, you'll make well over the U.S. median hourly wage. Plus, you could potentially entertain thousands with your vocal gifts.
Median hourly wage: $34.89
Median annual wage: $72,571
While the days of chasing off wise-cracking hoboes with names like Shiny Jack and Two Spoon Tom are gone, railroad police still keep busy. They guard transit property, passengers and employees, looking out for unlawful activity. The job necessitates a high school diploma and training at a police academy. It's also expected to grow approximately 7% from 2020 to 2030.
Median hourly wage: $40.58
Median annual wage: $84,406
If you ever had fish as a kid and neglected to clean the tank, you might have prepared yourself for work as a phycologist, or algae scientist. This green gunk is actually an important part of wildlife ecosystems. It also has numerous applications, from the creation of biofuel to use in wastewater treatment -- ahem, you're welcome, wastewater treatment plant operators.
Theatrical Makeup Artist
Median hourly wage: $30.89
Median annual wage: $64,251
Opera singers aren't the only artists making bank. Theatrical makeup artists make a good living applying cosmetics to actors, singers and dancers for their performances. There is a 37% projected rise in job growth for this position, and it's easy to see why -- according to OwlGuru's poll of theatrical makeup artists, 80% reported job satisfaction.
Median hourly wage: $42.57
Median annual wage: $88,546
Known to take things one step at a time, escalator installers start out with an apprenticeship to learn their craft. But once they have the gig down, these workers can make more than double the national median wage assembling, installing, maintaining and repairing escalators. The job is set to see an impressive 6% growth, proving there is nowhere to go but up.
Median hourly wage: $44.99
Median annual wage: $93,579
Some people like crystals because they're pretty and make good paperweights. Some like them because a lady in a head shop once told them they'd bring peace and healing. Others, known as crystallographers, like them because the study of their composition can make major advances in the fields of science and medicine. You get to pick which person you are in this scenario, but only the last one makes over $93,000 a year.
Crystallographers need a bachelor's degree and little else to get started. The profession is also set to see a 7% rise in job growth from 2020 to 2030.
Photos are for illustrative purposes only. As a result, some of the images may not reflect the occupations listed in this article.
Methodology: For this study, GOBankingRates analyzed the Bureau of Labor Statistics' May 2020 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates dataset to find high-paying jobs that are often overlooked. To be considered high-paying, each job had to have estimated median hourly and annual wages above the national median for all occupations. All job titles included in the final ranking are either tracked as an occupation title by the BLS or explicitly identified as an example of a specialized task included within a larger category in the category's Occupational Employment Statistics or Occupational Outlook Handbook entry. GOBankingRates also provided information on each job's projected growth rate from 2020-2030, typical level of on-the-job training for new employees and entry-level education and experience requirements, all from the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Data on the most specific larger category available was provided for jobs for which OOH data was incomplete. Jobs were ranked from 1-30 with No. 1 being the job that pays the most. All data was collected on and up to date as of Sept. 28, 2021.