The 10 Most (& Least) Prestigious Jobs in America

Written by BillShrink Guy

“When I grow up, I want to be a principal or a caterpillar.”

– Ralph Wiggum

Though most people probably don’t grow up wanting to be a farmer, a minister, and especially a caterpillar – a farmer and a minister are in fact considered by many people to be some of the most prestigious occupation in America. On the other hand, while occupations such as being an actor and entertainer may seem glamorous, these are not occupations that are held in high regard by the American public. Below, you will find a list of the ten most (and least) prestigious jobs in America, how much they earn, and you how may land them.

The 10 Most Prestigious Jobs in America

The following jobs listed below are considered by well over half of Americans to have “very great” or “considerable” prestige; unsurprisingly, many of them are also some of the most difficult jobs in terms of training, educational requirement, and work environment.



Firefighters are viewed by 61% of the public as having “very great prestige,” and rightly so – with an occupation that puts them decisively in harm’s way in order to save lives and properties, it’s of little wonder that firefighters stands firmly on top of the occupation prestige list.

If you’re interested in this career path, you should note that fire fighting involves hazardous conditions and long, irregular hours. Applicants for city fire fighting jobs generally must pass written, physical, and medical examinations. Though the growth of this career is expected to grow as fast as the average of all jobs, heavy competition for the job is expected as being a firefighter attracts many qualified candidates.

Most fire fighters have a high school diploma, however, the completion of community college courses, and in some cases, an associate degree in fire science may improve an applicant’s chances for a job. There are specific colleges and universities that offers programs for 2-4 year degrees in fire engineering or fire science.

Based on 2006 numbers, the median annual earnings of fire fighters were $41,190. Average salaries for in 2006 for sworn full-time positions of an engineer is at a minimum of $43,232, and a maximum of $56,045. For a fire captain, the minimum average annual base salary is $51,808 with a maximum of a $62,785. Finally, for a fire chief, the minimum average annual base salary is at $73,435 and with a maximum of $95,271.



From medical scientists, computer scientists, to chemists and material scientists – the occupation of being a scientist scoops up the 2nd place prize for the most prestigious occupation in America, with 54% of the American public viewing the job as “very great prestige.”

Depending on the specific industry you’re interested in, many “scientist” jobs will require at a minimum, a Bachelor of Science in its respective field, with having a Master of Science being the industry norm. Research or applicable-based jobs will also determine the specific academic training you should consider, as earning a Ph.D. has become the usual requirement for careers as a university professor or researcher in most fields.

In accordance with 2006 numbers, medical scientist earns a median annual earnings of $82,600 if they are in the pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry, while medical scientist earns a median annual earnings of $71,490 in industries that research and develop in the physical, engineering, and life sciences. For chemists and material scientists, their median annual earnings are $88,930 if they work for the federal executive branch, while those in the scientific research and development services industries will earn a median annual salary of $68,760.



Teachers are one of the most important jobs out there, as they help shape our younger generation by imparting knowledge and practical skill sets – it is unsurprising to see them ranked highly on the list of most prestigious occupations.

A teacher can have a broad range of responsibility depending on if the teacher is at a preschool, kindergarten, elementary, middle, and secondary school. All public school teachers must be licensed, which typically requires a bachelor’s degree and completion of an approved teacher education program. Employment of school teachers are expected to grow by 12 percent between 2009 and 2016, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Though its growth outlook is the average of all occupations, the size needed in this occupation group will create a demand that’s unmatched by all but a few other occupations. Job prospects are especially favorable for high-demand fields such as math, science, and bilingual education.

For teachers in the post-secondary positions, educational qualifications range from expertise in a particular field to a Ph.D., depending on the subject being taught and the type of educational institution. The job opportunities are expected to be very good, with growth at 23 percent between 2009 and 2016, much faster than the average for all occupations, though many of the new openings will be for part-time or non-tenure-track positions.

Median annual income for primary education teacher ranges from $43,580 to $48,690 (with preschool teachers earning a median annual income of $22,600). For post-secondary teacher, median annual income is at $56,120, with the highest 10 percent earning over $113,450. For college faculty, income will range widely base on the field, type of institution (private/public), geographic area, and rank of the institution.



One of the classic prestigious occupation, a doctor comes in a close 4th place on the most prestigious occupations list with 52% of Americans viewing the job with “very great prestige.” The reason is an obvious one as the very nature of their job is to diagnose illnesses, prescribe and administer treatment for people suffering from injuries or disease.

Because of the nature of their work, many physicians and surgeons work long, irregular hours, with more than one-third of full-time physicians having worked more than 60 hours a week. Regardless if its a Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree, the formal education to become a physician or surgeon can be very demanding, as acceptance to medical school is highly competitive.

The job outlook for doctors are expected to be growing 14 percent from 2009 to 2016, faster than average for all occupations. Job opportunities should be very good, particularly in rural and low-income areas. A doctor’s earning is amongst the highest in all occupations, with those of less than two years in specialty still commanding a healthy 6-figure salary: a physician specializing in anesthesiology will have a median compensation of $259,948, while a family practice physician (without obstetrics) will have a median compensation of $137,119. For those with more than two years of experience in their specialty, the compensation increases dramatically, with those in anesthesiology earning a median compensation of $321,686, and $156,010 for a family practice physician.

Military officer


Military officer comes in 5th on the list most prestigious occupations list. The specific job of a military officer can contain a broad range of responsibility and skill – from infantry officers to doctors, lawyers, and nurses – and thus depending on the specific type of specialty you’re considering, the education and training required can vastly different.

Regardless of the specific type of officer, many job opportunities in the armed forces will involve you in training and duty assignments that may be hazardous, even in peacetime. The working hours and working condition can be very arduous and changes substantially based on necessity and needs of the armed forces.

Earnings for military officer can vary greatly depending an officer’s training, years of service, and advance formal education (for example, physicians and dentists). Base on Department of Defense Pay Grades, most commissioned officer will start at the O-1 pay grade (Second Lieutenant/Ensign) , with monthly pay of $2,469 for those with less than 2 years of service ($29,631 annually), and a monthly pay of $3,106 for those with 4-8 years of service ($37,278 annually).

For those with advance education, many will start at the pay grade of O-3 (Captain/Lieutenant). Starting monthly pay will be $3,292 for less than 2 years of service, and $4,392 monthly pay for 4-8 years of service ($39,504 and $52,704 annually, respectively). These numbers are based on 2007 numbers, and you should note that beyond receiving their basic pay, military personnel are provided with free room and board (or a tax-free housing and subsistence allowance), free medical and dental care, and 30 days of paid leave per year, amongst other benefits.



As an occupation that may treat patients, educate patients and the public about various medical condition, along with providing advice and emotional support to patients’ family members, the occupation of a nurse can find itself easily on the most prestigious occupations list.

Like many other health care workers, nursing has a broad range of responsibility and specialty, with two of the nursing occupation being a LPN/LVN (Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurse) and a Registered Nurse. Because of the difference in the scope of their work, so too are their educational and training requirements, along with earning potentials.

A Licensed Practical or licensed Vocational Nurse will require about a 1 year training at programs offered by a vocational, technical school, or a community and junior college. For registered nurses, major educational paths are a bachelor of science degree, an associate degree, or a diploma from an approved nursing program. All nurses must pass a national licensing examination, known as NCLEX-PN for LPN/LVN and NCLEX-RN for registered nurses.

Because registered nurses constitute the largest health care occupation (with 2.5 million jobs), the growth of the occupation is expected to be 23 percent from 2009 to 2016, much faster than average for all occupations. Registered nurses are projected to generate 587,000 new jobs in the coming years, amongst the largest number of new jobs for any occupation.

Median annual earnings of registered nurses were $57,280 in 2006 based on Department of Labor data, while national averages are from $55,960 to $67,931 based on data. Depending on the specific specialty (ER, ICU, Pediatric), years of experiences, the salary figure can vary greatly, with the highest 10% earning over $80,000. In contrast, median annual earnings of a LPN/LVN were $36,500 based on 2006 numbers, with the highest 10th percent earning more than $50,000.

Police officer


Putting their lives in danger to ensure the public’s safety, a police officer’s placement on the most prestigious occupation list is a must. A police officer’s work can often be dangerous and stressful, beyond the dangers of confrontations with criminals, police officers and detectives need to be constantly alert and ready to deal appropriately with many other threatening situations. Be forewarn that a career in law enforcement may take a toll on your private life.

Applicants for a police officer job must usually have at least a high school diploma, and some departments require 1 or 2 years of college coursework, or in some cases, a college degree. Most law enforcement agencies will encourage applicants to take courses or training related to law enforcement after high school. Officers usually will go through a period of training before their first assignment. In state and large local police departments, recruits get training in their agency’s police academy, often for 12 to 14 weeks. For smaller departments and agencies, recruits often attend a regional or State academy.

Median earnings for police officer will vary widely depending on region, demand, and experience levels. Police and sheriff patrol officers had a median annual earnings of $47,460 based on 2006 data. For detectives and criminal investigators, the median annual earnings is $58,260. Generally, the pay will scale base on rank and experience too. For police corporals, the minimum median annual base salary is $44,160, with the maximum median being $55,183. For police sergeant, the pay increases to $53,734 for minimum, and $63,564 for maximum median annual base salary.



As the shepherd for the people to conduct religious worship and perform other spiritual functions, a minister, priest, or those in the clergy occupation are another group of occupation that’s held in high regards by the American public. Because of the vast ranges of religion and denomination, qualifications and training for a minister, priest, or clergy can greatly differ, as some will emphasize natural gifts to those that also require post-secondary education such as degrees from a seminary or theological college or university. The median annual earnings for clergy work is at $41,730, with the top 25 percentile earning over $55,810, and the top 10 percentile earning over $74,280.



Though many may not consider the occupation of a farming to be a glamorous job, it is held in high regards by many people, with 41% of American considering the job to have “very great prestige.” A modern farmer will require extensive knowledge of new developments in agriculture. Although this is a job that’s held in high regards by the public, overall employment of farming jobs are expected to be declining due to increasing productivity per yield, and consolidation of the farming industry. For better opportunities, those interested in horticulture and organic farming may find better employment opportunities.

In terms of education and training, many farmers may receive their training on the job, but the completion of a 2-year associate degree or a 4-year bachelor’s degree at a college of agriculture is becoming more important for farm managers. Despite the fact that the employment growth of the farming industry may be declining, job prospects are expected to be favorable compared to other industries due to the fact that fewer people are considering farming as a profession, and a large number of farmers are expected to retire within the next decade – thus giving opportunities for people to own or lease a farm.

Because of the nature of their work, incomes of farmer and ranchers will vary greatly from year to year, as food products and corps change prices base on weather condition and market pricing. Base on U.S. Department of Agriculture data, a full-time salaried farm manager will earn a median weekly income of $1,001 (annual median income of $12,0001); with the highest 10 percent earning more than $1,924 in weekly pay (annual median income of $23,088).



Rounding out the top 10 most prestigious jobs in America are engineers. From aerospace engineers, agricultural engineers, chemical engineers, to civil engineers, engineers are the workforce that help shape our societal and consumer needs. Engineers develop, implement, and create products in a wide range of industries. Regardless of the industry, all engineers apply the principles of science and mathematics to develop economical solutions to technical problems.

Depending on the specific field you’re interested in, you will need a bachelor’s of science degree in the engineering specialty you’re interested in. Some basic research position may require a graduate degree, while some engineers offering their service directly to the public will required to be licensed. For many of the engineering specialty, such as nuclear, mechanical, and computer hardware engineers, a Master of Science degree in the respective field may be the industry norm.

The growth of the occupation is expected to grow as fast as the average of all occupations, although of course growth will vary by specialty. Specific specialty such as environmental engineers should experience the fastest growth, while civil engineers will be seeing the largest employment increase. Regardless of the specific field, job outlook and opportunities are expected to be good as the number of graduates are in estimated balance of available job openings.

Earnings for an engineer will vary significantly by industry and education. From 2007 numbers, the average starting salary of a aerospace/aeronautical/astronautical engineer with a bachelor’s degree is $53,408, with a master’s degree will be $62,459, and $73,814 with a Ph.D. For chemical engineers, the average starting salary will be $59,361, $68,561, and $73,667 for a bachelor, master, and Ph.D., respectively.

The 10 Least Prestigious Jobs in America

While the jobs listed below are held in lower occupational prestige, many of them are still honest (and difficult) work that certainly pays the bill, put food on the table, and secure a roof over your head!



Starting off the top of the list of least prestigious jobs in America are our professional athletes. With only about 16% of Americans considering this occupation to have “very great prestige” and about 19% of Americans considering the occupation to have “hardly any prestige at all.”

Because of the wide range of differences in sports, qualification, and training – pay can vastly differ. For a majority of athletes, work hours are often irregular and may require extensive travel. Competition to become a professional athlete will continue to be extremely intense, as reaching professional level will often require an extraordinary amount of talent, desire, and dedication to training.

Earnings for athletes will vary depending on sports, league, experience, and personal demand. With an estimated employment of over 13,900 athletes in the United States, the mean annual earnings are at $79,460. The median earning is $40,480 (which may seem surprisingly low), while the top 25 percentile earns more than $93,000, the top 10 percentile earning over $100,000, and a subset group that earns tens of millions of dollars.

For the curious cats, the current highest-paid athlete is Tiger Woods, clocking in at a cool $110 million, followed by three people being tied at second place: Kobe Bryant at $45 million, Michael Jordan at $45 million (yes, still), and Kimi Raikkonen also at $45 million. Rounding out the top 5 highest paid athlete is David Beckham at $42 million. (Special bonus for Cavalier’s fans: LeBron James chimes in at #6 with $40 million).

Business executive


Top business executives comes in at #2 on the list of least prestigious occupations. Though the job can often be under-appreciated and held in low regards by the public, executives are needed to devise strategies and formulate policies for large corporations and top firms. Business executives may have a wide range of responsibility or titles, but at the end, a majority of them will direct the operations and goals of businesses, corporations, public sector organizations, and nonprofit institutions.

Competition for top executive positions are expected to continue to be heavy due to the fact that the high pay of these jobs attract a large number of applicants. Although top executives are among the highest paid workers, they are often straddled with long hours, considerable travel, and intense pressure to succeed.

Depending on the field of the industry, top executives will usually have a bachelor’s or graduate degree in business administration, liberal arts, or a more specialized study. As with everything, an executive’s overall previous experience in their specific industry will determine their candidacy for a position. Currently, the growth outlook for employment of top executives is projected to be little or no change for the next decade – especially because many executives tend to leave their job for a position as an executive in another company.

Due to the variety of industry, fields, and position, pay can vastly differ. But as an example, the median annual earnings of a chief executive in 2006 was greater than$145,600, though executives of larger corporations will earn hundreds of thousands to over a million dollar annually. Some of the current highly paid CEOs, based on AFL-CIO numbers are: Bruce Wasserstein of Lazard Ltd., with total compensation for 2008 being $133,708,650; Eugene M. Isenberg of Nabors Industries Ltd., earning $116,652,816 for 2008; and Lawrence J. Ellison of Oracle Corporation, earning $84,598,700 in 2008.



Despite being the voice of the people, journalist are on the list of least prestigious occupations in America, with only 13% of the American public considering the job to have “very great prestige” and about 16% of American public considering the job to have “hardly any prestige at all.” (Crap where does that put bloggers on the list then!?)

Having said that, being a news analysts, reporter, or corespondent can be an especially rewarding occupation as these are crucial jobs that inform the public about local, State, national, and international events (plus the occasional updates on important events such as which reality TV star is dating which 22 year-old hottie).

Most employers will prefer candidates with a bachelor’s degree in journalism or mass communication, though some will hire graduates with other majors – previous experience with school newspaper, local broadcasting station, and internship at news organization are a definite plus. Unfortunately, it is expected that there will be little or no change in employment growth through 2016, and thus competition will remain to be heavy for jobs at large metropolitan and national newspapers, broadcast stations and networks, and magazines.

Because of the wide variety in their experience level, median annual earnings for journalist is $33,470, with the middle 50 percent earning between $23,370 and $51,700, with the top 10 percent earning over $73,880.

Union Leader


Union leaders are generally voted to serve base in part of their popularity or interpersonal skill, despite this, the job is still viewed as having “hardly any prestige at all” by a large number of Americans.

The educational background of union leaders differ significantly, and generally are reflective of the specific industry the trade union is a part of. Essential qualities of union leaders are the ability to manage human resources, be an arbitrator or mediator.



Even though 25% of the American public considers “stockbrokers” to have “little prestige,” this occupation remains an integral and important part of the economy. A college degree is of the norm in the industry, though competition for even entry-level analyst jobs can be heavy, especially in investment banking. An MBA or a professional certification can be helpful, though advancement can often be very difficult. Those that are successful can often have an extremely lucrative career.

Most brokers and investment advisors must also register as a representative of their firm with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and must also pass the General Securities Registered Representative Examination administered by FINRA. This examination takes 6 hours and contains 250 multiple-choice question. Beyond this examination, most states will also require a secondary examination with the Uniform Securities Agents State Law Examination. Many employers will also often consider personal qualities and skills more important than formal academic training.

The median annual earnings of securities, commodities, and financial service sales agents were $68,500 based on 2006 numbers, though the middle half of the field will earn between $42,630 to $126,290. The top ten percent makes more than $145,600 annually. For those that are interested, you should note that the career is a sales occupation, with many workers being paid on a commission and bonus based system, thus actual earnings may be higher than listed above.



Though they may make us laugh, smile, cry, and occasionally creeped-out (e.g., clowns), the occupation of being an entertainer lands easily on the list of least prestigious occupations in America, with 31% of the public considering the job to have “hardly any prestige at all.” Because of the wide variety and classification of an “entertainer” – education, training, and pay can vastly differ.

The arts, entertainment, and recreation industry is generally staffed by a large number of seasonal and part-time workers, with many of them relatively young compare to other industries. About 40 percent of this workforce have no formal education beyond high school. Earnings are also relatively low as an industry whole, though as with other occupations, the top percentile will earn hundreds of thousands in annual earnings to multi-million dollars.



Accountants and auditors are an important part of a nation’s firms and businesses, but unfortunately this occupation couldn’t escape the list of least prestigious occupations in America, with only as little as 11% of the public considering the job to have “very great prestige.”

A career as an accountant will usually require at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or related field, while advantages are place on those with a master’s degree and having certification and expertise level with accounting and auditing software. Regardless of the firm you work for, any accountant filing a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission is required by law to be a Certified Public Accountant. Along with the CPA certification, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants also provides with further qualification and licensing base on specific specialty.

Job outlook for accountants should be favorable, and those that have earn a CPA should have excellent job prospects. Median annual earnings for accountants is $54,630 base on 2006 data, with the top 10 percent earning more than $94,050.



Seventh on the list of least prestigious occupations in America are bankers, whom has only 10% of the public considering the job to have “very great prestige.” Though the bankers classification is a large one, as specific job responsibility and title are broad. In a typical consumer banking branch, office and administrative support worker constitute 2 out of 3 banking jobs, while tellers account for about 3 out of 10 jobs.

There are many opportunities expected for tellers and other office and administrative support workers, as these occupations are in a large field and tends to have a high rate of turnover. A high school education is generally all that is required for most office and administrative workers, while management, business and financial occupations usually hire banking workers with at least a college degree.



Though we often see them on televisions, movies, and in the theater, actors are not held in high regards by the American public – with only 9% of Americans viewing the job as having “very great prestige” and a large 38% considering the job to have “hardly any prestige at all.”

To further add salt to the wound, actors often endure long periods of unemployment, intense competition for roles, and frequent rejections in auditions. Though formal education and training through university or acting conservatory can be typical, many actors find work on the basis of their experience and talent alone.

Except for the most highly successful actors, most actors will encounter erratic earnings, and many supplement their income by holding jobs in other fields. The median hourly earnings of actors were $11.61 in 2006, with the lowest 10 percent earning less than $7.31 an hour while the highest 10 percent earning more than $51.02 per hour. Median hourly earnings were $16.82 in performing arts companies and $10.69 in the motion picture and video industry.

For the extreme end of the field, some of the highest paid actors are: Harrison Ford with $65 million; Adam Sandler with $55 million; Will Smith with $45 million; Eddie Murphy and Nicolas Cage with $40 million; Tom hanks with $35 million; Tom Cruise with $30 million; Jim Carrey and Brad Pitt with $28 million; Johnny Depp with $27 million; and rounding out the top 11 highly paid actor is George Clooney at $25 million.

Real estate agent/broker


Coming in dead last on the list, with only 4% of Americans considering the job to have “very great prestige” and a heavy 34% considering the job to have “hardly any prestige at all.” Though they may be viewed by the public as the least prestigious job in America, real estate agent and brokers are often hard worker, working late into the evenings and weekends and are usually on call to suit the needs of their clients.

A license is required to be a real estate agent or broker in America. Though attaining a job may be relatively easy, starting workers will face stiff competition from well-established, more experienced agents and brokers. The median annual earnings, including commissions, of salaried real estate sales agents is $39,760 base on 2006 data. The middle 50 percent earned between $26,790 and $65,270 a year. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,170, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $111,500.

Update. Sources: Harris Interactive poll and U.S. Department of Labor.

8 thoughts on “The 10 Most (& Least) Prestigious Jobs in America

  1. JG

    @Bullshit: Why is it a surprise to you that being a farmer is prestigous? They put all the produce and meats in your supermarkets so you can eat.

    Ungreatful newb.

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