education for love or moneyA few times now I’ve stumbled on newspaper articles, magazine stories, and Web sites that list the highest paying jobs out there. They beg the question: when you as a mother decide to further your education, should you go to school for love (of a potential career) or money?

Here’s the obvious. The highest-paying professions are largely in the medical field. Here’s the top three, according to Money magazine and online salary calculator PayScale: Anesthesiologist, General Surgeon, Emergency Room Physician — they’re all making between $250,000 and $300,000 annually. Do they love what they do? Well, after that many years in school, they’d better. My brother-in-law is a surgeon, and he truly is devoted to healing and caregiving. But he also was in school until his late 30s.

Some non-medical positions included Actuary ($130,000), Software Architect ($119,000), Attorney ($118,000), and Management Consultant ($117,000). One caveat: I’ve written a lot about the legal profession, and I’ll tell you that very few people make that much money in their first year; maybe 5 percent of all graduating attorneys will start out at that salary level. Most of them end up in jobs that pay between $50,000 to $80,000 — and they have massive debt that takes them 15 to 20 years to pay off. In fact, a friend of mine just celebrated on Facebook that they finished paying off her husband’s law-school debt… and they have been married nearly 20 years. Ugh.

Now, I chose a career initially for love. I was paid so little at my first job that I could have gotten Section 8 housing. But, eventually, I started making enough to get my own apartment and cover a car payment. I also was very lucky and my parents helped me pay for college. I won’t have them to help out with any other degree or training! It’s interesting to me that my potential educational choices (teacher or lawyer) are on the opposite ends of the spectrum. One is perceived as making oodles of cash; the other doesn’t necessarily pay the best unless you have a Master’s degree or beyond. Hmmmm.

What will I do this time around? I think I’d try to find a job that lets me do something I feel strongly about, and I still want to have time with my kids. Money would be nice, but I’ve learned how to manage my pennies in such a way that I don’t require much. I’d love to have high-end everything, but I’ve found my personal time means more to me than a designer purse. Most likely, if I ever get that designer purse, my daughter will end up spilling her favorite drink (a mix of pop and orange juice) inside it. So I’d better stay humble, if you know what I mean.

What have you chosen to do? Are you making the big bucks or going for your big passions? Tell us in the comments below!

(P.S. the Pay Scale Web site is incredibly cool. It has this great “return on investment” calculator for most of the major colleges and universities out there. Check it out here.)

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