By Jen Hubley Luckwaldt, PayScale.comOnline salary database PayScale.com has put together the following list of winning certifications and the difference in annual pay between the certification haves and have-nots.
Want to make more money doing the job you already have? The answer might be to go back to school. Certain certifications often mean the difference between pulling down a middling salary and making serious dough.
1. Tax Preparer
Tax preparers do taxes for individuals and small businesses. Typically, you must have at least an associate's degree to be a tax preparer, but it's worth it to shell out for the extra education. Certified public accountants typically make 35 percent more than tax preparers without certification.
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- Certification to Get: Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
- Median Pay (Holding Certification): $43,800
- Median Pay (Not Holding Certification): $32,400
- Typical Pay Increase: 35 percent
2. Portfolio Manager
Portfolio managers advise clients on investment strategy and retirement. Basically, they help the rich get richer and the not-so-rich get closer to that beach in Tahiti they've been dreaming of from their cubicles. If you're a portfolio manager and want a better chance of retiring alongside your clients, it makes sense to get your Chartered Financial Analyst certification.
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- Certification to Get: Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
- Median Pay (Holding Certification): $119,000
- Median Pay (Not Holding Certification): $88,000
- Typical Pay Increase: 35 percent
Want job security? Actuary might be the gig for you. This job consistently makes “best job" lists because of its stability and high compensation. Actuaries work at insurance companies analyzing statistical data to forecast liability for benefits. The highest-paid actuaries are certified as Fellows of the Society of Actuaries.
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4. Systems Engineer
Anyone who works at a company with an IT infrastructure owes systems engineers big time. (And since basically all companies now depend on an IT infrastructure, that's all of us.) Systems engineers do everything from designing information systems to writing documentation, and they do it in every sector. If you're a systems engineer, one of the best certifications to get is Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert, which can boost your pay by 27 percent.
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5. Crisis Counselor
Crisis counselors help people with a range of emotional and physical problems, including substance abuse. They may offer individual or group therapy, act as patient advocates, or organize prevention and education programs. Crisis counselors typically have bachelor's and master’s degrees in social work, but getting certified as a licensed professional counselor will increase their pay by 15 percent.
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6. Assistant Project Manager, Construction
Assistant project managers in the construction industry develop schedules, coordinate personnel and manage budgets for building projects. The recent boom in environmentally friendly construction means that it makes more sense than ever to get certified in green-building design.
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7. Athletic Trainer
An athletic trainer focuses on injury treatment and prevention (not to be confused with a personal trainer who keeps you sweating at the gym). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, athletic trainers must have at least a bachelor’s degree, and the majority have master’s degrees, if not PhDs. They must take a heavy load of undergraduate science courses and pass certification exams. Athletic trainers are considered healthcare workers and often work directly with physicians as part of a medical care team.
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- Certification to Get: BOC
- Median Pay (Holding Certification): $39,500
- Median Pay (Not Holding Certification): $35,300
- Typical Pay Increase: 12 percent
8. Process Improvement Manager
Who among us has not worked at a company with inefficient processes? It's the job of the process improvement manager to rectify that by streamlining systems, operational strategy, and process design to save companies time and money.
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Source: All salary data and pay comparisons provided by online salary database PayScale.com. Salaries listed are median, annual salaries for full-time workers with five to eight of experience, and include any bonuses, commissions or profit sharing.