The Most Popular Childhood Dream Jobs Pay Really Well Once You Grow Up

As kids, we thought we could be anything we wanted to be. Our child-like ignorance shields us from the overwhelming realities of adulthood that squash our hopes and kill our dreams. Years of playing make-pretend as a doctor, a teacher, or a time-traveler leads us to believe our childhood dream jobs are within reach, despite the years of schooling and training required to get there.
Superheroes and princesses, they don’t exist. But these other profitable dream jobs do. And children who stay the course can expect to earn a pretty high salary once they move into adulthood. If you kid is dreaming about any one of these 10 professions, ranked by median annual salaries, it’s in your best interest to encourage them further.

1. Athlete

LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts after a play
Professional athletes have money and fame. | Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
  • Median annual salary: $47,710 per year

Getting paid to play the sport you love is the ultimate dream job. Professional athletes are famous, rich, and sometimes powerful. But athletes still waiting on that million-dollar contract will earn just under $48,000 annually, according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only the few score big-time contracts, like Cristiano Rinaldo who receives $50 million a year to lead Real Madrid on the soccer field. Still, when you do what you love for a living, you’ll never work a day in your life.

2. Firefighter

firefighter carrying equipment over to the truck
Firefighters are heroes to kids and adults alike. | iStock/Getty Images
  • Median annual salary: $48,030 per year

Firefighters lay it all on the line to save people from burning buildings every day. To a child, those in uniform are courageous, heroic, and exciting. The median annual salary for firefighters doesn’t seem proportionate to the risk, but the highest 10% in the industry can earn more than $81,110 per year. You won’t be buying fancy sports car anytime soon as a firefighter, but driving a big red truck does elevate you to superhero status within the community.

3. Writer

J. K. Rowling on The Today Show
J. K. Rowling is just one type of writer you could be. | NBC
  • Median annual salary: $61,240 per year

Did you know English majors can, in fact, get jobs? Millennials have busted the freelance gig economy wide open, meaning those who dream about writing for a living can now do so comfortably. Technical writers are integral parts of many business initiatives, and earn about $69,850 per year. Other writers may support various marketing platforms or launch their own business as a remote journalist. Either way, following through with this dream job is a wise decision. BLS projects it will grow 11% in the next 10 years.

4. Police officer

a police officer in front of a barricade in NYC
A police officer can make a comfortable salary. | Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images
  • Median annual salary: $61,600 per year

Odd hours and jolting work environments are just two of the reasons police work is not a career well suited for relationships. But to a child who wishes to turn a fictitious game of cops and robbers into a career can earn a comfortable salary as a police officer. Detectives and criminal investigators see an even higher earning potential at $78,120. The pension program available to those in blue upon retirement is pretty sweet, too.

5. Veterinarian

vet and dog
The job outlook for vets is strong. | fotoedu/iStock/Getty Images
  • Median annual salary: $88,770 per year

Children who love pets might dream of becoming a veterinarian one day. That’s a good thing, because it seems everyone owns a dog nowadays. The job outlook is strong for future vets, as the industry is expected to grow by 18% by 2026. And if a dreamer can stay focused through eight total years of schooling and a state licensure test, the pay will be worth it. Veterinarians make nearly $89,000 on average to treat animals of all types.

6. Astronaut

astronaut in space
Turn your dream of exploring space into a reality. | Garrett Reisman/NASA via Getty Images
  • Median annual salary: up to $144,566 per year

There’s not a child in the world who hasn’t dreamed of going up to space at one point or another. Recent changes to the space program make it unlikely you’ll ever head to the moon or Mars, but working in deep space exploration is just as profitable and exciting.
According to NASA’s website, astronaut salaries are based upon the Federal Government’s General Schedule pay scale for grades GS-11 through GS-14. Salaries range from $66,026 per year to $144,566 per year.

7. Pilot

American Airlines airplane taking off at Dallas-Ft Worth (DFW) Airport in Texas.
Pilots make six-figure salaries. | Aneese/iStock/Getty Images
  • Median annual salary: $105,720 per year

Parents should thank their lucky stars if their child starts envisioning a career flying planes — of any type. Pilots can work in a variety of fields from commercial to airline to military. Regardless of which course you choose to fly, a license from the Federal Aviation Administration and moderate on-the-job training is required. Most pilots will earn a six-figure salary, but airline pilots have the highest pay potential at $127,820.

8. Lawyer

Smiling lawyer holding file in courtroom
The work is demanding, but the salary makes life comfortable. | Chris Ryan/OJO Images/Getty Images
  • Median annual salary: $118,160 per year

Perhaps your argumentative streak prompted a few “you’d make a good lawyer” comments from your family as a child. Courtroom dramas and prominent social circles make this job a common choice for kids. But the work representing everyday Americans is much more demanding in reality. However, a posh six-figure salary and steady job growth make this childhood dream job one of the best in adulthood.

9. Doctor

doctor looking at X-ray
The years of schooling pay off. | Remains/iStock/Getty Images
  • Median annual salary: $208,000 per year

Some children grow up wanting to help people and save lives. That’s fair, as doctor slang is pretty fun to speak as kids. The earning potential for physicians is quite high — but that’s to be expected when someone else’s life is in your hands, literally. Doctors can choose many different high-paying specialties, and the job outlook will remain excellent. But years and years of schooling is required first, and you may be well into your thirties before you start earning the big bucks.

10. President

White House
Have you ever dreamed about living here? | Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images
  • Median annual salary: $400,000 per year

You: “When I grow up, I’m going to be the president of the United States!” Parents: “Of course you are, sweetie.”
Despite what your parents say, becoming the next U.S. president is slightly more out of reach than you think. The odds are more about 1 in 300,000,000. Still, a career guiding the nation from a seat in the big white house is the dream of many young children. The job pays pretty well — more than any dream job on this list — but the cost of being president is also pretty expensive. Nevertheless, it’s an elite club only a few are privy to. Plus, many former presidents still rake in the dough through speaking engagements, book deals, and public appearances after their terms expire.
Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.
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