In our series My 6-Figure Paycheck, women making more than $100,000 open up about how they got there and what exactly they do. We take a closer look at what it feels like to be a woman making six-figures — when only 5% of American women make that much, according to the U.S. Census — with the hope it will give women insight into how to better navigate their own career and salary trajectories.
Job: Marriage and Family Therapist
Location: South Bay Area, California
Degree: Bachelor's and Master's Psychology
First Salary: $37,000
Current Salary: $116,000
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
"As a kid, I dreamt of becoming a shoe designer. I carried around sketches and devoted many hours to this passion. In high school, this morphed into telling people I wanted a career in fashion — when truly I didn’t want to continue on to college at all. I attended a private school, and I couldn’t even think of saying out loud I didn’t want to go to college. But, eventually, I ended up at a community college as a business major. I found myself in a child psychology course to fulfill one of my required courses. Everything about psychology spoke to me, and I excitedly changed my major and continued forward full force from there."
What did you study in college?
"I have a Bachelor’s in Psychology and a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy. Additionally, I hold a license in my state allowing me to practice in my field. The license required accumulating 3,000 supervised hours, passing two rigorous state exams, and various ongoing requirements to renew my license every two years as well as continuing education requirements. I also have specialized training within my field in both administrative and clinical skills."
Did you have to take out student loans?
"Yes! I am a first-generation Hispanic female and the second person in my extended family to attend college. My family did not set aside a college fund for me. Like most Hispanic immigrant families, college is unknown territory. I utilized Federal Stafford loans to pay for my undergraduate degree at an in-state public school. After this, I chose to attend a private university to obtain my Master’s degree and took out student loans to fund it.
"I graduated with close to $75,000 in student loans, and over five years since graduation, I now owe over $100,000 due to interest. I do not regret the school I chose, as I felt it helped me make many connections in my career. I continue to take advantage of Public Student Loan Forgiveness programs, but will not see any loan paid off until I complete ten years serving underprivileged populations. I also take advantage of Mental Health Loan Assumption Program that pays up to three times for one year of service obligation. There are other State Loan Repayment Programs available to my field, but the jobs you must accept to complete your loan obligation pay next to nothing. My current student loan payment is about $600, and I feel lucky enough to make enough money to cover this — especially in my field."
Have you been working at this company since you graduated from college?
"I have not been working at this current job since I graduated from college. In order to keep advancing my career, I chose to move to a new job opportunity about once a year. This allowed me lots of upward movement in my career, but also meant having to learn a new job and role often. I started in my field as an unpaid intern, as most individuals in my field start. I worked my way up each year through middle management and finally upper management.
"I gained the most experience in my previous job, where I was the director of an extremely high-profile program that demanded 99% of my time. I was happy to dedicate all of my time knowing it was a stepping stone to my next placement. I worked long hard hours and had no time for family and friends. Recently, I chose to accept a job that was a few steps down in the title in order to start a family. At my current job, I feel I could settle and retire here, especially since the job comes with a county pension."
How would you explain your day-to-day role at your job?
"In my current job, I am responsible for a number of administrative duties relating to meeting state-mandated billing requirements. I also supervise associates who are working towards their licensure. My day-to-day role includes supervising crisis work for clients headed to an inpatient facility. In previous roles, I was heavily involved with the administrative piece, including developing programs, implementing and collecting data for the state, managing staff, analyzing data, writing new policies and procedures, monitoring the program, state audits, submitting for new contracts, writing proposals to the state, and fiscal management."
Did you negotiate your salary?
"Hell yes! I remember vividly when one of my professors had us complete an assignment where we had to compute the salary we were receiving by how much we'd make a minute. This was eye-opening for me. It helped me realize the value of my time.
"With that said, with any job I take on, I make sure I learn the shit out of it and find ways to improve that process. This has allowed me to become indispensable to many employers I have worked for, and allows me to negotiate my salary to ensure I make a fair market rate. I make sure to research the going market rate before asking for a specific salary because knowledge is power.
"Also, I remain open to perks and not just dollars. In my current job, I chose to move to an area where there is a need for individuals with higher education. This meant my husband and I left our friends and family behind, but this job opportunity also put me well over the three-figure salary mark."
Is your current job your “passion”? If not, what is?
"Yes, most definitely! In all honesty, I enjoyed my previous high profile, hectic job more than I enjoy this civil servant job. But it’s the current price I am willing to pay for a good income and long-term retirement."
If you could, would you change anything in your career trajectory?
"I would not — not a thing. I faced many great challenges in every position I've held, and they all forced me to figure things out and keep on climbing towards better pay."
What professional advice would you give your younger self?
"It’s impossible to have it all at once. You have to choose your priorities and decide what is most important to you and only you. Find a passion for what you do, and be the best at it. Make people notice you and need you. Save for your retirement. Inform yourself. It’s no one’s job but yours to make sure you get the information. Know your worth and demand it from others. Become the best damn anything. And always rise to the occasion."
Are you a woman under 35 with a six-figure salary ($100,000+) and want to tell your story? Submit it here.