When someone says “college,” what comes to mind?
If you’re like most people, you probably think about four-year programs. However, there are many alternatives to the four-year path.
One of the most attractive alternatives to a bachelor’s degree is an associate degree. These programs offer fast, and often more affordable routes for educations, making them a popular choice, especially among non-traditional students.
There are reasonable questions that arise with associate degrees. Do good associate degree jobs exist? What fields offer jobs you can get with an associate's degree? Are they satisfying and financially rewarding? The answer is a resounding “yes!”
In general, you can step immediately from school to the work force and make a sizable income—the highest paying associate degree can result in a six figure salary! From technical careers to jobs in the medical profession, we list the best 2 year degrees for landing high paying jobs below, and they pay more than you probably think!
Associate degrees are simply two-year degrees. Although they can take longer or shorter to complete, depending on the pace of study, they are generally half the workload of a four-year bachelor’s degree. They are, therefore, about half the price of a bachelor’s degree, and sometime significantly cheaper than that because associate’s degrees are often provided by more affordable community colleges.
There are three specific types of associates degrees. Each one has it’s own qualities and advantages, as well as drawbacks.
An AA degree is usually the most broad, and therefore the least specific, of all the associated arts degrees. During the AA program, students will take wide-ranging courses that can include introductions to history, art, literature, music, business, writing, and communication. The main advantage of an associate in arts degree is that it does not limit the graduate to a certain path, meaning there are many AA degree jobs available.
An AS degree is still broad, but it has a little more specificity than an associate in arts. These types of degrees are generally chosen if the student intends to pursue further education in an area that includes science, such as nursing or engineering.
An AAS degree is a highly-specific education path, usually technical, that focuses on a single career field. Students who want to get an education and jump immediately into a specific career will want to consider an associate in applied science.
Popular associate's in applied science programs include:
There are many reasons that people choose an associate degree, but it really boils down to two major motivations: a faster education, and a cheaper price tag.
Associate degrees are two-year degrees, so for someone who wants to get in, get out, and get to work, these are excellent options, especially the associate in applied science degree. While bachelor degree studies can take four years or more, and earning a doctorate can take a decade of focused education, an associates degree can be hammered out in a couple if years, even less if you take summer courses! Additionally, because associate degrees are often taught at community colleges, the per-semester price can be a fraction of the cost compared to major universities and private colleges.
Flexibility is also a popular motivation for earning an associate degree. Many on-campus and online associate degree programs are designed for non-traditional students; people with families, jobs, and busy schedules who can’t take classes at, for example, 9:00 am on a Tuesday. Instead, they need classes that are taught on the evenings, the weekends, or asynchronously online. An associate degree fills this need.
So what careers with an associate's degree are actually available? The BLS found that 4% of all jobs in the United States only require an associate's degree. Massachusetts, Vermont, South Dakota, and West Virginia have the larget share of associate degree jobs—5% or above, while Massachusetts and Rhode Island have the highest paying associate degree jobs—median pay is over $66,000.
We combed employment data to find the 19 best associate degree careers taking salary, growth, and number of jobs into account. Many of these will require the specific training of an associate of applied science degree, but a few can actually be performed by someone with the broad education of an associate of arts degree. These associate degree jobs make this education a wise decision.
Air Traffic Controller
Job Outlook: -9%
Number of Jobs: 24,000
By directing the flow of traffic through our nation’s airports, air traffic controllers help maintain the safety efficiency, and effectiveness of air travel. They issue landing and takeoff instructions and monitor the movement of planes on the ground and in the air. While many of the positions suggest a four-year degree, air traffic controller schools offer two-year associate degrees that focus specifically on the career.
50 years ago, a bachelor’s degree was a virtual guarantee of a prosperous, rewarding career. Today we live in a world where a large section of the working population has bachelor’s degrees; it’s now merely a step in the right direction and does not guarantee employment in an ever competitive job market. So how can someone with a two-year degree hope to compete in the world of four-year degree holders? Have no fear! Millions of Americans are turning to associate degrees to jumpstart a new career. The BLS even issued a special report detailing how an associate degree can advance your career.
Start by modifying your job search to include only the companies who are specifically looking for candidates with associate's degrees. In many cases, companies will state that a bachelor’s degree or higher is required for the position, so while it never hurts to dream big, it’s wise to skip over these jobs and stick to the ones where you have an honest chance at landing the position. However, if your chosen career has a much larger growth than the national average, hiring managers that say they are looking for a bachelor's graduate may be more flexible to fill their open positions. You can review the expected growth of the careers we mention in this chart.
If you take a strategic approach and apply to the right positions, you will likely make it to the next phase: the interview. During the interview, be sure to discuss the classes and projects that you completed during your associate degree studies. This should especially include any group projects, overcoming challenges, and difficult courses that would apply directly to the company. And don’t forget your personal experience! Past jobs can be a great source of knowledge, and they may give you an edge when it comes time to hire.
Because most associate degrees are broad, expansive, and diverse (especially the associate in arts), students can use their education to build on many different career and educational fields. In many cases, the credits you received in your associate's degree will apply directly to the bachelor’s degree, meaning it may only be another two years to complete a bachelor’s degree program.
This will vary greatly depending on the institutions, but lots of schools, especially in-state institutions, have made a seamless transition from a community college only offering associate's programs to a major public university offering bachelor's degrees. Therefore, an associate degree can be a great investment, as it can apply both to the immediate career and potential future education.
Whether you want to jump-start your education in an affordable manner or study for two years to launch a profitable career, an associate degree is a great choice. With a high paying associate degree job in your future and little to no student debt, the future is looking bright!