20 Highest Paying Associate Degree Jobs in 2018
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 generally affordable and create a significant boost to your lifetime income. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, the average cost of attending a two-year private, nonprofit institution is $25,400. This figure doesn’t include any grants or scholarships you might earn while in attendance. $25,400 is a large number, but the BLS says that high school graduates with no college experience earn an average of $718 a week, for an annual salary of $37,336 ($715x52). However, someone with “some college or an associate degree earns $799 a week, which brings the annual salary to $41,548. That’s an increase of $4,212 a year. This means that the associate degree will pay for itself in just over six years.
What is an Associate's Degree?
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.
Types of Associate Degrees
There are three specific types of associates degrees. Each one has it’s own qualities and advantages, as well as drawbacks.
Associate in Arts (AA)
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.
Associate in Science (AS)
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.
Associate in Applied Science (AAS)
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:
Why Choose an Associate Degree?
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.
20 Highest Paying Associate Degree Jobs
So what careers with an associate's degree are actually available? A 2014 study from 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 (which has likely gone up).
We combed employment data to find the 20 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: 3%
Number of Jobs: 24,900
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.GetEducated’s Pick
- Embry Riddle Aeronautical AS in Aeronautics
- Radiation Therapist
Job Outlook: 12%
Number of Jobs: 19,100
Working as a radiation therapist, you will treat cancer and other diseases using radiation treatments. These professionals generally work in hospitals, but they can also be found in physician offices and outpatient centers. Not only does this job command a salary of $80,160, it also has excellent expected job growth.GetEducated’s Pick
- Thomas Edison State University AS in Radiation Therapy
- Nuclear Technician
Job Outlook: 1%
Number of Jobs: 6,900
These highly-trained professionals assist in nuclear research and energy production by operating special equipment. They may monitor radiation levels, assist engineers, or work with physicists to create safe, reliable nuclear energy. In most cases, nuclear technicians will need an associate’s degree in nuclear science or a related technology, but expect a minimal growth of only 1% in demand.GetEducated’s Pick
- Bismark State College AAS in Nuclear Power Technology
- Radialogic & MRI Technologist
Job Outlook: 12%
Number of Jobs: 30,200
Working in hospitals and clinics, radiation therapists treat cancer and other diseases through the use of radiation treatments. In most states, they must be properly licensed or certified, but educational training often requires only an associate degree program. The career is expected to grow by 12% in the near future, making it stable and profitable.GetEducated’s Pick
- Minnesota State Community & Technical College AAS in Radiologic Technology
- Computer Programmer
Job Outlook: -8%
Number of Jobs: 294,900
Computer applications and software need proper code in order to function. It’s the job of a computer programmer to create this code. While many programmers will have a bachelor’s degree, you will certainly find employers who are willing to hire someone with an associate degree. The position, however, is expected to decline by 8%, losing as many as 22,600 jobs between 2016 and 2026. (But there are nearly 300,000 jobs, so opportunities are there.)
- Nuclear Medicine Technologist
Job Outlook: 10%
Number of Jobs: 20,100
This profession works in medical imaging, using safe dose of radiation to generate information on a patient’s body, which then can be used by doctors to diagnose or administer treatments. This career usually requires an associate’s degree from an accredited nuclear technology program. At 10% expected growth, it should be a steady and well-paying career.
- Dental Hygenist
Job Outlook: 20%
Number of Jobs: 207,900
As a dental hygienist, you’ll be responsible for cleaning teeth, talking to patients about proper dental hygiene, and assisting the dentist in whatever form is required. According the the BLS, all states require proper licensing and the career will grow by a potential 20% between 2016 and 2026.GetEducated’s Pick
- Penn Foster Dental Assistant
- Registered Nurse
Job Outlook: 15%
Number of Jobs: 2,955,200
A bachelor’s level education is a common choice, but an Associate Degree in Nursing, or ADN, is a faster and more affordable option. Although many nurses will eventually move on to the four-year degree, a two-year program will help land a job and gain valuable experience.GetEducated’s Pick
- Excelsior College AS in Nursing
- Web Developer
Job Outlook: 13%
Number of Jobs: 161,900
If you have a knack for computers and complex coding, you could make a substantial income with only a two-year degree. Web developers generally need an associate degree, and the career field is expected to grow by 13%, so your services will likely be in high demand.GetEducated’s Picks
- Wake Technical Community College AAS in Web Developer
- Purdue University Global AAS in Information Technology / Programming & Software Development
- Medical Sonographer
Job Outlook: 17%
Number of Jobs: 122,300
Using special imaging equipment, medical sonographers create images of the body that can be used by physicians to assess and diagnose patients. A sonographer will be specially trained in the use of an ultrasonic imaging device, which uses sound waves and vibrations to create an image of a specified organ.
- Electronic Engineering Technician
Job Outlook: 2%
Number of Jobs: 137,000
Working directly with the physical technology of electronics, these professionals help design a wide range of equipment, including navigational devices, electrical components, medical technology, and communications tools. With the right associate degree, someone can work in this field for both the government and private companies.GetEducated’s Pick
- Grantham University AS in Electronic & Computer Engineering Technology
- Police Officer
Job Outlook: 7%
Number of Jobs: 807,000
By protecting lives and property, police officers allow our society to function properly. The work can be physically and emotionally demanding, as well as dangerous, but it can also be incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. The job prospects are also expected to be good in the near future, with a 7% growth between 2016 and 2026.
- Avionics Technician
Job Outlook: 5%
Number of Jobs: 149,500
These are the repair and maintenance technicians of the air-travel industry. They work in hangars, repair stations, and airfields, helping to ensure that the airplanes are properly maintained and ready for takeoff and (even more important!) a safe landing. Although the pay is excellent, there is only an expected job growth of 5%, which is slightly under the national average.GetEducated’s Pick
- Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology AAS in Aviation Maintenance
- Respiratory Therapist
Job Outlook: 23%
Number of Jobs: 130,200
When you hear the term “respiratory therapist,” think “helping people breathe.” This, quite literally, the the job description, as people in this field help anyone with a lung problem, including disease or injury, get the oxygen they need. With good pay and an expected job growth of 23%, this is a fantastic career opportunity.
- Telecom Installer
Job Outlook: -8%
Number of Jobs: 237,600
The responsibilities of this job require you to maintain and repair any equipment that carries communication. This can include internet connections, telephone lines, and communication devices. Some will work with homeowners while others may serve the commercial sector. The demand for this career has dropped, however, because many people are going wireless, which often requires less service, maintenance, and repair.GetEducated’s Pick
- Mid Michigan Community College AAS in General Technology
- Funeral Service Worker
Job Outlook: 5%
Number of Jobs: 54,400
This career combines training in ethics, science, law, and many other areas, but it is possible to enter the position of a funeral service worker with as little as an associate degree. This position requires a flexible schedule, as many people in this career will work evenings and weekends, often well beyond an eight-hour work day.GetEducated’s Pick
- American Academy McAllister Insitute of Funeral Service AS in Funeral Service
Job Outlook: 7%
Number of Jobs: 207,700
Using software to create technical drawings, drafters are essential for the design and engineering of items as small as microchips and as large as skyscrapers. The position requires highly-specific training, which can usually be acquired through a two-year degree. While most of the work in done in an office, drafters will visit job sites and collaborate with other team members on a regular basis.GetEducated’s Pick
- Ridgewater College AAS Computer Aided Drafting & Design
- Computer Network Specialist
Job Outlook: 10%
Number of Jobs: 835,300
Nearly every organization and business uses a network of computers, and they call on computer support specialists to keep the system running properly. While some of the positions may require a bachelor’s degree, specific training in an associate degree program is often enough to launch this career.GetEducated’s Pick
- Rasmussen College AS in Network Systems Administration
Job Outlook: 15%
Number of Jobs: 285,600
Not only is the career of a paralegal very profitable, it generally requires only an associate degree to enter the field. This is an excellent opportunity to gain experience in the legal profession, which will be beneficial if you hope to pursue a career in the legal system. The job entails many responsibilities, such as organizing fils, conducting research, and drafting documents.GetEducated’s Pick
- South University AS in Paralegal Studies
- HVAC Installer
Job Outlook: 15%
Number of Jobs: 332,900
These professionals work on many different heating and cooling systems, involving home and appliances. Depending on the specific training, they may work on a home’s duct and furnace system, or they may be able to repair refrigeration units. Many of the employers prefer to hire candidates who have completed an apprenticeship as well as a postsecondary education.
Job Outlook for Associate’s Degrees in 2018
High-Growth Sectors for Associate’s Degrees
The Medical Field
- Radiologic and MRI Technologist: 12%
- Nuclear Medicine Technologist: 10%
- Dental Hygienist: 20%
- Registered Nurse: 15%
- Medical Sonographer: 17%
- Personal Care Aides: 37%
- Home Health Aides: 47%
- Medical or Nursing Assistants: 30%
Certain Areas of Software & IT
- Web Developers: 13%
- Computer Network Specialist: 10%
Low-Growth or Declining Sectors
Certain Areas of Information
Associate Degree Jobs: Finding Your 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.
Top Online Schools with Associate Degrees
Find the Right Associate's Degree Online for Your Future
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!
- Business Administration
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