20 Highest Paying Associate Degree Jobs in 2018

Land one of the highest paying associate degree jobs in 2017When 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.

  1. Air Traffic Controller

    Salary: $122,410
    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
  2. Radiation Therapist

    Salary: $80,160
    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
  3. Nuclear Technician

    Salary: $79,140
    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
  4. Radialogic & MRI Technologist

    Salary: $58,960
    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
  5. Computer Programmer

    Salary: $79,840
    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.)
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  6. Nuclear Medicine Technologist

    Salary: $74,350
    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. 
     
  7. Dental Hygenist

    Salary: $72,910
    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
  8. Registered Nurse

    Salary: $68,450
    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
  9. Web Developer

    Salary: $66,130
    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.
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  10. Medical Sonographer

    Salary: $64,280
    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.
     
  11. Electronic Engineering Technician

    Salary: $62,190
    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.
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  12. Police Officer

    Salary: $61,600
    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.
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  13. Avionics Technician

    Salary: $60,270
    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.
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  14. Respiratory Therapist

    Salary: $58,670
    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.
     
  15. Telecom Installer

    Salary: $53,640
    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. 
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  16. Funeral Service Worker

    Salary: $54,830
    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
  17. Drafter

    Salary: $53,480
    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.
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  18. Computer Network Specialist

    Salary: $52,160
    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
  19. Paralegal

    Salary: $49,500
    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.
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  20. HVAC Installer

    Salary: $45,910
    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

To understand the job market for people with associate degrees, it helps to look at the overall job market. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a list of the fastest growing and declining sectors, and we can also look at specific jobs to understand where opportunities will be, and where they will disappear. The following chart shows the projected growth for each associate's degree mentioned above.


High-Growth Sectors for Associate’s Degrees

Now let's dig into the career areas with the highest expected growth. These are some of the sectors of the market where you can expect to find many excellent opportunities...
 

The Medical Field

The medical field is easily one of the fastest-growing sectors in the American job market. Simply put, there is a massive demand for medical workers, from nursing aides to personal care providers, the healthcare industry is a sector that can withstand economic downturns and remain strong. Much of this need is driven by the aging baby boomer generation and adjustments to healthcare laws. It might seem that to work in healthcare, you would need an advanced degree, but you can actually secure a top-quality job with no more than an associate’s degree. Here are a few examples of high-growth medical-related jobs that require an associate’s degree or less: 

Certain Areas of Software & IT

Being in software and technology does not guarantee a stable career, as the job stability is dependent on your specialty, but in general software and IT is a great place to hold a career. Businesses and individuals need computers, networks, and new programs; they’ll also need people who know how to set up these technologies and implement them effectively. Again, not all technology jobs are growing (more on that later,) but if you have a technology-related associate’s degree, you should find a reasonable level of security. Some of the high-growth jobs in technology that require an associate’s degree or less include: 

Low-Growth or Declining Sectors

Unfortunately, there will also be areas of the market that decline significantly in the future, and many of these areas are tied to associate’s degrees. It’s always wise to seek jobs that ignite your interest, but if you should at least be aware of certain areas that will be difficult for anyone, including holders of associate degrees. 
 

Manufacturing

The BLS identifies many manufacturing industries as potential areas for significant decline. For example, apparel manufacturing is expected to decline by 48%, and textile mills will drop by 44%. Printing and related jobs will drop by 73%, and foundries are expected to see a 25% drop in overall employment. 
 

Certain Areas of Information

Many people have dubbed our time the “Information Age,” so it might seem strange that areas of information would be in decline. When you see which areas, however, you won’t be surprised. Newspapers and books, for example, are expected to decline by 88%, which will have an effect on many jobs in this area, including certain positions that hold associate’s degrees. Cable and subscription programming, which is part of the information sector, will fall by 12%, and  telecommunications is expected to drop by 15%. The biggest drop in the whole sector (and in fact the biggest drop marked by the BLS) is wired telecommunications carriers, which will decline in jobs by over 102%, loosing over 100,000 jobs from 2016 to 2026.
 

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.
 

Continuing Education

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!
 

See Online Associate Degrees

 

 

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