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 approach. Associate degree jobs are booming and represent a popular, lucrative alternative 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 education, 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!
What is an Associate’s Degree?
are simply two-year degrees. Although they can take more or less time 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 sometimes significantly cheaper as associate’s degrees are often provided by affordable community colleges.
These programs are generally affordable and create a significant boost to your lifetime income. According to The College Board, the annual cost of attending a public two-year in-district school is $3,660. This number, however, does not take into account room and board, as well as other costs associated with attending school. Assuming graduation in two years, this means the tuition for attending a public program is roughly $7,320.
According to the BLS, the median salary for someone with “some college or associate degree” was $825 per week in the second quarter of 2018, translating into an annual salary of $42,900 (assuming 52 weeks of pay a year). High school graduates with no college earn a median salary of $726 a week, for an annual salary of $37,752. In this example, this results in an annual gain of $5,148 if you have no college education and were to complete your associate’s degree.
This means you could pay for tuition of an associate’s degree program in less than a 16 months. This does not, however, account for the cost of living while attending college, nor the potential lost wages that you might not be able to earn while completing an associate’s degree.
Types of Associate Degrees
There are three specific types of associates degrees. Each one has its 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 they have access to several types of AA degree jobs.
Associate in Science (AS)
An AS degree is still broad, but it has 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:
- Teaching assistant
- Respiratory care
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, they 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 take less than two years 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 work 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 taught on the evenings, the weekends, or asynchronously online. An associate degree fills this need.
24 Highest Paying Associate Degree Jobs
So what careers with an associate’s degree are actually available? We analyzed employment and Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data to find the 24 best associate degree careers taking salary, growth, and number of jobs into account. Many of these require the specific training of an associate of applied science degree, but some allow the broad education of an associate of arts degree. These jobs make an associates degree 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.
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.)
Job Outlook: 13%
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 $80,570, it also has excellent expected job growth.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Job Outlook: 15%
Number of Jobs: 162,900
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.
Aerospace Engineering Technician
Job Outlook: 7%
Number of Jobs: 12,100
Using computer-based modeling, robotics, and automation, aerospace technicians maintain the equipment that is used in air and spacecraft. They work with engineers and operators to implement test procedures, and they can also be involved in the design and construction of test facilities.
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.
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.
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.
Radiologic & MRI Technologist
Job Outlook: 13%
Number of Jobs: 241,700
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 13% in the near future, making it stable and profitable.
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.
Job Outlook: 4%
Number of Jobs: 13,800
Combining a deep knowledge of electrical systems and mechanical processes, these professionals are involved with the maintenance and operation of a wide variety of equipment. They are employed in many different industries, including manufacturing, engineering services, and transportation, giving graduates the chance to work in various settings.
Job Outlook: 28%
Number of Jobs: 46,800
When people need help developing or recovering the skills required for daily living, occupational therapists are put to work. Their assistants and aides help achieve these goals by performing support duties such as assisting with stretches and encouraging patients to complete activities.
Mechanical Engineering Technicians
Job Outlook: 5%
Number of Jobs: 46,100
These professionals assist in the design and creation of manufacturing devices, such as tool, machines, and motors. Duties can range from sketches to recording and analyzing data, as well as reporting the findings to mechanical engineers and other industry leaders.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 files, conducting research, and drafting documents.
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.
Associate Degree Jobs Outlook 2019 – 2020
The job outlook is changing every day, and while there are general trends that apply to all people, from minimum-wage earners to top-level executives, there are also trends that impact people specifically with associates degrees.
Wage and Benefit Increases Are Expected
As the overall economy continues to grow, most employees can expect to see a general rise in their overall wages, as well as their benefits packages. Over years past, we had seen economic growth with stagnant or lagging wage increases, but this trend appears to be breaking, as wages appear to be on the rise. A report from ADP Research Institute says that wages increased 3.4% from the fourth quarter of 2017 to the fourth quarter of 2018, demonstrating a general trend of upward increases for workers.
There is also a strong indication that with a growing economy and stronger wages, total benefits packages for employees could be enhanced as well. In an effort to attract workers and keep them for years, employers are increasing benefits and modifying jobs to be more flexible to people’s preferred lifestyles. With an increase in mobile technology and connectivity, many employers are offering remote work for their top talent, which can lead to increased job satisfaction and profits. Flexible hours are also being added, as many workers prefer to work on their own terms, during hours that fit their schedule.
Hiring May be Faster, Less Exhaustive
There is also the increased possibility of faster hiring with less demand from potential candidates. Because so many companies are experiencing an overwhelming, non-stop need for employees, they have been forced to relax minimum requirements, opting for employees who may not have been eligible in the past. This can be good news for associate degree applicants, as jobs that previously needed a bachelor’s degree may be available. Not only are requirements lowered, the hiring process is being expedited. The need for employees, as well as the adoption of hiring technology, is generally leading to a reduction in the length of the overall hiring process, which is good news for many applicants.
High Growth Sectors for Associate Degree Jobs
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 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 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 explore 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:
- Web Developers: 15%
- Computer Network Specialist: 11%
Legal Office Support
While the career of an attorney will only grow by around 8% from 2016 to 2026, all legal professions are expected to rise by 9%, a slightly higher growth rate. The expected demand for more legal professionals is driven by an increased need for legal work among individuals and businesses. This need will drive increases in support-level positions, including:
- Paralegals and Legal Assistants: 15%
- Arbitrators: 10%
Low-Growth and Declining Sectors
There are also some areas of the market may 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 be aware of certain areas that will be difficult for anyone, including holders of associate degrees.
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.
Many people have dubbed our time the “Information Age,” so it might seem strange that some areas are in decline 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, 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 the best 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.
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, conquered challenges, and difficult courses that would apply directly to the company or your role. And don’t forget personal experience! Past jobs can be a great source of knowledge, and they may give you an edge.
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 most 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 institution, but many 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.
Start Your Degree Online Today
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!
To summarize our findings, an associate’s degree can:
- Advance your current career
- Open up new careers
- Increase your earnings
- Offer a low-cost alternative to a 4-year program
- Provide you with a foundation for future educational pursuits
Use our extensive database of online programs to find your perfect associate’s degree today!