Best Jobs via Associate Degree

Best Jobs via Associate Degree

What is an Associate’s Degree?

Associate degrees 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 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 associate’s 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:

  • Accounting
  • Web development & design
  • Nursing
  • Paralegal
  • Teaching assistant
  • Respiratory care

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

Salary: $124,540

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.

Popular Pick: Associate of Science in Aeronautics from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University

Computer Programmer

Salary: $82,240

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.)

Radiation Therapist

Salary: $80,570

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.

Nuclear Technician

Salary: $80,370

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

Salary: $75,660

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 Hygienist

Salary: $74,070

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.

Registered Nurse

Salary: $70,000

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.

Web Developer

Salary: $67,990

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

Salary: $67,240

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.

Medical Sonographer

Salary: $65,620

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

Salary: $63,660

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.

Police Officer

Salary: $62,690

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

Salary: $61,270

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.

Radiologic & MRI Technologist

Salary: $60,070

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.

Respiratory Therapist

Salary: $59,710

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.

Electro-Mechanical Technician

Salary: $56,740

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.

Occupational Assistant

Salary: $56,690

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

Salary: $55,360

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.

Telecom Installer

Salary: $53,880

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

Salary: $53,550

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.           


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.

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.


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 files, conducting research, and drafting documents.

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.