Best Paying Jobs With a
2 Year Associate Degree

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Are you considering enrolling in an associate degree program? While many prospective students seek undergraduate educations, associate degrees are becoming more and more popular. These programs are a viable alternative because they provide a basic understanding of a specific field at a fraction of the cost of a traditional education.

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Types of Associate's Available

Specific associate degree program titles vary from institution to institution, but most colleges and universities offer one of the following associates: Associate of Arts (AA), Associate of Science (AS), Associate of Applied Arts (AAA), or Associate of Applied Science (AAS). While all options prepare graduates for successful careers, there are some important differences applicants should be aware of before applying.

  • Associate of Arts (AA)
    An Associate of Arts (AA) degree usually appeals to individuals interested in continuing their education after graduation. Academic requirements typically include general education coursework with an emphasis on topics in humanities. In most cases, an AA is considered equivalent to completing the first two years of an undergraduate degree.
  • Associate of Science (AS)
    An Associate of Science (AS) degree is also ideal for students interested in pursuing an undergraduate degree in the future. Like the AA degree, academic requirements typically include general education coursework, but with an emphasis on math and science instead of humanities. An AS is considered equivalent to the first two years of an undergraduate degree.
  • Associate of Applied Arts (AAA)
    An Associate of Applied Arts (AAA) degree is better suited for students who may want to pursue further education or seek employment immediately. These programs offer classes that are more technical or can be “applied” in the workplace. Academic requirements typically include general education coursework with a humanities emphasis, as well as classes that are practical and focus on a specific career or vocational field.
  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS)
    An Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree is designed for individuals who plan to seek employment immediately after graduation. They tend to be career-oriented and do not always provide coursework that aligns with undergraduate degree requirements. Common AAS degrees include paralegal studies, human services, entrepreneurship, web design, and customer relationship management.
  • AA vs AS

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What Goes into Getting an Associates?

An associate degree is often preferred by individuals interested in joining the workforce as soon as possible. While students seeking an undergraduate degree can expect the process to take approximately four years to complete, earning an associate degree rarely requires more than two years. Other benefits include more scheduling flexibility, lower tuition costs, numerous career opportunities, higher earnings, lower risk of unemployment, and the opportunity for additional education options. Many colleges and universities offer degree programs online, making them especially appealing to potential students already working full-time or those who have personal obligations that prevent them from leaving home.

In most cases, an associate degree program will consist of about 60 credit hours of coursework or approximately 20 college courses. Students will be expected to take general education classes, as well as receive instruction within their specified field of interest. Full-time students typically complete these requirements in two years, but some programs can take as little as one to one and a half years to finish. Individuals who take advanced placement classes in high school, or who have already passed one or more college courses, will need less time. Conversely, those attending class on a part-time basis may require three to five years to graduate.

Graduates are generally qualified to apply for entry-level positions but may require additional education and certification for mid-to-high-level management employment. Students may also choose to transfer their credits to a four-year institution to pursue an undergraduate degree.

Highest Paying Jobs

  • Air Traffic Controller
    Average Income: $87,400
    Degree Needed: Associate Degree from an AT-CTI Program
    Projected Growth: Slower than average

    Air traffic controllers coordinate aircraft movement. Responsibilities include monitoring aircraft on the ground and in the air, directing movements, controlling all ground traffic in airports and on taxiways, issuing landing and takeoff instructions, transferring control of departing flights to other controllers, informing pilots about the weather, and alerting airport response staff during aircraft emergencies.

  • Field Service Engineer, Medical Equipment
    Average Income: $70,900
    Degree Needed: Associate Degree in Biomedical Technology or Engineering
    Projected Growth: Slower than average

    Field service engineers for medical equipment install, maintain, and repair equipment used for patient care. Responsibilities generally include testing and calibrating equipment, repairing and replacing parts, performing preventative maintenance, keeping repair records, reviewing technical manuals, attending training, explaining how to operate medical equipment, and managing equipment replacement.

  • Radiation Therapist
    Average Income: $70,700
    Degree Needed: Associate Degree in Radiation Therapy
    Projected Growth: Faster than average

    Radiation therapists administer radiation treatments to combat cancer and other diseases in patients. Responsibilities generally include explaining treatment plans, answering patient questions, protecting patients from improper radiation exposure, determining exact treatment locations, calibrating and operating machinery, monitoring patient treatment responses, and keeping detailed medical records. Certification is required in most states.

  • Nuclear Medicine Technologist
    Average Income: $67,700
    Degree Needed: Associate Degree in Nuclear Medicine Technology
    Projected Growth: Faster than average

    Nuclear medicine technologists prepare and administer radioactive drugs to patients for imaging and therapeutic purposes. Responsibilities generally include explaining medical procedures, answering patient questions, following safety procedures, protecting patients from unnecessary radiation exposure, monitoring patient reactions, operating imaging equipment, keeping detailed procedure records, and following radiation disposal protocols. Certification is not required, but most technologists become certified.

  • Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technician
    Average Income: $64,900
    Degree Needed: Associate Degree in Engineering Technology
    Projected Growth: As fast as average

    Aerospace engineering and operations technicians operate and maintain equipment that develops, tests, produces, and sustains aircraft and spacecraft. Responsibilities generally include meeting with aerospace engineers to discuss procedures, building test facilities, maintaining aircraft systems, making and installing parts, operating computer systems, ensuring compliance with manufacturer requirements, performing test procedures, recording data, installing instruments, and monitoring the systems that go into aircraft and spacecraft.

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologist
    Average Income: $64,900
    Degree Needed: Associate Degree in Radiology
    Projected Growth: Faster than average

    Magnetic resonance imaging technologists perform imaging examinations, such as x rays, on patients for diagnostic purposes. Responsibilities generally include adjusting and maintaining imaging equipment, following physician orders, preparing patients for procedures, recording medical histories, answering procedural questions, protecting patients, operating computerized equipment, working with physicians to evaluate images, and keeping detailed records. Licensing or certification is required in most states.

  • Geological and Petroleum Technician
    Average Income: $62,800
    Degree Needed: Associate Degree in Geoscience, Petroleum, Mining, or a related technology field
    Projected Growth: Much faster than average

    Geological and petroleum technicians support scientists and engineers as they explore and extract natural resources. Responsibilities generally include installing and maintaining laboratory and field equipment, gathering samples, conducting scientific tests on samples, recording data from tests, compiling information for reports, and preparing maps that can identify geological characteristics in areas with valuable resources.

  • Registered Nurse
    Average Income: $62,600
    Degree Needed: Associate Degree in Nursing
    Projected Growth: Much faster than average

    Registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care, as well as provide education to patients about health conditions. They may also provide emotional support to patients and their families. Responsibilities generally include assessing patient conditions, recording medical histories, observing patient symptoms, administering treatments, establishing patient care plans, consulting with doctors, operating medical equipment, performing diagnostic tests, teaching patients and family members about illness management, and explaining discharge instructions. Licensing is required in all states.

  • Nuclear Technician
    Average Income: $61,800
    Degree Needed: Associate Degree in Nuclear Science, Nuclear Technology, or a related field
    Projected Growth: Little to no change

    Nuclear technicians work in the nuclear energy production industry operating special equipment or assisting physicists, engineers, and other research professionals. Responsibilities generally include monitoring the performance of equipment used in nuclear power generation, measuring radiation levels and types, instructing personnel on radiation safety procedures, maintaining radiation monitoring equipment, and collecting air, water, and soil samples.

  • Web Developer
    Average Income: $59,000
    Degree Needed: Associate Degree in Web Design or a related field
    Projected Growth: Much faster than average

    Web developers design and create websites. This process includes managing website performance and capacity, as well as generating all necessary site content. Responsibilities generally include meeting with clients to discuss needs, creating and testing applications, writing code, utilizing HTML or XML languages, determining what information the site will contain, working with graphic designers to create a viable layout, integrating website aspects, and monitoring traffic.

  • Dental Hygienist
    Average Income: $57,900
    Degree Needed: Associate Degree in Dental Hygiene
    Projected Growth: Much faster than average

    Dental hygienists clean and examine patients’ teeth, as well as provide education about proper oral healthcare. Responsibilities generally include removing tartar and plaque from teeth, applying protective sealants and fluorides, taking dental x-rays, assessing patient health, developing patient treatment plans, documenting care, and providing people with helpful oral hygiene techniques.

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The Runners Up

There are a wide variety of additional high-paying employment opportunities available to associate degree graduates. While the following jobs did not make it onto the initial list, they are still extremely viable career options.

  • Mechanical Engineering Technician
    Mechanical engineering technicians help to design, develop, test, and manufacture mechanical devices, such as tools, engines, and machines. Responsibilities include evaluating design drawings, preparing layouts using three-dimensional software, discussing changes with coworkers, reviewing instructions, ensuring test specifications and procedures are followed, producing mechanical parts for products, coordinating unit tests, comparing results, and estimating labor costs. The average yearly salary for a mechanical engineering technician is $50,500. Growth in this field is expected to be as fast as average.
  • Respiratory Therapist
    Respiratory therapists care for medical patients who have trouble breathing. Responsibilities include examining new patients, consulting with physicians, developing patient treatment plans, performing diagnostic tests, treating patients, monitoring patient progress, recording medical results, and teaching patients how to take medications and use equipment. The average yearly salary for a respiratory therapist is $54,000. Growth in this field is expected to be much faster than average.
  • Diagnostic Technologist or Technician
    Diagnostic technologists or technicians operate special imaging equipment that create images, as well as conduct necessary testing. Responsibilities generally include preparing patients for procedures, maintaining proper medical histories, answering procedural questions, maintaining diagnostic imaging equipment, obtaining diagnostic images, reviewing results, recognizing abnormalities in images, analyzing information, providing patient summaries, and recording findings. The average yearly salary for a diagnostic technologist or technician is $55,800. Growth in this field is expected to be much faster than average.
  • Cardiovascular Technologist or Technician
    Cardiovascular technologists or technicians conduct tests on patients with possible pulmonary or cardiovascular system conditions for diagnostic purposes. These professionals often assist during electrocardiograms, cardiac catheterizations, and pulmonary function and lung capacity testing. The average yearly salary for a cardiovascular technologist or technician is $56,800. Growth in this field is expected to be faster than average.
  • Viable Alternatives to a Traditional College Degree

Which Sectors Promise the Best ROI (Return on Investment?)

While an associate degree of any kind will prepare graduates for a more successful career and will likely result in a higher earning potential, some fields offer a better return on investment (ROI) than others. ROI is a measurement that evaluates the efficiency of a particular investment. In this case, the potential return is a consistent and well-paying job; the investment refers both to the financial cost of the degree and the time it takes to complete it.

Sectors that promise particularly high ROI include engineering, medicine, and information and computer technology.

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The field of engineering is ideal for individuals who enjoy figuring out how things work and creating mechanical designs. While advanced positions will require an undergraduate degree, there are numerous employment opportunities available to graduates with an associate degree. This sector is comprised of some of the highest-paying jobs available to associate degree holders. Career options include mechanical engineering, industrial engineering, electrical engineering, civil engineering, and environmental engineering.

Healthcare and Medicine

The field of healthcare is perfect for people who enjoy helping others overcome and manage various medical conditions. While advanced positions in medicine require higher levels of education, an associate degree will qualify graduates for a wide variety of employment opportunities. Career options include medical assistant, surgical technologist, occupational therapy assistant, radiology technician, respiratory therapist, dental hygienist, and registered nurse.

Information and Computer Technology

The field of information and computer technology is a good choice for those who enjoy working to repair, troubleshoot, program, and design computer hardware and software. While advanced employment opportunities will require further education, associate degree graduates will qualify for numerous positions. Career options include computer support specialist, network systems administrator, computer systems analyst, computer network architect, database administrator, and web developer.