The Ten Highest Paying Jobs with an Associates Degree

FT Contributor
People of various careers standing in a line, including a paralegal, a nurse, and a plumber.
Reading Time: 6 minutes

In many industries, employers require that job applicants have at least a bachelor’s degree regardless of their other qualifications. Economists sometimes call this kind of educational requirement “degree inflation.” According to a study by Harvard Business School, as many as 6 million open positions are at risk because applicants who have the necessary skills do not have the bachelor’s degree that the employer requires.

Job seekers who have an associate degree can sometimes be at a disadvantage because of the degree inflation trend. However, it is sometimes possible to find a high-paying job with such a degree if you choose the right industry and the right specialty. In those areas of employment, employers prefer applicants who have the technical skills that associate degree holders often obtain during their studies.

What is an Associate Degree?

Associate degrees are available in several different forms. A program typically takes two years, though you can earn a degree in less time or study part-time for longer than two years. In most college systems, you need 60 credits to earn an associate degree. Because of the shorter time frame and fewer credits, associate degrees are cheaper than bachelor’s degrees. While studying, you take general education classes as well as courses related to your major or area of focus.

The three most common degrees are:

  • An Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree. A.A. degrees are in a liberal arts-related subject. These degrees usually prepare students to move on to a four-year degree or obtain an entry-level job.
  • An Associate of Science (A.S.) degree. These degrees are in science-related subjects such as chemistry, biology, or laboratory science. You can also earn an A.S. degree in areas such as business administration, computer science, or other more technical subjects.
  • An Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree. These degrees are in specialized areas such as graphic design, food science, engineering technology, auto repair, or other similar subjects. A.A.S. programs typically give students the technical skills that they will need to enter the workforce in their area of study right after graduation.

Depending on the college system in which you study, you may be able to choose degrees with other titles, such as Associate of Fine Arts (A.F.A.) or Associate of General Studies. The type of degree that you need to choose depends on your career plans. In general, the highest-paying associate degree jobs are for people who study in more technical fields.

The 10 Highest-Paying Jobs With an Associate Degree

The 10 highest-paying jobs for people with associate degrees usually involve performing specialized tasks. Though many employers prefer or require bachelor’s degree holders, these ten jobs are ideal for associate degree holders who obtain specialized training during their studies.

1. Air Traffic Controllers

Median Salary

: $124,540.

Potential Job Growth: The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 1% increase in demand for air traffic controllers over the next decade.

Potential Degree: To begin this career, you need at least an associate degree from a Federal Aviation Administration-approved Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) program.

Job Details: Air traffic controllers monitor and direct aircraft while they are on the tarmac at an airport and when they are taking off and landing. You monitor flights using radar and computers, communicate with pilots over the radio, and inform ground crews of aircraft movements. Air traffic control jobs are known for their high levels of stress.

2. Radiation Therapists

Median Salary

: $88,320.

Potential Job Growth: The BLS expects a 9% increase in demand for radiation therapists over the next decade.

Potential Degree: Employers expect you to have an associate degree in radiation therapy.

Job Details: Radiation therapists administer radiation treatments to patients with cancer and other similar diseases. You interact directly with patients during treatment and monitor them in addition to  setting up and watching the equipment that delivers doses of radiation. You work as part of an oncology team that includes physicians, nurses, and other technical staff.

3. Funeral Services Managers

Median Salary

: $79,180.

Potential Job Growth: The BLS forecasts a 5% increase in demand for funeral service managers over the next decade.

Potential Degree: You typically need an associate degree in funeral service or mortuary science to obtain a license for this career.

Job Details: Funeral services managers perform several different services at the funeral home. In this career, you work with the family or friends of the deceased to plan a funeral service. You set up the service and, in many cases, also prepare the body for the wake and funeral. In addition to a degree, you need to pass a licensing exam from your state and complete an apprenticeship, internship, or other state-approved on-the-job training program.

4. Nuclear Technicians

Median Salary

: $79,140.

Potential Job Growth: Demand for qualified nuclear technicians will decrease by 4% in the coming decade because of a shift to other forms of energy.

Potential Degree: Most employers expect an associate degree in nuclear science or a nuclear-related technology degree.

Job Details: A nuclear technician monitors radiation levels and equipment at nuclear energy facilities or research institutions where scientists study radioactivity. In addition to workspaces, you may test soil, water, and air around the facility for contamination. You attempt to lower the dangers of contamination associated with nuclear power.

5. Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Median Salary

: $76,820.

Potential Job Growth: Forecasts suggest that demand for nuclear medicine technologists will increase by 7% over the next decade.

Potential Degree: Employers usually require you to have an associate degree in nuclear medicine technology.

Job Details: Nuclear medicine technologists work directly with patients in a medical facility. In this career, you administer radioactive medications for treatment of diseases or during medical imaging procedures. In addition to preparing the treatment, you monitor patients for unnecessary exposure to radiation and reaction to the medication.

6. Dental Hygienists

Median Salary

: $74,820.

Potential Job Growth: Demand for dental hygienists should increase by 11% over the next decade.

Potential Degree: You need an associate’s degree in dental hygiene to begin this career, and some states also require that you obtain a license.

Job Details: Dental hygienists clean patients’ teeth, take oral x-rays, and assess patients’ oral health during their visit to a dental office. You report your findings to the dentist. In this career, you also provide information about oral health care to patients. You may also assist dentists during procedures.

7. Medical Sonographers

Median Salary

: $72,510.

Potential Job Growth: BLS forecasts suggest a 19% increase in demand for medical sonographers, which is significantly higher than the average expected increase for all jobs.

Potential Degree: Though qualification requirements vary, most employers prefer applicants with an associate’s degree in medical sonography, medical diagnostic imaging, or a related subject.

Job Details: As a medical sonographer, you work directly with patients to make diagnostic pictures using sonographic (ultrasound) equipment. During a diagnostic imaging session, you position the patient, use your equipment to make images and ensure that the images meet the needs of the physician.

8. Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technicians

Median Salary

: $71,610.

Potential Job Growth: The BLS expects an 11% projected increase in demand for qualified magnetic resonance imaging technicians over the next decade.

Potential Degree: To start this career, you need an associate degree in magnetic resonance imaging technology or medical imaging technology from a school accredited by the American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists (ARMRIT).

Job Details: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technicians prepare and operate MRI machines, which take diagnostic images of patients. You position patients inside the machines, obtain the pictures that physicians need to make their diagnoses, and check and maintain equipment between uses.

9. Aerospace Engineering Technicians

Median Salary

: $67,010.

Potential Job Growth: The BLS predicts a 4% increase in demand for qualified aerospace engineering technicians over the next decade.

Potential Degree: Degree requirements can vary, but many positions require an associate degree in engineering technology or a related field.

Job Details: Aerospace engineering technicians work as part of aerospace engineering teams to build, maintain, improve, and repair equipment for aircraft, spacecraft, and other flight systems.  

10. Electrical Engineering Technician

Median Salary

: $64,330.

Potential Job Growth: The demand for electrical engineering technicians will neither increase nor decrease over the next decade. Overall, demand for specialists will increase, but the practices of outsourcing and automation will negate these gains.

Potential Degree: You need an associate degree in electrical or electronics engineering technology to get a job in this field.

Job Details: Electrical engineering technicians design, maintain, test, and repair electronic equipment, including computers, phones, and other items with embedded hardware.

Is an Associate Degree Worth It?

Associate degrees are cheaper than bachelor’s degrees, especially if you obtain one from a junior college or community college that specializes in two-year degree programs. These degrees can also prepare you for a job in two years instead of the usual four, potentially requiring you to take on less student debt.

On the negative side, because of degree inflation, an associate degree will not qualify you for some careers.

If you wish to pursue an associate degree, you need to decide if the employers in the field in which you wish to work will find such a qualification adequate for an entry-level position. You should also consider your career advancement options if you earn an A.A., A.S., or A.A.S. degree. Can you advance in your career if you gain experience, or will you eventually need to obtain a bachelor’s degree? Scope your desired career out to determine whether this is the right degree for you.

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