High Paying Jobs You Can Get with an Associate Degree

High Salary Careers that Only Require an Associate Degree and How to Get There

A successful, high-salary career often takes years of time and educational investment—but not always. There are many high-paying occupations that only require an associate degree. Companies are hiring associate-level degree holders at a rapid pace in fields like economics and computer science, but also in career-specific fields like dental hygiene and radiation therapy. These jobs can be high-paying, with starting salaries in the $50,000 to $65,000 range and lifetime earning potential over $2,000,000. Check out this page to find out more information on the highest-paying jobs you can get with an associate degree.

Is Getting an Associate Degree Worth It?

According to Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, a professional with an associate degree will earn more than $1.7 million in their lifetime, generally at least $400,000 more than someone with only a high school diploma. Though spending time and money to earn a degree can be daunting, especially for people who have already started a career and/or a family, there are many ways to earn an associate degree and get on the path to securing a high-paying job.

According to the Recruiting Trends 2016-2017 report by Michigan State University, every sector of business at the national level is hiring increasing numbers of employers with Associate Degrees.

High school students can earn college credit, and up to an Associate Degree, before graduation, and many programs offer flexible, online degree options or accelerated formats to suit the schedules of working professionals.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, employment rates for those with some college, but no bachelor’s degree were at 77 percent, surpassing the average of all 20-24 year olds at 72 percent.

10 Associate Degrees that Pay Off Fast

People who are interested in healthcare, engineering or computer science can jump on an especially fast track to high wages. High school students that recognize these interests and who are willing to sacrifice some time early on can even graduate high school with an associate degree if they’ve planned properly. This means they start making money in their career sooner, potentially less student loan debt. Take a look at some Associate degrees with the high starting salaries below.

Dental Hygienist
  • Associate Degree Options:‌Dental Hygiene

  • Median Entry Level Salary (0-5 years’ experience): $62,600

  • Median Pay Nationwide: $72,910

  • Job Growth through 2024: 19 percent

Nuclear Medical Technician
  • Associate Degree Options:‌ Nuclear Medicine, Radiation Technology, Radiology

  • Median Entry Level Salary (0-5 years’ experience): $57,900

  • Median Pay Nationwide: $74,350

  • Job Growth through 2024: 10 percent

ICU Nurse
  • Associate Degree Options:‌ Nursing, Nursing Science

  • Median Entry Level Salary (0-5 years’ experience): $54,900

  • Median Pay Nationwide: $68,450

  • Job Growth through 2024: 15 percent

Medical Sonographer
  • Associate Degree Options:‌ Diagnostic Medical Sonography

  • Median Entry Level Salary (0-5 years’ experience): $54,500

  • Median Pay Nationwide: $64,280

  • Job Growth through 2024: 17 percent

Radiologist
  • Associate Degree Options:‌ Radiologic Science, Radiology Technology, Radiology

  • Median Entry Level Salary (0-5 years’ experience): $51,700

  • Median Pay Nationwide: $58,960

  • Job Growth through 2024: 12 percent

Safety Compliance Specialist
  • Associate Degree Options:‌ Occupational Health and Safety

  • Median Entry Level Salary (0-5 years’ experience): $48,800

  • Median Pay Nationwide: $66,820

  • Job Growth through 2024: 8 percent

Physical Therapy Assistant
  • Associate Degree Options:‌ Physical Therapist Assistant Studies, Physical Therapy

  • Median Entry Level Salary (0-5 years’ experience): $48,200

  • Median Pay Nationwide: $45,290

  • Job Growth through 2024: 30 percent

Respiratory Care Specialist
  • Associate Degree Options:‌ Respiratory Care, Respiratory Therapy

  • Median Entry Level Salary (0-5 years’ experience): $47,500

  • Median Pay Nationwide: $58,670

  • Job Growth through 2024: 23 percent

Technical Support Technologist
  • Associate Degree Options:‌ Electromechanical Engineering, Electrical Technology

  • Median Entry Level Salary (0-5 years’ experience): $46,000

  • Median Pay Nationwide: $55,610

  • Job Growth through 2024: 4 percent

Industrial Engineering Technician
  • Associate Degree Options:‌ Manufacturing Engineering Technology, Manufacturing

  • Median Entry Level Salary (0-5 years’ experience): $44,600

  • Median Pay Nationwide: $53,330

  • Job Growth through 2024: 1 percent

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2016, PayScale College Salary Reports 2017-2018

Associate Degrees with the Highest Lifetime Earning Potential

For those seeking an education and career with more long-term growth in mind, an associate degree can still lead to a high salary. There are plenty of associate-level careers that lead to higher overall earning potential as you gain experience and climb the ladder. While it takes time and commitment to build up to the payoff, the following associate degree careers provide higher lifetime earning potential:

Managers
  • Associate Degree Options:‌ Management

  • Median Entry Level Salary (0-5 years’ experience): $35,000

  • Median Pay Nationwide: $2,292,000

  • Job Growth through 2024: 6 percent

Registered Nurse
  • Associate Degree Options:‌ Nursing, Nursing Science

  • Median Entry Level Salary (0-5 years’ experience): $54,900

  • Median Pay Nationwide: $2,267,000

  • Job Growth through 2024: 16 percent

Medical Technologist
  • Associate Degree Options:‌ Medical Laboratory Technology, Medical Technology

  • Median Entry Level Salary (0-5 years’ experience): $35,300

  • Median Pay Nationwide: 2,187,000

  • Job Growth through 2024: 13 percent

Administrative Support Supervisor
  • Associate Degree Options:‌ Office Systems Technology

  • Median Entry Level Salary (0-5 years’ experience): $31,000

  • Median Pay Nationwide: $1,736,000

  • Job Growth through 2024: 3 percent

Accountants
  • Associate Degree Options:‌ Accounting & Finance

  • Median Entry Level Salary (0-5 years’ experience): $34,300

  • Median Pay Nationwide: $1,636,000

  • Job Growth through 2024: 10 percent

Retail Managers
  • Associate Degree Options:‌ Administration

  • Median Entry Level Salary (0-5 years’ experience): $31,200

  • Median Pay Nationwide: $1,531,000

  • Job Growth through 2024: 7 percent

Auditing Clerks
  • Associate Degree Options:‌ Business Administration and Accounting

  • Median Entry Level Salary (0-5 years’ experience): $32,200

  • Median Pay Nationwide: $1,327,000

  • Job Growth through 2024: 10 percent

Elementary Education
  • Associate Degree Options:‌ Elementary Education

  • Median Entry Level Salary (0-5 years’ experience): $26,200

  • Median Pay Nationwide: $1,312,000

  • Job Growth through 2024: 7 percent

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2016, PayScale College Salary Reports 2017-2018

Hot Industries for Associate Degree Holders

Professional, Business & Scientific Services
  • Average Hires per Company in 2016-2017: 3.9

  • Average Hires per Company in 2017-2018: 7.3

  • Year over Year Increase: 86 percent

Example Associate Level Careers

Architectural Drafter, Bookkeeper, Computer Systems Administrator, Lab Research Associate, Legal Assistant, Sales Consultant

Finance and Insurance Services
  • Average Hires per Company in 2016-2017: 3.9

  • Average Hires per Company in 2017-2018: 11.3

  • Year over Year Increase: 59 percent

Example Associate Level Careers

Bank Tellers, Credit Moderators, Insurance Carriers, Mortgage Brokers, Securities and Financial Investments

Healthcare and Social Assistance
  • Average Hires per Company in 2016-2017: 13.6

  • Average Hires per Company in 2017-2018: 18.1

  • Year over Year Increase: 33 percent

Example Associate Level Careers

Medical Technology, Nurses, Hospital Support Staff, Medical Clerks, Social Assisters

Government
  • Average Hires per Company in 2016-2017: 10.2

  • Average Hires per Company in 2017-2018: 13

  • Year over Year Increase: 27 percent

Example Associate Level Careers

Police Officers, Dispatch, Secretary, Office Managers, Accountant and Auditor

Non-profits
  • Average Hires per Company in 2016-2017: 5.3

  • Average Hires per Company in 2017-2018: 5.8

  • Year over Year Increase: 9 percent

Example Associate Level Careers

Civil and Social Organization Secretaries and Support Staff, Accountants, Information Technology Director

Source: Michigan State University, Collegiate Employment Research Institute 2017-2018

Tips for Success: Dealing with High Demand & Degree Requirements

High paying careers often come with a price: they’re often in demand and training may be more rigorous and technically tedious. Some of the highest paying careers that an associated degree can lead to are in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, and prospective students should understand the time commitment, energy and resources that these programs require, as well as the amount of preparation that will go into applying and getting accepted before diving in. Here are some realities to prepare for:

Strict admission requirements. Spend time on your academic profile before applying for a program. Clean up your resume and carefully prepare for standardized tests. Even high test scores might not guarantee admission into highly-competitive programs.
High expectations. Be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses. Be careful not to choose a field just for earning potential if you don’t enjoy the work. A natural fit for tinkerers and problem-solvers is engineering, but it can also be a rewarding path for those who want to put in the work to learn.
Time constraints. Many programs are very demanding on students’ time. For example, an accelerated nursing program can be done in 18 months instead of 24, but this type of program is only recommended for students who are highly organized and great at managing time and juggling commitments.
Admissions interviews. Some programs require an in-person interview. Be a little early. Make eye contact. Research your field in order to better answer questions about why you’re interested in getting into it. Dress professionally, and answer and ask questions with confidence.
Have a backup plan. Students should have a back up plan in case the ideal scenario doesn’t work out. For instance, aspiring nurses may be able to get into a medical sonography program more easily than a nursing program, and can still take classes toward both degrees.
Build a strong support system. A personal support system can help when completing a degree of any kind, but especially a challenging one. Whether it be friends, family, classmates or school advisers, it is important for both students who may already be in careers or have kids, and students just starting out.
Stick to an academic plan. All programs have academic advisers that are there to help prospective students lay out a plan of attack for their degree program. Find your adviser quickly and develop a relationship with them so you’re positive that you’re taking the right steps.

Interesting Ways to Earn an Associate Degree

Associate degrees that lead to high-paying jobs can be earned in many ways, and at many different times throughout life. High school students can take college courses toward an associate degree. People who’ve been in the workforce for many years often earn an associate degree to improve their current career or set them up to transfer to another field. Degrees can be completed in the traditional college setting and also online. Take a look at a few of the options below.

Earn An Associate Degree While Still In High School

Students who have an idea of their areas of interest might get a running start at a career by beginning college courses while still in high school. It’s not an easy path to take as students’ often make time and lifestyle sacrifices, but can be a great option for someone wanting a fast-track to a high-paying career or more advanced degree.

Benefits
  • Students get a jump on starting their career or completing a bachelor’s program.

  • Graduates can start earning an entry-level salary at a younger age than many competitors.

  • College courses for high school students are often more affordable than traditional classes.

Earn An Online Associate Degree

The flexibility of online learning allows new high school grads, professionals who’ve been in the workforce for many years and those who want to go back to school to complete a degree more accessibility than ever before.

Benefits
  • The individual and flexible pace easily allows those with other commitments to take classes.

  • In-person graduation is available at many institutions that award online degrees.

  • Normal financial aid packages and opportunities still apply to online courses.

Earn A Dual Associate Degree

Instead of graduating with only an Associate of Arts or Associate of Science, students can graduate with one of each. This can often be done in place of pursuing a traditional four-year bachelor’s degree.

Benefits
  • An additional degree can make a job candidate more attractive. For example, a job applicant with an Associate of Science in Construction Management and an Associate of Art in Architecture could be doubly attractive for a job in the contracting field.

  • Working professionals with dual degrees often feel it complements their work experience and brings them more credibility among their client-base. This is also true for certificate programs (like business management certificates) in addition to associate degree programs.

  • Students who take courses in multiple degree programs are more likely to have those credits transfer to an eventual bachelor’s program in the future.

  • Community colleges and other associate degree-granting institutions are generally more affordable than four-year universities. If an associate degree-combo works in place of a bachelor’s degree (this is very field-specific and does not translate to all degree programs), it ca be a very affordable option.

Find the Best Online Associate Degree Programs in the U.S.

Facts from the Field: Expert Interview

Dr. William Carroll is the Vice President of Academic Affairs at Bay State College in Boston. He has a Ph.D. from Syracuse and is responsible for helping Bay State College students choose the appropriate degree program.

Is getting an associate degree worthwhile to students? In which fields might it pay off more than others?

There are many fields where an associate degree is worthwhile. The best choices are those where the Associate of Science degree is the terminal degree in the field. Physical Therapist Assistant and Registered Nurse degrees are good examples of this. It’s also useful to research the Occupational Handbook from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics and look up what level of education employers are looking for. Employers in the Audio Visual area that manage the sounds and other technology at convention centers are looking for graduates with associate degrees and these jobs can turn in to good long-term careers.

What might students need to be aware of before committing to an associate degree program?

Since these are “degree programs” students should expect to have some amount of general education courses like English, math, and social science courses for example. A typical Associate of Science degree program is 60 credits depending on the system the college uses. As most courses are worth three credits students will need to complete approximately 20 courses. This can take up to two full years or perhaps 20 months if the students attend year round.

What strengths do the students possess that see succeed in completing a degree?

I think the biggest strength is the ability to work interdependently and manage your time—this is especially true for online courses. Reading comprehension and writing skills are also important. Since you less opportunity to express yourself verbally, good writing skills are definitely beneficial.

Popular Resources

Whether you’re looking to earn your online degree or you’re a parent looking for answers, you can find all of your questions covered here. Explore these resources to help you make informed decisions and prepare for whatever is thrown your way.

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