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25 Highest Paying Associate Degrees

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Students looking for a quick-start career should consider an associate degree from a community college, where they can earn a degree in two years.

An associate degree prepares graduates for jobs in multiple industries. For example, paralegals and web developers often only need an associate degree. Many healthcare and engineering technicians need an associate degree to earn professional certification or licensure. An associate degree also meets the minimum education requirements for jobs like air traffic controller, ultrasound technician, avionics technician, and nuclear technician.

Readers should carefully review each career's placement within the rankings, since pay varies so much among professions. For example, air traffic controllers earn a median annual salary of $122,990, while medical equipment repairers make a median salary under $50,000.

The following list ranks the best associate degree jobs by salary. Some of the jobs on the list don't require an associate degree but the degree provides a competitive edge in the job market. We used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for job title and salary information.

The Highest-Paying Careers With an Associate Degree

The Highest-Paying Careers With an Associate Degree

Air Traffic Controllers

Air traffic controllers communicate with pilots, grounds crew, and fellow aviation personnel to coordinate the movement of aircraft. They remain in contact with pilots at all stages of flight, monitoring approaches, departures, and en route activities. They relay essential information about weather, flight patterns, runway closures, and potential hazards.

Air traffic controllers need an associate degree approved by an Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative program. Overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration, these degrees emphasize aviation technology, air traffic control procedures, airport management, and aviation regulations. As a fast-paced and high-stress position, air traffic controllers need acute concentration, decision-making, and communication skills.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $122,990
  • Job Growth (2018-2028): 1%
  • Industry: Transportation and Materials Moving

Radiation Therapists

Radiation therapists work with physicians, nurses, and other medical professionals to administer radiation treatments. They explain methods and protocols to patients, keep detailed records, and monitor patient reactions during and after treatment. Radiation therapists operate machines that deliver focused radiation to tumors and other cancers. They most often work in hospitals, spending long hours on their feet.

As members of radiation teams, radiation therapists need strong communication and interpersonal skills. They also need a technical understanding of radiation equipment. An associate degree in radiation therapy prepares students for entry-level positions. These programs typically facilitate certification through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists by blending clinical requirements with coursework in science, anatomy and physiology, and computer technology.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $85,560
  • Job Growth (2018-2028): 9%
  • Industry: Healthcare

Nuclear Technicians

Nuclear technicians work at nuclear energy facilities, nuclear research laboratories, and other locations where radiation and nuclear materials are present. They test for radiation contamination, monitor equipment used in nuclear experiments, and ensure adherence to safety guidelines and procedures. Most nuclear technicians work in the power generation industry, making adjustments and repairs to reactors and other equipment.

An associate degree in nuclear science or nuclear technology prepares students for this career, making it one of the highest-paid associate degrees. Students gain practical experience through internships. Nuclear technicians can advance their careers through certifications from organizations like the Nuclear Energy Institute, the American Society of Nondestructive Testing, and the National Registry of Radiation Protection Technologists.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $82,080
  • Job Growth (2018-2028): -4%
  • Industry: Life, Physical, and Social Science

Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Nuclear medicine technologists prepare and administer radioactive drugs for diagnostic and treatment purposes. They must explain medical procedures and treatments to patients, abide by safety procedures and regulations, and monitor patients for drug reactions. Most nuclear medicine technologists work in hospitals, but they may also serve as research assistants to nuclear scientists in laboratory settings.

Nuclear medical technologists need an associate degree from a program accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology. Students with an associate degree in a related discipline may enter the profession by completing a certificate program from an organization like the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists or the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $77,950
  • Job Growth (2018-2028): 7%
  • Industry: Healthcare

Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists provide oral care to patients. They take dental x-rays, clean teeth, inspect for oral diseases, and administer fluoride and sealant treatments. Dental hygienists work closely with dentists, reporting their findings and assisting in developing treatment plans for patients. They keep detailed records and educate patients on the best practices in oral care.

Dental hygienists need knowledge of anatomy, medical ethics, safety protocols, and periodontics. Two-year college degrees in dental hygiene accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation can prepare students for licensure as a dental hygienist.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $76,220
  • Job Growth (2018-2028): 11%
  • Industry: Healthcare

Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologist

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technologists operate scanners that use magnetic resonance technology to create diagnostic images of patients' organs and soft tissues. They inject contrast dye into patients to produce images. Some MRI technologists begin their careers as radiologic technologists before choosing this specialty.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $71,670

Diagnostic Medical Sonographers

Diagnostic medical sonographers operate devices that use soundwaves to create images used in medical tests and procedures. Sonographers perform sonograms and ultrasounds on all parts of the body, often specializing in areas such as the abdomen, heart, or muscles. They must gather essential information for physicians, often reviewing images and reporting on any abnormalities or anomalies.

These professionals must understand anatomy and physiology, sonographic technology, and medical terminology, which they can achieve through an associate in medical sonography or a related field. Professional certifications through organizations like the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers enhance career opportunities.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $68,750
  • Job Growth (2018-2028): 14%
  • Industry: Healthcare

Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians

Cardiovascular technologists and technicians gather diagnostic and treatment data about the circulatory and respiratory systems. They carry out tests and help with procedures to assess heart and lung health. Duties for cardiovascular technologists and technicians include monitoring heart rates, assisting with catheterization, administering electrocardiograms, and measuring lung capacity.

Cardiovascular technologists and technicians work in hospitals and private medical offices. Many schools offer associate degrees or postsecondary certifications in cardiovascular technology. Although not required, certification through organizations like Cardiovascular Credentialing International demonstrates expertise to potential employers.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $68,750
  • Job Growth (2018-2028): 14%
  • Industry: Healthcare

Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technicians

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians work with fellow engineering personnel to operate, install, and maintain equipment and instruments used to monitor air and space vehicles. They collect data on parts, assembly, and mechanism performance; ensure computer systems and devices meet safety and industry standards; and inspect equipment to detect malfunctions and potential problems.

They also run computer simulations, automation programs, and quality assurance tests on aircraft, spacecraft, and missiles. Aerospace engineering and operations technicians need skills in mathematics, general engineering, physics, and computer technology. An associate degree in aerospace engineering or engineering technology prepares students for careers with aerospace manufacturing companies, research and development agencies, and engineering services firms, making it one of the top associate degrees that pay well.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $66,020
  • Job Growth (2018-2028): 4%
  • Industry: Architecture and Engineering

Electrical and Electronics Engineering Technicians

Electrical and electronics engineering technicians assist in the design, development, and production of computers, communication and navigation equipment, and comparable devices. They conduct diagnostic tests, monitor performance, and resolve problems related to design and function. Electrical engineering technicians often install and maintain electrical systems, while electronics engineering technicians focus on identifying and fixing malfunctions.

Both positions require knowledge of engineering design principles and practices, circuitry, physics, and programming languages. A two-year degree in electrical or electronics engineering blends didactic coursework with practical laboratory classes to hone mechanical, observational, and logical-thinking skills.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $65,260
  • Job Growth (2018-2028): 0%
  • Industry: Architecture and Engineering

Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanics and Technicians

Aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians carry out essential maintenance and repair on aircraft structures and systems. Aircraft equipment mechanics and technicians focus on mechanical and electrical components such as wings, brakes, and electric systems. Avionics equipment mechanics and technicians work on instruments like radios, radar systems, and navigational tools.

Both aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians regularly inspect aircraft, use specialized tools and diagnostic equipment, and keep detailed records about maintenance and repairs. They must adhere to guidelines established by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). These professionals must earn an associate degree from a school approved by FAA. FAA also offers certifications for mechanics and technicians specializing in bodywork and engine work.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $64,310
  • Job Growth (2018-2028): 3%
  • Industry: Installation, Maintenance, and Repair

Radiologic and MRI Technologists

Also called radiographers, radiologic technologists take x-rays and administer mammograms. MRI technologists perform diagnostic tests using magnetic resonance imaging equipment. Both radiologic and MRI technologists carry out tests according to orders issued by physicians. They must prepare patients for testing, adhere to safety guidelines and protocols, and provide input on image evaluations.

An associate degree in radiologic and MRI technology prepares students for careers in the field through a combination of coursework and clinical requirements. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists accredits associate degree programs in radiology and certifies practitioners in the field. The American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technology provides accreditation for MRI programs and certifications for MRI technicians.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $62,280
  • Job Growth (2018-2028): 9%
  • Industry: Healthcare

Respiratory Therapists

Respiratory therapists assist patients who have difficulty breathing. They work with physicians to carry out diagnostic tests, administer treatments, and monitor overall progress. Respiratory therapists may take blood, connect patients to respirators, remove mucus from a patient's lungs, or teach patients to use inhalers and nebulizers. They may work in hospitals or as home health aides.

Respiratory therapists need at least an associate degree in the discipline, which combines coursework in anatomy, health sciences, pharmacology, and mathematics with clinical experience. Licensure requirements for respiratory therapists vary by state, but the National Board of Respiratory Care is the main certifying body for the field.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $61,330
  • Job Growth (2018-2028): 21%
  • Industry: Healthcare

Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

Occupational therapy assistants and aides work under the direction of occupational therapists. Occupational therapy assistants may perform therapeutic treatments, offer educational and socialization guidance to children with developmental needs, and teach patients to use equipment and devices appropriate to their needs. Occupational therapy aides often tend to administrative tasks, setting up appointments, transporting patients, and overseeing billing and insurance tasks.

Occupational therapy assistants need an associate degree from a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. Occupational therapy aides typically only need a high school diploma. A two-year degree in occupational therapy blends coursework in health sciences, education, and social science with fieldwork requirements. Most states require occupational therapist assistants to hold a license from the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $59,200
  • Job Growth (2018-2028): 31%
  • Industry: Healthcare

Electro-Mechanical Technicians

Electro-mechanical technicians test, maintain, and operate electromechanical devices and equipment. They perform diagnostics on automated, robotic, and other unmanned equipment used on worksites. They read schematics and verify measurements to ensure proper assembly and production. Electro-mechanical technicians may work in industrial settings, on energy projects, or in oil drilling operations.

These professionals need an associate degree in electrical engineering and/or mechanical technology. They also need strong technical, analytical, and problem-solving skills. Electro-mechanical technicians can advance their careers through certifications from the International Society of Automation or the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $58,350
  • Job Growth (2018-2028): 1%
  • Industry: Life, Physical, and Social Science

Funeral Service Workers

Funeral service professionals work with clients to determine the location, time, and date of a visitation, funeral, or burial, providing counsel and comfort during the planning. They coordinate movement and care of the deceased individual's body, handle administrative paperwork, and answer questions about the funeral process. Morticians and funeral directors may also embalm bodies, help write obituaries, and arrange viewings.

Most states require funeral service workers to complete a funeral service or mortuary science program accredited by the American Board of Funeral Service Education and maintain state licensure. Funeral service and mortuary science programs integrate coursework with practical experience, allowing students to apprentice under a licensed funeral professional.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $58,310
  • Job Growth (2018-2028): 4%
  • Industry: Personal Care and Service

Mechanical Engineering Technicians

Mechanical engineering technicians assist in designing, testing, and manufacturing mechanical equipment and devices. They prepare sketches and models, build prototypes, collect and assess performance data, and adjust specifications during the production process. They may also inspect manufacturing machines and equipment, repair and replace parts, and perform routine maintenance assessments.

They typically work in engineering services, machinery manufacturing, or transportation. Mechanical engineering technicians need an associate degree, certificate, or diploma in mechanical engineering. They can advance their careers through certifications from the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $56,980
  • Job Growth (2018-2028): 3%
  • Industry: Architecture and Engineering

Drafters

Trained to use specialized computer-aided design (CAD) software, drafters take designs produced by architects and engineers and convert them into technical plans and drawings. After putting specifications, measurements, and dimensions into CAD software, drafters put plans and drawings into building information modeling systems for conversion into three-dimensional models.

Drafters often focus on a type of drafting, such as electrical, mechanical, or architectural. Electrical drafters prepare drawings and diagrams for energy-producing facilities and distribution systems, while mechanical drafters produce plans for various types of devices, tools, and equipment. Architectural drafters focus on residential and commercial structures. Drafters need an associate degree, certificate, or diploma in drafting. They can also earn certification through the American Design Drafting Association.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $56,830
  • Job Growth (2018-2028): 0%
  • Industry: Architecture and Engineering

Industrial Engineering Technicians

Industrial engineering technicians assist in designing efficient industrial systems. They work with industrial engineers to optimize workflow and production, studying the time, money, and energy it takes to manufacture a product or provide a service. They prepare floor layouts, collect data on worker and machine capabilities, and help develop work schedules and assignments.

An associate degree, diploma, or certificate in industrial engineering prepares individuals for roles as industrial engineering technicians. Students can also earn two-year degrees in applied science, engineering technology, or another subset of engineering, depending on their professional goals.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $56,550
  • Job Growth (2018-2028): -1%
  • Industry: Architecture and Engineering

Computer Support Specialists

Computer support specialists offer solutions to computer-related problems. They may work within companies or organizations, serving as technical support specialists. Technical support specialists perform routine maintenance, back up files, and troubleshoot computer and network problems. Computer support specialists may also work as help desk technicians. Help desk technicians respond to phone calls, emails, or chats, answering questions from consumers and providing solutions to routine problems.

Computer support specialists need knowledge and skills in computer science, information technology, and customer service. These professionals benefit from an associate degree in information science, engineering, or computer science. A degree in business or communications with coursework in computer-related topics also prepares students for the role.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $54,760
  • Job Growth (2018-2028): 10%
  • Industry: Computer and Information Technology

Civil Engineering Technicians

Civil engineering technicians work with civil engineers to design, build, and maintain infrastructure projects and structures. They also provide assistance on building and development projects for residential, commercial, and industrial use. Trained to use computer-aided design software, many civil engineering technicians are charged with taking the ideas of civil engineers and transfering them into plans and drawings.

Civil engineering technicians need observational, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills. Most civil engineering technicians hold an associate degree in civil engineering technology, and they can earn this degree in two years. They also benefit from earning certification through the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $53,410
  • Job Growth (2018-2028): 5%
  • Industry: Architecture and Engineering

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Paralegals and legal assistants work with lawyers. Their duties vary depending on the size of the firm for which they work, but they typically prepare legal documents, gather information, carry out legal research, and maintain records. They may also interview clients, assist lawyers during trials and hearings, and file official documents with courts. In corporate settings, paralegals and legal assistants may focus on contracts, financial documents, and regulatory matters.

An associate degree in legal or paralegal studies prepares individuals for careers in the field. These professionals can also earn a bachelor's degree with an accompanying paralegal certificate from a program approved by the American Bar Association. Paralegals and legal assistants need strong research, writing, and computer skills.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $51,740
  • Job Growth (2018-2028): 12%
  • Industry: Legal

Geological and Petroleum Technicians

Geological and petroleum technicians assist scientists and engineers in the extraction of natural resources. They collect and assess data related to the availability and impact of oil, natural gas, metals, and other materials; use computer databases, seismic instruments, and laboratory equipment; and prepare reports based on sample analyses and other tests. They may work in laboratories, at extraction sites, or in office settings.

Geological and petroleum technicians need an associate of applied science in geosciences, physics, or mining. Training in geographic information systems, mapping software, and modeling programs are essential for geological and petroleum technicians.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $51,130
  • Job Growth (2018-2028): 7%
  • Industry: Architecture and Engineering

Environmental Engineering Technicians

Environmental engineering technicians provide support to environmental engineers. They set up experiments and tests; keep records; and collect samples related to environmental cleanup, protection, and quality. They must follow safety guidelines and government regulations to dispose of hazardous materials and understand environmental issues and concerns.

Environmental engineering technicians need at least an associate degree in environmental engineering technology, environmental science, or a related field. They may need additional training to work with hazardous materials, which they can obtain from programs offered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $50,620
  • Job Growth (2018-2028): 19%
  • Industry: Architecture and Engineering

Medical Equipment Repairers

Medical equipment repairers tend to machines, devices, and tools in medical settings. They fix and replace parts, upgrade and update software, and perform tests to ensure proper function. Medical equipment repairers may repair equipment like life-supporting devices, diagnostic equipment, and beds and wheelchairs.

Most medical equipment repairers have an associate degree in biomedical technology, mechanical engineering, or a related discipline. They need strong problem-solving, mechanical, and troubleshooting skills. They typically undergo additional on-the-job training and work under supervision for a period before taking on repair assignments of their own.

  • Median BLS Salary (2020): $49,280
  • Job Growth (2018-2028): 4%
  • Industry: Installation, Maintenance, and Repair

Why Get an Associate Degree?

An associate degree prepares graduates for careers in a variety of fields, such as healthcare, technology, and engineering. Some associate degrees lead to entry-level roles, like diagnostic medical sonographer, engineering technician, or physical therapy assistant. These associate degree jobs offer above-average salaries.

An associate degree prepares graduates for careers in a variety of fields, such as healthcare, technology, and engineering.

Completing an associate degree takes less time and money than a bachelor's degree, with public community colleges offering lower tuition rates than public or private four-year colleges. Graduates with an associate degree can also transfer into a bachelor's program, often completing the four-year degree with just two additional years of study.

What is an Associate Degree?

An associate degree is a two-year degree that provides training for a variety of careers, many of which offer competitive salaries. For example, air traffic controllers, nuclear medicine technologists, and occupational therapy assistants meet the education requirements for their jobs with an associate degree. An associate degree also meets the education requirement for prospective dental hygienists and radiation therapists to earn professional licensure or certification.

Associate degree students can also study fields like business, communications, political science, or biology. In these fields, an associate degree prepares graduates to pursue a bachelor's degree. At many colleges and universities, transfer students with an associate degree can complete a four-year bachelor's degree in two years.

Best-Paying Industries

Top-paying careers for graduates with associate degrees include positions in healthcare, engineering, and science. These positions are challenging and change as technologies advance, but they are also rewarding and in high demand.

Healthcare

Healthcare professionals work in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and ambulatory care centers, assisting individuals with mental and physical health problems. These professionals may work as doctors or nurses, specializing in areas like pediatrics, cardiology, and podiatry. They may also work as technicians, therapists, or EMTs.

Healthcare professionals often need advanced knowledge in areas such as anatomy, medicine, diseases, and medical technologies. They also need strong decision-making and critical thinking skills. Most healthcare careers require a bachelor's or master's degree, or even a doctorate, but associate degree holders can pursue careers in dental hygiene, radiation therapy, and MRI technology.

Engineering

Engineers apply mathematical and scientific concepts to develop new products and structures. They may build machines and products in industries like agriculture, aerospace, and healthcare. The BLS projects that the demand for engineering positions will grow 4% between 2018-2028, likely due to advancing technology, changing infrastructures, and evolving energy resources.

Engineers must understand advanced scientific and mathematical concepts and have strong technical, critical thinking, and analytical skills. Students can pursue engineering associate degrees in areas like aerospace engineering, civil engineering, and electrical engineering.

Life, Physical, and Social Sciences

Life, physical, and social sciences examine human life and behavior as well as natural processes and elements. Professionals specialize in areas like biophysics, weather, food production, political systems, animals, or energy. The BLS projects occupations in this field to grow 7% between 2018-2028.

Science careers require specialized knowledge and skills. For instance, meteorologists must understand weather patterns and relevant technology, while agricultural and food scientists need to understand animal and agricultural science.

The highest-paying associate degrees for careers in this category address nuclear technology, environmental engineering, and geological and petroleum technology.

STEM Degrees

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. STEM programs must reflect at least one of these categories, and they can include disciplines like architecture, computer science, resource conservation, healthcare, and agriculture. Some of the highest-paying associate degrees in the U.S. address STEM subjects and lead to careers like air traffic control, radiation therapy, web development, and aerospace engineering.

Other STEM careers include network architects, hardware engineers, programmers, and information systems managers. However, some of these careers may require bachelor's or master's degrees. The BLS projects significant growth for many of these careers between 2018-2028.

Are Non-STEM Degrees Worth Pursuing?

There are plenty of non-STEM careers that pay well. For instance, paralegals and legal assistants only need an associate degree and earn a median annual salary of $51,740. The BLS projects 12% growth for these positions between 2018-2028. Likewise, the median annual pay for funeral service workers surpasses $58,000.

Non-STEM associate degrees also include artistic subjects like floral arrangement, photography, acting, culinary arts, and dance. Many careers in these fields do not require a degree, but employers may prefer applicants with a degree for positions like head chef, announcer, choreographer, or floral designer.

Even if a degree isn't required for a particular career, associate programs help students hone their skills and knowledge, leading to more opportunities. Photographers, for instance, can explore new technologies and techniques during an associate program, which can lead to a better portfolio and more clients.

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of jobs can you get with an associate degree?

An associate degree prepares graduates for a variety of roles, like air traffic controller, radiation therapist, and dental hygienist. Many of the best-paying associate degree jobs offer salaries above the national average.

Is an associate degree worth it?

A two-year degree costs $3,440, on average, for students attending an in-state, public institution. The 30 best associate degrees by salary all exceed the national average salary of $51,960, making an associate degree a good investment.

What associate degree pays the most?

The best-paying associate degree is an air traffic controller degree, leading to an average salary of nearly $125,000 a year.

What jobs pay well with an associate degree?

MRI technologists, nuclear technicians, funeral service managers, and dental hygienists all earn over $70,000 a year, on average, making their respective degrees among the best associate degrees by salary.

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