MRI technician looking at head and brain imaging

College Success

15 Highest Paying Jobs with an Associate Degree

11.29.2022 • 11 min read

Nick Griffin

Subject Matter Expert

You can do several high paying jobs with an associate's degree. Here’s our list of top jobs. Learn your degree options and the top soft skills recruiters look for.

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In This Article

  1. 15 Top Jobs You Can Do With an Associate Degree

  2. What Is an Associate Degree?

  3. 4 Types of Associate Degrees

  4. Benefits of an Associate Degree

  5. Top In-Demand Skills

When considering a new career, don’t overlook an associate degree. In fact, several of the highest paying jobs out there only require a 2-year associate degree that you can earn at a fraction of the cost of a bachelor’s degree.

By earning an associate degree, you open doors to an array of new occupations with a much higher salary than with only a high school diploma.

Many occupations requiring an associate degree are on the rise. With a variety of industries searching for professionals, associate degree jobs are in high demand.

15 Top Jobs You Can Do With an Associate Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) rankings, each of the jobs on this list has a high median salary and is in demand. The required minimum education to qualify for each of these positions is an associate degree. You can complete these programs in 2-3 years.

1. Air Traffic Controller

The highest paying associate degree is in air traffic control. Air traffic controllers work in control towers or approach control facilities and help coordinate safe movement between aircraft. This job requires a specialized associate degree with most training being practical in nature.

This job entails working in a dynamic and concentrated state which suits highly focused individuals well. Often, air traffic controllers work rotating shifts, meaning work could fluctuate between days, nights, and weekends.

Median Annual SalaryOn-The-Job Training10-Year Job Growth
$129,750Long-term1%

2. Radiation Therapist

Working with patients who have cancer or other serious diseases, radiation therapists administer doses of radiation treatment to patients. Most radiation therapists work in hospitals or clinics and work closely with other medical staff.

To become a radiation therapist, you must complete an associate program in radiation therapy and pass a national exam to become certified.

Median Annual SalaryOn-The-Job Training10-Year Job Growth
$82,790None6%

3. Nuclear Medicine Technologist

A nuclear medicine technologist works with patients who are receiving treatment with radioactive drugs or patients who are having imaging done in a hospital or clinic. The nuclear medicine technologist will prepare and administer the specific drugs the patient needs.

Earning an associate degree from an accredited nuclear medicine technology program is the first step to beginning a career as a nuclear medicine technologist. Certification or licensure will require an exam in the state you plan on practicing.

Median Annual SalaryOn-The-Job Training10-Year Job Growth
$78,760None2%

4. Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists work in a dentist’s office and examine patients for oral diseases. Dental hygienists also teach patients about good oral hygiene and perform preventative care such as cleanings.

To start working as a dental hygienist, you must have a state license. Students are prepared for licensure after earning an associate degree in dental hygiene.

Median Annual SalaryOn-The-Job Training10-Year Job Growth
$77,810None9%

5. Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Sonography is working with imaging equipment in a medical setting. Sonographers work with patients who require specialized imaging or tests as part of their treatment. These technicians work primarily with vascular and cardiovascular imaging.

Becoming a medical sonographer requires an associate degree and a professional certification, depending on the state in which you are practicing.

Median Annual SalaryOn-The-Job Training10-Year Job Growth
$75,380None10%

6. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist & Radiologic Technologist

These technologists provide specialized diagnostic images to other hospital staff for treatment planning.

Most MRI technologists work in hospitals or other medical facilities.

Radiologic technologists are also known as radiographers. They can specialize in imagery for:

  • X-ray

  • Mammography

  • Computed Tomography (CT)

To find a good job as an MRI or radiologic technologist, you need to be certified, which includes earning an associate degree in radiography and passing other state requirements.

Median Annual SalaryOn-The-Job Training10-Year Job Growth
$61,980None6%

7. Funeral Home Manager

Funeral home managers work with families to organize the ceremony of life for a deceased person. These are not morticians who are trained in embalming and cremation, but the managers of a service facility who work in close relationships with morticians, cemeteries, and families to make final preparations.

To become a funeral home manager, you need to have an associate degree in funeral service or mortuary science. You must have supervised training as part of your program and pass a state licensing exam.

Median Annual SalaryOn-The-Job Training10-Year Job Growth
$58,900Supervised Training8%

8. Aerospace Engineering & Operations Technician

An aerospace technician is a designer and mechanic who works on airplanes and spacecraft to ensure safety and top performance. This is usually a full-time job working in both an office and a manufacturing plant.

An associate degree in engineering technology is usually required to become an aerospace technician.

Median Annual SalaryOn-The-Job Training10-Year Job Growth
$73,580None6%

9. Avionics Technician

Avionics technicians are aircraft mechanics who work on aircraft needing repair or regular maintenance. Usually, an avionics technician works on an airfield or in a hangar for either a private company or an airline.

Earning an associate degree at a training school approved by the Federal Aviation Administration will put you on the fast track toward this high-demand, on-your-feet career.

Median Annual SalaryOn-The-Job Training10-Year Job Growth
$65,550None6%

10. Computer Network Support Specialist

With a variety of shifts available, companies hire IT specialists to support staff or customers with technical help and to maintain company networks. Most computer network support specialists work in an office full-time and work alongside other employees in IT.

Typically, a computer network support specialist needs to earn an associate degree in an IT area of concentration.

One viable path to this career is with an associate degree in applied computing from Golden Gate University’s Degrees+ program. You can earn a Google certificate in IT support, where you gain skills needed for an introductory job in IT.

Median Annual SalaryOn-The-Job Training10-Year Job Growth
$57,910Entry-level training6%
Applied Computing, Associate of Science

Applied Computing, Associate of Science

Explore degree

11. Respiratory Therapist

In this high-demand career, respiratory therapists work in a hospital setting to help patients who are having trouble breathing. These issues may be the result of an accident or a chronic condition and require specialized services to help patients recover.

An associate degree in respiratory therapy will provide all the training needed to enter this career. The coursework consists of both classroom learning and real-world experience.

Median Annual SalaryOn-The-Job Training10-Year Job Growth
$61,830None14%

12. Radio, Cellular, & Tower Equipment Installer

Tower equipment installers perform repairs and maintenance on a variety of towers that transmit information. This is a specialized type of repair that requires an understanding of the transmission of power, the ability to read blueprints, and the physical ability to work in high places.

Radio, cellular, and tower equipment installers can find work after earning an associate degree in a related field. The first 1-2 years on the job will usually require working alongside a skilled installer.

Median Annual SalaryOn-The-Job Training10-Year Job Growth
$60,360Entry-level training6%

Paralegals and legal assistants support lawyers with their cases and perform a variety of tasks. Most of the time, these professionals will work for a law firm or government agency but can support lawyers in any type of setting.

Earning an associate degree in paralegal studies will allow you to enter this profession right away.

Median Annual SalaryOn-The-Job Training10-Year Job Growth
$56,230None14%

14. Medical Equipment Repairer

With the highest expected job growth out of all the jobs on the list, a medical equipment repairer is in great demand. These are the people who repair and maintain the variety of equipment you see in a hospital or clinic setting.

While most medical equipment repairers work regular hours, they are sometimes on call to fix machines when someone’s life depends on it.

An associate degree in biomedical technology and some on-the-job training will prepare you for this technical career.

Median Annual SalaryOn-The-Job Training10-Year Job Growth
$49,910Entry-level training17%

15. Food Science Technician

A food science technician will help agricultural and food scientists test food to ensure its safety for public consumption. Food science technicians can work both in a lab and in the field, at processing plants, farms, and ranches.

Having an associate degree in biology, chemistry, or a related field prepares applicants for a job in food science. You can learn the most practical skills on the job once hired.

Median Annual SalaryOn-The-Job Training10-Year Job Growth
$44,700Moderate training9%

What Is an Associate Degree?

An associate degree is a college degree that differs from a bachelor’s degree. Earning an associate degree usually takes around 2 years to complete all of your studies. In contrast, a typical student can earn a bachelor’s degree in 4 years.

Associate degrees are designed to be completed as post-secondary education, after earning a high school diploma. While many students take courses toward an associate degree during high school, most students earn their associate degree after completing their secondary education.

In fact, over 40% of college students earning their associate degree are non-traditional students—starting their degree after the age of 22.

Associate degrees are a lower cost alternative to earning a bachelor’s degree as well. So that students can enter the job market in less time, with less college debt. In addition, students can get a job while earning their degree to offset the cost of their education even more.

A typical associate degree costs an average of $3,570 per year in 2020 for tuition and fees. In 2020, a bachelor’s degree program had a price tag of $10,440 per year for in-state tuition and fees, according to a College Board report.

You can earn an associate degree either in-person or online through a multitude of community colleges, technical colleges, or affiliated colleges of larger universities.

Applying for an associate degree program is the same as applying to any other college program. Students will need to take their time to fill out applications, work with financial aid, and figure out which program is right for them.

By taking the time to learn some tips and tricks for the application process, students can navigate this process with ease and get on the degree path that is best for them.

You can earn four types of associate degrees, each with a wide spectrum of career paths.

4 Types of Associate Degrees

1. Associate of Arts (AA)

An Associate of Arts degree is the broadest associate degree. Students earning this degree can enter several social science fields.

Common fields that students enter with an AA degree include:

  • Marketing

  • Human resources

  • Culinary arts

  • Graphic design

  • Production

  • Web development

Business Administration, Associate of Arts

Business Administration, Associate of Arts

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Liberal Studies, Associate of Arts

Liberal Studies, Associate of Arts

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2. Associate of Science (AS)

An Associate of Science degree is also a broad degree but encompasses the fields of biology, computer science, and physical science. Students can enter careers in fields such as:

  • Healthcare

  • Robotics

  • Engineering

Some common jobs that require an Associate of Science degree are:

  • Occupational therapy assistant

  • Registered nurse

  • Dental hygienist

  • Engineering technician

  • Medical sonographer

Applied Computing, Associate of Science

Applied Computing, Associate of Science

Explore degree

3. Associate of Applied Arts (AAA)

Earning an Associate of Applied Arts degree sets you on a path toward a career in performing or visual arts. These specialized degrees usually get students into a job immediately upon graduation.

Jobs that AAA degree holders enter include:

  • Fashion designer

  • Photographer

  • Advertising designer

  • Web designer

  • Other careers in the visual arts

4. Associate of Applied Science (AAS)

Similar to an AAA degree, having an Associate of Applied Science degree provides students with the skills they need to enter the workforce after graduation. An AAS degree focuses students on a specific track for a career in the sciences.

These specialized degree tracks prepare students for working in everything from automotive technology to law enforcement. Some of the top jobs for someone with an AAS degree include:

  • Air traffic controller

  • Cardiovascular technologist

  • Radiation therapist

  • Web developer

Benefits of an Associate Degree

Less Time

Time is a big factor with higher education. By earning an associate degree, you can enter the workforce and start making money in half the time it takes to earn a 4-year degree.

This also means that you will have more on-the-job experience, which is a highly sought-after trait in the workforce today.

Reduced Cost

By taking around two years to earn an associate degree, you will save the money that others spend earning a 4-year bachelor’s degree. Instead, you will spend that extra two years making money.

In addition, an associate degree typically costs far less than a bachelor’s degree. This is money you will not have to take out in student loans and owe in the future.

Specific Career Path

Associate degree programs allow students to choose both a major and a career path.

In many associate programs, a student’s education is tailored to fit the job they are planning on going into. This helps them build confidence and competence. By having the degree path tailored to fit your needs, learning how to manage your time while in school is much simpler.

Transferable Credit

While some students earn an associate degree to enter the workforce in a specific field, it is not uncommon to transfer credit into a university program.

By choosing to get an associate degree first, students are halfway toward a bachelor’s degree when they graduate. This means students have options; they can continue to pursue advanced education or start working.

Most universities allow students to transfer 60 credits from an associate program into their bachelor’s programs. This means you can complete your first two years of education requirements at a much lower cost and then continue on to pursue an even higher paying degree.

Top In-Demand Skills

Associate degree programs prepare students for a career right out of college because they focus on the skills employers are looking for. Not only do employers look for competence in their field, but they also want their employees to have a well-rounded skill set.

According to Indeed, the most in-demand skills today are:

  • Communication skills—writing, speaking, listening, and negotiating

  • Leadership

  • Teamwork

  • Interpersonal—relating to others

  • Adaptability

  • Self-management

  • Organizational—planning, critical thinking, and attention to detail

  • Computer competence

  • Problem-solving

  • Open-mindedness

  • Strong work ethic

A benefit to enrolling in an associate degree program is that instructors and staff know what employers are looking for. These programs develop these top in-demand skills in each student.

By choosing to earn an associate degree, you are not only learning how to enter a career you are interested in, but you are also learning the skills to pursue any career. To put it simply, an associate degree gives you serious options.

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Business Administration, Associate of Arts

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Applied Computing, Associate of Science

Applied Computing, Associate of Science

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Liberal Studies, Associate of Arts

Liberal Studies, Associate of Arts

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