Many people are concerned about the student debt crisis. The generation currently entering college is nervous about the incredible amounts of debt accrued by the previous generation. Many are considering not going to college at all. People with this concern should take a look at our ranking of the highest paying associates degree jobs. Two year degrees can be earned at many institutions, but public community colleges and state universities are the most common places to earn an associate’s degree. Community colleges are certainly the most affordable institutions of higher education in the United States. And it’s often possible for students to earn their high paying associate’s degrees without having to take out student loans at all. Many of the best associate’s degree jobs are also in growing fields expected to add thousands to hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next ten years.
The highest paying associate degree jobs only require two to three years of college. Less time spent in college means less debt, and a high paying associate’s degree means you pay back any debt faster, while earning great money. Most of the best jobs you can get with an associate’s degree are in the medical or technology fields. In fact, only one job on our ranking of the highest paying associate’s degree jobs is not in technology or medicine, and that is the job of police officer.
#1. Radiation Therapist
Like many of the highest paying jobs with an associate’s degree, being a radiation therapist isn’t easy. Radiation therapists administer radiation therapy to cancer patients–doubtless an emotionally stressful occupation. The other stress comes from handling radioactive material and the potential risk of exposure to radiation. While rare, it is possible to be exposed to radiation in unsafe ways while on the job. The pay starts out pretty good in the early stages of the career and increases dramatically over time as the radiation therapist gains experience and proves they can handle the stress.
- Early Career Pay: $48,700
- Median Pay: $82,330
- Number of New Jobs 2018-2028: 2,400
#2. Nuclear Medicine Technologist
Nuclear Medicine Technologists can serve many roles in the healthcare industry. Most work with very slightly radioactive medicines used as diagnostic tools by doctors. Others operate machinery like CT scanners and MRI scanners which are used alongside the radiopharmaceutical medicine procedures that the nuclear medicine technologist administers. While job growth may not be as high as many of the other highest paying associates degree jobs, the growth rate of the job is faster than average according to the bureau of labor statistics. Another advantage of earning a high paying associate’s degree is that it’s easier to target trends in the current job market because the degree itself takes less time to earn.
- Early Career Pay: $52,320
- Median Pay: $76,280
- Number of New Jobs 2018-2028: 1,300
#3. Dental Hygienist
Chances are if you go the dentist, most of your interaction will be with the dental hygienist. Dental hygienists examine patients for oral diseases, provide a wide variety of preventative care, and often do the basic cleanings for patients. While the position only requires an associate’s degree, it can take up to three years to complete all the necessary study and training. Dental hygienists must be licensed by the state in which they practice.
- Early Career Pay: $60,200
- Median Pay: $74,820
- Number of New Jobs 2018-2028: 23,700
#4. Registered Nurse
Registered nurses are the backbone of any medical organization. Most of the actual patient care falls to the nurses. Nurses who work in hospitals perform a great deal of the unpleasant tasks, though that can vary between departments. Registered nurses can decide to pursue more schooling and transition to jobs like nurse practitioner, which means they are able to perform many of the same duties as doctors. It’s hard work, and it pays well, especially as a nurse advances in the field and specializes. The BLS forecasts that 371,500 new nursing jobs will be created in the next ten years, making it more likely for new nursing graduates to find a job right out of school.
- Early Career Pay: $46,000
- Median Pay: $71,730
- Number of New Jobs 2018-2028: 371,500
#5. Web Developer
Full-stack web developers are capable of designing every aspect of a website, from backend and e-commerce to user experience design on the front end. In the end, getting a job as a web developer is more about what you’re capable of than what degree you hold. But it’s possible to gain all the knowledge necessary to become a full-stack web developer through one of the best paying associates degrees.
- Early Career Pay: $40,000
- Median Pay: $69,430
- Number of New Jobs 2018-2028: 20,900
#6. Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
The most well known part of medical sonography is administering an ultrasound to a pregnant woman. But the applications of ultrasound technology go far beyond that function. Ultrasounds are used to detect problems in organs, locate sources of internal bleeding, find tumors or cysts, or inspect the state of muscles, ligaments, joints, and tendons without having to explore problems surgically. The field is currently expected to experience significant job growth over the next ten years.
- Early Career Pay: $49,920
- Median Pay:$67,080
- Number of New Jobs 2018-2028: 18,000
#7. Police Officer
Police officers go through specialized training at police academies, and the job doesn’t require an associate’s degree. However, an associate’s degree in criminal justice is often beneficial for police officers looking to advance to detective positions within their department. The nature of the job varies depending on where you work. The job of police in a large city tends to be different by nature than the job of police in a suburb or rural area. In all cases the job comes with a significant amount of stress. The stress is generated in part by the inherent risks of the job, and in part by the nature of duties which can involve investigation of all sorts of disturbing crime scenes.
- Early Career Pay: $48,000
- Median Pay: $63,380
- Number of New Jobs 2018-2028: 37,500
#8. Avionics Technician
Avionics technicians are responsible for the installation, inspection, testing, adjustment and repair of airplane electronics. Some of the systems they are responsible for include radio, navigation, radar, and spacecraft missile control. Avionics techs are often responsible for maintaining the wiring of airplane electronics as well. When something goes wrong, avionics techs troubleshoot and fix the problem. This is one of the best 2 year degrees to consider for a great income.
- Early Career Pay: $33,440
- Median Pay: $63,060
- Number of New Jobs 2018-2028: 4,700
#9. Respiratory Therapist
Respiratory therapists work with a wide variety of patients who have problems breathing. The most common patients have some form of respiratory disease like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, lung cancer, cystic fibrosis, pneumonia, or asthma. While the job only requires an associate’s degree, it can be quite beneficial to earn a bachelor’s if you want to advance in your career. Most respiratory therapists work in hospitals, nursing care, and home care.
- Early Career Pay: $52,320
- Median Pay: $60,280
- Number of New Jobs 2018-2028: 27,900
#10. Computer Network Specialist
Computer networking professionals are typically responsible for setting up and maintaining local computer networks for businesses and organizations. They do regular maintenance, install software and updates, configure operating systems, and make sure proper security practices are maintained. Computer network specialists who want to advance in their career, eventually becoming network administrators, computer network architects, or network security professionals, might consider earning a bachelor’s degree. But even that’s not always necessary as job experience is typically the most important factor companies consider when hiring for those positions.
- Early Career Pay: $48,300
- Median Pay: $53,470
- Number of New Jobs 2018-2028: 83,100
Frequently Asked Questions
If you can get such great jobs with one of these highest paying associates degree programs, why aren’t more people going for these jobs?
If you look closely at every job in our ranking, you will notice they all have something in common. They are not easy work. All of them require technical proficiency, the ability to maintain a high level of concentration and attention to detail throughout the entire workday.
Nursing is physically, emotionally, and intellectually demanding. Nurses do a lot of physical labor, they also must accurately administer sensitive medical treatments, and maintain a good bedside manner.
The other medical professions in this ranking are similar. Medical sonographers, radiation therapists, respiratory therapists, and nuclear medicine technicians all have high stakes. A mistake can cost a person their life. Not everybody can handle that kind of pressure.
Avionics technicians can’t afford to make many mistakes in their work either. Missing a key problem in an airplane’s technology can have dire consequences.
Mistakes in computer networking could shut down an organization’s ability to do business for hours, causing the loss of thousands of dollars.
All of these professions have high stakes, and require professionals in the field to maintain high levels of concentration throughout the workweek, and the slightest mistake can have a huge impact. So while they may not require as much academic training as other professions, the services provided by professionals in these fields is highly valuable, and not everybody can do it.
What was the methodology you used to rank these highest paying associates degrees?
They are ranked according to the median pay of each profession, with the highest pay receiving the highest ranking. There was also a selection criteria. We wanted to ensure that students could count on graduating into growing fields. What good is a high paying associate’s degree if you can’t get a job in your field after graduating? So we eliminated any field with job growth under 1,000 jobs over the next ten years. For instance, air traffic controller is a very high paying job. But if thousands of people earn that degree, and the field as a whole only sees 900 new jobs created in the next ten years (fewer than 100 new jobs per year), it could become very difficult for graduates to find work.
The rate of job growth in the above professions makes them a great choice for anyone looking to earn one of the best-paying associate’s degrees out there.
Should I get my associate’s degree online?
For this it depends on the degree and how you want to approach it. For instance, it may be possible to earn most of a nursing degree online. But some aspects of a nursing associate’s degree will require you to gain hands-on experience either through labs at the school or even just hands on elements of classroom education. So you might want to consider attending a local school for this program. However, if your local school offers online programs, then you are in luck. You can take classes where you don’t need hands on experience online and attend the other classes in person.
The answer to this question will vary from person to person and profession to profession. The best course of action is to do a lot of research on the degrees you are interested in and go from there. Choose the path that seems best for you and your goals.
Are the highest paying associate degrees more expensive than other associate’s degrees?
Some of the best paying associates degrees may be slightly more expensive. This is because some of the degrees may require you to pay lab fees for lab classes and other fees here and there that can add up. However, the additional costs can all be covered by financial aid and, in the end, even if you have to take out small loans to pay for them here and there, getting yourself a high paying job right out of a two-year program will more than make up for the extra cost.