10 high-paying jobs you can get with an associate degree
At a time when the price for a bachelor’s degree is higher than ever, you may be asking, what about an associate degree? Rather than take out a loan and go through four years of schooling, you can get an associate degree at a junior college, community college or other two-year program for a much lower price.
And this less expensive, less time-consuming degree can set you up for a number of good careers. Here are 10 vocations that pay an average of $60,000 per year or more, and you need only two to three years of higher education to be hired.
Air Traffic Controller
Air traffic controllers direct the movement of aircraft, usually from a control tower or an approach facility. They authorize flight plans, take-offs and landings, and convey critical information about the weather or runway closures. You might be well-suited for this job if you enjoy shift work and don’t mind working on weekends. It’s also a fast-paced and high-pressure atmosphere. As of 2022, the average salary was $132,250 per year.
Want to pursue this career? You’ll need to earn an associate degree from the Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative and complete several months of training at the Federal Aviation Administration academy. You’ll also need one to three years of on-the-job training to receive full certification.
While the job availability for air traffic controllers isn’t expected to grow, it’s not petering out, either. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects about 2,000 new openings each year, on average, over the next decade.
Radiation therapists administer radiation treatment to patients with cancer (and some other diseases). In this position, you would operate the machinery that targets cancerous cells using high-energy X-rays or other particles.
You might consider this job if you like the idea of working a regular schedule — often at a hospital or outpatient clinic — with nights and weekends off. To become a radiation therapist, you’ll earn an associate degree and then pass a national certification exam.
The average salary for radiation therapists was $89,530 in 2022, and the availability of these jobs is expected to grow by 2% in the next 10 years.
Dental hygienists provide preventative dental care and assist dentists within their offices. If you’re looking for a stable job with regular, weekday hours that allows you to work full or part-time, this may be the profession for you. Typically, to become a dental hygienist you’ll need to earn a three-year associate degree and pass a licensing test.
In 2022, the average dental hygienist’s salary was $81,400. But that varies widely depending on where you live. In San Jose, California, for example, it is now $102,471. Job prospects are projected to grow by 7% over the next decade, which is above average for most occupations.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists
MRI technologists operate powerful scanners that use magnetic fields and radio frequencies to obtain images for medical diagnoses. In this job, your hours would be regular and predictable, and your workplace might be a hospital, a physician’s office or an outpatient care center. As healthcare jobs go, this is one of the less stressful ones: Your responsibilities mainly revolve around properly working the machine.
To become an MRI technologist, you’ll earn an associate degree. Some states (New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee and West Virginia) also require MRI technologists to have licenses.
In May 2022, the average salary for an MRI technologist was $80,090, and the future job outlook for this position is good: Overall employment for MRI techs is expected to grow by 6% in the next decade.
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
Diagnostic medical sonographers use imaging and ultrasound equipment to obtain interior photos of the body. These images help physicians to diagnose patients and determine their course of treatment. As a sonographer, you’d be responsible for maintaining the equipment, preparing exam rooms and situating patients for the best possible imaging. You’d work regular hours, either full or part-time, in a hospital or medical office.
To become a diagnostic medical sonographer, you’ll need to earn an associate’s degree. There’s also a certification exam that may or may not be required by your state — though potential employers might ask for it.
In May 2022, the average salary for a diagnostic medical sonographer was $81,350.
Funeral Home Managers
Funeral home managers handle the operation of a funeral parlor or mortuary, handling the details of ceremonies for the deceased. They may also be responsible for managing employees, the business’s finances and its public relations.
You might be well-suited for this job if you have good interpersonal skills (you’ll be caring for the grieving) and don’t mind unpredictable hours (you will probably be on call). You’ll need an associate’s degree in funeral service or mortuary science, have supervised on-the-job training, and sit for a licensing exam.
Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technologists and Technicians
As an aerospace engineering and operations tech, you would develop, test, maintain, and sustain aircraft and spacecraft. Your workplace would probably be a manufacturing plant or laboratory — though it might also be an office. To pursue this career, you’d earn an associate’s degree in engineering technology, although some employers simply require that you complete a certificate program.
In 2022, the average salary for aerospace engineering and operations technologists and technicians was $74,410. Jobs in this field are projected to grow by 8% in the next 10 years.
Occupational Therapy Assistants
Occupational therapy assistants work with people who have illness, trauma or disabilities to help them recover or develop the skills they need for everyday life and work. Their patients usually face physical or mental obstacles when it comes to tasks like eating, bathing and using motor skills.
If you’d like to pursue a career as an occupational therapy assistant, you’ll need to earn an associate’s degree from an accredited occupational therapy assistant program. You’ll also receive on-the-job training. In 2022, the average salary for occupational therapy assistants was $64,250. This is also a fast-growing job market: employment among occupational therapy assistants is expected to increase by 23% in the next decade.
Architectural and Civil Drafters
Architectural drafters create building and construction plans by drawing structural features and details, often using computer-assisted drafting systems. Civil drafters do similar work for civil engineering projects like highways, road intersections, sewage disposal systems, levies and bridges.
This career might be right for you if you’re a problem solver with an interest in design or safety. You’ll work regular business hours in an office or spend time on job sites collaborating with builders, engineers and/or architects. In 2022, architectural and civil drafters earned an average yearly salary of $61,660.
There is one concern, though: The Bureau for Labor Statistics projects that employment among drafters will decrease by 2% in the next decade.
Paralegals conduct research and help lawyers prepare for legal cases, hearings, meetings and trials. They’re also responsible for organizing and maintaining the data collected for cases. To become a paralegal, you’d earn an associate’s degree or a certificate in paralegal studies.
This job could be a good fit if you’re interested in helping people in trouble or working for a cause, such as environmental change. Some paralegals go on to be lawyers or advance to management positions within law firms or the law departments of corporations.
In 2022, the average salary for a paralegal was $59,200, and the career opportunities in this field are projected to grow by 4% in the next decade.