15 High-Paying Careers That Only Require an Associate Degree
Let’s face it – four years of college isn’t for everyone.
Some people would rather learn a specific skill, rather than spend two years on general core classes. And most students dread the thought of at least four years of student loan debt.
If that’s you, and you’re on the fence about a four-year degree, you do have an alternative option – an associate degree.
Getting your associate degree allows you to jet off into the workforce quicker and can provide ample opportunities for high-paying and fulfilling careers. So The Penny Hoarder found 15 jobs you can land after going through a two-year associate degree program.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that healthcare jobs make up half of this list, because with an aging population, we’ll need plenty of these jobs in the coming years.
15 High-Paying Jobs With an Associate Degree
Here are 15 high-paying jobs that are also seeing a lot of growth, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. We also included the states with the highest concentration of each job.
1. Radiation Therapist
Median pay: $82,790 (BLS)
Radiation therapists are the behind-the-scenes operators of the machines that blast X-rays at cancer cells in a patient’s body. With an associate degree and professional certification, this career can flourish in a variety of health care settings, including hospitals, medical offices and outpatient centers.
The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, an organization that certifies radiation therapists, has plenty of resources on where to start if you’re interested in this career.
It’s important to note that some radiation therapists can pursue a bachelor’s degree which pays more, bumping up the median wage for the occupation as a whole.
Where the jobs are: New York, Texas, Wisconsin, California, Pennsylvania
2. Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
Median pay: $77,740 (BLS)
It’s a mouthful, but basically, diagnostic medical sonographers are responsible for the first glimpse expectant mothers get of their babies.
They also operate imaging equipment used to investigate muscle and tendon tears, the presence of breast cancer or pretty much any other internal problem in your body.
There are nearly 700 viable programs for you to pick if you’re entering this field, according to the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.
Where the jobs are: California, Texas, Florida, New York, Ohio
3. Occupational Therapy Assistant
Median pay: $61,730 (BLS)
Occupational therapists have one major job – to help you get back to work and a normal life.
These careers are based out of hospitals, retirement homes and home health care agencies. Their services can also be provided by local governments. There’s a lot of flexibility when you’re looking for a job.
As for where to start, check out the Occupational Therapy and Occupational Therapy Assistant Centralized Application Service for leads on where to find a school near you.
Where the jobs are: Texas, Ohio, California, Pennsylvania, Florida
4. Dental Hygienist
Median pay: $77,810 (BLS)
Dental hygienists are the workhorses of any dental practice. They clean teeth, take X-rays and chat you up while you drool through massive balls of cotton in your mouth.
Like the previous associate degree jobs mentioned, this job requires a certification after graduation, and some students elect to pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree as well. The American Dental Hygienists Association has resources on where to start if you’re interested.
Where the jobs are: California, Texas, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania
5. Web Developer
Median pay: $77,030 (BLS)
The first non-health care job on the list is also the one that has the lowest barrier to entry and most flexibility: web developer.
Web developers design and create websites just like the one you’re browsing right now . While you can learn to code on the cheap, picking a community college for your associate degree can provide you with internships and help you build a portfolio.
Because there are so many resources out there to learn the basics of web development on your own, you might want to take a few classes to see what you think before committing to a two-year degree.
Where the jobs are: California, New York, Texas, Florida, Wisconsin
6. Physical Therapist Assistant
Median pay: $61,180 (BLS)
Similar to occupational therapists, physical therapist assistants are support staff helping people get their groove back.
This job involves ensuring patient safety while implementing physical therapy treatments and collecting data on patient progress.
The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education has approved 378 schools in the U.S.
Where the jobs are: Texas, Ohio, Florida, California, Pennsylvania
7. Cardiovascular Technologist or Technician
Median pay: $60,570 (BLS)
These combined fields both represent health care workers focusing on diagnosing and treating heart and blood vessel issues.
Cardiovascular technologists are lifesavers — literally. They are involved in teams treating heart attacks, but also help install stents and pacemakers. Technicians run stress tests and electrocardiograms.
Like most health care jobs, they require certification upon graduation.
Where the jobs are: Texas, Florida, California, New York, Pennsylvania
8. Respiratory Therapists
Median pay: $61,830 (BLS)
Respiratory therapists help patients with an essential life function: breathing.
They care for everyone from infants to the elderly, and they assist doctors during emergency situations, such as drownings or heart attacks.
The demand for these jobs is always high, and they offer stable careers, according to the American Association for Respiratory Care.
Check out this nifty map that compares each school with respiratory therapy programs.
Where the jobs are: California, Texas, Florida, Ohio, New York
9. Geological and Petroleum Technician
Median pay: $50,080 (BLS)
When it comes to researching and extracting natural resources,these workers pretty much do it all. They gather samples for scientists to test, record data, install lab and field equipment, monitor oil wells, and even do scientific tests of their own.
Once you find a school, you’ll take mostly science and math classes to complete your degree.
Where the jobs are: Texas, California, Oklahoma, Colorado, Florida
10. Radiologic Technologist
Median pay: $61,370 (BLS)
Radiologic technologists maintain X-ray equipment, run X-rays on patients and record results.
But don’t assume they’re just some machine jockeys — they have to know all about the anatomy of the human body, radiation safety and patient care.
The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT) can help you find an accredited program in your area. Like the other health care jobs above, it requires certification after you graduate.
Where the jobs are: California, Texas, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania
Median Pay: $56,230 (BLS)
Paralegals and legal assistants do a lot of the legwork and legal research that helps attorneys do their jobs and build their cases. This might include gathering facts and evidence, organizing documents, and drafting correspondence.
To become a paralegal, you’ll need an associate degree and a certificate in paralegal studies from a paralegal education program approved by the American Bar Association. Some firms might require a bachelor’s degree, so make sure you know the requirements before you apply.
Where the jobs are: California, New York, Florida, Texas, Illinois
12. Funeral Service Worker
Median Pay: $58,900 (BLS)
If you don’t mind the nature of this job, you can make a good career being a funeral service worker. This is a job for a special kind of person, as your customers will be strangers who are dealing with the death of a loved one.
You’ll likely need an associate degree in a funeral service or mortuary science education program to enter this career. Courses may cover topics like ethics, grief counseling, funeral service, and business law. The American Board of Funeral Service Education provides accreditation for these programs.
Where the jobs are: California, Ohio, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania
13. Aircraft Technicians/Mechanics
Median Pay: $65,380 (BLS)
These specialized mechanics perform maintenance, inspections and repairs on aircraft.
Most aircraft mechanics have earned an associate degree before acquiring specialized certification for the job. Some mechanics receive certification through a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved maintenance technician school. Others learn on the job or in the military.
Where the jobs are: Texas, Florida, California, Tennessee, Georgia
14. Air traffic controllers
Median Pay: $129,750 (BLS)
Staying in the airline industry, this is the highest pay job on the list.
Air traffic controllers monitor and direct air traffic and ground traffic at airports. They also communicate with pilots and organize arrivals and departures. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg on what these professionals do every day.
Candidates must at least have an associate degree prior to receiving certification through an air traffic-collegiate training initiative (AT-CTI) program. These programs offer two-year and four-year degrees that teach air traffic control and aviation administration. They can cost around $6,000 per year for in-state residents.
Where the jobs are: Florida, California, Texas, Virginia, Georgia
15. Medical equipment technician
Median Pay: $49,910 (BLS)
These equipment technicians repair, adjust, install and test patient care equipment.
Employers prefer candidates with an associate degree in biomedical technology or engineering. Technicians who work on less complicated equipment might only need on-the-job training, while those who hope to advance to more sophisticated equipment might need a bachelor’s degree.
Where the jobs are: California, Texas, Florida, Michigan, Ohio
Robert Bruce is a senior staff writer at The Penny Hoarder covering earning, saving and managing money. He has written about personal finance for more than a decade.