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Highest-Paying Associates Degrees (2024)

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Choosing a career path doesn't always require a four-year degree; some of the highest-paying jobs are accessible with just an associate degree, which typically takes two years to complete. In this guide, we'll look at some of the best-paying careers you can get with just an associate degree. Whether you're starting or thinking about a change, these two-year programs could lead you to a great paycheck.

Summary

  • Associate's degrees in popular fields such as healthcare, engineering, and aviation can lead to high-paying jobs.
  • Top-paying associate degrees include air traffic controller, nuclear technician, radiation therapist, and funeral home manager.
  • There are profitable associate degrees that you can take in less than 2 years like paralegal, nursing, and graphic design.
  • While not the highest-paying, some of the easiest 2-year degrees to obtain include liberal arts, business, and criminal justice.

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What Are the Highest-Paying Associate Degrees?

When it comes to the highest-paying associate degrees, several fields stand out for their lucrative earning potential. Here are the top 10 highest-paying associate's degrees:

1. Air Traffic Controllers

Air traffic controllers are responsible for guiding aircraft safely through the skies, monitoring flights, and coordinating takeoffs and landings. This highly skilled and stressful job requires an associate's degree in air traffic control.

  • Median Annual Salary: $137,380 per year
  • Hourly Rate: $66.05
  • Job Outlook: 1% growth (little or no change)

2. Nuclear Technicians

Nuclear technicians operate and maintain the systems and equipment used in nuclear power plants and other nuclear facilities. They typically hold an associate's degree in nuclear technology or a related field.

  • Median Annual Salary: $101,740
  • Hourly Rate: $48.92
  • Job Outlook: -1% (little or no change) 3. Radiation Therapists

Radiation therapists administer radiation treatments to cancer patients. They use specialized equipment and work closely with oncologists and other healthcare professionals. An associate's degree in radiation therapy is the standard educational requirement.

  • Median Annual Salary: $98,300
  • Hourly Rate: $47.26
  • Job Outlook: 2% growth (as fast as average)

4. Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Nuclear medicine technologists operate equipment that creates images of the body's internal structures, which are used to diagnose and treat various medical conditions. They typically hold an associate's degree in nuclear medicine technology.

  • Median Annual Salary: $92,500
  • Hourly Rate: $44.47
  • Job Outlook: no change in job outlook

5. Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists clean teeth, educate patients on oral hygiene and assist dentists in various procedures. They typically hold an associate's degree in dental hygiene.

  • Median Annual Salary: $87,530
  • Hourly Rate: $43.21
  • Job Outlook: 7% growth (as fast as average)

6. Funeral Home Managers

Funeral home managers oversee the daily operations of funeral homes, including managing staff, coordinating services, and ensuring compliance with regulations. An associate's degree in funeral service or mortuary science is the standard educational requirement.

  • Median Annual Salary: $84,800
  • Hourly Rate: $40.77
  • Job Outlook: 2.5% growth (as fast as average)

7. Diagnostic Medical Sonographers

Diagnostic medical sonographers use specialized imaging equipment to create images of the body's internal structures, which are used to diagnose and monitor medical conditions. They typically hold an associate's degree in diagnostic medical sonography.

  • Median Annual Salary: $84,470
  • Hourly Rate: $42.80
  • Job Outlook: 14% growth (much faster than average)

8. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologists

MRI technologists operate magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, which create detailed images of the body's internal structures. They typically hold an associate's degree in radiologic technology or a related field.

  • Median Annual Salary: $83,740
  • Hourly Rate: $40.26
  • Job Outlook: 8% growth (faster than average)

9. Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technologists and Technicians

Aerospace engineering and operations technologists and technicians assist engineers in the design, development, and testing of aircraft, spacecraft, and related systems. They typically hold an associate's degree in aerospace engineering technology or a related field.

  • Median Annual Salary: $77,830
  • Hourly Rate: $37.42
  • Job Outlook: 8% growth (faster than average)

10. Aviation Maintenance Technicians

Aviation maintenance technicians are responsible for inspecting, repairing, and maintaining aircraft and related equipment. They typically hold an associate's degree in aviation maintenance technology or a related field.

  • Median Annual Salary: $75,400
  • Hourly Rate: $36.25
  • Job Outlook: 4% growth (as fast as average)

Frequently Asked Questions

Which 2-year degrees or shorter programs are the most profitable?

While the top-paying associate degrees are typically found in highly specialized technical fields, there are also several accessible programs lasting 2 years or less that can lead to profitable careers. Here are some of them:

1. Paralegal Studies

Paralegals play a crucial role in legal proceedings by assisting lawyers with research, drafting legal documents, and organizing case files. Completing an associate degree in Paralegal Studies typically takes less than 2 years and provides students with a comprehensive understanding of legal principles, research methods, and procedural rules.

  • Median Annual Salary: $60,970
  • Hourly Rate: $29.31
  • Job Outlook: 4% growth (as fast as average)

2. Nursing (LPN/LVN)

Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) or Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs) provide basic nursing care under the supervision of registered nurses and physicians. A nursing program that leads to LPN/LVN licensure typically takes 1 to 2 years to complete and covers essential nursing skills, patient care techniques, and medical knowledge.

  • Median Annual Salary: $59,730
  • Hourly Rate: $28.72
  • Job Outlook: 5% growth (faster than average)

3. Graphic Design

Graphic designers use visual elements to communicate messages and ideas through various media such as print, digital, and multimedia platforms. An associate degree in Graphic Design, typically completed in 2 years or less, covers design principles, software tools, typography, and layout techniques.

  • Median Annual Salary: $58,910
  • Hourly Rate: $28.32
  • Job Outlook: 3% growth (as fast as average)

What are the easiest 2-year degrees to get?

While the highest-paying 2-year degrees tend to be in specialized, technical fields, some of the easiest 2-year degrees to obtain are in more general, liberal arts-focused areas.

Some of the easiest 2-year degrees to get include:

1. Liberal Arts: A liberal arts associate's degree provides a broad, interdisciplinary education in subjects like English, history, philosophy, and the social sciences. It is often seen as a relatively straightforward program.

2. Business: An associate's degree in business can cover topics like accounting, marketing, management, and entrepreneurship. These programs are generally less technically demanding than degrees in fields like engineering or healthcare.

3. Criminal Justice: An associate's degree in criminal justice prepares students for careers in law enforcement, corrections, and security. The coursework is typically focused on the legal system, law enforcement practices, and criminal behavior.

While these 2-year degrees may be easier to obtain, it's important to note that they may not lead to the highest-paying or most in-demand careers. The easiest degree is not necessarily the most profitable or fulfilling in the long run.

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What are some online associate degrees you can get?

There are many online associate degrees available across various fields, offering flexibility and convenience for students. These programs are designed to cater to different career goals and personal interests, providing a solid foundation for future educational and professional pursuits. Here are some examples:

1. Online Associate Degree in Accounting

This program provides foundational knowledge in financial and managerial accounting, tax preparation, and auditing. It equips students with skills to manage financial records, analyze financial data, and ensure regulatory compliance. Graduates are prepared for entry-level positions such as bookkeeper, accounting assistant, or payroll clerk, and it also serves as a stepping stone for further education in accounting.

2. Online Associate Degree in Psychology

This degree introduces students to the principles of psychology, covering human behavior, cognitive processes, and emotional responses. The curriculum includes psychological theories, research methods, and the biological basis of behavior. Students gain critical thinking and analytical skills applicable in various settings, including social services and human resources, and it prepares them for further study in psychology.

3. Online Associate Degree in Healthcare Administration

This program focuses on the operational aspects of healthcare facilities, including management practices, healthcare laws, ethics, and medical terminology. Students learn to oversee healthcare services, manage patient records, and ensure compliance with healthcare regulations. Graduates are ready for administrative roles in healthcare organizations and can pursue further education in healthcare administration.

4. Online Associate Degree in Computer Science

This degree offers a comprehensive introduction to computer programming, software development, and computer systems. The curriculum includes algorithms, data structures, computer architecture, and programming languages. It equips students with technical skills for entry-level positions such as computer support specialist or web developer and provides a foundation for further study in computer science.

5. Online Associate Degree in Digital Design

This program focuses on the creative and technical aspects of visual communication, covering graphic design, web design, digital imaging, and multimedia production. Students learn to use industry-standard software to create visually appealing content for various media platforms. Graduates can pursue careers as graphic designers or digital media specialists and are prepared for further education in digital design.

These online programs offer flexibility and accessibility, allowing students to balance their studies with personal and professional commitments while gaining the necessary skills and knowledge to advance in their chosen careers.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to earning potential, healthcare, engineering, and aviation are standout fields for associate's degrees. Roles such as air traffic controller, nuclear technician, and radiation therapist boast median annual salaries exceeding $80,000, with promising job prospects.

Conversely, the easiest 2-year degrees to obtain often fall within broader areas like business, criminal justice, and liberal arts, which are less technically demanding but may not lead to the highest-paying careers.

Ultimately, choosing the best associate’s degree hinges on individual interests, goals, and career aspirations. By carefully weighing earning potential, job outlook, and educational requirements across various programs, students can make a well-informed decision about their path forward.

If none of the options mentioned here meet your needs, feel free to browse our guides below for more information to discover the best associate degrees for you:

Pia Yapjoco
Written by
Pia Yapjoco

Pia Yapjoco is part of the school growth and sales team at Dreambound. She helps facilitate school partnerships that expand educational opportunities for aspiring students in allied health and other trades. Beyond work, she curates her pup's Instagram, hunts for hidden coffee gems, and escapes into cozy gaming.

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