Highest Paying Associate Degrees


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Over 75% of American graduates regret spending money on their degrees, and a 4-year degree isn’t always worth it. That’s why today, we’ll talk about 10 of the highest paying degrees you can earn from a community college. These degrees are cheap and will land you great jobs. You can make just as much if not more than most people with bachelor’s degrees.

Hisham Khan contributed this article as a follow-up to his YouTube video. Check it out below and use both as a reference! Okay, let’s dive into the list.

#10 Respiratory Care

Coming in at number 10, we have an associate’s in respiratory care. These programs allow you to take actual classroom courses, participate in labs, and get clinical experience. After that, you’ll be an expert in treating people who have problems breathing. Most people with an associate’s in respiratory care become respiratory therapists at hospitals, but it’s becoming more common for them to find jobs at nursing homes or clinics. After graduation, you’ll have to take a test to get certified as a respiratory therapist. You’ll also need a license to practice in whatever state you live in. An associate’s degree is the bare minimum to become a respiratory therapist. However, it’s the right way of getting started in the industry early on. You might eventually find that you’ll need to get a bachelor’s in respiratory care to progress further. In general, though, you’ll make around $52K starting out of school, and the median salary after a few years of experience is $61K. Not bad for a 20-year-old. What makes respiratory therapy an excellent career path is that the demand is growing way faster than average at 19%/year. So you shouldn’t have a problem finding a job. You can also choose to take more tests after your initial certification to become a registered respiratory therapist, increasing your salary and supervisory duties.

#9 Avionics Maintenance Technology

In ninth place, we have a little less common degree, an associate’s in avionics maintenance technology. This degree would teach you the ins and outs of maintaining and repairing the most critical parts of an airplane, setting you up to become an avionics technician. Avionics technicians tend to work for private airlines and the military. You actually don’t even need an associate’s. You can become an avionics technician just by going to a trade school and getting some Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) certifications. However, getting an associate’s increases your chances of finding a job and getting a higher salary. You can expect a median salary of $64K, and there’s a high demand for the job. We think an aviation maintenance technicians (AMT) degree is an excellent option for anyone who likes hands-on work and wants a high paying job without spending a bunch of time and money on a bachelor’s degree. Plus, you also get to work on airplanes!

#8 Engineering Technology

Holding the #8 spot is engineering technology. This is probably the most versatile degree on this list. You can become a technician in basically any engineering field, from industrial engineering, where technicians make $56K, to mechanical engineering, where technicians make $57K. One of the highest-paid technicians by far is aerospace engineering technicians. Because of these dedicated professionals, planes aren’t falling out of the sky all the time. They help aerospace engineers with the testing and design of airplanes and spacecraft. You might be surprised that you only need an associate’s degree, but that’s because the work a technician does is extremely hands-on, and they’re always supervised by an engineer with at least a bachelor’s degree. Aerospace is a smaller industry than most others, so you really need to prove you know what you’re doing to find a job, but it’s also growing fairly quickly at 7%/year. You’re also paid really well with an average of $66K, and if you decide you want to further your career, you can always go back to school for your bachelor’s and get a bump in your pay to about $117K (quite a jump!).

#7 Web Development

In 7th place is an associate’s in web development. Web development is one of those fields where the degree you have doesn’t matter because companies care more about your coding skills, which you can learn by yourself in your own time. Web development is precisely what it sounds like, to build the technical pieces of a website and design what it looks like. Good web developers are essential now more than ever because companies can’t survive unless they have an online presence. Many web developers don’t even have degrees. But, not everyone can force themselves to sit around for hours a day learning to code. So an associate’s can be helpful if you’re someone who needs structure and motivation to learn. If you’re thinking about web development, I would recommend looking at places you want to work and see what programming languages they want you to know. Then make sure you choose an associate’s that can make you an expert in those or just learn it in your own time. The great thing is that you can use those skills in many different places once you know about web development and coding. You could start your own web development company, work for a startup, or join an established tech company. Some people earn well into the 6 figures, but the average web developer salary is $74K.

#6 Sonography

Coming in at #6 is a 2-year degree in sonography. You may not have heard of this field at first glance, but we’re positive you’ve seen sonographers work at some point in your life. Sonographers are the ones who do ultrasounds on pregnant women and get pictures of babies! That’s just a small piece of what they can do, but many medical sonographers work in hospitals to find tumors or cysts and inspect organs before surgery. Because the scope of what you can do is so broad, you can choose many different specializations if there’s one area you really enjoy. Most sonographers just have an associate’s degree, so you don’t really need a bachelor’s. You should also be careful about where you choose to go to school. The program you choose must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs (CAAHEP). Otherwise, hospitals have no idea if you had the right training. Like most medical jobs, you’ll also need to take tests to get certified and get a license or two to practice. Go for an associate’s right after high school to become a fully licensed medical sonographer by your 20 and make around $50K starting out. That’s pretty much the same as the average person does when they graduate with a 4-year degree, but your salary will go up as you gain more experience. The average medical sonographer earns $74K, and demand is growing at 12%/year, so it only makes sense that this is one of the best associate degrees.

#5 Dental Hygiene

At #5, we have an associate’s in dental hygiene. For the two years that you’re in a dental hygiene program, you’ll learn everything you need to know about taking care of teeth and be set up to become a dental hygienist when you graduate. We hope you’re familiar with what a dental hygienist does because they’re the ones who clean our teeth whenever we go to the dentist. All you need to become one is an associate’s degree, but it’s probably best to get a bachelor’s instead in some places where the dentistry job market is competitive. Accreditation is also essential for any dental hygienist program. If schools you’re looking into aren’t accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation, then you should look into their options. Once you graduate with an associate’s, you’ll have to take the National Board Dental Hygiene Exam and pass a state license test. Even though it only takes 2 years to graduate with an associate’s degree, it’s common for people to take an extra year to study for these tests and pass them. All that work is well worth it, though, because when starting out, you’ll make more than what most people with bachelor’s degrees earn at $60K. You could eventually expect to make over $76K. There’s actually more demand for dental hygienists than actual dentists, so if you want a practical, low-stress, high paying job, you might want to become a dental hygienist and keep everyone’s teeth clean and pearly white!

#4 Nuclear Medicine Technology

Taking the 4th place slot is an associate’s in nuclear medicine technology. You’ll learn about different types of drugs and how to use machines that scan bodies, like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines and computerized tomography (CT) scanners. Once you graduate, you can become a nuclear medicine technologist, a relatively new medical field. The main job is to inject radioactive drugs into people to make body parts glow and make them easier to see when scanned. Many different types of scans need this, but a few of the common ones are for the heart, thyroid, and brain. You only have to take care of the drug injection process in some places, but you would also be the person doing scans in others. And as you can guess, you really need to know what you’re doing. Hospitals make sure you have a degree accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs (JRCNMT) in Nuclear Medicine Technology before they hire you. You also need to get certified in the craft. Two of the most common certification bodies are the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB) and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). Certification is separate from the state license you’ll need to get. If you keep up with Hisham’s channel, you’ve probably heard him talk about the return on investment (ROI) of a college. Simply, put a good ROI is when you spend money on something that earns you much more money. If you spend $20K a year on a bachelor’s degree and graduate to make $60K, that’s a pretty lousy ROI. An associate’s in nuclear technology has an insanely good ROI, with the cost being significantly less than a bachelor’s degree, but the average salary being $78K. Plus, as the population ages and more people have conditions like heart disease, demand for nuclear medicine technologists will only go up.

#3 Nuclear Science

Dialing in at #3, we have an associate’s in nuclear science, which will set you up to become a nuclear technician, which can be a pretty sweet job. You’ll be monitoring and helping operate atomic power reactors. For some of your degree program, you’ll learn things like nuclear physics and fluid mechanics, so it’s a perfect job for those of you who like science but want to start earning money without having to go to a bunch of schools. There are also many different certifications you can get, like the American Society for Non-Destructive Testing (ASNT) or the Industrial Radiography Radiation Safety Personnel (IRRSP), which is valid in over 170 countries and requires a 4-hour test. Obviously, they need to make sure you know exactly what you’re doing before they let you operate a nuclear reactor by yourself, so once you get a job, you’ll have to go through a bunch of on-the-job training. How long it takes really just depends on how well you can apply what you learned in school, but it can be 6 months on the lower end to 2 years on the higher end. Although the pay is really high for an associate’s degree at $82K. The job is one of the riskier ones as you can be exposed to radiation. Also, nuclear reactors never shut off, so you’ll have to work night shifts and weekends. The biggest downside is that the industry is losing jobs, as solar and wind energy becomes more popular. That’s not to say it’s impossible to get a job as a nuclear technician because we’ll still need nuclear power. It might just be more challenging. Careers in solar and wind have much higher job prospects.

#2 Radiation Therapy Programs

The #2 spot goes to radiation therapy programs. These programs prepare you to become a radiation therapist who helps treat cancer patients. We know we’ve talked about accreditations with all of these medical degrees. Still, it’s because we want you to understand how important they are and the implications of getting a degree from a non-accredited school. It might be tough to find a job if you don’t go through the correct certification path. For radiation therapy, you’ll want your school to be accredited by the JRCERT. Most states also require that you have a certification by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) before getting a state license. A huge plus is that radiation therapy is a few medical careers where you don’t have to work any night shifts and have a regular 40-hour workweek. You’ll definitely have an outstanding work-life balance, which will leave you time to enjoy your high salary of $86K. And with a 7%/year growth rate, you won’t struggle to find a job.

#1 Air Traffic Controller

And finally, in the #1 spot is an Air Traffic — Collegiate Training Initiative (AT CTI) associate’s degree. That’s the type of degree you’ll need to become an air traffic controller. This is probably the most challenging career on this list. Air traffic controllers have an extremely stressful job. They have to monitor every plane in the air and direct them. One wrong move and hundreds of people can lose their lives. That’s why they need to go through a bunch of training and pass different types of tests, including some to make sure they are physically fit for the job. There are different tiers for each training level, and each has its own salary. As you get more experienced, you’ll get paid more, but on average, air traffic controllers make $123K, so all of that training and stress can certainly pay off.

Thanks for Reading!

Let us know which degree you can see yourself earning! Also, if you enjoyed reading this article and want to check out more similar content. Head over to Millennial Investments to learn more wealth building tips and tricks! Happy reading!

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