With student loan debt reaching an all-time high, many students are considering less expensive associate degree options over pricey four-year bachelor’s programs. The state of the job market may actually support this trend. There are a variety of associate degree jobs that pay as much or even more than those requiring a four-year degree. In this article, we highlight thirty such occupations.
To identify the 30 highest paying associate degree jobs currently available, our editors consulted the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), limiting our search to those occupations with median annual wages of over $39,000.
Air Traffic Controllers
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $130,420
One of the highest-paying associate degree jobs on our list is the occupation of an air traffic controller. These professionals work in the aviation industry and are responsible for ensuring safe flights by directing traffic in the sky. To do this, air traffic controllers must provide takeoff and landing instructions to pilots, direct ground traffic around runways, and keep pilots abreast of adverse weather conditions, for example.
In addition to a degree, prospective air traffic controllers must also complete a certification program and work under the supervision of an experienced air traffic controller for at least three years.
Funeral Service Managers
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $74,300
Among the most surprising high-paying associate degree jobs in our ranking is that of funeral service managers. These professionals are responsible for managing funeral homes. This can include directing and supervising funeral home staff, planning funeral services, and conducting marketing and public relations campaigns.
After earning an associate degree, additional requirements for employment as a funeral service manager include a state licensing exam and on-the-job training.
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $77,200
Among the most well-known lucrative associate degree jobs is that of a web developer. These information technology professionals create websites for individuals, businesses, and other organizations. Specific tasks may include authoring code for websites, designing graphics, meeting with clients to discuss the goals of their websites, and testing web applications, for instance.
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $82,330
One of the most prominent associate degree jobs associated with high earnings is that of a radiation therapist. The primary role of these healthcare professionals is to administer radiation therapy to cancer patients. Their specific tasks may include explaining treatment plans to patients, ensuring protection from radiation exposure, operating specialized machinery, and monitoring patients’ reactions to treatments.
In addition to an associate degree, most radiation therapists will also need to pass a certification exam.
Geological and Petroleum Technicians
Median Annual Wage 2018 (BLS): $53,300
One of the more obscure high-paying associate degree jobs in our ranking is that of a geological and petroleum technician. These professionals work alongside scientists and engineers in the field and in the laboratory, providing support services in the extraction and analysis of oil and natural gas as well as other natural resources.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that jobs for geological and petroleum technicians are currently growing faster than average, so now may be a good time to enter the field. Most employers prefer that prospective geological and petroleum technicians hold an associate degree in applied science or science-related technology.
Computer Network Support Specialists
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $65,450
Another of the lucrative associate degree jobs in information technology is the occupation of a computer network support specialist. These IT professionals are responsible for maintaining networks such as wide area networks (WAN) and local area networks (LAN) as well as Internet systems, for example. Some of their specific tasks may include handling security breaches, backing up data, and diagnosing network problems.
Nuclear Medicine Technologists
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $79,750
When you think of associate degree jobs, the occupation of a nuclear medicine technologist may not be the first to come to mind. Still, these positions require just a two-year degree and can set graduates up for a handsome salary.
Nuclear medicine technologists prepare and administer radioactive drugs to patients for therapy and imaging. Daily tasks may include counseling patients, operating specialized medical equipment, consulting with doctors, and keeping records of procedures and dosage.
Jobs for nuclear medicine technologists are growing at a faster-than-average rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Professionals with a bachelor’s degree or those with a certification in one of the field’s specialty areas will have the best employment prospects.
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $77,090
Among the most well-known and lucrative associate degree jobs is that of a dental hygienist. These dental care professionals conduct dental examinations and clean patients’ teeth. They may also educate their patients on proper oral hygiene and dental care.
In addition to an associate degree, dental hygienists will also need to become licensed in the state where they plan to work. Jobs for dental hygienists are growing much faster than average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Job prospects will be best for individuals willing to work part-time, however.
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
Median Annual Salary 2020 (BLS): $75,920
One of the fastest-growing associate degree jobs in our ranking, the position of a diagnostic medical sonographer is also one with a six-figure earning potential. Diagnostic medical sonographers use special imaging equipment to help doctors diagnose diseases and other medical conditions. Their auxiliary duties may include preparing patients for diagnostic procedures, assessing the quality of images after the procedure, conducting diagnostic analyses to relay to doctors, and recording results of diagnostic tests, for example.
Employment opportunities for diagnostic medical sonographers are growing much faster than average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Those certified in a specialty area such as abdominal sonography, for example, will have the best job prospects.
Aerospace Engineering & Operations Technicians
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $68,750
Some people may be surprised to find the occupation of an aerospace engineering and operation technician on our list of associate degree jobs. It’s true, though—this high-paying career requires only a two-year degree.
Aerospace engineering and operations technicians are responsible for maintaining the specialized equipment used in developing aircraft and spacecraft. Their specific duties may include meeting with aerospace engineers to discuss plans, testing equipment used in aircraft and spacecraft development, and recording data associated with the operation and performance of aerospace equipment.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for aerospace engineering and operation technicians are growing about as fast as average, though increasing automation in the field could slow this growth in the future.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologists
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $74,690
Another of the potentially lucrative associate degree jobs in health care is the occupation of a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technologist. These professionals are responsible for operating the specialized equipment necessary to conduct MRIs, specifically magnetic resonance imaging scanners. They may also inject patients with dyes in order for images to develop on the scanners. Other tasks may include prepping the patient for the MRI scan, consulting with doctors regarding MRI results, and maintaining patient records.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for prospective magnetic resonance imaging technologists are currently growing faster than average. Graduates of accredited programs who also specialize in a specific subfield of MRI technology will fare best when applying for coveted positions.
Electrical and Electronics Engineering Technicians
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $67,550
Another of the potentially lucrative associate degree jobs to consider is the occupation of an electrical and electronics engineering technician. These technical professionals provide support services to engineers as they design electrical and electronic equipment such as communications equipment, computers, medical devices, and navigation systems. Their specific tasks may include sketching ideas for new electrical/electronics equipment, testing prototypes, building and repairing electrical equipment, and developing solutions to design problems.
Those interested in pursuing a career as an electrical/electronics engineering technician will need a relevant associate degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of electrical and electronics engineering technicians is projected to remain steady for the next several years. Candidates will face competition for available jobs, however, and those with certification from agencies like the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies and ETA International, for example, will have the best chances for employment.
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $66,680
If you’re looking for associate degree jobs with near six-figure salaries, you may want to consider employment as an avionics technician. These technical professionals are tasked with maintaining an aircraft’s electronic systems, including radio communication, navigation, and radar systems. This can include using specialized equipment to install instrument panels and make necessary repairs, testing a plane’s electronic systems, and keeping records of scheduled maintenance, for instance.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment opportunities for avionics technicians are growing, albeit slowly. To enter the field, you’ll need an associate degree along with professional certification by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $59,100
Among the highest paying associate degree jobs in the healthcare industry is that of cardiovascular technologists and technicians. These healthcare professionals are responsible for conducting tests and scans of a patient’s heart and lungs. There are different types of cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including cardiographic or electrocardiogram (EKG) technicians, cardiovascular invasive specialists, and pulmonary function technologists, for example. To perform their jobs successfully, cardiovascular technologists/technicians must operate specialized medical equipment, preparing patients for medical procedures, and analyzing cardiovascular test results.
The demand for cardiovascular technologists and technicians is currently high as jobs in the field are growing faster than average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Morticians, Undertakers, and Funeral Directors
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $54,100
Salary Potential: $89,050
It’s not an occupation for everyone, but the job of a mortician, undertaker, or funeral director is indeed among one of the highest paying associate degree jobs currently available. These professionals are tasked with planning funerals and memorial services as well as handling the logistics of burials and cremations. Most morticians, undertakers, and funeral directors also embalm bodies in preparation for the funeral service.
To become a funeral service worker, you’ll need an associate degree in funeral service or mortuary science. There are over 50 such programs across the nation accredited by the American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE).
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $59,800
Still looking for high-paying associate degree jobs? You may want to consider the job of an electro-mechanical technician. These professionals operate and maintain electro-mechanical equipment such as factory machinery, computer-controlled mechanical systems, and robotic equipment, for instance. Their daily tasks may include reading blueprints, using specialized equipment to install electronic hardware, calibrating hydraulic and pneumatic assemblies, and keeping records of routine maintenance.
An associate degree is all that is needed to enter the field as an electro-mechanical technician, but professional certifications are also available from associations like The International Society of Automation and the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies.
Industrial Engineering Technicians
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $57,520
Another of the high-paying associate degree jobs in the field of engineering is that of an industrial engineering technician. These employees provide assistance and support to industrial engineers as they work to improve the efficiency of the systems involved in developing products and services. Specific duties of industrial engineering technicians may include analyzing blueprints and drawings, making suggestions to improve processes, and preparing workflow diagrams, for example.
To become an industrial engineering technician, you’ll need an associate degree in industrial technology or industrial engineering technology.
Radio, Cellular, and Tower Equipment Installers and Repairers
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $57,520
One of the lesser-known associate degree jobs with a handsome salary is that of a radio, cellular and tower equipment installer/repairer. These technicians do their part to ensure ongoing means of communication by maintaining the equipment necessary to operate cell phones, two-way radios, broadcasting mechanisms, mobile broadband, and more. Their specific tasks may include reading blueprints, inspecting equipment and hardware, operating power tools, and running cables, for instance.
In addition to an associate degree in electronics technology, these types of technicians will also undergo a period of on-the-job training before they are able to perform their duties independently.
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $61,900
Also called radiographers, radiologic technologists have some of the highest-paid associate degree jobs in the healthcare field. These professionals are trained to take x-rays for diagnostic purposes. Their duties may include preparing patients for the procedure, operating imaging equipment, analyzing the resulting images, and keeping patient records.
The BLS reports that jobs for radiologic technologists are growing faster than average, so employment prospects for graduates of accredited associate degree programs should be good.
Mechanical Engineering Technicians
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $58,230
The engineering field is full of high paying associate degree jobs, another of which is the occupation of a mechanical engineering technician. These professionals work alongside mechanical engineers, helping them design and manufacture mechanical components like engines and machines. Specific day-to-day duties may include measuring dimensions of parts and components, reading blueprints, conducting tests of prototypes, and estimating production costs, for example.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment of mechanical engineering technicians is growing, although that growth is currently slower than average. Candidates with knowledge and/or experience with advanced technology in the field such as 3-D design software, for example, will have the best job prospects.
Electrical and Electronics Drafters
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $62,100
Another of the associate degree jobs in drafting that has the potential to earn you a handsome wage is the position of an electrical or electronic drafter. These professionals create complex wiring diagrams used for the installation and repair of electrical equipment and electronic components.
In order to become employed as an electrical/electronics drafter, you’ll need an associate degree in drafting. For some positions, you may also need certification from the American Design Drafting Association (ADDA).
According to the BLS, jobs for electrical and electronic drafter are growing slower than average. Candidates will face strong competition for available positions.
Architectural and Civil Drafters
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $57,960
Architectural and civil drafters have the potential to make well over $80,000 per year, making their occupation one of the most lucrative among associate degree jobs. These types of drafters sketch plans and blueprints for buildings and other types of construction. Some architectural and civil drafters specialize in a certain type of building or material.
To become an architectural/civil drafter, you’ll most likely need an associate degree in architectural drafting technology. There are programs of this kind available from community colleges across the nation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a decline in growth for the employment of architectural and civil drafters, so competition for jobs will be strong.
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $62,810
Another of the fast-growing associate degree jobs in the healthcare industry is that of a respiratory therapist. These medical professionals provide treatment to patients experiencing breathing difficulties. Their specific tasks may include examining patients, performing diagnostic tests, monitoring patients’ progress, and educating patients on treatment plans.
Students interested in becoming a respiratory therapist will need a minimum of an associate degree in respiratory therapy, preferably one accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care. (CoARC).
Job opportunities will be good for certified respiratory therapists, though they may be clustered in specific geographical areas, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Those willing to commute or relocate will have the best prospects for employment.
Environmental Engineering Technicians
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $51,630
One of the fast-growing associate degree jobs in our ranking is that of an environmental engineering technician. These professionals follow instructions of environmental engineers, carrying out plans for reducing pollution and improving environmental health. Their specific duties may include testing new devices for environmental cleanup, conducting pollution surveys, and maintaining project files, for instance.
Environmental engineering hopefuls will need an associate degree in environmental engineering technology or a closely related field. Students should look for a program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $52,920
Among the most popular high-paying associate degree jobs is that of paralegals and legal assistants. These legal professionals assist lawyers and attorneys with their caseloads. They may perform administrative duties as well as provide legal support services such as researching the facts of a case and writing legal briefs, for instance.
The clearest path to a career as a paralegal or legal assistant is an associate degree in paralegal studies. Some of these professionals may have a degree in another field combined with a certificate in paralegal studies. Some employers prefer candidates to hold a bachelor’s degree.
Currently, employment opportunities for paralegals and legal assistants are growing much faster than average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Candidates with strong computer and database management skills will fare best in the job market.
Medical Equipment Repairer
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $51,610
Another of the more obscure associate degree jobs on our list is the position of a medical equipment repairer. These professionals work within the health care industry, making necessary repairs to the various equipment used in healthcare settings such as hospitals and doctor’s offices. Their day-to-day tasks may include installing new medical equipment, testing and repairing existing equipment, keeping records of routine maintenance, and demonstrating the proper operation of medical equipment.
To enter the field, candidates need only a two-year degree in biomedical technology or engineering. Students who desire to advance in the field must have a bachelor’s degree in order to do so.
Jobs for medical equipment repairers are currently growing about as fast as average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Environmental Science and Protection Technicians
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $46,850
Among some of the most impactful associate degree jobs on our list is the position of an environmental science and protection technician. These professionals are responsible for probing the major causes of pollution and keeping tabs on the overall health of the environment. To do this, they may conduct inspections, collect samples, analyze test results, and prepare reports, for instance. Environmental science and protection technicians often work under the direction of an environmental scientist or specialist.
Entry into the field as an environmental science and protection technician will require a two-year degree, preferably an associate degree in environmental science or environmental health. Depending on their specific duties, additional training may be required by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).
Now is a good time to consider the occupation of an environmental science and protection technician as jobs for these professionals are growing faster than average, according to the BLS.
Occupational Therapy Assistants
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $60,950
Another of the rapidly growing associate degree jobs in health services is that of an occupational therapy assistant. These healthcare professionals are responsible for helping patients develop and improve the skills they need for daily life. Typical tasks include providing assistance as patients learn to perform therapeutic exercises, helping patients operate special equipment, and monitoring patients’ progress, for example.
Occupational therapy assistants will need an associate degree in occupational therapy in order to enter the field. Students interested in this career path should look for a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for occupational therapy assistants are currently on a steep incline. The best positions will be reserved for those with prior experience in the field, however.
Physical Therapy Assistants
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $49,970
One of the fastest-growing associate degree jobs in our ranking, the occupation of a physical therapist requires providing support services to licensed physical therapists. This can include helping patients perform prescribed exercises, monitoring patient progress, and educating patients and their families regarding the treatment plan.
To become a physical therapy assistant, you’ll need an associate degree in physical therapy accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPE). You’ll also need to pass the National Physical Therapy Exam administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.
Though job prospects are good for this occupation, prospective physical therapy assistants will still face strong competition during the hiring process, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Civil Engineering Technicians
Median Annual Wage 2020 (BLS): $54,080
Among the highest paying associate degree jobs in engineering is the occupation of a civil engineering technician. These support professionals assist civil engineers as they design civil infrastructure such as bridges, roads, and utilities. Daily tasks may include interpreting drawings and blueprints, estimating construction costs, testing soil samples, and using computer-aided design software, for instance.
The BLS reports that civil engineering technicians will face strong competition for available jobs, even though employment in the field is growing faster than average. Job candidates proficient in the latest civil engineering software will have the best prospects. An associate degree in civil engineering technology is usually required for these positions.