The 15 Highest-Paying Associate Degrees
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- Associate degrees provide effective technical training in a variety of fields.
- Students can enter their chosen field in a relatively short amount of time.
- Associate programs tend to be cheaper than their four-year counterparts.
- Many two-year programs effectively prepare students to transfer into four-year programs.
Not all lucrative jobs require an advanced degree. As demonstrated by the examples in this list, students who receive in-demand academic training, practical experience, and professional certification can quickly complete a relatively inexpensive associate program and earn a substantial salary.
If you're looking to enter a technical field but feel unsure about whether a four-year program is right for you, earning an associate degree could be a useful alternative. These degrees also provide a cost-effective academic track that fulfills many general education requirements, preparing learners to tackle a four-year degree down the road.
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Why Choose an Associate Degree?
There are many practical reasons to choose an associate degree over a bachelor's degree. Associate degrees usually take two years to complete, and graduates can start their careers quickly. Depending on their field, they can also earn above-average salaries.
Additionally, earning an associate degree allows learners to knock out prerequisites and general education coursework before enrolling in a four-year program.
What Are the Highest-Paying Associate Degrees?
The following associate degrees offer students the technical training needed to begin a career in their field of choice. The highest-paying degrees are, without exception, technical in nature and rooted in science and math. These programs also provide experience working in the field.
1. Radiation Therapy
Working as part of an oncology team, radiation therapists support cancer patients, explain treatment plans, calibrate and operate machines, and keep detailed records of treatment. Employers typically hire radiation therapists with at least an AS degree in radiation therapy. This degree teaches students about important topics through courses like human anatomy and physiology. Learners also complete an in-person clinical experience.
Median Annual Salary: $85,560
2. Nuclear Technology
Working alongside physicists and nuclear engineers, nuclear technicians operate and maintain radiation-monitoring equipment, help with research, and test for radioactive contamination. Nuclear technicians traditionally have at least an AS degree. Coursework covers topics like nuclear physics, thermodynamics, and radiation safety. To ensure safety and security, nuclear technicians are usually required to pass a background check.
Median Annual Salary: $82,080
3. Nuclear Medicine
Often working with CT and MRI scanners, as well as carrying out radiopharmaceutical medicine procedures, nuclear medicine technologists are some of the highest-paid professionals with an associate degree. Nuclear medicine technology programs feature coursework in human anatomy and physiology, chemistry, and radioactive drugs. Clinical work is a critical part of this program. Graduates can pursue state licensure.
Median Annual Salary: $77,950
4. Dental Hygiene
Dental hygienists play a critical role in a dentist's office, examining patients for oral diseases and providing preventive care. Trained to use a variety of tools and methods, dental hygienists work directly with patients to combat dental problems and promote oral hygiene.
Dental hygienists need at least an AS degree in dental hygiene. These programs typically take three years to complete and offer classroom, clinical, and laboratory instruction.
Median Annual Salary: $76,220
5. Web Development
These talented tech professionals design and create websites. Responsible for a website's aesthetics, performance, and maintenance, web developers work closely with clients to map out the needs and design for their website.
Median Annual Salary: $73,760
6. Diagnostic Medical Sonography
Diagnostic medical sonographers prepare, operate, and maintain diagnostic imaging equipment. These professionals work closely with patients, recording medical histories and preparing them for procedures. Sonographers also evaluate medical images to obtain diagnostic information.
Professionals usually need an associates degree in medical sonography. Students may be able to choose from specializations like abdominal and breast sonography. Most programs include an extensive clinical component.
Median Annual Salary: $68,750
7. Aerospace Engineering
Trained to operate and maintain the equipment used to produce and maintain aircraft and spacecraft, aerospace engineering and operations technicians assist with quality assurance, operations, and equipment testing.
Aerospace technicians generally need at least an AS degree in aerospace engineering. This tech-centric degree focuses heavily on math, science, computers, and software.
Median Annual Salary: $66,020
8. Electrical Engineering
Electrical engineering technicians work closely with electrical engineers to tackle various electronic developmental projects. They may work with computers, medical monitoring devices, and communication equipment. These professionals inspect designs for quality control, draw diagrams, write specifications, and evaluate construction and production sites.
Median Annual Salary: $65,260
Airplanes need reliable parts and regular maintenance. Trained and licensed aeronautics professionals hold a variety of specialized titles, including avionics technicians, inspection-authorized mechanics, and designated airworthiness representatives.
Aeronautics AS degrees typically require 60 credits, and professionals usually need to pass FAA-approved exams to qualify for jobs in the field. Full-time students can complete these programs in two years.
Median Annual Salary: $64,310
10. MRI Technology
MRI technologists receive specialized training, learning to use and maintain magnetic resonance imaging scanners. These professionals also work with physicians and help prepare patients for procedures. MRI technologists keep detailed patient records and may evaluate medical images.
These healthcare professionals typically hold an AS degree. Required coursework includes anatomy, pathology, and radiation physics and protection. Most programs include a clinical component, and students must become licensed before entering clinical practice.
Median Annual Salary: $62,280
11. Radiology Technology
Performing diagnostic imaging exams on patients, radiologic technologists specialize in CT and X-ray imaging. These medical professionals can also specialize in mammography.
Most professionals earn an associate degree in radiologic technology. Students participate in both classroom and clinical learning. Coursework covers patient care, image evaluation, and radiation physics and protection. Graduates must obtain professional certification and state licensure to practice.
Median Annual Salary: $62,280
12. Respiratory Therapy
Working directly with patients who struggle with respiratory illnesses like asthma and emphysema, respiratory therapists support doctors and nurses in often critical situations. These health professionals examine patients, consult physicians to develop treatment plans, and inform patients about medications and medical equipment.
Needing licensure in almost every state, respiratory therapists traditionally hold an AS degree in respiratory therapy. Students tackle courses like introduction to respiratory therapy, administrative procedures, and advanced respiratory pathophysiology.
Median Annual Salary: $61,330
13. Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapy assistants help patients recover from injury or illness and build the essential skills required for daily living and work. These medical professionals may oversee therapeutic exercises, work with children with developmental disabilities, and teach patients how to effectively use medical equipment.
AS programs in occupational therapy usually take two years to complete and cover topics in biology and pediatric health. Most programs include a clinical component. Upon graduation, most students take the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy exam.
Median Annual Salary: $59,200
14. Mechanical Engineering
Students who earn an AS degree in mechanical engineering typically assist mechanical engineers in designing, developing, and manufacturing mechanical devices. Mechanical engineering technicians learn to evaluate design drawings, prepare layouts and drawings, and design and conduct product testing.
In addition to general education coursework, mechanical engineering students tackle classes like introduction to engineering and design, engineering materials, and engineering computer applications.
Median Annual Salary: $56,980
15. Network Engineering
Network engineers design, administer, and maintain local and wide area network systems. Employers generally require at least an AS degree in network engineering or a similar discipline. Graduates qualify for roles related to incident response, cybersecurity, and network monitoring and administration.
In their AS program, students learn to deploy LAN, WAN, and remote-access services. They also learn to manage data center facilities, support infrastructure operations, and protect networks from security breaches.
Median Annual Salary: $54,760
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