Finding the right career path, and the degree needed to get you started, can be a daunting task. To help, we’ve created a list of the top careers you can find after earning an associate’s degree. Many of the high paying jobs with associate’s degrees are in the fields of health care, technology, electronics, or skilled labor, so if you find yourself gravitating to one of these fields, you’re in luck. There are millions of jobs available today for people with associate’s degrees. The most financially beneficial field is health care, a field that will continue to grow for at least the next decade.
Many of the best associate’s degrees take two years or less to complete, depending on your course of study. Taking summer classes or adding an extra class to your semester workload can shorten your time in school, but it’s important to make sure that you are working at a pace that’s right for you.
Likewise, if you are juggling a full- or part-time job and are completing your degree through night and weekend classes, it might take longer. Don’t be discouraged if your two-year degree extends to three. The extra time and effort will make it worthwhile in the end. If you’re asking yourself, “What can I do with an associate’s degree?” the answer is, “Almost anything.”
While none of the jobs on our list require a bachelor’s degree, many people in the highest-paying associate’s degree fields, like nursing and respiratory therapy, go on to earn a four-year degree. It’s important to understand the competitiveness of these jobs in your area, so you’ll be prepared if you want to continue your education.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median weekly earnings for someone with an associate’s degree is $862, which is $132 more a week than someone with only a high school diploma. This translates to $6,336 more a year.
If you look at the employment growth in your area, you can discover what jobs you can achieve with an associate’s degree. Choose an associate’s degree that will give you freedom to grow within the field. Likewise, be realistic about the job market. If you live in an area without a large airport, you should avoid getting a degree as an air traffic controller, unless you plan to move to a larger city to find work.
Many of the best job opportunities in the market today only require an associate’s degree, and they come with a great deal of growth potential. This is important for two reasons:
1. An associate’s degree typically takes two — or fewer — years to complete. This means you can earn a full-time salary while some of your counterparts are still working on a four-year degree.
2. You will face a less severe financial loan burden. Students who pursue bachelor’s degrees experience more of a burden. Although you may decide to expand your education and earn a bachelor’s degree down the road, if you begin with an associate’s degree, you can start your career sooner and with less debt.
Here’s our list of the best 26 jobs you can get with an associate’s degree, along with their average yearly salary.
1. HVAC mechanic — $47,610. There’s never a shortage in new business construction, both corporate and retail, and there’s also never a shortage in the need for highly trained heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) mechanics. An associate’s degree in this field will allow you to calibrate large thermostats, build and repair commercial HVAC systems, and oversee contractors. You’ll also learn valuable construction skills like soldering and basic electricity. According to recent figures by the BLS, the median pay for HVAC mechanics is $47,610 per year, $22.89 per hour.
2. Paralegal — $50,940. An associate’s degree in paralegal studies is a great way to make a difference to clients in a legal setting without the additional years of law school. As a paralegal, you’ll perform detailed research on case law, prepare briefs, interview clients and legal experts, and assist attorneys with case preparation. An associate’s degree in paralegal studies can be earned from Vista College in just 70 weeks. According to the BLS, the median pay for paralegals is $50,940 per year, $24.49 per hour.
3. Mechanical drafter — $58,150. Professionals in this field work with engineers and architects to create highly technical diagrams of machines and mechanics. They often perform most of their work on computer aided design (CAD) software. According to the BLS, the median pay for mechanical drafters is $58,150 per year, $27.96 per hour.
4. Industrial engineering technician — $55,460. These employees work closely with engineers and scientists to create blueprints for machines, tools, and products. An interest in and understanding of science, especially physics, is a must. According to the BLS, the median pay for industrial engineering technicians is $55,460 per year, $26.66 per hour.
5. Mechanical engineering technician — $56,250. Technicians working in the field of mechanical engineering usually develop and test specialized equipment. The career is best suited for employees who are comfortable working with computer programs and engineering techniques. According to the BLS, the median pay for mechanical engineering technicians is $56,250 per year, $27.04 per hour.
6. Electro-mechanical technician — $57,790. These specialists often perform mechanical repairs and provide updates and repairs on motorized and robotic machines. According to the BLS, the median pay for electro-engineering technicians is $57,790 per year, $27.78 per hour.
7. Physical therapy assistant — $48,090. Also referred to as physical therapist aides or PTAs, these assistants usually work in hospitals, assisted living facilities, and private physical therapy offices under the direction of a licensed physical therapist or physician. PTAs are needed to help patients recover from injuries and illnesses, and they often perform hands-on exercises to assist clients. According to the BLS, the median pay for physical therapy assistant is $48,090 per year, $23.12 per hour.
8. Cardiovascular technician — $58,730. Using medical equipment like sonograms and Holter monitors, cardiovascular technicians help monitor and diagnose problems related to the heart and blood vessels. This growing field has an excellent outlook for job openings. Some cardiovascular technicians take extra course work to become certified as an EKG technician, so there is room to grow within the field. According to the BLS, the median pay for cardiovascular technician is $58,730 per year, $28.24 per hour.
9. Geological and petroleum technician — $53,300. Working with scientists and engineers, geological and petroleum technicians study soil, rocks, and other naturally occurring resources. Work is usually performed in a lab or in the field, gathering samples. Technicians use mapping software and other sophisticated tools to study the quality of these resources. According to the BLS, the median pay for geological and petroleum technicians is $53,300 per year, $25.62 per hour.
10. Occupational therapy assistant — $57,620. While this job is similar to that of a physical therapy assistant, OTAs work with patients who have trouble completing everyday activities, like getting dressed and writing a letter. In many cases, these patients suffer from an illness or disability, like cerebral palsy. OTAs help patients learn these tools through practice and by finding ways to make the tasks easier. According to the BLS, the median pay for occupational therapy assistant is $57,620 per year, $27.70 per hour.
11. Radiologic technician — $61,240. In this rewarding field, radiologic technicians perform imaging scans, such as mammography, CT scans, and X-rays. Technicians also work with oncologists to administer radiation treatment to cancer patients. According to the BLS, the median pay for occupational radiologic technician is $61,240 per year, $29.44 per hour.
12. Aviation technician — $63,060. After earning an associate’s degree in aviation maintenance technology and earning a license from the Federal Aviation Administration, technicians work to repair and maintain aviation equipment. These positions are best for people who live near major airports, but all airports have a need for qualified technicians. According to the BLS, the median pay for occupational aviation technician is $63,060 per year, $30.32 per hour.
13. Electrical drafter — $64,400. Drafters work in a highly technical and scientific field developing installation plans for electrical line, transformers, and cables. A strong background in computer programs and a working knowledge of electricity, and how it operates, is imperative. In addition to an associate’s degree in electrical drafting, an apprenticeship is sometimes required before working independently. According to the BLS, the median pay for electrical drafter is $64,400 per year, $30.96 per hour.
14. Respiratory therapist — $60,280. Patients who have trouble breathing, from premature infants to older people with asthma, rely on help from respiratory therapists. Usually based in hospitals or home health care agencies, therapists use ventilation tubes and other machines to help patients breathe easier. Because patients who can’t breathe are often panicky, a calming bedside manner is a must in a respiratory therapist. This occupation is in high demand and is expected to see a growth of about 30,500 new positions by 2026, according to the BLS. The median pay for respiratory therapist is $60,280 per year, $28.98 per hour.
15. Computer programmer — $84,280. If you’re a whiz at computers, an associate’s degree in network administration should be easy to achieve. With this degree, you can find jobs as a computer programmer, where you will be responsible for both network and systems administration. Adapting to new programs or specializing in already popular software packages will enable computer programmers to define their own career path. According to the BLS, the median pay for computer programmers is $84,280 per year, $40.52 per hour.
16. Electrical engineering technician — $64,330. Qualified technicians who work in the field of electrical engineering are highly sought. With an associate’s degree from a school like Vista College, you can assist in the development of new computing systems, medical devices, and electronic equipment. You’ll need an educational background in wiring, electrical circuits, and computer science to develop the necessary skills for success. According to the BLS, the median pay for electrical engineering technicians is $64,330 per year, $30.93 per hour.
17. Computer network support specialist — $53,470. This job title encompasses many different options, from information technology assistants and network engineers to systems specialists and IT consultants. The aspects of the job will range widely based on the needs of the company or organization you work for. Typically, specialists are expected to develop security systems, diagnose networking problems, and monitor for security breaches. According to the BLS, the median pay for computer support specialists is $53,470 per year, $25.70 per hour.
18. Aerospace engineering technician — $67,010. Technicians spend a lot of their time searching for and diagnosing problems in both aircraft and spacecraft. Safety is vital to this industry, so there’s never a shortage of jobs for skilled technicians. Other responsibilities include repairing problem components and helping to create blueprints for new aircraft. According to the BLS, the median pay for aerospace engineering technicians is $67,010 per year, $32.22 per hour.
19. Web developer — $69,430. For a job that barely existed 20 years ago, the opportunities for web developers has exploded. Knowledge of coding and security programs is a must. The ability to work with diverse groups of people is also important because you’ll likely collaborate with designers, writers, and clients. According to the BLS, the median pay for web developers is $69,430 per year, $33.38 per hour.
20. MRI technologist — $71,670. Technologists help patients get an MRI reading of their organs, bones, or other area. An MRI is a long, often noisy tube that the patient enters, and there can be some fear and anxiety related to the procedure. MRI technologists must have a comforting bedside manner while they monitor the patient’s comfort level through the process. The trained radiologist will read the results and make diagnoses or recommendations, but the technologist is responsible for obtaining the correct, high-quality images needed. According to the BLS, the median pay for MRI technologist is $71,670 per year.
21. Registered nurse — $71,730. While it’s true that you can begin a career with an associate’s degree, most health care providers want to hire someone with a bachelor’s degree. This is a reason why earning an associate’s degree in accredited vocational/practical nursing serves as a great springboard to further education. An associate’s degree in nursing provides a solid background to care for patients in a doctor’s office, hospital, or assisted care facility where you’ll help coordinate patient care and work directly with patients needing medical treatment. According to the BLS, the median pay for registered nurses is $71,730 per year, $34.48 per hour.
22. Diagnostic medical sonographer — $67,080. Using specialized ultrasound equipment, sonographers direct sound waves through a patient’s body, which creates an image of internal structures. Many sonographers perform ultrasounds on pregnant women and are the first person to provide a moving image of the unborn baby to expectant couples. You might also help diagnose medical conditions and problems in patients. According to the BLS, the median pay for diagnostic medical sonographers is $67,080 per year, $32.25 per hour.
23. Funeral service director — $57,580. It takes a strong personality to work in a funeral home, where emotions run high. If you can run a business while providing services in an emotionally charged environment, an associate’s degree in funeral services is all you need to get started. According to the BLS, the median pay for funeral service directors is $57,580 per year, $27.68 per hour.
24. Dental hygienist — $74,820. With an associate’s degree in dental hygiene and related fields, you’ll work chair-side with a licensed dentist to perform cleanings, fluoride applications, and basic oral care. You’ll also learn important business skills, like scheduling and basic bookkeeping. With the dental assistant program from Vista College, you can earn your associate’s degree in just 80 weeks and will be on your way to a rewarding career working directly with dental patients. According to the BLS, the median pay for dental hygienists is $74,820 per year, $35.97 per hour.
25. Nuclear medicine technician — $76,820.This health care position works directly with patients and physicians to diagnose and screen for diseases, like cancer and heart disease. As the current United States population ages, demand for nuclear technicians will rise through 2022. According to the BLS, the median pay for nuclear medical technicians is $76,820 per year, $36.93 per hour.
26. Air traffic controller — $124,540. If you do well in a high-stress and fast-paced atmosphere where split-second decisions count, you might be a perfect candidate for an air traffic controller position. These jobs come with long hours, but they also have the highest salary for positions that require an associate’s degree. According to the BLS, the median pay for air traffic controllers is $124,540 per year, $59.87 per hour.
Vista College has a long list of associate’s degree programs. Whether you are interested in expanding your education in healthcare, technology, or business fields, we have something for you. Please contact our admissions office to find out how your background and interests can match with one of our programs. Get started on your career path today!
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