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Highest-Paying Associate Degree Jobs

By Zach Skillings

Zach Skillings is the Scholarships360 Newsletter Editor. He specializes in college admissions and strives to answer important questions about higher education. When he’s not contributing to Scholarships360, Zach writes about travel, music, film, and culture. His work has been published in Our State Magazine, Ladygunn Magazine, The Nocturnal Times, and The Lexington Dispatch. Zach graduated from Elon University with a degree in Cinema and Television Arts.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: December 4th, 2023
Highest-Paying Associate Degree Jobs

Earning a bachelor’s degree isn’t the only path toward a lucrative career. There’s also a variety of associate degrees that pay well. In fact, some jobs offer better pay than ones that require a bachelor’s degree. If you’re considering an associate degree, check out our list of the top 15 highest-paying associate degree jobs! 

1. Air traffic controller

Air traffic controllers direct the flow of aircraft traffic to ensure the safety and efficiency of air travel. They work in control towers, using radar technology to guide aircrafts in and out of the airport. Key responsibilities include monitoring plane movements, issuing takeoff and landing instructions to pilots, and alerting the airport response staff in the case of an emergency. Candidates must have either an associate or bachelor’s degree. 

2022 Median Pay: $133,250 per year
Projected Growth (2022-2032): 1% (Slower than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

2. Nuclear technician 

Nuclear technicians operate special equipment to assist in nuclear research and energy production. They typically work in nuclear power plants, waste management and treatment facilities, or laboratories. Responsibilities include monitoring radiation levels produced by nuclear experiments and power generation, operating equipment, and testing air, water, and soil for radioactive contamination. Although nuclear technicians are paid well, they will likely have fewer job opportunities as alternative power sources become more popular.

2022 Median Pay: $100,420 per year
Projected Growth (2022-2032): -1% (Little or no change)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

3. Radiation therapist

Radiation therapists treat cancer and other diseases by administering radiation treatments. They mostly work in hospitals, but sometimes in physicians’ offices and outpatient care centers. Key responsibilities include explaining treatment plans to patients, protecting patients from improper radiation exposure, and operating the machine used to treat patients. Candidates typically need either an associate or bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy. 

2022 Median Pay: $89,530 per year
Projected Growth (2022-2032): 2% (As fast as average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

4. Nuclear medicine technologist

Nuclear medicine technologists work with radioactive drugs (radiopharmaceuticals) to help diagnose conditions in patients. They give small doses of radiopharmaceuticals to patients and use equipment to record images of the radioactive material in the body. Physicians then interpret the images to study and diagnose an infection or disorder. They typically work in hospitals, but sometimes in physicians’ offices, medical laboratories, and outpatient care centers.

2022 Median Pay: $85,300 per year
Projected Growth (2022-2032): 0% (Little or no change)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

5. Dental hygienist 

Dental hygienists clean teeth, educate patients about proper dental hygiene, and assist dentists. They also use X-ray machines to check for tooth and jaw issues in patients. Candidates typically need an associate degree in dental hygiene. Programs usually take 2-3 years to complete. In some states, hygienists can receive additional training and become dental therapists. Dental therapists perform more advanced procedures such as replacing crowns and extracting teeth.

2022 Median Pay: $81,400 per year
Projected Growth (2022-2032): 7% (Faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Related: Top dental school scholarships

6. Diagnostic medical sonographer

Medical sonographers use special imaging equipment to help physicians assess and diagnose patients. They’re specially trained to operate ultrasonic imaging devices, which use sound waves and vibrations to create internal images of the body. They typically work in hospitals, but sometimes in physicians’ offices, medical laboratories, and outpatient care centers. Jobs in this field are expected to grow significantly due to the aging of the Baby Boom population.

2022 Median Pay: $78,210 per year
Projected Growth (2022-2032): 10% (Much faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

7. Aerospace technician 

Aerospace technicians control the equipment used to develop and test aircraft and spacecraft. They work alongside aerospace engineers to discuss how aircraft and spacecraft should be tested. They also use computer-based modeling, robotics, and automation to make sure that testing goes smoothly. Aerospace technicians typically need an associate degree in engineering technology or a related field. Employment opportunities are expected to grow faster than average throughout the coming years. 

2022 Median Pay: $74,410 per year
Projected Growth (2022-2032): 8% (Faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

8. Aircraft technician 

Put simply, aircraft technicians repair and maintain aircraft. They diagnose problems, repair wings, brakes, and electrical systems, and inspect completed work to ensure that it meets performance standards. Many technicians are generalists and work on different types of aircraft such as jets, piston-driven airplanes, and helicopters. Others specialize in a particular type of aircraft or a specific component such as the engine, hydraulic system, or electrical system. 

2022 Median Pay: $70,740 per year
Projected Growth (2022-2032): 4% (As fast as average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

9. Respiratory therapist

Respiratory therapists care for patients who have difficulty breathing. They work with a variety of patients, ranging from premature infants with undeveloped lungs to elderly patients with diseased lungs. They also provide emergency care to patients suffering from heart attacks, drowning, or shock. The majority of respiratory therapists work in hospitals, while some work in nursing homes and physicians’ offices. Respiratory therapists need at least an associate degree, but some employers prefer applicants with a bachelor’s degree.

2022 Median Pay: $70,540 per year
Projected Growth (2022-2032): 13% (Much faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

10. Radiologic and MRI technologists

Both radiologic and MRI technologists use medical imaging to create diagnostic images for patients. Radiologic technologists are trained to use various types of medical diagnostic equipment such as X-ray, mammography, and computed tomography (CT) imaging. Meanwhile, MRI technologists specialize in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners. This field should experience healthy growth in the coming years, making it a stable career path. 

2022 Median Pay: $67,180 per year
Projected Growth (2022-2032): 6% (Faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

11. Occupational therapy assistant 

Occupational therapy assistants help patients develop and recover the skills required for daily living. They work with all ages, from children to senior citizens. Responsibilities include helping patients do therapeutic activities (like stretching and other exercises), teaching patients how to use special equipment, and encouraging patients to complete activities. Occupational therapy is one of the fastest growing fields, due to the health needs of the aging Baby Boom generation. 

2022 Median Pay: $63,450 per year
Projected Growth (2022-2032): 23% (Much faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

12. Calibration Technician and Technologist

A calibration technician and technologist works with a variety of systems to ensure that they are properly calibrated, routinely inspected, tested, and functioning properly. Calibration technicians may work in a variety of jobs which use machines that give any sort of reading or measurement. Calibration technicians are an essential piece of many industries to remain functioning, as well as a crucial part in developing new scientific research. 

2022 Median Pay: $62,050

Projected Growth (2022-2032): 4% (As fast as average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

13. Industrial Engineering Technologists and Technicians

As an industrial engineering technologist and technician you will work with large industrial machinery to ensure it is functioning and installed properly. You may also work with industrial systems to collect and analyze data, identify areas for improvement, and implement new ideas for how to optimize efficiency. 

2022 Median Pay: $61,210

Projected Growth (2022-2032): 3% (As fast as average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

14. Electro-mechanical technician 

Electro-mechanical technicians test and operate a variety of equipment including automated, robotic, and electromechanical devices. Projects range from manufacturing motor vehicle parts to maintaining unmanned submarines and aircraft. They are employed in many industries such as manufacturing, engineering services, and transportation. Employment is projected to grow slightly throughout the coming years. 

2022 Median Pay: $60,570 per year
Projected Growth (2022-2032): -3% (Decline)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

15. Drafter

Drafters create technical drawings to help design everything from microchips to skyscrapers. They work from rough sketches created by engineers and architects, then use computer-aided design (CAD) software to create a detailed plan. Most drafters specialize in a specific field such as architectural, civil, electrical, or mechanical design. Drafters typically need an associate of applied science in drafting, or an equivalent certificate or diploma. 

2022 Median Pay: $60,400 per year
Projected Growth (2022-2032): -2% (Decline)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Related: What is the difference between AS and AAS degrees?

Next Steps

Next Steps

  • The jobs listed above are the highest paying jobs you can get with an associate degree, but they are not the only jobs you can get
  • You can use the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupation Finder to see what other jobs you can get with an associate degree
  • Once you settle on a field of study, you’ll likely go to community college or trade school to obtain your associate degree or certificate
  • Take some time exploring things like coding bootcamps and other 4 year college alternatives as well, as there’s no one right path to take
Next Steps

Frequently asked questions about highest-paying associate degree jobs

Is an associate degree worth it anymore?

Whether or not an associate degree is worth it depends entirely on what you want to do. For those who desire to go to medical school or do high level engineering jobs, an associate degree is likely not the best option, as you’ll need much more high level training. However, for individuals looking to enter the workforce sooner, an associate may be the perfect option!

Is it weird to get an associate degree after a bachelor's degree?

It may feel like a step back to earn an associate degree after earning a bachelors, but don’t let that stop you if this is what is right for you. If you’re looking to change careers,  an associate degree may be the perfect way to dip your toe into a whole new world. You should take your time exploring your options, and don’t forget that internships and apprenticeships may also be great options!

What are the two most common associate degrees called?

If you’re pursuing an associate degree, the two most common options you’ll come across is what’s called an Associate of Arts and an Associate of Science. Each of these options are quite generic in nature. Students may often pursue these if they plan to then transfer to a four year college and finish their bachelors. If you’re looking to enter into a specific career through an associate degree, then you’ll likely need to pursue a much more specific associate degree.

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