For a job that pays well and requires minimal time in school, consider an associate degree. Most associate degrees only take two years of study at a community college to complete, but during that short amount of time, you boost your earning potential dramatically. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, associate degree holders earn a median weekly salary of $938, while high school graduates make $781 by comparison. It’s important to bear in mind, however, that not all associate degrees pay equally. To help you maximize your degree’s earning potential, we ranked the highest paying associate degrees and provided extra information on key factors like degree requirements and job outlook.

Our Ranking Criteria

To save you time, we researched the earning potential of different associate degrees and narrowed down the top degrees for this guide. Our list of the highest paying associate degrees was assembled based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and CareerOneStop. We researched over 120 degrees and selected those that had the highest median annual salary of common jobs associated with that degree. From there, we recommended the top schools at which to pursue each degree.

Web Developer and Digital Interface Designer

 

The Highest Paying Jobs You Can Get With an Associate Degree

Air Traffic Controller

Median Annual Salary: $130,420

What They Do: Air traffic controllers coordinate the movement of aircraft in order to promote safety and efficiency in air travel. They manage the flow of aircraft into and out of the airport airspace, guide pilots during takeoff and landing, and monitor aircraft as they travel through the skies. Controllers usually manage multiple aircraft at the same time and must make quick decisions to ensure safety. Most controllers are employed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and work in control towers, approach control facilities, or en route centers.

How to Become One: People who want to become air traffic controllers typically need an associate or a bachelor’s degree from a FAA-approved Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) program. AT-CTI schools offer two- or four-year degrees that teach courses focused on subjects that are fundamental to aviation, such as aviation weather, airspace, clearances, and federal regulations. Due to the seriousness of the job, air traffic controllers must also meet other requirements including passing a medical evaluation, passing the FAA pre-employment test, passing the Air Traffic Controller Specialists Skills Assessment Battery, completing a training course at the FAA Academy, and starting it before turning 31 years of age.

  • 2020 Median Pay: $130,420 per year
  • Job Outlook, 2019-2029: 1% (slower than average)
  • Highest Paying States: New Hampshire, Georgia, Illinois, California, Minnesota

Top Academic Programs for Air Traffic Controllers:

School Tuition # Credits to Graduate
Thomas Edison State University Resident: $399 per credit; Non-Resident: $519 per credit 60
Atlantic Cape Community College $380 per credit 60
Community College of Baltimore County Resident: $122 per credit; In-State, But Out-of-County: $241 per credit 65

 


 

Radiation Therapist

Median Annual Salary: $86,850

What They Do: Radiation therapists administer radiation therapy to patients with cancer and other diseases as prescribed by radiation oncologists. They operate technical equipment and machines, such as linear accelerators, to deliver targeted radiation therapy to the area of a tumor. The treatment radiation therapists provide can shrink or eliminate cancer and/or tumors, making them key members of oncology teams. Radiation therapists work in a variety of healthcare settings, such as hospitals, physicians’ offices, and outpatient clinics.

How to Become One: People who want to become radiation therapists typically need an associate or a bachelor’s degree. In most states, radiation therapists must be licensed or certified and must pass a national examination. Licensing requirements vary from state to state, so it’s important to check the requirements of the state where you intend to practice. Radiation therapy programs typically require two to four years of study and cover topics such as  pathology, oncology, radiation physics, treatment planning, and human relations, as well as hands-on practice in the laboratory and real-world medical settings.

  • 2020 Median Pay: $86,850 per year
  • Job Outlook, 2019-2029: 7% (faster than average)
  • Highest Paying States: California, New York, Oregon, Washington, Montana

Top Academic Programs for Radiation Therapists:

School Tuition # Credits to Graduate
Bellevue College Resident: $104.12 per credit; Non-Resident: $287.19 per credit 120
Gateway Community College In-State: $166 per credit; Out-of-State: $498 per credit 64
Nassau Community College $242 per credit 70

 


 

Nuclear Technician

Median Annual Salary: $84,190

What They Do: Nuclear technicians assist the work of physicists, engineers, nuclear research professionals, and nuclear energy production professionals. They operate and maintain equipment used in nuclear testing and research, and they monitor radiation. Much of their day-to-day work concerns safety and quality control. Nuclear technicians monitor operations to ensure they adhere to safety protocols, inspect work sites for potential hazards, test equipment to make sure it still functions properly, and communicate safety protocols to others.

How to Become One: People who want to become nuclear technicians typically need an associate degree in nuclear science. Nuclear technician degree programs usually include courses in math, physics, and chemistry, as well as more technical courses in subjects like radiation and equipment management. If you do not have any prior experience in the field, you can expect on-the-job training and will likely be supervised by a more experienced technician. Some workplaces may require certification through the Nuclear Energy Institute, the American Society for Nondestructive Testing, and/or the National Registry of Radiation Protection Technologists.

  • 2020 Median Pay: $84,190 per year
  • Job Outlook, 2019-2029: -19% (in decline)
  • Highest Paying States: California, Massachusetts, New York, Michigan, Florida

Top Academic Programs for Nuclear Technicians:

School Tuition # Credits to Graduate
Thomas Edison State University Resident: $399 per credit; Non-Resident: $519 per credit 60
Bronx Community College $320 per credit 63
Monroe County Community College In-District: $116.75 per credit; Out-of-District: $207.50 per credit; Out-of-State: $231 per credit 68-69

 


 

Nuclear Medicine Technologist

Median Annual Salary: $79,590

What They Do: Nuclear medicine technologists prepare and administer small doses of radioactive drugs (known as radiopharmaceuticals), and then use high-tech imaging machinery to capture images of the radioactive material in the body. These images are then interpreted by physicians and used in diagnosis. In addition to administering radiopharmaceuticals for imaging purposes, nuclear medicine technologists also issue these drugs to patients as part of their disease treatment. Nuclear medicine technologists play an important role in minimizing radiation exposure to patients and staff.

How to Become One: People who want to become nuclear medicine technologists typically must complete an associate or bachelor’s degree program and, in many cases, must earn a special certification or licensure. The Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists offer certification exams for students who have completed a nuclear medicine program. The career outlook for nuclear medicine technologists is good. Given that the population is aging and technology is rapidly advancing, it is likely that nuclear medicine will increasingly be used for diagnostic and disease treatment purposes.

  • 2020 Median Pay: $79,590 per year
  • Job Outlook, 2019-2029: 5% (faster than average)
  • Highest Paying States: California, Rhode Island, Washington, Hawaii, District of Columbia

Top Academic Programs for Nuclear Medicine Technologists:

School Tuition # Credits to Graduate
Bellevue College Resident: $104.12 per credit; Non-Resident: $287.19 per credit 96
Gateway Community College Resident: $85 per credit; Out-of-County Resident; $441 per credit; Out-of-State Resident: $241 per credit 109-120
Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences $628 per credit 64

 


 

Web Developer and Digital Interface Designer

What They Do: Web developers create and maintain websites, while digital interface designers focus on the visuals, design, and user experience of websites. Web developers ensure that sites are usable in all different browsers and devices, and update pages as necessary. While there is some overlap between web developers and digital interface designers, the former are usually more concerned with the structure and functionality of a website, whereas the latter are concerned with design elements such as colors, fonts, graphics, and layout.

How to Become One: There are no set requirements to become a web developer or digital interface designer (or a combination thereof). However, successful professionals have typically completed at least an associate degree. Coursework in areas like computer science, computer programming, and data processing can be particularly useful, as can studies in graphic design and project management. Web developers and digital interface designers are expected to be in high demand in the coming decade.

  • 2020 Median Pay: $77,200 per year
  • Job Outlook, 2019-2029: 8% (much faster than average)
  • Highest Paying States: Washington, California, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey

Top Academic Programs for Web Developers and Digital Interface Designers:

School Tuition # Credits to Graduate
Champlain College $318 per credit 60
Harper College In-District: $133.50 per credit; Out-of-district: $390.50 per credit; Out-of-State: $466 per credit 61
Mesa Community College Resident: $85 per credit; Out-of-State Resident: $326 per credit; Out-of-County Resident: $441 per credit 64

 


 

Dental Hygienist

Median Annual Salary: $77,090

What They Do: A dental hygienist is like a nurse for teeth. These professionals work side by side with dentists, focusing on preventative oral health care. They provide teeth cleanings using special polishers and scrapers, examine gums, collect patients’ medical history, and educate patients on at-home oral care practices. Further, dental hygienists take x-rays of patients’ mouths, apply protective treatments such as sealant to the teeth, and assist the dentist during dental procedures by, for instance, supplying the necessary tools or assisting with anesthesia.

How to Become One: All states require dental hygienists to be licensed, though the licensing requirements differ from state to state. The minimum level of education required is an associate degree, which must be approved by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). In addition to required coursework in four key content areas (general education, biomedical science, dental science, and dental hygiene), accredited programs include a strong clinical component where students get hands-on training with patients.

  • 2020 Median Pay: $77,090 per year
  • Job Outlook, 2019-2029: 6% (faster than average)
  • Highest Paying States: Alaska, California, Washington, District of Columbia, Nevada

Top Academic Programs for Dental Hygienists:

School Tuition # Credits to Graduate
Pima Medical Institute Albuquerque Campus: $860 per credit; Houston Campus: $797.20 per credit; Seattle Campus: $910.42 per credit 90
New York University $1583 per credit 78
Hudson Valley Community College Resident: $200 per credit; Non-Resident: $400 per credit 70

 


 

Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Median Annual Salary: $75,920

What They Do: Diagnostic medical sonographers use advanced imaging technology and sound waves, called ultrasounds, to capture images of different body parts. Because ultrasound is a non-invasive diagnostic tool, it is often one of the first diagnostic steps once disease is suspected. Diagnostic medical sonographers serve an important part in obtaining and analyzing initial imaging tests that may help patients get an accurate diagnosis and start their disease treatment quickly.

How to Become One: People who want to become digital medical sonographers typically need an associate or a bachelor’s degree with extensive coursework in anatomy and biology. Many employers require sonographers to have completed a professional sonography certification and training in basic life support. Certification can be obtained through several professional organizations, including the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS), Cardiovascular Credentialing International, and American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. Diagnostic medical sonographer jobs are expected to grow very quickly over the next decade, well above the average predicted growth.

  • 2020 Median Pay: $75,920 per year
  • Job Outlook, 2019-2029: 17% (much faster than average)
  • Highest Paying States: California, Hawaii, Alaska, District of Columbia, Rhode Island

Top Academic Programs for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers:

School Tuition # Credits to Graduate
Monroe College $624 per credit 66
Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences $628 per credit 66
Gateway Community College In-State: $166 per credit; Out-of-State: $498 per credit 68

 


 

Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologist

Median Annual Salary: $74,690

What They Do: Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists, known as MRI techs, specialize in MRI diagnostic imagery. Like radiology and sonography, MRI technology is used to get a look inside the human body to assess whether there is damage or disease present. MRI techs are experts in situating patients in the MRI machine to ensure the best images can be obtained. Once the images are ready, MRI techs help physicians interpret the images and make diagnoses. MRI techs need to be skilled at explaining the procedure to patients and helping to calm their nerves.

How to Become One: People who want to become MRI techs typically need an associate or a bachelor’s degree in MRI technology in a program accredited by an agency such as the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT), the American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists (AMRIT), or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). After completing an MRI degree program, students can sit for the MRI tech certification exam.

  • 2020 Median Pay: $74,690 per year
  • Job Outlook, 2019-2029: 7% (faster than average)
  • Highest Paying States: Washington, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon

Top Academic Programs for Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists:

School Tuition # Credits to Graduate
National Polytechnic College $418.86 per credit 81.5
Gurnick Academy of Medical Arts $418.20 per credit 115
Dallas College Resident: $79 per credit; Non-Resident: $135 per credit 60

 


 

Funeral Home Manager

Median Annual Salary: $74,200

What They Do: Funeral home managers oversee funeral home operations. They hire staff, schedule funeral services, allocate resources, and weigh in on marketing campaigns and public relations. Because funeral home managers consult with grieving families, they need to have strong interpersonal skills and empathy as well as good stress management. Their expertise helps the family and friends of the deceased to make decisions during a difficult time.

How to Become One: People who want to become funeral home managers typically need to complete at least an associate degree in mortuary science or a related field from an accredited program. Coursework usually includes classes in grief counseling, business law and administration, ethics, and funeral service. Additionally, future funeral home managers must participate in an apprenticeship or internship under a licensed funeral home professional for one to three years before being able to work on their own. Finally, they must pass a national board examination.

  • 2020 Median Pay: $74,200 per year
  • Job Outlook, 2019-2029: -6% (in decline)
  • Highest Paying States: Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Virginia

Top Academic Programs for Funeral Home Managers:

School Tuition # Credits to Graduate
Florida State College at Jacksonville Resident: $104.88 per credit; Non-Resident: $401.27 per credit 72
Worsham College $272.50 per credit 80
Miami Dade College $118.22 per credit 72

 


 

Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technologist and Technician

Median Annual Salary: $68,570

What They Do: Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technologists and Technicians work on the maintenance, development, repair, testing, and creation of equipment used to sustain aircraft and spacecraft. They test aircraft/spacecraft under simulated conditions to identify any potential flaws or malfunctions, collect data, and perform systems readiness tests. This is a very practical, hands-on career that is well-suited to people who like to work with their hands and identify and solve mechanical problems.

How to Become One: People who want to become aerospace engineering and operations technologists and technicians typically need an associate degree in engineering technology or a similar field. Other areas of study closely related to aerospace engineering and operations are computer programming or robotics and machining. In addition to developing math and mechanical skills, programs in aerospace engineering and operations help students cultivate strong attention to detail and critical thinking.

  • 2020 Median Pay: $68,570 per year
  • Job Outlook, 2019-2029: 7% (faster than average)
  • Highest Paying States: Colorado, Washington, Maryland, Connecticut, California

Top Academic Programs for Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technologists and Technicians:

School Tuition # Credits to Graduate
Vaughn College $840 per credit 64
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University $1,563 per credit 60
South Seattle College Resident Cost: $18,103.80; Non-Resident Cost: $20,478.12; International Student Cost : $46,662.72 156

Engineering

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an associate degree?

Associate degrees are two-year programs that enable students to advance in their academic or professional careers more quickly than is possible in a traditional four-year bachelor’s degree program. An associate degree can be used as a stepping stone to a bachelor’s degree. or as a stand-alone degree that prepares students for diverse, entry-level positions.

Who should pursue an associate degree?

Associate degrees can be a good fit for students who want to save money on a bachelor’s degree by starting at a community college, as well as those who want to significantly boost their earning potential in a relatively short period of time. Earning an associate degree opens doors to lucrative careers that would not be accessible with only a high school diploma.

What associate degree pays the most?

The associate degree with the highest median annual salary is Air Traffic Control ($130,420). Other high-paying associate degrees include medical technologies such as radiation therapy ($86,850), nuclear medical technology ($79,750), diagnostic medical sonography ($79,920), and magnetic resonance imaging technology ($74,690).

How much does an associate degree cost?

The cost of an associate degree varies depending on the number of credits required to graduate, the difference between resident and non-resident tuition (if applicable), and the type of school (public/private, community college/university, and so on). The associate degrees included in this guide cost anywhere from approximately $5,500 to $47,000 to complete. The average two-year associate degree costs about $4,000 to $6,000 at a public community college, and about $15,000 at a private college.