Community colleges across America have long been plagued with a stigma. That is, many people question the quality of their associate degree programs versus a bachelor’s degree program. Unfortunately, many people still believe that community college is for underachievers. This type of school represents a last-ditch effort to scramble together some sort of career path. At least that’s what skeptics say. Others doubt a two-year college’s ability to prepare students for gainful employment adequately. These are false misconceptions, though. And they have discouraged many prospective students from pursuing promising careers and high paying jobs.
To dispel the myth that community colleges are for low-paying jobs (or no jobs at all), we present to you the top 10 best associate’s degrees to get a job. The credentials we highlight here are some of the highest paying associate degree credentials one can earn. They’re also some of the most in-demand degrees. That’s according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Keep in mind too that many of the jobs highlighted here can be obtained through online associate degree programs. Also, note that you won’t find degrees in the liberal arts here; rather, STEM degrees and those in healthcare take the top slots.
Projected Job Growth: 6%
One of very best associate’s degrees available is the two-year degree for the prospective radiation therapist. Why? Because this credential is associated with a lucrative median salary. An associate degree in radiation therapy is also characterized by faster-than-average job growth projections.
You may be wondering, though: “What exactly does a radiation therapist do?” These types of healthcare professionals treat patients who have cancer (and other diseases). And they do so using radiation treatments. A radiation therapist must be skilled in operating special medical equipment and machines. They use these machines to deliver radiation as part of a radiation treatment plan. These trained therapists must also be knowledgeable about safety protocols. These protocols are crucial when they prepare patients for radiation. This is to protect themselves and their patients from potentially dangerous exposure.
These types of therapists work in a hazardous environment. Plus, they have a highly specialized skill set. Thus, these professionals are well-compensated. In fact, radiation therapy credentials are the highest paying associate degree credentials. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), radiation therapists make nearly $82,790 in median annual wages. It is possible for a radiation therapist salary to reach over $128,550 annually even without bachelor’s degrees. This makes them some of the most lucrative associates degrees in regards to median annual salary.
If you’re looking for a high paying career as well as associate degree jobs in demand, jobs for radiation therapists check this box as well. In 2021, the BLS projected a 6% increase in new jobs for the coming decade. That’s faster than average job growth compared to all employment growth. This includes various industries, even those that demand a bachelor’s degree.
To become a registered radiation therapist, you’ll need to complete an associate degree program. The program must be approved by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). The organization currently recognizes 109 colleges and universities offering this associate’s degree credential. Financial aid may be available for some of these programs.
Related: Highest Paying Nursing Jobs
Projected Job Growth: 2%
Another of the best associate’s degree careers is in nuclear medicine. This credential will also secure graduates a lucrative position in the fast-growing healthcare field as a nuclear medicine technologist. And no bachelor’s degree is necessary.
Nuclear medicine technologists and nuclear technicians prepare and administer radioactive drugs for cancer patients. They also work with those who need treatments for heart disease and other medical conditions.
Like radiation therapists, nuclear medicine technologists need an associate degree. But they must also have specialized knowledge and training to carry out treatment plans. This is to protect themselves and others from potentially harmful radiation exposure. The salary for nuclear medicine technologists rivals that of radiation therapists, too. The BLS reports their median salary to be just under $80,000. Top earners with associate degrees in nuclear medicine make over six figures per year. This makes it one of the higher paying jobs with an associate degree.
The top associate degree programs to get a job in nuclear medicine technology are accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology (JRCNMT).
Projected Job Growth: 23%
The healthcare industry isn’t the only industry with some of the best community college degrees. The field of information technology is also home to many lucrative associate degree jobs. And these are positions that are in demand right now. One of these jobs is that of a web developer/digital designer. These IT professionals are responsible for building the many websites that populate the Internet. Typical development projects may include creating the images and graphics for the website, ensuring it performs optimally, and monitoring traffic to the site. Website developers and designers typically work with other professionals as part of the job description. These include graphic designers and content providers, for example.
The rapid job growth in the web development industry has been attributed to the popularity of eCommerce in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in this sector are projected to grow by 23% between 2021 and 2031. This is an impressive job outlook, making web development contender for the best associates degree to get a job. Web developers and digital designers are paid quite well. Plus, they may only need a two-year degree to become employed. The BLS reports the median annual wage for these tech professionals to be just over $78,000 per year. Those at the top of the industry reportedly make nearly double that.
The entry-level requirements in the web development and design industry can vary widely. To become a web developer/digital designer, you typically need an associate degree or bachelor’s credential. These degrees are typically in web design, computer science, or graphic arts, for example. In some cases, a high school diploma along with experience in the field may be enough, though.
Projected Job Growth: 9%
This is another of the top associate’s degree options to get a job that’s both secure and high-paying. It is the community college degree in dental hygiene for the prospective dental hygienist. Unlike most other types of associate degree programs, the technical degree option for dental hygienists usually takes three years to complete. Still, the payoff is arguably worth it compared to a four year degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these dental hygienists make a median annual salary of over $77,000 per year on average. And it’s possible for a dental hygienist salary to reach six figures in terms of median annual wages. Clearly, dental hygiene is one of the best 2-year college degrees.
Dental hygienists provide oral cleanings and treatments to patients. They work in a clinical environment such as a dentists’ office. Besides providing oral care, dental hygienists are also responsible for other duties. This includes consulting with patients about the health of their teeth and gums. It also involves advising them on preventative treatments for oral diseases. Thus, they need good professional communication skills in addition to professional certifications.
The latest job outlook projections from the BLS are promising for this career path. They show that positions for dental hygienists are growing faster than the average occupation. This includes those that demand a bachelor’s degree. Students interested in this field are advised that the best associate degrees in dental hygiene are accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).
Diagnostic Medical Sonography
Projected Job Growth: 10%
If you’ve read this far, then you know that the healthcare field is full of some of the top 2-year degree jobs in demand right now. Another one of these positions is the occupation of a diagnostic medical sonographer. Medical sonographers create images during the process of conducting ultrasounds and sonograms. This is to help detect diseases and other medical conditions. Like other healthcare technicians, diagnostic sonographers must operate special imaging equipment. One example is an ultrasound transducer. Diagnostic imaging is used in various sub-fields of medicine. That means there are many different types of diagnostic medical sonographers. These include pediatric sonographers, breast sonographers, vascular technologists, cardiac sonographers, and more.
Credentials in diagnostic medical sonography are some of the highest paying associate degree credentials in the healthcare field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that these professionals make a median annual salary of over $77,000. The highest-paid professionals in the field earning nearly six figures. According to BLS reports, jobs for diagnostic medical sonographers are growing at a fast pace, too. The job market in this field will expand by 10% by the end of the decade. Prospective students should look for one of the 200+ good associates degree programs in diagnostic medical sonography accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAAHEP).
Projected Job Growth: 9%
Yet another option for students looking for the best associates degree programs to get a job in healthcare is MRI technology. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job growth in this allied health profession is currently better than average. These are well-paid positions, too. The median annual salary for an MRI technologist was just over $77,000 a year as of May 2021.
Radiologic and MRI technologists graduate from a two-year college or technical school. They are trained to operate specialized medical equipment. One example is magnetic resonance imaging scanners. These machines scan the patient’s body with magnetic fields. This is to diagnose various diseases and health conditions.
The large baby boomer population is aging. Thus, they will rely more on health professionals with knowledge of medical procedures. This includes those proficient in diagnostic procedures such as MRI technology and MRI testing equipment. That’s why diagnostic professionals such as MRI technologists are currently in demand. To be competitive for associate degree jobs in this field, students should look for colleges and technical schools accredited by the American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists (ARMRIT).
Projected Job Growth: 6%
There are few high paying associate degree options outside of the field of healthcare. One of them is the two-year technical degree in computer networking. This credential prepares graduates for the in-demand career of a network support specialist. Companies and organizations hire computer network support specialists. This is to ensure that their computer networks are working properly. Specific duties for these types of computer support specialists may vary. Examples include testing network operability, troubleshooting problems with computer systems, and performing regular network maintenance.
An organization’s productivity is becoming increasingly reliant on computers and digital connectivity. Thus, the demand for trained computer network support specialists will continue to grow. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 6% increase in this occupational field over the next decade. Wages for this profession are desirable. With this 2-year college degree, the average computer network support specialist brings in almost $63,000 in median annual wages. Top earners in the field made more than $102,000 in May 2021.
Projected Job Growth: 25%
You won’t find many faster-growing fields than occupational therapy. This field is currently growing exponentially. It is expected to expand by 25% between 2021 and 2031. This expansion in the job market will result in more than 11,000 new jobs. These positions are ideal for graduates of associate’s degree programs in occupational therapy.
A large sector of the U.S. population is becoming elderly. This means the services of occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants will become increasingly important. These healthcare professionals provide invaluable medical help and treatments. They help patients regain or develop necessary life skills and functions. Occupational and physical therapy assistants commonly work with patients directly. They teach patients exercises to improve their range of motion or motor skills.
Two-year credentials for occupational therapy assistants can yield an impressive return on investment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that an occupational therapy assistant salary can reach nearly $62,000 per year on average. With experience, their median annual salaries can exceed $80,000 annually. The best associate programs in occupational therapy have received accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE).
Projected Job Growth: 14%
Another contender for the best associate degree jobs right now is the job title of a respiratory therapist. BLS job outlook predictions show that the demand for trained professionals in this field will increase by nearly 14% over the next decade. This projected job growth rate is attributed to an increased incidence of respiratory problems. These are problems that come along with normal aging. Other factors include worsening environmental conditions and the need for respiratory therapists in non-traditional clinical environments. Examples include nursing homes and physician’s offices.
Respiratory therapists jobs are not just in-demand, though. They’re also some of the highest paying associate degree jobs available. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these allied health technicians make nearly $62,000 in median annual wages. There is the potential for a respiratory therapist salary to reach almost $96,000 annually. That makes credentials in this field some of the best paying associate degree options available.
A two-year degree in respiratory therapy along with professional certification is usually enough to secure a job in the field. But a bachelor’s credential and proficiency in human anatomy may be required for some positions. The best associate degrees to get a job in this particular subfield of allied health are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (COARC).
Projected Job Growth: 6%
In line with MRI technology and diagnostic medical sonography, radiography is another of the 2-year degree jobs in demand right now. This is due to the increased need for diagnostic procedures among the growing elderly population. According to BLS projections, jobs for these radiologic technologists will grow by 6% in the decade between 2021 and 2031. This job outlook is better than the average occupation.
Radiologic technicians are also known as radiographers. They use diagnostic imaging procedures. This includes x-rays to examine patients and scan for medical conditions and problems. They must be knowledgeable in using specialized medical equipment. These professionals work closely with doctors and other medical professionals. This is necessary to communicate about records and test results. Radiologic technicians are well-compensated for their work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these allied health professionals make a median annual wage of $62,000 per year on average. Those in the most lucrative positions earn almost $95,000 annually.
Students should consider colleges and technical schools accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT). They will have the best job prospects in radiography.
When deciding whether to attend a junior college or university for your post-secondary education, you’ll hear many false claims. For instance, some critics of two-year schools may say that they lead to dead-end jobs, or worse, unemployment. There’s plenty of evidence to the contrary, though. Two-year degrees aren’t for underachievers, despite what you may have heard. In fact, some of the best associate degree credentials to get a job that is both high-paying and secure come from two-year community colleges and technical schools. Most of these positions are in the field of healthcare and information technology. Still, there are also decent opportunities for associate’s degree jobs in other industries. This includes paralegal studies, environmental science, social science, and engineering. Whatever your field of interest, don’t count community colleges out of the equation before fully exploring their potential to make your career dreams come true!
Other Associate Degree Jobs and Programs to Consider
- Medical Terminology
- Environmental Engineering Technology (Associate of Applied Science)
- Environmental Engineers
- Electrical Engineering Technology
- Electrical Engineers
- Electrical Engineering Technicians
- Aerospace Engineering
- Air Traffic Controller
- Civil Engineers (Civil Engineering)
- Civil Engineering Technicians
- Mechanical Engineers (Mechanical Engineering)
- Mechanical Engineering Technicians
- Legal Assistants
- Engineering Technician
- Industrial Engineering
- Electrical and Electronics Engineers
- Manufacturing Processes
- Computer Aided Design
- Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE)
- American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (AART): Educational Programs
- American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists (ARMRIT): Schools
- Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS): Occupational Outlook Handbook
- Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs: Programs
- Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (COARC): Programs
- Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA): Programs
- Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT)
- Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology (JRCNMT): Programs