An associate degree prepares students for jobs in multiple industries. Many students wish to enter the workforce right after completing high school but at the same time continue with their education. An associate degree from a community college will provide them with a quick-start career as they earn a degree in two years. Though this is a basic degree, students get foundational knowledge for the field they are interested in and start their careers. They provide focused, high-quality education and help students find a job in their field.
The demand for associate degrees is on the rise. Part of the reason for this growth is that many jobs don’t require a bachelor’s degree. For students who are considering an associate degree, it is important to consider the types of jobs they can get compared to a bachelor’s degree. It means getting a degree in a short time and for much less, but the job potential with an associate degree can be quite good. Due to these job market changes; more and more colleges are now offering two-year degree programs.
Some associate degrees offer higher returns than others, but most put students on a path to earning above the median household income levels. Career opportunities that pay the most for an associate degree lie in the healthcare and information technology sectors. Students can earn an associate degree from accredited local universities as well as community colleges. The cost of attendance for the latter is much less, which means they do not incur too much college debt. Since they also start earning sooner than later, they can pay off whatever loans they may have and realize the ROI of their degree in a short time.
In this article, we have listed the best associate degree jobs by salary. They are ranked from lowest to highest salary, ranging from $30,000 to $80,000.
#30 Retail Sales Associate
Retail sales associates work in boutiques, large department stores as well as big grocery chains. They help customers find, select and purchase products in a store. Key duties include:
Ensuring the store is appropriately stocked with merchandise
- Greets and receives customers in a welcoming manner
- Assisting customers as needed by helping them select products
- Performing transactions like sales and returns
- Responding to customers’ queries and escorting them to the right aisles, racks and counters
- Driving sales by engaging customer interest, suggestive selling, and sharing product knowledge
Median pay per year: $32,874
#29 Veterinary Technicians
Veterinary technicians are responsible for the careful and humane handling of animals in laboratories and veterinary offices. They work under the supervision of licensed veterinarians to conduct various medical tests and help diagnose injuries and illnesses of various animals. They handle different kinds of tasks at veterinary offices, including:
- Taking X-rays
- Assisting veterinarians during exams
- Preparing pets for surgical procedures
- Administering vaccines and medications
- Bathing and doing other grooming tasks
According to BLS, the outlook for vet tech jobs is excellent, with a projected 16 percent growth through 2029.
Median pay per year: $36,554
#28 Human Resources Assistant
Human resources assistants work under the supervision of HR managers and help them with everyday administrative and human resources tasks in HR departments of organizations. They help in payroll processing, assisting in recruitment, and compiling and maintaining records. Key responsibilities include:
- Recruiting new employees and maintaining employee records
- Doing exit interviews
- Supporting employees with administrative tasks
- Maintaining HR calendars, coordinating training seminars and sessions
- Interacting with benefit vendors
Jobs in this sector will grow by 7% through 2029.
Median pay per year: $41,430
#27 Customer Service Representatives
Customer service representatives work in various industries, from retail to manufacturing to IT companies. Any company that sells products or services needs a customer service team to support clients. This is why jobs in this sector are always growing. Key responsibilities include:
- Handling and resolving customer complaints
- Keeping records of customer interactions
- Engaging with customers and responding to their queries about an organization’s products and services
- Processing orders and updating customer accounts and file documents
Customer service representatives need to be patient and keep calm while ensuring resolution to various problems. They also need to follow communication procedures and policies closely.
Median pay per year: $42,344
#26 Fire Services Assistants
Fire services assistants are very important members of firefighting teams and fire stations. They also work with police departments and insurance companies to help arson investigators. Key duties include:
- Detecting fire hazards and investigating their causes
- Carrying out the meticulous inquiry after fire accidents have occurred to uncover criminal activities if any
- Determining the origin of the incident, capturing evidence through pictures, and testing samples for DNA
- Ensure the use of updated fire codes in buildings
Students with an associate’s degree will find it easy to get their foot in the door though they may need advanced degrees and hands-on experience to grow and become fire investigators. Jobs in this field will grow by 8% through 2029.
Median pay per year: $43,602
#25 Marketing Assistants
Marketing assistants work in larger marketing teams to help in planning, executing, managing, and tracking marketing programs. They work under the supervision of marketing managers or directors to develop and execute new marketing strategies. Key responsibilities include:
- Researching, compiling, and reporting on buying trends and statistics
- Copywriting for marketing materials and other support
- Monitoring active marketing campaigns,
- Making campaign improvements when needed and completing projects
They need to have excellent communication and organizational skills and a high level of organization and attention to detail.
Median pay per year: $44,234
#24 Environmental Technicians
With the increasing threat of global environmental change, environmental technicians are in high demand. They work in core engineering teams to uncover and eliminate climate-related or ecological threats. Their job responsibilities mostly involve taking practical measures to curb the effects of climate change. These could include:
- Investigating sources of pollution and contamination
- Reducing water contamination
- Monitoring soil samples
- Cleaning up hazardous wastes
Jobs in this field are projected to grow 8% through 2029.
Median pay per year: $46,170
A mortician’s job may sound like an unusual option for an associate’s degree holder, but it is one of the highest-paying jobs with an associate’s degree. Sometimes they work as assistants to the funeral director and then become one themselves with more experience. They are mainly responsible for embalming and preparing bodies for burial. They also help in planning funerals and burial services. They need to have an associate’s degree along with their state’s license to work in funeral homes and crematories.
Median pay per year: $50,050
#22 Civil Engineering Technician
Civil engineering technicians assist senior civil engineers in carrying out large civil projects that include planning, designing, and building infrastructure projects. Students who hold an associate’s degree in math, geometry, and physics will be well suited for the role of civil engineering technicians. Some of their key responsibilities include:
- Using computer-aided designs (CAD)
- Interpreting the blueprints
- Examining the site conditions and preparing reports
- Estimating costs for the construction process
The civil engineering technician is one of the highest-paying jobs with an associate’s degree, with an expected growth rate of 3% through 2029.
Median pay per year: $52,393
#21 Avionics Technician
Avionics technicians are important members of the avionics teams as they are responsible for the proper functioning of an aircraft. They help in maintaining the electronic system of an aircraft. Jobs in this field are expected to grow 5% through 2029. Their key responsibilities include:
- Diagnosing the electrical problems
- Inspecting the performance standards
- Repairing and replacing the defective components
- Maintaining the records
Candidates, who often work in the army or navy, need to hold at least an associate’s degree and professional certification by the FAA to work in the field.
Median pay per year: $53,762
#20 Wind Turbine Technician
Wind turbine technicians mostly work for energy companies. With increasing focus on renewable energy, they are in high demand. Jobs in this sector are expected to grow at a whopping 61% by 2029 and they are among the highest-paying jobs with an associate’s degree. Key responsibilities include:
- Maintaining, installing, and repairing wind turbines.
- Inspecting the turbine towers, testing the different components, maintaining the routine performance of wind turbines, and replacing or repairing devices that are malfunctioning.
Turbine technicians can get into the workforce with an associate’s degree from community college, but most employers also prefer them to have 12 months of training on the job as well.
Median pay per year: $56,230
#19 Industrial Engineering Technician
An industrial engineering technician assists senior engineers in large industrial and commercial projects. They work closely with industrial engineers to manage production levels at factories. They help manage work schedules, plan layouts, and cut cost estimates so that there is optimum production at a reasonable cost. It is one of the best jobs to consider with an associate’s degree in science, and employment is set to grow at a steady rate. Employers prefer that students hold a diploma or an associate’s degree in industrial engineering.
Median pay per year: $56,361
#18 Paralegal and Legal Assistants
Paralegal and legal assistants are always in demand, and the jobs in this field will continue to grow at a rate of 10% in the next decade. They work closely with the lawyers and attorneys and assist them with their cases. In most cases, an associate’s degree in legal studies with an approved certification by American Bar Association are accepted degrees to work with reputable legal firms or legal teams of large organizations. Along with administrative duties, they also file documents, interview clients, gather evidence, write trial statements, and file appeals.
Median pay per year: $56,610
#17 Electro-Mechanical Technicians
Electro-mechanical technicians work with senior engineers to manage products that have electric or magnetic components. Students need to hold an associate’s degree with relevant professional certification to get a job in this field. Their key duties include:
- Using equipment for the installation of electronic hardware
- Reading blueprints
- Maintaining records of routine activities
Electro-mechanical technicians are part of larger teams that are responsible for operating robots, industrial machines, submarines, and temperature systems. Jobs in this field are expected to grow by 3% by 2029.
Median pay per year: $57,247
#16 Assistant Respiratory Therapists
Assistant respiratory therapists work with doctors to help patients suffering from breathing disorders. They help treat patients with asthma, cancer, emphysema, cystic fibrosis, and other illnesses to maintain oxygen levels in their lungs. Demand for respiratory therapists is quite high and will continue to grow by 19% in the next decade. Key responsibilities include:
- Demonstrating the use of nebulizers and inhalers
- Connecting patients to respirators
- Removing mucus from the lungs
- Maintaining case records and giving CPR
Students need to hold an associate’s degree in the field or in science along with the certification from the National Board of Respiratory Care.
Median pay per year: $57,314
#15 Nurse associate
Nurse associates work with registered nurses in clinics and hospitals to assist in patient care. An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) allows students to gain core knowledge and foundational clinical skills in the field of nursing. They focus on providing comprehensive care to patients across the lifespan. They learn to address the complex needs and various health conditions of each patient. These experiences prepare students to jumpstart their careers as registered nurses and earn a more advanced degree such as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Jobs in this field will grow by 12% through 2028.
Median pay per year: $57,395
#14 Aircraft Service Technician
An aircraft service technician, much like an avionics technician, is responsible for the maintenance of aircraft structures and systems. However, they often work for commercial airlines more than the defense, but there are no hard barriers. The job opportunities in the field are promising, with a projected growth of 5% by 2029. Their key responsibilities include identifying errors, replacing defective parts, and filing records. They repair the planes before takeoff and inspect parts to ensure passenger safety. Candidates must have an associate’s degree approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to land a job as an aircraft service technician.
Median pay per year: $60,500
#13 Radiologic Technologists
A radiologic technologist or radio technician helps senior radiologists perform X-RAY scans and other diagnostic examinations on patients. They help physicians by providing x-ray and scan reports so that they can better treat their patients. They also:
- Prepare patients for the procedure
- Maintain the imaging equipment
- Evaluate the images with the physicians and radiologists
- Maintain the records
Jobs in this field will grow by 7% in the next decade. Students need to hold an associate’s degree in radiologic technology.
Median pay per year: $60,510
#12 Physical Therapist Assistant
Physical therapy assistants mainly work in rehabilitation centers but can also work in hospitals or in extended teams of hospitals where they have to visit patients’ homes. An aging population and patients with chronic illness have led to the growing demand for this role. It is one of the fastest-growing jobs, with a projected growth of 29% through 2029.
- They assist therapists in helping patients regain their movement after injuries and illness.
- They use traction machines and weights to help patients exercise and observe the muscles’ movement.
Candidates should have an associate’s degree and a license to work as therapist assistants.
Median pay per year: $60,742
#11 Telecommunications Equipment Installers and Repairers
Telecommunication equipment installers or repairers work with larger teams to help set up and install the equipment necessary to carry the signals for communication. Their job is to maintain the flow of communication and prevent disruptions in internet routers and telephone lines. Candidates need training before working independently. Their main duties include:
- Inspecting the equipment
- Testing the new devices
- Repairing the faults
- Maintaining records
While they can easily get into entry-level jobs in the field, those who wish to grow in the field will have to pursue a bachelor’s in electronics or a related degree.
Median pay per year: $61,470
#10 Occupational Therapy Assistant
Occupational therapy assistants work with occupational therapists and have promising career prospects. They mainly work in rehabilitation centers and clinics but can also work in hospitals or in extended teams of sports teams. They help in:
- Performing therapeutic treatments for patients suffering from various sports or exercises related injuries.
- Administrative functions like transporting patients, setting up appointments, carrying out treatment plans, and maintaining records.
Jobs in this field are projected to grow at the rate of 32% through 2029.
Median pay per year: $61,510
#9 Auto Damage Appraiser
Auto damage appraisers typically work in insurance companies, particularly their vehicle insurance departments. The rise in automobile ownership and usage will continue to fuel the growth of jobs in this sector. The main responsibilities of auto damage appraisers include:
- Examining the photos and evaluating the damaged vehicle
- Carrying out in-depth investigations to assess the damages
- Determining the cost of vehicle repair after the accidents
- Filing claim settlements
Jobs are plenty in this field, and they offer a very competitive salary.
Median pay per year: $63,483
#8 Computer Network Support Specialist
Computer network support specialists work as a part of larger tech teams or as individual service providers. They offer technical support to companies and homes and work to resolve computer-related problems. Some of their key responsibilities include:
- Restoring and backing up files
- Checking the networks constantly
- Preventing and maintaining security breaches
- Maintaining network areas such as LAN and WAN
Employers prefer specialists with an associate’s degree in IT, computer science, and customer services for entry-level roles. Jobs in this field are projected to grow 8% through 2029.
Median pay per year: $65,450
#7 Web Developers
Web developers are always in demand, thanks to the digital age we live in. Web developers are IT professionals who are responsible for creating websites for businesses, non-profits, and other organizations, as well as for individuals. They use computer coding like HTML and XML to create these websites. An associate’s degree in web development, web design, and computer-related courses will get them into promising roles with many growth opportunities. Jobs in this field are expected to grow at a rate of 8% through 2029.
Median pay per year: $68,265
#6 Geological and Petroleum Technician
Geological and petroleum technicians assist senior engineers in offices, laboratories as well as project sites. Along with engineers and scientists in the team, they carefully extract the natural resources from Earth’s crust. Other responsibilities include:
- Looking for the best drilling spots
- Monitoring the rock formations and testing soil samples
- Maintaining the record of the availability of natural resources
Candidates must have a two-year associate’s degree in geoscience, physics, or mining for entry-level roles. However, to grow as senior geological and petroleum technicians, they will need advanced degrees. Jobs in this field are projected to grow 5% by 2029.
Median pay per year: $70,205
#5 Assistant Nuclear Technician
Assistant nuclear technicians assist senior engineers and physicists in various nuclear research and other projects. Their jobs revolve around the production of appropriate levels of nuclear power. They form a part of very important projects. Key job responsibilities include:
- Monitoring nuclear reactors
- Conforming to safety guidelines and procedures
- Measuring appropriate radiation levels
While students holding an associate’s degree can get into entry-level roles, they will need advanced degrees in nuclear science and nuclear-related technology to grow in this field.
Median pay per year: $72,072
#4 Food Services Manager
Food services managers are an integral part of the operations teams for hotels, restaurants, and related food businesses. They plan and oversee daily operations related to food services and supervise restaurant staff. They are responsible for adhering to the signature meals restaurants are known for, planning nutritious meals, and upholding health regulations. They also train staff and respond to customer complaints. Those who hold an associate’s degree, especially an associate’s degree in culinary arts, or one-year relevant certificates are preferred candidates for this job.
Median pay per year: $74,384
#3 Dental Hygienists
Dental hygienists work closely with the dentists. They are responsible for providing oral care and assisting in the overall treatment of their patients. An associate degree with courses accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) will make students eligible for this job. Key responsibilities include:
- Cleaning teeth
- Taking dental X-RAYs
- Providing dental consultation
- Consulting with dentists
- Managing all patient records
A dental hygienist job is one of the highest-paying jobs with an associate’s degree, and employment in the field is projected to grow at a rate of 6% by the year 2029.
Median pay per year: $76552
#2 Executive Administrative Assistant
Executive administrative assistants provide high-level administrative support to senior executives in an office setting. They handle multiple administrative tasks, including:
- Answering calls and scheduling appointments
- Setting up staff or client meetings
- Managing an executive’s calendar and handling email/mail
- Maintaining files or databases and other office duties
- Preparing documents like reports and invoices
Some also supervise lower-level office employees and oversee office functions. The top three skills of an executive assistant are people skills, adaptability, and organization.
Median pay per year: $77800
#1 Ultrasound Technician
Ultrasound technicians help doctors and other health care professionals evaluate and classify a patient’s medical conditions. Also referred to as diagnostic medical sonographers, they work with senior ultrasound specialists to produce images used to diagnose medical conditions or track a baby’s growth in the womb. They work with imaging equipment that produces high-frequency waves to record these images or conduct tests. Other duties include:
- Reviewing images to search for abnormalities or areas of concern
- Answering patients’ inquiries about these imaging procedures
- Recording their findings
Jobs in this field will grow by 12% through 2029.
Median pay per year: $78,884
More About Best Associate Degree Careers
What is an associate degree?
Associate degrees are two-year degrees that are available on campus as well as online. They are usually offered by community colleges and typically include half the workload of a four-year bachelor’s degree. Students who are working and need a more flexible schedule often opt for an online associate degree. They can either stretch their time from two years to more if they are juggling other responsibilities or choose an accelerated option to earn their degree in less than two years. Affordable community colleges often provide associate’s degrees, so students do not incur too much debt. Even if universities offer them, the programs are affordable and set students up for success, growth, and excellent earning potential.
Typically, the average cost of attending a two-year associate degree program can range between $4000-$8000. However, this number does not take into account room and board and other costs associated with attending school. The BLS states that associate degree holders earn a median annual salary of $42,900. This is a higher figure than the annual salary of $37,752 that high school graduates earn. Students looking to get onto the workforce and a quick start to their careers should consider an associate degree and its many benefits. Recovering the cost of education is also easier since the programs are cheaper and getting into entry-level roles is easier with this degree. Most students can gain back the money in less than two years.
Associate degree students study fields like business, political science, technology, communications, healthcare, nursing, or biology, among others. These provide foundational knowledge to work in multiple industries as well as pursue bachelor’s degrees. Most colleges and universities have generous credit transfer policies for students with an associate degree and allow them to complete a four-year bachelor’s degree in two years. The two-year degree provides training for a wide range of careers with competitive salaries. Associate degree jobs include air traffic controllers, nuclear medicine technologists, marketing or project coordinators, social media specialists, office assistants, and occupational therapy assistants, among others.
As an alternative to the four-year college degree, associate degrees represent a popular, lucrative path. There are many jobs that do not require advanced degrees for entry-level roles. There are also jobs for associate degree holders that pay well but offer more scope to grow with advanced degrees. All of them, however, make it easy for many students to get into the workforce early and start earning.
How does an associate degree help?
An associate degree can lead to getting a degree faster and with a cheaper price tag. More than that, many choose it as the fastest way to get into a good career. Even with entry-level roles, they can start earning immediately and gaining experience in the career of their choice. They know that this will jump-start their careers, but it does not end there. Students can apply to four-year undergraduate programs after earning their associate degrees so that they can grow in their careers. The benefit of a two-year degree is they can complete a bachelor’s degree in just two years and at much less cost.
Associate degrees are thus great for candidates who want to get in and out of college and get to work. Flexibility is also a popular motivation for earning an associate degree. The programs at community colleges are offered at a fraction of the cost compared to major universities and private colleges. Associate degree programs offer fast and often more affordable routes for education, making them a popular choice, especially among non-traditional students. Many on-campus and online associate degree programs are designed for non-traditional students. This includes people with full-time jobs and families. Their busy schedules prevent them from attending a regular or full-time college. Instead, they opt for classes taught on the evenings, the weekends, or asynchronously online.
Affordability is a significant benefit of associate degrees. A college degree has immense value, but college debt and expenses have continued to rise in recent years. These expenses can be hard to bear for many students. This makes getting an associate’s degree worth it since completing it takes less time and money than a bachelor’s degree. Students can immediately step from associate degree programs to the workforce and make a sizable income.
What are the different kinds of associate degrees?
The different kinds of associate’s degrees are:
- Associate in Science (AS) – The Associate in Science degree is related to STEM subjects like math, science and technology and covers a broad range of topics. They are great fit students looking for foundational knowledge so that they can pursue further science, engineering, or technology education.
- Associate in Arts (A.A.) – Students opting for Associate in Arts degrees can take wide-ranging courses. These can include literature, history, humanities, art, sociology, music, creative writing, business management, and communication. The broad curricula of each of these subjects prepare students for a wide range of bachelor’s degrees beyond the field they study. The great advantage of an Associate in Arts degree is that it offers unlimited potential for students with access to several types of Associates in Arts degree jobs.
- Associate in Applied Science (AAS) – An Associate in Applied Science degree is designed for students who wish to gain hands-on knowledge in a field and jump immediately into a specific career path. Typically, these are focused on highly specific careers like skilled trades and technology-related fields. That is why they mostly fall under the category of vocational degrees for specific career fields like HVAC systems or auto appraisals. Applied science programs like Web development & Design, Nursing, Accounting, Teaching Assistantship, Paralegal and Legal Assistantship, and Respiratory Care Providers, are also popular.
What will you learn in an associate’s degree?
Associate degree programs cover a wide range of subjects and topics. These include:
- Business Administration
- Engineering Studies
- Computer Science and Information Technology
- Economic Studies
- Performing Arts
- Early Childhood Education
- Management Studies
- Project management
- Graphic Design
- Web Design and Web Development
What is the career outlook for associate’s degree jobs?
Many job opportunities in the market only require an associate’s degree. Associate degree jobs are in great demand. Someone with an associate’s degree will have a much better chance at securing a job than just a GED. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the career prospects for students who hold an associate’s degree are good. While they are entry-level roles, they come with a great deal of growth potential. Hiring has increased in the United States, which is great news for the workforce. Companies are looking for talent to make up for the shortage in staffing and resources. Students with an associate’s degree should also look at the employment growth in their areas to see what jobs they can get.
The median salary for associate degree holders is $47,078 per year. According to the BLS, associate degree graduates may earn over $800 per week on an average, while high school graduates with no college degree may earn close to $700 per week. The distinct difference in the value of the associate degree and earning potential should make it a worthwhile consideration. The low cost of an associate’s degree program usually means that students can pay off their loans in less than 16 months. Students will have a less severe financial loan burden to carry. It is beneficial for working professionals. Down the line, students can expand their education and earn a bachelor’s degree, that too with less debt.
What are the best associate degree careers?
There is a wide range of career options to consider with an associate degree. Students should take a look at the list and then try to determine which one best suits their skills, interests, and career goals. This will help them narrow down on the degree as well as the career path. The pay and job availability for these careers vary by location and previous experience, so that should be kept in mind as well. Another thing to note before narrowing down on the choices is that some careers may require certification or licensure beyond the associate’s degree. So, reviewing individual state and industry requirements is a must.
For example, office assistants, paralegals, marketing assistants, and web developers may only need an associate degree and a vocational certificate if they want. But engineering technicians, nurses, or other healthcare specialists will need an associate’s degree. They will need to earn professional certification or licensure to practice. Students need to do thorough research and carefully review each career detail before choosing a particular associate’s degree path. Pay as well as job requirements vary a lot between different professions.
But no matter which path they choose, they will gain solid foundational skills to get started in a good career with an associate’s degree. While there are many jobs that pay well and have immense growth potential, one will truly succeed in a field that best aligns with one’s interests, career, and educational aspirations. The best associate degree careers that pay well include:
- Retail Sales associate
- Veterinary Technicians
- Human Resources Assistant
- Customer Service Representatives
- Fire Services Assistants
- Marketing Assistants
- Environmental Technicians
- Civil Engineering Technician
- Avionics Technician
- Wind Turbine Technician
- Industrial Engineering Technician
- Paralegal and Legal Assistants
- Electro-Mechanical Technicians
- Assistant Respiratory Therapists
- Nurse associate
- Aircraft Service Technician
- Radiologic Technologists
- Physical Therapist Assistant
- Telecommunications Equipment Installers and Repairers
- Occupational Therapy Assistant
- Auto Damage Appraiser
- Computer Network Support Specialist
- Web Developers
- Geological and Petroleum Technician
- Assistant Nuclear Technician
- Food Service Manager
- Dental Hygienists
- Executive Administrative Assistant
- Ultrasound Technician
Some of the best associate degrees lie in the healthcare field and offer immense opportunities for students. Jobs like radiology technicians, occupational and physical therapy assistants, dental hygienists, respiratory therapists, medical assistants, and surgical technologists require only an associate degree. Students interested in becoming registered nurses can earn an associate degree to become an R.N., start practicing, and then move on to a bachelor’s degree and advanced studies.
Associate degrees that pay well also lie in the field of information technology. Computer repairs, maintaining computer hardware and networks are careers that can begin with an associate degree. There are many opportunities available for students who wish to be software developers, computer programmers, and troubleshooters. However, they may have to get an advanced degree to grow in these fields.
How much do students with an associate degree earn?
Depending on the profession they choose, associate degree holders can earn anything between $30,000 and $80,000.