The Best Paying Jobs With an Associate’s Degree

If you want to earn a good salary without committing many years to college, you may have more options than you realize. Some occupations that pay a decent salary don’t require a four year or graduate degree. In two years, you can earn an associate’s degree from an online school, technical institute, or community college and become qualified for these jobs.

Here are 10 occupations that pay well and only require an associate’s degree.

Computer Support Specialist

Specialists in computer support provide technical assistance to organizations that use computer systems. They also work within the information technology industry as technicians and troubleshooters for software and hardware vendors.

Technical support specialists address performance issues with Local Area Networks and manage the day-to-day operations of their companies’ systems. Help-desk technicians respond to customer inquiries, diagnose computer problems, and advise technology users.

Due to ongoing growth in this field, computer support specialists can quickly advance to management level positions. Demand for these workers is projected to increase by 14% from 2008 to 2018. The average median annual salary for this position is $43,450.

Engineering Technician

Engineering technicians give support to engineers and scientists through applied work with mathematical, scientific, and engineering principles. A technician’s work may involve product design, quality control, data collection, and cost analysis. Inspecting and testing equipment are other common tasks.

While engineering technicians often specialize in particular areas (such as electrical engineering), the majority are employed in manufacturing, construction, and research and development for communications equipment. Depending on the area of specialization, average salaries vary from $41,100 to $55,040 per year.

Electrical and Electronics Drafter

Many technical institutes and colleges offer two year diploma programs in specialized areas of drafting. Electrical drafters create wiring plans for the installation and repair of electrical systems in buildings and power plants. Electronics drafters prepare layout drawings and schematics for circuit boards in electronic devices and computer components.

While most electrical and electronics drafters use Computer Aided Design and Drawing programs, drawing skills and an understanding of traditional drafting methods are still required in these occupations. Electrical and electronics drafters with strong CADD operation and design skills can expect to earn between $40,210 and $65,400 per year.


If you have good research skills and the ability to grasp legal terminology, consider pursuing an associate’s degree in paralegal studies. Paralegals draft contracts, obtain affidavits, and research judicial decisions. Although paralegals or legal assistants (as they’re often called) perform many of the same tasks as attorneys, paralegals can’t offer legal advice or represent clients in court.

Most paralegals work in law offices, but corporations and government agencies also employ paralegals to develop shareholder agreements or informational material on government policies and regulations. Employment opportunities for legal assistants are projected to grow at a much faster rate than other occupations. The middle 50% of paralegals earned yearly incomes of $36,080 to $59,310.

Administrative Assistant

Due to changes in technology, administrative assistants now perform more complex tasks in their roles as organizers and communicators of information. In addition to computer literacy, administrative assistants need task management skills in order to prioritize activities and plan and schedule events.

Many assistants are required to create presentations and compose correspondence and reports. Assistants who work in specialized areas need to have domain knowledge such as legal processes or medical and technical terminology.

Demand for administrative assistants with extensive knowledge of software programs should be strong in the next ten years. Average annual wages for these employees range from $32,410 to $50,280.

Police Officer

All law enforcement officers protect lives and property, but their duties largely depend on whether they’re employed by a local, state, or federal organization. In addition to responding to calls and apprehending suspects, uniformed officers spend a significant portion of their time documenting incidents and maintaining records for presentation in court.

Police officers can specialize in firearms training, community relations, and even handwriting analysis. Local and state departments often require two years of college-level education to be considered for police academy training. After you’re hired, you may have the opportunity to pursue degrees in criminal justice or public administration with full or partial funding from your employer. On average, police and sheriff’s patrol officers earn between $38,850 and $64,940 annually.

Registered Nurse

Although people typically associate registered nurses (RNs) with hospital settings, RNs also work in clinics, patients’ homes, and rehabilitation centers. RNs also provide specialized care, treatment, and education to transplant and hospice patients. Increasingly, registered nurses are taking on the roles of teachers and counselors in the management of mental illness, addiction treatment, and occupational health.

An associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) from an accredited college qualifies you for a state license, as well as for staff positions in most hospitals and public health clinics. Annual average salaries for RNs vary from $51,640 to $76,570. However, with high projections for growth in this field, RNs in some regions may receive hiring incentives and regular wage increases.

Physical Therapist Assistant

Physical therapist assistants provide therapeutic care to disabled patients and chronic pain sufferers. At the direction of a licensed physical therapist, assistants help patients to improve their mobility. Helping a patient with rheumatoid arthritis to exercise painful joints and teaching an accident victim how to use crutches are typical tasks performed by these workers.

Most assistants work in clinics, physicians’ offices, or hospitals. Opportunities for specialization include advancing to administrative positions in physical therapy practices and training student assistants at a college. The middle 50% of assistants based on income make between $37,170 and $54,900 per year and demand for these positions is expected to increase by more than 35% from 2008 through 2018.

Respiratory Therapist

Although respiratory therapists work under the direction of a physician, therapists take responsibility for the diagnosis and care of respiratory disorders in patients. Performing breathing capacity tests, treating ailments with oxygen, and educating patients to use ventilators are all core duties of respiratory therapists.

An associate’s degree is the minimum requirement for a license to practice as a therapist in most states. Respiratory therapists have opportunities for specialization and promotion to critical care settings and supervisory roles. Average yearly salaries range from $44,490 to $61,720, and job prospects for this position are expected to grow much faster than average.

Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists perform examinations and help patients to care for their oral health. Using a variety of hand tools and X-ray equipment, hygienists clean patients’ teeth, prepare laboratory tests for a dentist’s review, and form materials for fillings.

Dental hygiene programs leading to an associate’s degree provide instruction in anatomy, pharmacology, and behavioral science in addition to hands-on clinical training. Almost all dental hygienists are employed in dental offices. This position is among the fastest growing occupations in the US and the average yearly wage is between $55,220 and $78,990.

References: US Department of Labor (income numbers are from May 2008)

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