10 Highest Paying Associate’s Degree Options: Your Complete Guide

The cooling towers of a nuclear power plant, against a sunset, are reflected in a body of still water.


Many students use associate degrees to access entry-level careers or further education, but these programs can offer even more. The highest paying associate degrees can lead to financial rewards typically reserved for professionals with much more advanced training.

Here, we explore these degree options and the careers they lead to. We outline what the training entails and the requirements for each area.

Both on-campus and online associate degrees offer students many benefits, including:

  • Quick access to entry-level careers
  • A solid foundation for advanced training, such as undergraduate programs
  • Shorter and more affordable training than four-year programs
  • Career-oriented training
  • Transferable credits that reduce the cost and time of future training

10 Associate Degrees That Lead To High Paying Jobs

The highest paying associate’s degree can vary depending on employer, industry, and location. For example, an associate’s degree in business administrationcan lead to management positions and an associate’s degree in computer sciencecan lead to a rewarding cybersecurity salary.

To make specific recommendations, we looked at the highest median annual salaries for careers that typically require an associate’s degree to enter, according to the United States. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Among the degrees leading to these high-paying careers, we have selected a wide sample of disciplines and industries. The results are listed in alphabetical order below.

1. Aerospace Engineering Technology

Post-graduation career(s): Aerospace Engineering Technician, Mechanical Systems Engineer and Aeronautical Specialist
Earning Potential: $73,580
Additional certifications needed? No, but employers can require basic aerospace technician certification.

An associate in aerospace engineering technology gives students the skills to use computers and math to solve problems in the fields of mechanical and aerospace engineering. Learners take courses in computer-aided design and applications and calculation methods.

They also learn how to run engineering tests and experiments and solve engineering problems, as well as operate various engineering technologies. These professionals typically work in manufacturing and research and development.

2. Air traffic controller

Post-graduation career(s): Tower controller, en route controller and approach and departure controller
Earning Potential: $129,750
Additional certifications needed? Yes, an Air Traffic Control Tower Operator Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration is required.

An associate air traffic controller prepares students to communicate with pilots and to monitor and direct air traffic. Students learn to read radars and weather patterns. They also study federal aviation laws and guidelines.

In their training, students use air traffic simulators and complex tower technology and equipment. These professionals usually work in towers and centers at airports or in offices.

3. Aircraft maintenance

Post-graduation career(s): Aircraft Equipment Mechanic, Avionics Technician and Aircraft Repair Professional
Earning Potential: $65,550
Additional certifications needed? Yes, one airframe and/or powertrain certificate is required by the Federal Aviation Administration.

An aviation maintenance associate prepares students for airframe and powerplant mechanic certification. The training covers aeronautical computing and aircraft systems, including instruments, electrical and power systems. Students also learn to maintain and repair aircraft structures.

Learners learn about regular and irregular engine noises, identify potential problems and read gauges. Aircraft maintenance professionals typically work on or near airfields in hangars and repair stations.

4. Dental hygiene

Post-graduation career(s): Dental hygienist and dental assistant
Earning Potential: $77,810
Additional certifications needed? No, but students must pass the National Board dental examination for the permit.

A dental hygiene associate teaches students to safely and ethically assess a patient’s oral health, perform cleanings, and educate patients about healthy oral care. They also learn how to assist dentists, communicate with patients, and control infections.

During their training, dental hygiene students engage in laboratory and clinical practice. Their work takes place mainly in the offices of dentists and doctors. Government work may also be available.

5. Diagnostic medical ultrasound

Post-graduation career(s): Diagnostic Medical Sonographer and Cardiovascular Technologist
Earning Potential: $75,380
Additional certifications needed? No, but a professional certification may be preferred, such as that of the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers.

In a Diagnostic Medical Sonography Associate, students learn about the human body, the rules and regulations of medical imaging, and how to communicate with patients and healthcare professionals.

They familiarize themselves with medical terminology, use imaging technologies and body imaging methods.

During their training, students must perform extensive clinical experiences under supervision. During their career, they mainly work in hospitals, medical practices, medical clinics and care centers.

6. Drawing and design technology

Post-graduation career(s): Electronic draftsman, mechanical draftsman and civil draftsman
Earning Potential: $60,290
Additional Certifications Needed? No, but the certification of American Design Drawing Association is available.

An Associate in Drafting and Design Technology equips students with skills in computer-aided design and manufacturing processes. Learners study manufacturing standards and practice using common technologies, software and applications.

Students receive hands-on training in the use of drafting equipment and machine tools while adhering to safety protocols. Their work can take them to manufacturing plants. However, writers primarily need access to their desks and computers, which can allow them to work from home.

7. Nuclear Technology

Post-graduation career(s): Nuclear Technician, Radiation Protection Technician and Nuclear Monitoring Technician
Earning Potential: $99,340
Additional certifications needed? No, but certifications are available, such as that of the American Society for Nondestructive Testing.

Within an associate in nuclear technology, students learn to work with nuclear technology and radioactive materials in a safe and effective manner. They study nuclear systems and sources, applications, and management and security standards and practices.

In addition to classes, students undergo extensive practical training and internships. Work in this area takes place in or near nuclear power plants. Professionals can work in control rooms, offices or outdoors.

8. Nuclear medicine technology

Post-graduation career(s): Nuclear Medicine Technologist, Nuclear Cardiology Technologist and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Technologist
Earning Potential: $78,760
Additional certifications needed? Yes, a national certification is required from the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Commission.

Students of an associate in nuclear medicine technology learn how to perform imaging and therapeutic procedures. They study the use of radiation and radiopharmaceutical detection systems, as well as the risks and safety requirements.

In addition to coursework, students gain experience working with patients and field equipment during their required hospital observations and clinical training. Their work takes place in hospitals, doctors’ offices, laboratories, and health care clinics and centers.

9. Radiotherapy

Post-graduation career(s): Radiotherapist
Earning Potential: $82,790
Additional certifications needed? Yes, States may require certification of the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.

A radiation therapy associate gives students the skills to operate linear accelerators and other machines to treat cancer patients. They learn about radiation dosimetry, computerized treatment planning methods and safety standards.

Degree candidates also study oncology and radiation physics, as well as patient assessment and communication strategies. Their studies include extensive training in clinical and simulation settings. Their work takes place in hospitals, clinics, laboratories and doctors’ offices.

10. Respiratory Therapy

Post-graduation career(s): Respiratory Therapist, Sleep Disorders Specialist, Pulmonary Function Technologist
Earning Potential: $61,830
Additional certifications needed? Yes, most states require certification of the National Board of Respiratory Care.

A Respiratory Therapy Associate teaches students primary respiratory care techniques for various types of patients. They also study the main diseases encountered in the profession, the strategies and methods of patient assessment and therapeutic practices.

Students in these programs complete extensive hands-on work through simulations and clinical placements. Their work takes place in hospitals, nursing facilities and doctors’ offices.

Unless otherwise noted, salary data is from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics to July 29, 2022.

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