Best Associate Degree Jobs and Professional Jobs
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the earnings of employees with just an associate’s degree are 28% – or $ 336 per week – less than what a typical bachelor’s degree holder earns. Unemployment rates for people with a partner are also slightly higher.
Nonetheless, you might consider skipping a four-year degree to avoid significant student debt or to enter the workforce faster. But if you do, be aware that some two-year degrees lead to much higher paying and more stable careers than others.
We looked at 93 jobs that only require an associate’s degree or certification, looking at three key elements of BLS data: median annual salary, projected field growth, and expected number of future openings. Based on those factors, here are the best of the bunch.
- Air traffic controller is the best job for people who prioritize pay. Median annual earnings in 2018 were $ 124,540, which is $ 42,210 more than the second highest paying profession on our list (radiation therapists). Electrical and electronics repairers ($ 80,200), funeral directors ($ 79,180) and nuclear technicians ($ 79,140) round out our top five.
- Heavy truck and semi-trailer drivers are expected to be in most demand, with around 238,400 vacancies per year. Other careers with annual high-level employment growth include licensed practical nurses (199,700) and medical assistants (99,700).
- Nurses and medical assistants are also paving the way for expected job growth – the BLS expects these two careers to create 135,400 and 154,900 new jobs, respectively, between 2018 and 2028.
The 5 best jobs requiring less than a bachelor’s degree
Each of these occupations was given a “job outlook score” based on how much they pay, the number of jobs generally open, and the number of new positions that are expected to be added each year. (See Methodology below.) Jobs that pay well and are expected to stay in the long term scored higher, rising to the top of our rankings.
The next five came out on top.
1. Air traffic controller
Employment Outlook Score: 52.2
Median annual salary: $ 124,540
New projected jobs added during 2018-28: 300
Projected available job openings per year: 2,300
If you’re interested in directing air traffic from a tall tower, an associate’s degree and extensive training from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are all you need to get started. Your on-the-job training would take time, although at least it wouldn’t increase your student debt.
Additionally, since 9 out of 10 air traffic controllers work for the FAA, any student loan for your associate degree could potentially be offset by Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
Keep in mind, however, that the job has a reputation for being stressful and requiring overtime. However, if you like the night shift options, this might not be a problem.
You should also be aware that job growth in this field does not have the same bright prospects as some of the others in this survey, with the BLS predicting only 300 positions added in the decade ending 2028.
2. Heavy truck / semi-trailer truck driver
Employment Outlook Score: 51.4
Median annual salary: $ 43,680
New projected jobs added during 2018-28: 99,700
Projected available job openings per year: 238,400
If you’d rather be on the go, consider truck driving to rank in the top three for growth and demand. You could find yourself in the driver’s seat after just three to six months of study at a community college or driving school, along with some on-the-job training.
But before you study for your commercial driver’s license test, however, consider that the BLS projections may not fully reflect recent trends, including the expected increase in self-driving trucks and a decline in business due to policies. current commercial and tax matters.
3. Nursing assistant
Employment Outlook Score: 44.2
Median annual salary: $ 28,540
New projected jobs added during 2018-28: 135,400
Projected available job openings per year: 190,700
The first healthcare career on our associate degree job list, the practical nurse ranked third, primarily due to her annual job growth.
You might not even need an associate’s degree. Along with nursing aides, nursing assistants can find employment after graduating from high school and passing a state-issued competency exam.
If you can delay your career for a year of study, know that licensed practical and professional nurses (who rank sixth on our list) earn a significantly higher salary ($ 46,240). You can also consider working as a licensed practical nurse to help pay for your nursing degree and further increase your earning capacity.
4. Medical assistant
Employment Outlook Score: 40.1
Median annual salary: $ 33,610
New projected jobs added during 2018-28: 154,900
Projected available job openings per year: 99,700
A medical assistant helps with administrative tasks in health facilities, as well as with certain clinical tasks, such as nursing assistants. And although they appear similar, physician assistants earn more than licensed practical nurses by a notable margin.
Like their nursing peers, medical assistants might begin work with a high school diploma and employer-sponsored training. A certificate program also leads the way.
With its most recent figures, the BLS predicts that the employment of medical assistants will increase by 23% between 2018 and 2028.
5. Dental hygienist
Job Outlook Score: 32.5
Median annual salary: $ 74,820
New jobs planned for 2018-28: 23,700
Projected available job openings per year: 17,900
While not ranking in the top five in any of our three data categories, dental hygienists had stable scores across all areas, ranking fifth overall.
However, to earn a typical dental hygienist’s salary, you will likely have to go through a three-year program. Associate degrees are required for the position and may require you to incur student loan debt.
On the positive side, dental hygienists could receive help paying off student loans. Hygienists working in Colorado, for example, could earn between $ 6,000 and $ 12,000 in state aid, depending on how many underserved patients they see per month.
Dental assistants, meanwhile, ranked 38th on our list because they earn a much lower salary ($ 38,660); However, this position does not require an associate’s degree.
A wide range of possibilities
Beyond these five, there are other great opportunities for people with the right certificate or associate’s degree – and other less exciting ones.
At the bottom of our ranking of 93 occupations, you will find dietetic technicians, barbers, manicurists and pedicures. That’s not to say these professions aren’t worth pursuing – just that the income might not be as high as other options, or it might be a bit more difficult to find work.
Here’s our full list of occupations we surveyed, along with their Job Outlook score and other data:
Before pursuing a new education and a new career …
You might see the six-figure air traffic controller salary or the attractive stability of a medical career and be tempted to change lanes. But before you make rash decisions, keep the caveats in mind.
While some positions do not require a four-year degree, for example, they might require extensive training in another form. Think of nuclear technicians (ranked 10th overall), who need an associate’s degree – plus six months to two years of training paid for by the company.
You should also be wary of choosing a position strictly for its high marks. You might like the idea of driving a truck, but balk at the reality of being away from home for days or weeks at a time.
To prepare for the right field, make sure it is suitable well before considering the income, growth, and demand for such a job. You can start by reviewing our five-step roadmap to the job of your dreams.
Remember, too, that the right job must also come with the right path. You could opt for an area that would allow you to borrow less in federal and private student loans, for example. If you’re further along in your life and already have student loan debt, moving to a higher paying field might also help you qualify for your student loan refinance.
Student Loan Hero analysts looked at median income, job growth, and expected job openings, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This data was provided for 93 occupations, which the BLS identified as requiring an associate’s degree or a post-secondary non-degree.
Each factor was rated between 0 and 100 based on their relative position between the highest and lowest values among all occupations, and these three scores were then weighted to 50% (median income, 2018), 25% (projected position growth over 10 years, 2018-2028) and 25% (expected average annual job openings, 2018-2028) to create a final job outlook score.