6 Lucrative Jobs You Can Get With An Associate Degree

Did you know that you may not need a four-year degree to land a high-paying job? Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, recently said that about half of Apple’s US employment in 2018 consisted of people who did not have a four-year degree. Statistics too support the idea that an associate degree that takes two years or less to complete, and that too at a lower cost than required for a bachelor’s degree, may provide access to high-paying jobs in specialized, fast-growing fields. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in associate degree-level occupations is projected to grow 11 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the 7.4-percent average projected for all occupations. Entry-level professionals with an associate degree had a median annual wage of $53,700 in 2018.

Several colleges and universities offer online associate degree programs. An online degree program may provide you with the flexibility you need to work and attend to family responsibilities alongside your education.

Here are six jobs that may be lucrative options for graduates with associate degrees.

1. Air Traffic Controller

Air traffic controller

The aviation industry is in the midst of major changes, especially with the entry of new players such as Amazon and the initiation of deliveries by drones. Air traffic controllers are invaluable for monitoring and directing the movement of aircraft to ensure safety and efficiency. They usually work at airports at control towers, approach control facilities, or route centers.

Why it’s in demand: The BLS estimates a projected job growth of 3% through 2026 for this highly specialized occupation. This amounts to around 900 jobs.

Dollar details: Air traffic controllers earned a median annual wage of $124,540 as of May 2018.

How to break in: To become an air traffic controller, you may typically need at least an associate degree through an Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative program that is approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). You may also need to pass a pre-employment biographical assessment that gauges your personality fitness for the job. Air traffic controllers may be further required to hold an Air Traffic Control Tower Operator certificate.

2. Radiation Therapist

Radiation therapist

The healthcare field is always in need of skilled professionals such as radiation therapists. These therapists administer radiation treatments that are required for the treatment of cancer and other diseases. They usually work with other healthcare professionals such as oncologists and nurses at healthcare facilities.

Why it’s in demand: The demand for these professionals is on the rise, with a 13% growth in job opportunities expected through 2026.

Dollar details: Radiation therapists had a median annual wage of $82,330 as of May 2018.

How to break in: You may need at least an associate degree in radiation therapy to secure employment as a radiation therapist. You may also need licensure and national-level certification to be eligible to practice.

3. Nuclear Technician

Nuclear technician

Globally, there is an increasing emphasis on using clean and renewable energy sources for electricity generation. Nuclear energy is one such source of energy. Nuclear technicians are usually employed at nuclear power plants where they use special equipment to monitor the performance of nuclear reactors. They may also test for radioactive contamination in the environment, manage nuclear waste at waste management facilities, or work in research laboratories.

Why it’s in demand: According to the BLS, a projected job growth of 1%, that is an increase of around 100 jobs, is expected through 2026 in this highly technical profession.

Dollar details: Nuclear technicians make a comfortable living with a median annual wage of $79,140 as of May 2018.

How to break in: To become a nuclear technician, you may first need to complete an associate degree in nuclear science, nuclear technology, or a related field. A background check and security clearance may be needed after you are hired. You may learn most of the skills you need through on-the-job technical training. You could also secure certification such as industrial radiography and radiation safety personnel certification or Registered Radiation Protection Technologist certification.

4. Nuclear Medicine Technologist

Nuclear medicine technologist

Imaging is often an essential first step in the diagnosis of diseases. Some imaging tests and treatment methods may require the use of radioactive drugs. These are prepared and administered by highly skilled nuclear medicine technologists.

Why it’s in demand: An increase of 10% in the number of job opportunities for nuclear medicine technologists, a total of about 2,000 jobs, is expected through 2026.

Dollar details: With a mean annual wage of $76,820 as of May 2018, these professionals have plenty of financial support.

How to break in: An associate degree or a higher qualification in nuclear medicine technology can help you find a job as a nuclear medicine technologist. If you already have a qualification in a related health field, a 12-month certificate program in nuclear medicine technology may qualify you for the job. As a technologist, you may require licensure as well as certification to practice. You could also specialize in positron emission tomography, nuclear cardiology, or computed tomography.

5. Dental Hygienist

Dental Hygienist

When you go for a dental checkup, you probably spend most of your time during the session with a dental hygienist. A dental hygienist usually evaluates a patient’s oral and dental health, cleans teeth, diagnoses certain health problems, and provides guidance on how to maintain good oral health. Dental hygienists may practice either under the supervision of a dentist or independently.

Why it’s in demand: Dental hygienists are in tremendous demand. The projected job growth through 2026 is 20% with around 40,900 jobs expected to become available.

Dollar details: Dental hygienists earned a mean annual wage of $74,820 as of May 2018.

How to break in: An associate degree in dental hygiene is the least qualification needed to secure an entry-level position as a dental hygienist. You may also need to secure licensure to practice.

6. Diagnostic Medical Sonographer


Another high-demand healthcare profession is that of diagnostic medical sonographer. These technicians specialize in operating special imaging equipment to create images, called sonograms, of the tissues and organs of a patient’s body. They also analyze the images to help physicians and surgeons diagnose medical conditions.

Why it’s in demand: Like other healthcare professions, this occupation can expect a projected job growth of 23%, with about 15,600 jobs expected to become available through 2026.

Dollar details: The mean annual wage of diagnostic medical sonographers as of May 2018 was $72,510.

How to break in: To become a diagnostic medical sonographer, you may need to complete an associate degree program in sonography or a certificate program available at certain colleges and hospitals. You may also secure advanced certification to specialize in one or more areas of diagnostic imaging, such as in abdominal sonography.


  • Business Insider, “Apple CEO Tim Cook explains why you don’t need a college degree to be successful”, on the Internet at https://www.businessinsider.in/Apple-CEO-Tim-Cook-explains-why-you-dont-need-a-college-degree-to-be-successful/articleshow/68308772.cms, (accessed on 17 July, 2019)
  • Business Insider, “Apple, Google, and Netflix don’t require employees to have 4-year degrees, and this could soon become an industry norm”, on the Internet at https://www.businessinsider.in/Apple-Google-and-Netflix-dont-require-employees-to-have-4-year-degrees-and-this-could-soon-become-an-industry-norm/articleshow/68819464.cms, (accessed on 17 July, 2019)
  • Forbes, “What’s Ahead For Airlines And Aviation In 2019”, on the Internet at https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeremybogaisky/2018/12/26/whats-ahead-for-airlines-and-aviation-in-2019/#3ce9979e2d17, (accessed on 17 July, 2019)
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  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Air Traffic Controllers, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/transportation-and-material-moving/air-traffic-controllers.htm, (accessed on 9 July, 2019)
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Radiation Therapists, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiation-therapists.htm, (accessed on 9 July, 2019)
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Nuclear Technicians, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/nuclear-technicians.htm, (accessed on 9 July, 2019)
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Nuclear Medicine Technologists, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nuclear-medicine-technologists.htm, (accessed on 9 July, 2019)
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Dental Hygienists, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm, (accessed on 9 July, 2019)
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm#tab-1, (accessed on 9 July, 2019)
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