How does the potential to make over $50,000 without spending four years in school sound? There are a number of jobs — from healthcare to technology — that pay well and are growing in demand, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. Best of all, they require only a two-year associate degree. In fact, there are some jobs where you can even earn six figures.
You can do very well for yourself with just a couple years in college and the motivation to succeed. As Larry Cornett, owner of Brilliant Forge career coaching, put it, "Your network connections and inside champions are really what opens doors to hidden opportunities. Then, once you're at the table, your reputation and experience will help seal the deal more than any degree on paper."
To help get your foot in the door, we took a look at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to round up 12 high-paying careers with bright futures that you can pursue with an associate degree.
- Median annual wage: $49,500
- Top 10 percent of earners: $80,260
- Job growth: 8 percent
You don't have to be the one representing clients in court to make lucrative pay. A paralegal can bypass law school and get right to making a decent paycheck doing clerical and legal research work.
Job Duties: According to the BLS, a paralegal supports a lawyer in a number of ways, from maintaining and organizing files to investigating facts of a case and helping prepare for trials.
With an average growth rate for the foreseeable future, career coach Cheryl Palmer, owner of Call to Career, said it shouldn't be terribly difficult to find a job.
"If you are very organized, work independently and well under pressure, are detail-oriented and have top-notch writing and research skills, becoming a paralegal could be a great career fit for you."
Education Requirements: An associate degree in paralegal studies is required, according to the BLS.
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2. Funeral Service Director
- Median annual wage: $50,090
- Top 10 percent of earners: $83,980
- Job growth: 5 percent
There's high earning potential as a funeral service director, as well as job security.
"It's a pretty stable career since there will always be a need for funeral services," said Palmer.
Job Duties: A funeral director is responsible for the collecting of the deceased's body, preparing the body for viewing, arranging visitations and providing counseling to family members. Directors also file death certificates and other legal documents, according to the BLS.
It takes a special person to be a funeral service director. According to Palmer, the type of person who will succeed in this career demonstrates compassion, empathy, friendliness, diplomacy, tact and attention to detail.
Education Requirements: An associate degree in mortuary science is the general requirement to enter the field, according to the BLS. Depending on the state, you might have to pass a state licensing exam after graduation. Internships are also important, whether completed before formal training, during, or after.
3. Wind Turbine Tech
Median annual wage: $52,260
Top 10 percent of earners: $76,250
Job growth: 108 percent
Looking for a booming profession? Look no further. Wind turbine technicians, also known as wind techs, are expected to outpace most other professions, according to the BLS. There will be lots of ways to climb the career ladder in this growth field.
"If the terms hands-on, practical, outdoors, machinery, data, and details appeal to you, then this profession may be your dream," said Palmer.
Job Duties: Wind techs are out in the field climbing towers to inspect wind turbine equipment and make repairs, according to the BLS. Sometimes techs are on call to handle emergencies.
Education Requirements:The majority of wind techs learn their trade by attending a technical school or obtaining an associate degree from a community college. According to the BLS, some employers hire candidates before they graduate.
4. Geological or Petroleum Technician
- Median annual wage: $56,470
- Top 10 percent of earners: $103,080
- Job growth: 12 percent
Generally speaking, where there's oil, there's money and opportunity. Geological and petroleum technicians are paid fairly well, and you won't be drowning in college debt to pursue this career.
According to career coach Mike McRitchie, technicians are in high demand, particularly as alternative energy options get greater national focus.
"You can be learning a trade and making big bucks straight out of high school," he said. "And you get to work with your hands, doing real work. The kind of work America was built on."
Job Duties: According to the BLS, these professionals assist scientists and engineers with oil and gas exploration and extraction. Specific duties can include testing samples, recording data, compiling reports and installing laboratory and field equipment.
Education Requirements: Most employers prefer applicants who have at least an associate degree or two years of postsecondary training in a science-related technology or applied science, per the BLS.
5. Physical Therapist Assistant
- Median annual wage: $56,610
- Top 10 percent of earners: $79,040
- Job growth: 41 percent
If you're looking for one of the best associate-degree jobs where you can make a difference, consider becoming a physical therapist assistant. The career comes with an attractive salary and is growing exceptionally for two reasons: an aging population and technology advancements that have helped trauma victims and newborns survive.
"If you also have good physical strength, patience, empathy, creativity, flexibility, and love to cheer people on, this career could be a great fit for you," said Palmer.
Job Duties: Physical therapy assistants directly help physical therapists. They observe patients, help with exercises and stretches and educate patients about what to do after a session.
Education Requirements: All states require physical therapy assistants to have an associate degree from an accredited program. A license or certification is also required, according to the BLS.
6. Respiratory Therapist
- Median annual wage: $58,670
- Top 10 percent of earners: $81,550
- Job growth: 12 percent
Although respiratory therapists help people who are dealing with breathing emergencies, you might have trouble catching your own breath knowing that this career pays nearly $60,000 and requires only an associate degree. Not to mention the profession is growing faster than average over the next few years.
In this profession, "You will need to be able to work well under pressure, multitask, communicate well, and function optimally in a team environment," said Palmer.
Job Duties: In addition to responding to emergency care, these professionals might perform diagnostic tests that measure lung capacity, use chest physiotherapy and administer aerosol medications.
Education Requirements: An associate degree is typically needed to enter the field, as well as passing a state licensing or professional certification exam.
7. Radiologic or MRI Technologist
- Median annual wage: $58,960
- Top 10 percent of earners: $82,590 to $95,890
- Job growth: 9 percent
There are plenty of high-paying jobs in the medical field that don't require medical school. Radiologic and MRI technologists can earn a satisfying paycheck with two short years of training.
Job Duties: These individuals operate diagnostic equipment. Radiologic technologists, also known as radiographers, might perform X-rays on patients. MRI technologists, on the other hand, use magnetic resonance imaging scanners to create diagnostic images.
Education Requirements: An associate degree is typically needed to enter this profession. According to the BLS, many MRI technologists begin as radiologic technologists. Most states require radiographers to be licensed or certified, where only a few states require it for MRI technologists.
However, if you want the best job prospects, you'll want multiple certifications and to graduate from an accredited program.
8. Occupational Therapy Assistant
- Median annual wage: $59,010
- Top 10 percent of earners: $80,090
- Job growth: 43 percent
If you're looking for one of the best associate degrees out there, consider training to pursue a career as an occupational therapy assistant. It's one of the highest paying jobs experiencing rapid growth, thanks to aging baby boomers.
Career coach Howard Fox said an occupational therapy assistant career is perfect for those who have an interest in healthcare and helping others, particularly with achieving their goals.
Job Duties: According to the BLS, these professionals help patients with therapeutic activities. This typically involves encouragement and teaching how to use equipment. Occupational therapy assistants might also perform clerical tasks.
Education Requirements: An associate degree from an accredited occupational therapy assistant program is generally required. Assistants must also be licensed in most states.
9. Cardiovascular Technician or Medical Sonographer
- Median annual wage: $64,280
- Top 10 percent of earners: $89,450 to $99,100
- Job growth: 24 percent
Associate degrees can really pay off, particularly in the medical field.
Job Duties: Similar to radiologic and MRI technologists, these individuals operate special imaging equipment so doctors can diagnose medical conditions. They might work in a hospital setting, physician's office or medical lab.
Education Requirements: The BLS states a prospective job candidate should have an associate degree or complete a one-year certificate program, which some schools or hospitals offer. You'll also want to receive professional certification, as well as certification in CPR. Only a few states require these techs to be licensed.
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10. Web Developer
- Median annual wage: $66,130
- Top 10 percent of earners: $119,550
- Job growth: 27 percent
Computer language is quickly becoming the language of the world. A web developer is easily one of the highest-paying jobs that only requires an associate degree, and it has a particularly optimistic employment outlook.
"As tech becomes a larger part of our lives, having the understanding and skill in coding can open many doors to future opportunities," said McRitchie.
Job Duties: Individuals in this profession test applications, create content, code and manage technical aspects of a website.
Education Requirements: Although educational requirements vary, an associate degree in web design or a related field is generally required. For the best employment opportunities, you should know a range of programming languages, too. A few graphic design classes can be useful for working with the visual appearance of a website, according to the BLS.
11. Registered Nurse
- Median annual wage: $68,450
- Top 10 percent of earners: $102,990
- Job growth: 16 percent
Break into the booming healthcare field without having to spend an eternity in school? That's correct. You can enter the nursing profession with a two-year degree and earn a considerable amount of cash.
"This is an outstanding field with an excellent employment outlook and the ability to work in a variety of settings," said Nancy Brook, a nurse practitioner, career mentor and author of "The Nurse Practitioner's Bag."
Job Duties: Registered nurses care for patients and also provide advice and emotional support to them and their family members, according to the BLS.
Education Requirements: An associate degree or a diploma from an approved nursing program are two common paths to enter the nursing field. Registered nurses must also be licensed.
12. Dental Hygienist
- Median annual wage: $72,910
- Top 10 percent of earners: $100,170
- Job growth: 19 percent
Going to dental school isn't the only path to the lucrative field of dentistry. Instead, train to become a dental hygienist with an associate degree and still have solid earning potential.
"If you want to do well by doing good, this is a great career to consider," said Palmer.
Job Duties: As a dental hygienist, you'll actually be doing much of the preventative work of dentistry, which can include cleaning and examining teeth. Part of the job is also informing patients about oral health and what they can do better.
According to Palmer, a dental hygienist should have good physical stamina and be positive, friendly and patient.
Education Requirements: Ready to jump all in? According to the BLS, an associate degree in dental hygiene is typically needed to enter the career. It's important to note this can take three years to complete. Every state requires these professionals to be licensed, but exact requirements vary.