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The top-earning 2-year associate degree majors in the US

They’re not a silver bullet to the quandary of how to get a higher education degree that pays off in future earnings compared to investment but promising.

The top-earning 2-year associate degree majors in the US
Philippe WojazerREUTERS

Young Americans deciding on their future careers, and one that will earn them a decent living, encounter the quandary of what kind of degree they should get and at which institution they should attend. The dilemma gets even more prescient as higher education becomes ever more expensive and with headlines about ballooning student debt.

While many consider getting a four-year undergraduate degree the key to opening the doors to a career that will provide for their future, skepticism is growing. That is leading parents and students to consider other options such as one that is often overlooked, going for an associate degree.

This could be a good choice for those are looking to save on tuition and who don’t want to spend too many years in college. It’s equivalent to the first two years of a four-year bachelor’s degree program, and can be a transitional path between a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree. Or allow you to enter the work force with the necessary tools to qualify for certain entry-level positions.

These degrees are available in various fields of study, such as business, engineering, and health sciences. Some associate degrees can lead to high-paying careers, some in the six-figure range, making it an attractive alternative to studying for a four-year degree.

When thinking about the economic aspect, for example, the annual cost in 2020 was $11,391 when taking into consideration annual tuition, room and board for 2-year associate degree programs in the United States according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Compare that to nearly $29,000 per year for a 4-year degree, which breaks down to a difference of less than $23,000 to just over $115,000 by the time of graduation, respectively.

But which degree and career you decide to pursue can make the world of difference. Some associate degree grads’ professions may result in earnings even less than those who enter the labor market with only a high school degree who on average earn about $44,000 per year. But those that seek careers in STEM could see salaries that top $100,000.

What are the highest paying associate degrees in the US in 2023?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many fields which require an associate degree as an entry-level academic requirement pay at least $30,000 as the average annual wage. Some jobs pay much more than that. Here is a list of some of the top-paying associate degrees in the US this year.

  • Air traffic control (average yearly salary: $80,000 or more)
  • Nuclear technology (average yearly salary: approximately $80,000 or more)
  • Radiation therapy (average yearly salary: approximately $80,000 or more)
  • Nuclear medicine technology (average yearly salary: approximately $60,000 to $80,000)
  • Dental hygiene (average yearly salary: approximately $60,000 to $80,000)
  • Aerospace engineering (average yearly salary: approximately $60,000 to $80,000)
  • Funeral services (average yearly salary: approximately $60,000 to $80,000)
  • Physical therapy (average yearly salary: approximately $60,000 to $80,000)
  • Computer network support (average yearly salary: approximately $60,000 to $80,000)
  • Occupational therapy (average yearly salary: approximately $60,000 to $80,000)

The top-earning 2-year associate degree majors in the US

PayScale gives a slightly more detailed view of what you can earn with a 2-year associate degree. Their data breaks down what to expect in the early years of your career as well as what you could be making by mid-career. Here’s a look at the top ten:

MajorEarly career payMid-career pay
Radiation Therapy$73,000 $107,400
Software Engineering$65,200 $105,700
Instrumentation Technology$56,700 $104,500
Instrumentation & Control Engineering$62,500 $100,600
Project Management$56,300 $95,900
Instrumentation & Control$66,300 $95,100
Management Information Systems (MIS)$52,700 $95,000
Network Engineering$58,500 $93,600
Computer Science (CS) & Engineering$49,500 $93,300
Biomedical Engineering Technology$57,600 $92,900