If your college plans don't include a four-year degree at this point, you could be paving a path toward attending community college. While some two-year degree holders eventually move on to four-year colleges (and graduate degrees), some students move straight into a career with an associate's degree.
As you probably already know, selecting a career path can take years and may involve such factors as comparing your interests and skills against the available jobs in your area. Money should not be the sole selection criterion when looking for a job, since even the highest-paying role probably won't allow you to overcome dissatisfaction in your career. But in response to several queries from readers, College Confidential investigated several high-paying careers for associate's degree holders.
The data below is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Career Finder tool. The parameters we entered were "Entry-level Education: Associate's Degree" and "2017 Median Pay: $75,000 or More." Check out the five careers that the government ranks among the highest-paying for associate's degree holders:
Nuclear Medicine Technologists
You'll see nuclear medicine technologists in hospitals and other health care settings, where they prepare and administer radioactive drugs to patients, typically for therapeutic reasons or in preparation for imaging tests. Technologists in this field earned a median annual salary of $75,660 last year.
In addition to holding associate's degrees, many nuclear medicine techs earn certification through accrediting agencies. To find out more about this field, check out the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists' or the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board's websites.
The job outlook for this field looks strong, with 10 percent growth projected through 2026, which is faster than the average for all occupations, according to government data.
Funeral Service Managers
As the title suggests, funeral service managers oversee the details of funerals, typically working at crematories or rest homes. This field is expected to grow about five percent through 2025, which is about the same growth rate as the national average, and those in the industry make an average of about $78,040 annually.
If you're considering earning an associate's in this field (typically in mortuary science or funeral service), check the American Board of Funeral Service Education's website to ensure that the school you plan to attend is accredited. You'll need the right education to pass any state board examinations required to earn your license in the field, and you should also pursue an internship with a funeral service manager to learn the skills required for the position.
About 20 percent of the electricity in the United States is derived from nuclear sources, and nuclear technicians help ensure that clean and safe nuclear energy makes its way into the power system. Those in the industry operate specific equipment and keep an eye on radiation levels, and earn an average annual salary of $80,370. The job outlook is expected to remain steady over the next decade.
Many people in this field have military experience and learned their skills while serving, and others learn the techniques necessary for the job during their college years. Several organizations provide certification and training for the industry as well, including the Nuclear Energy Institute, the American Society for Nondestructive Testing and the National Registry of Radiation Protection Technologists.
Radiation therapists can be seen in hospitals and other health care settings, where they administer radiation therapy treatments to patients with cancer and other diseases. Due to an aging population, demand in this field is expected to rise, and employment opportunities in the category could increase by 13 percent through 2025, the government projects. Those in the field earned an average salary of $80,570 last year.
If you're interested in earning an associate's degree in this field, consider checking out the schools that the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists recognizes. These are seen as providing the appropriate educational background that will allow new entrants to the industry to thrive.
Air Traffic Controllers
Logging the highest pay on the list are air traffic controllers, who earned an average salary of $124,540 last year. Those in the field manage the logistics of aircraft to ensure that they maintain safe distances from one another, thus ensuring the safety of all involved. Jobs in this field are expected to rise about three percent through 2026, which is slightly slower than the national average, and competition in the industry is strong.
There are multiple paths to entering this career, and many people enter the position following previous employment, often via the military. If you're considering a job in this field, make sure your education program is accredited through the Federal Aviation Administration's Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative program. In addition, this job requires US citizenship and passing multiple tests including a medical evaluation.