A close-up of a college student obtaining an associate's degree from behind, carrying a gray backpack and holding textbooks. The student is wearing a denim jacket over a white t-shirt.

If you’re considering higher education, one option you may consider is getting an associate’s degree. This degree can be obtained faster and at a lower cost than a bachelor’s degree. It’s widely available through community colleges that may be conveniently located close to where you already live. 

But is getting an associate’s degree a worthwhile investment? We’ll look into what you can do with an associate’s degree and share 21 jobs you can get with this level of education. 

What is an associate’s degree?

An associate’s degree is an undergraduate academic degree that typically takes two to three years to complete. It’s a more advanced level of education than a high school diploma and the degree that precedes a bachelor’s degree. 

Like bachelor’s degrees, associate’s degrees can be earned in various areas of study. Some of the most common types of associate’s degrees include the Associate of Arts (AA) and Associate of Science (AS) degree. 

What are the benefits of getting an associate’s degree?

Start early

Many high schools offer college-level courses, which allows you to begin earning credits toward your associate’s degree before you’ve even graduated. In some cases, motivated students can complete their entire associate degree program while in high school, but even earning just a few credits early will put you ahead of the game in your studies once you’ve graduated. 

Move quickly

If you’re looking to enter the workforce as fast as possible, an associate’s degree is a good option. Though the typical associate’s degree timeline is two years, some programs can be completed in as little as 18 months. 

Qualify for more jobs

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, hundreds of jobs require an associate’s degree to qualify for. Having this degree means you’ll have access to more opportunities than you would with only a high school diploma. This can make getting a job and breaking into the field you want easier. 

Earn more money

Generally, the more education you have, the more money you will make. People who hold associate’s degrees earn more on average than those with a high school diploma or less education. As of 2022, the median income for a U.S. worker with an associate’s degree is $74,920. For those who don’t complete education beyond a high school diploma, the average salary is $51,470–a 31% drop.

Gain practical skills

Many associate’s degree programs give students hands-on experience in a real-world occupational setting. You can get your degree and obtain a vocational license simultaneously in several fields, like cosmetology and dental hygiene. 

Save on tuition

As you’re probably already aware, college can be expensive. If your educational goals include getting a bachelor’s degree, completing an associate’s program at a community college first and then transferring to a four-year school can save you a significant amount of money on tuition, housing, and other expenses. 

Jobs you can get with an associate’s degree

1. Dental hygienist

Dental hygienists play a major role in caring for patients in dental offices, providing cleanings, conducting examinations, and educating patients on proper oral care. The job outlook for dental hygienists is strong, with the number of openings expected to grow at a faster-than-average 7% over the next decade.

Median salary: $73,450

2. Veterinary technician

Veterinary technicians, or vet techs for short, assist vets in caring for animals. They perform tasks like administering medications, taking x-rays, providing support during medical procedures, and helping to calm anxious pets. Many vet techs find the opportunity to make an impact on pets’ and their owners’ lives to be very rewarding. 

Median salary: $43,800

3. Sonographer

Sonographers use ultrasound technology to create images of internal body structures for diagnostic purposes. Their expertise helps physicians detect and diagnose medical conditions, facilitating swift and effective treatment.  

Median salary: $80,000

4. Medical assistant

Medical assistants are crucial in providing patient care and keeping healthcare organizations running smoothly. They interview patients, take their vital signs, assist with examinations, and handle administrative duties like appointment scheduling and more. 

Median salary: $31,800

5. Cosmetologist

Cosmetologists provide various services meant to enhance clients’ appearance, including hair styling, makeup application, and skin treatments. They use their creativity and precision to help clients look and feel their best and continuously evolve to keep pace with the latest services and products. 

Median salary: $41,600

6. Web developer

Web developers design and build websites. They focus on the visual layout and functionality of the various site elements. Their coding skills bring clients’ visions to life, helping to shape the online presence of individuals and businesses. Web developers–both freelance and in-house–are in high demand, and the field is forecasted to experience continued long-term growth. 

Median salary: $99,950

7. Computer support specialist

When people and businesses run into problems with their computer systems and software, computer support specialists are the professionals they call for help. Support specialists troubleshoot and work to resolve computer issues, perform regular maintenance, and help organizations recover after service interruptions. 

Median salary: $47,870

8. Bookkeeper

Bookkeepers help organizations keep their financial records in order. They record transactions, balance accounts, and generate reports that contribute to the financial health of the business. 

Median salary: $42,840

9. Auditor 

Auditors examine financial records to ensure accuracy, efficiency, and compliance. Auditors may work internally in an organization, looking for opportunities to improve performance and mitigate risk, or they may work externally, confirming that organizations’ finances do not contain errors or signs of fraud. 

Median salary: $93,200

10. Paralegal

If you thought you needed a law degree to work in the legal field, think again. Paralegals play an instrumental role in law offices, supporting lawyers by conducting research, drafting documents, and preparing cases. 

Median salary: $67,370

11. Court reporter

Another job in the legal field you can get with an associate’s degree is that of a court reporter. Court reporters transcribe legal proceedings and quickly capture the spoken interactions in a courtroom to ensure an accurate record. Their work is essential in preserving the integrity of court proceedings. 

Median salary: $65,750

12. Preschool teacher

Preschool teachers nurture and educate young children, fostering their social, emotional, and cognitive development. They use a combination of structured activities and play to provide a safe and enriching care environment and lay the foundation for lifelong learning. 

Median salary: $33,200

13. Teaching assistant

Teaching assistants support teachers in classroom settings. They often work in elementary schools, collaborating with teachers to provide instruction, supervise students, and prepare learning materials. 

Median salary: $35,550

14. Pharmacy technician

Pharmacy technicians assist pharmacists in dispensing medications, managing inventory, processing prescriptions, and interacting with customers. Their knowledge and attention to detail help ensure the safe and accurate distribution of medication to patients. 

Median salary: $41,200

15. MRI technologist

MRI technologists operate magnetic resonance imaging scanners, also known as MRI machines, to create detailed images of portions of the inside of patients’ bodies. They calibrate and maintain imaging equipment and ensure precise images, allowing doctors to make accurate diagnoses.

Median salary: $74,620

16. Licensed practical nurse

A licensed practical nurse, or LPN, provides patient care under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN) or physician. They monitor vital signs, administer medications, and assist with daily activities, supporting patient well-being in hospitals and clinics. 

Median salary: $52,350

17. Air traffic controller

For every flight that takes off and lands safely, an air traffic controller is to thank. They facilitate the safe and efficient movement of aircraft by coordinating arrivals and departures and providing instructions to pilots, all the while remaining calm under pressure. This is one of the highest-paying jobs you can get with an associate’s degree. 

Median salary: $137,380

18. Office manager

Almost every type of office, from medical clinics to financial advisory firms, has an office manager. This role ensures smooth administrative operations by overseeing activities like budgeting, scheduling, and communication. 

Median salary: $64,280

19. Police officer

Police officers play a critical role in communities, upholding order by patrolling neighborhoods, enforcing regulations, and investigating crimes. Police work is one of the few professions where it’s still common to have a pension, which can be a lucrative perk. 

Median salary: $66,200

20. HVAC technician

HVAC stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Technicians in this field repair and maintain heat and A/C systems in residential and commercial buildings. Like many skilled trades, this profession is in high demand and offers long-term job stability. 

Median salary: $52,640

21. Automotive service technician

Automotive service technicians investigate, diagnose, and repair issues with customers’ vehicles and perform maintenance to keep cars running smoothly. This can be an ideal job for people who love tinkering and want to work outside a traditional office setting. 

Median salary: $52,350

Is getting an associate’s degree worth it?

If you’re deciding between getting an associate’s degree and discontinuing your education after high school, the degree is almost certainly worth it. You’re highly likely to enjoy a wider selection of job opportunities and higher earnings with the degree than without. Plus, you’ll have the opportunity to network with instructors and fellow students, which can also give your career a boost. 

One pro tip if you’re on the fence about getting an associate’s degree: go for something specialized rather than a generic or broad area of study. This way, you’re learning specific skills that will position you to step directly into a career rather than leaving you with a sea of options and no clear direction. 

Aside from expanding your knowledge and skills, getting an associate’s degree can help you make an impact in a field you’re interested in, which can be personally rewarding and financially beneficial.

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Pete Newsome is the founder of zengig, which he created after more than two decades in staffing and recruiting. He’s also President of 4 Corner Resources, the Forbes America's Best Staffing and Recruiting Firm he founded in 2005, and is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance. In addition to his passion for staffing, Pete is now committed to zengig becoming the most comprehensive source of expert advice, tools, and resources for career growth and happiness. When he’s not in the office or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his career knowledge and expertise through public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Finding Career Zen & Hire Calling podcasts. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn