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Five Two-Year Degrees That Pay Off

Five Two-Year Degrees That Pay Off

By Lydia Dishman,

When you want a career change -- or just a career start -- one of the lowest-cost and quickest options for gaining a new skill is earning an associate’s degree from a community college or technical school. But with all of the associate’s degrees available, it can be hard to pick one, especially one that will last. The list below is intended to help you find a job that offers job security and solid pay. 

Online salary data source reviewed its database to create a list of the best-paid careers with strong long-term outlooks that require no more than an associate’s degree to start. PayScale calculated the average, annual pay among all associate’s degree holders at $32,700 for two to four years of experience and $45,700 for 10 or more years of experience. We then compared those averages with each of the jobs below, giving you a sense of how much more these jobs pay above the average. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) prediction for growth in these fields from 2008 to 2018 is listed as well.

Radiation Therapist

Annual Salary
Percent Above Average
Associate's-Degree Holder Pay
Two to four$59,80083 percent
10 or more$75,40065 percent
BLS growth prediction: 27 percent

Radiation therapists work as part of a radiation oncology team to administer radiation treatment to cancer patients. These therapists also act as liaisons with physicians and other care providers; prepare equipment; and maintain records, reports and files. To qualify, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy or a two-year degree in radiography along with a certificate in radiation therapy, which takes a year to earn.

Find radiation therapist jobs.

Ultrasound Technologist

Annual Salary
Percent Above Average
Associate's-Degree Holder Pay
Two to four$53,50064 percent
10 or more$68,80051 percent
BLS growth prediction: 18 percent

Most people associate ultrasound technology with viewing babies in the womb. However, sonography has many other applications as well, such as diagnosing disease in the cardiovascular or nervous systems. If you’re looking for a career that combines high tech with helping people, sign up for a two-year degree course that includes classes on anatomy, physiology and instrumentation, and you’ll be on your way.

Find ultrasound technologist jobs.

Wind Turbine Technician

Annual Salary
Percent Above Average
Associate's-Degree Holder Pay
Two to four$47,60046 percent
10 or more$52,70015 percent
BLS growth prediction: 11 percent

The need for green-collar workers is growing rapidly thanks to the push to use alternative energy sources. If you’ve got a green streak and like to solve problems, consider a career as a wind turbine technician. Expect to repair and maintain everything from circuit boards to motors, inspect blades and replace generator components. Because the wind industry is so new, there aren’t any standard certifications but training programs or some experience in engineering could get you out of a cubicle and onto a wind farm.

Find wind energy jobs.

Railroad Conductor

Annual Salary
Percent Above Average
Associate's-Degree Holder Pay
Two to four$45,00038 percent
10 or more$79,90075 percent
BLS growth prediction: 7 percent

A career in railroads will put you on the fast track to earnings. According to the BLS, 76 percent of railroad workers belong to unions, so earnings are relatively high. Conductors coordinate all activities of freight or passenger train crews by reviewing schedules, waybills, switching orders and shipping records. Railroads require applicants to have a high school diploma or GED, and then pass the company’s formal training program and on-the-job training.

Find railroad jobs.

HVAC Controls Technician

Annual Salary
Percent Above Average
Associate's-Degree Holder Pay
Two to four$42,20029 percent
10 or more$56,60024 percent
BLS growth prediction: 28 percent

HVAC techs maintain temperature, humidity and total air quality in residential, commercial, industrial and other buildings. They also help with the storage and transportation of food, medicine and other perishable items. Though HVAC techs usually specialize in either installation or repair, they have to be trained to do both. If you took courses in shop, math, mechanical drawing and computer applications in high school, you’ll have the basis for entering a technical school training program.

Find HVAC jobs.

Source: All salary data provided by Salaries listed are median, annual salaries for full-time employees with either two to four years of experience or 10 or more years of experience. Salaries listed include all bonuses, commissions or profit sharing.

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