An Associate degree is an undergraduate academic degree awarded by community colleges, junior colleges, technical colleges, and Bachelor's degree-granting colleges and universities upon completion of a course of study usually lasting two years. In the United States, an Associate degree is equivalent to the first two years of a four-year college or university degree. While it is the lowest in the hierarchy of post-secondary academic degrees offered in the United States and generally not usually as lucrative as a Bachelor's degree, Associate degrees can still afford a respectable income with greater job security and much less student debt.
If school isn’t your thing, but you would love a good salary, consider a job that requires only a two-year degree. By training for a specialized healthcare, technology or trades job or heading for the police academy, you can spend less time and money learning and more time earning a living in one of these relatively high-paying jobs.
Registered Nurse (RN)
Registered nurses have more career flexibility than other associate’s-level healthcare workers. It is important to note though that RN's with an associate's degree may experience difficulties breaking into the job market as the number of nurses with bachelor’s degrees continues to grow. If financing is a factor holding you back from pursuing a bachelor's degree, you may want to consider finding an employer that will pay for additional education. Securing a Bachelor's degree in Nursing is a great way to gain job security.
While an Associate's degree can enable you to earn a very good living, be aware that a career as dental hygienist will require you to perform the same tasks over and over when you’re a dental hygienist. You’ll clean teeth, talk to patients about brushing and flossing, and assist the dentist. Many dental hygienists work part time.
You may need only a two-year degree, but you’ll have to take tough courses, like chemistry and anatomy to graduate with an Associate’s degree in respiratory therapy. If you have a strong preference for a career that does not require you to work weekends or evenings, then a respiratory therapists may not be right for you. Since most respiratory therapists work in hospitals, they may on occasion be required to work an evening or weekend shift, testing and treating patients with breathing issues.
Within IT there are a number of highly paid positions where experience and certifications can stand in for a degree. Programmers who know .Net, Visual Basic, C# or Java see salaries above the $50,000 mark after two or three years in the field.
This job may sound simple, but it takes a lot of technical know-how, so you’ll need a two-year degree or trade-school certificate in electronics. You’ll boost your salary by joining a union like the Communications Workers of America or the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Industrial Engineering Technician
Do you love math? You might want to consider earning an associate’s degree in mechanical, electrical or industrial engineering from a program accredited by ABET. Industrial engineering techs earn the most, but salaries for electrical engineering techs aren't far behind.
You can get hired onto a local force if you have a high school diploma and can pass an agility test, but federal law-enforcement jobs require a college degree. Not only do police officers and sheriff’s officers make good salaries (especially with overtime options), but they can also retire after 20 or 25 years in some jurisdictions.
While you can get HVAC training from a technical school or community college, you can get into this field with just a high school diploma by doing an apprenticeship -- in fact some states require HVAC professionals to do an apprenticeship before sitting for a licensing exam. You’ll also need to become certified to handle refrigerants. An HVAC job with local government may be your best bet for a solid salary.
Most paralegals get into the field by earning an associate’s degree or a certificate. To be happy as a paralegal, you should enjoy reading, writing and organizing paperwork for attorneys. Unfortunately, some of the highest-paying jobs for paralegals are typically at large law firms located in cities with a high-cost of living.