The Highest Paying Careers With an Associate's Degree

Dental hygienists help dentists discover tooth problems.
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The greater the education, the higher the salary: at least that’s what the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows in its 2012 figures. Professional degrees, which can take a few years to achieve over a four-year bachelor’s degree, resulted in median pay of $90,220 per year. Contrast this with annual compensation of $24,492 for those without a high school diploma. An associate's degree offers median compensation of $40,820 yearly for its two-year investment of time. Pay is even greater for five of the highest-paying jobs for that community college credential.

Air Traffic Controllers

Air traffic controllers earned a mean $114,460 per year, as of May 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statisticians. They have the top paying career because they are responsible for the lives of thousands of passengers and crew as they guide planes to safe landings, take-offs and flights. Other than the degree, an applicant must be a U.S. citizen, achieve a qualifying score on an assessment test, and be under 31, if she has no previous experience. New controllers then complete a two-month training course at the Federal Aviation Administration academy.

Construction Managers

Construction managers, also called general contractors or project managers, averaged $93,900 yearly. They oversee the building of structures from initial planning to completing exterior finishing. They must coordinate staff, budgets, schedules and materials to finish projects on schedule and under budget. Work experience is important, and many managers start as tradespeople. They then receive promotions to positions with increasing responsibility until they reach the top levels.

Radiation Therapists

Radiation therapists earned a mean annual $79,340. They are part of a health-care team that ensures patients receive the correct medical treatment for cancer and other diseases. They operate the devices that shoot high-energy X-rays at cancer cells, so they shrink and disappear. Most states require a license, which mandates the associate's degree and certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.

Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Nuclear medicine technologists earned an average $69,960 per year. They help diagnose medical issues by administering radioactive substances to patients and then scanning their bodies to produce images of organs and other parts. Some states require licensing, which typically mandates passing a test. Voluntary certification is also available in specific technologies, such as nuclear cardiology and positron emission tomography.

Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists averaged an annual $69,760. They help dentists by cleaning patient’s teeth, taking and developing X-rays and applying sealants using manual and automatic tools. They also educate patients on proper oral hygiene to minimize dental problems. All states require a license, which normally demands the associate's degree, and passing written and practical exams.

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