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Thursday, September 24, 2020

Is Getting an Associate Degree Worth It? And for What Fields?

An associate degree refers to the degree that falls between getting a GED or high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree. Associate degrees usually take two to three years to complete as opposed to the four or five years people often take to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Are you wondering whether getting an associate degree is worth your time and money? Well, the answer to that question depends on a few factors, including: other options you’re considering, which field you’d like to pursue, and where you’re thinking about earning an associate’s degree.

Associate Degree vs. High School Diploma

If you’re deciding between no higher education degree at all and an associate degree, the answer is, quite simply, “Yes; getting an associates degree is worth it!” If you are hoping to break into a professional field and want to raise your job prospects, getting an associate degree is going to serve you much better than just having a high school diploma.

In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment drops from 3.7% for those with only a high school diploma to 2.7% for those who receive an associate degree. Even those who finish some college but don’t receive any degree have an unemployment rate of 3.3%. 

So, getting an associate degree does increase your employability.

Meanwhile, an associate degree also increases your chance of earning a higher income. The same report shows that those with an associate degree earn approximately $141 more a week than employees who have only earned a high school diploma. 

But do you need a bachelor’s degree?

Associate Degree vs. Bachelor’s Degree

Though unemployment rates are typically lower and earnings are higher for those who complete a bachelor’s degree than those who earn an associate degree, the two degrees offer different advantages and disadvantages. 

If you are hoping to spend less time in school if, for example, you are headed back to school in the midst of changing careers, an associate degree will certainly take less time. This option is better for people with children or who want to attend school while working full-time.

In addition, consider that an associate degree generally allows people to specialize more quickly, while bachelor’s degrees usually require hours of general education coursework not related to your chosen field.

So, if you are someone who wants to leave school with a viable degree as quickly as possible and be immediately prepared for a specific career, an associate degree might be best suited for your goals. Of course, the quicker timeline to finish an associate degree also comes with a lower price tag!

At the same time, you’ll also want to consider which field you’re pursuing and the level of education required.

Best Fields for an Associate Degree

Some lucrative careers require a bachelor’s or even master’s or doctoral degree, while others only require an associate degree. Before you decide which type of degree to pursue, you should make sure you know what a typical success story looks like in that field.

If you know you need a bachelor’s degree to get a job in your field, then your choice becomes much clearer. However, there are plenty of jobs that only require an associate degree and serve as well-paying jobs that can lead to substantial career growth and, ultimately, a fulfilling life.

The independent education website Get Educated came up with a list of the 24 Highest Paying Associate Degree Jobs, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This list takes salary, career growth, and available jobs into account. 

So, if you’re wondering if an associate degree in science, biology, nursing, or another related field is worth it, take a look at this list. If your desired career is on the list, chances are, an associate degree will be worthwhile.

  1. Air Traffic Controller

  • Salary: $124,540
  • Future Outlook: 3%
  • Number of Jobs: 24,900
  1. Computer Programmer

  • Salary: $82,240
  • Future Outlook: -8%
  • Number of Jobs: 294,900
  1. Radiation Therapist

  • Salary: $80,570
  • Future Outlook: 13%
  • Number of Jobs: 19,100
  1. Nuclear Technician

  • Salary: $80,370
  • Future Outlook: 1%
  • Number of Jobs: 6,900
  1. Nuclear Medicine Technologist

  • Salary: $75,660
  • Future Outlook: 10%
  • Number of Jobs: 20,100
  1. Dental Hygienist

  • Salary: $74,070
  • Future Outlook: 20%
  • Number of Jobs: 207,900
  1. Registered Nurse

  • Salary: $70,000
  • Future Outlook: 15%
  • Number of Jobs: 2,955,200
  1. Web Developer

  • Salary: $67,990
  • Future Outlook: 15%
  • Number of Jobs: 162,900
  1. Aerospace Engineering Technician

  • Salary: $67,240
  • Future Outlook: 7%
  • Number of Jobs: 12,100
  1. Medical Sonographer

  • Salary: $65,620
  • Future Outlook: 17%
  • Number of Jobs: 122,300
  1. Electronic Engineering Technician

  • Salary: $63,660
  • Future Outlook: 2%
  • Number of Jobs: 137,000
  1. Police Officer

  • Salary: $62,690
  • Future Outlook: 7%
  • Number of Jobs: 807,000
  1. Avionics Technician

  • Salary: $61,270
  • Future Outlook: 5%
  • Number of Jobs: 149,500
  1. Radiologic & MRI Technologist

  • Salary: $60,070
  • Future Outlook: 13%
  • Number of Jobs: 241,700
  1. Respiratory Therapist

  • Salary: $59,710
  • Future Outlook: 23%
  • Number of Jobs: 130,200
  1. Electro-Mechanical Technician

  • Salary: $56,740
  • Future Outlook: 4%
  • Number of Jobs: 13,800
  1. Occupational Assistant

  • Salary: $56,690
  • Future Outlook: 28%
  • Number of Jobs: 46,800
  1. Mechanical Engineering Technician

  • Salary: $55,360
  • Future Outlook: 5%
  • Number of Jobs: 46,100
  1. Telecom Installer

  • Salary: $53,880
  • Future Outlook: -8%
  • Number of Jobs: 237,600
  1. Funeral Service Worker

  • Salary: $53,550
  • Future Outlook: 5%
  • Number of Jobs: 54,400
  1. Drafter

  • Salary: $53,480
  • Future Outlook: 7%
  • Number of Jobs: 207,700
  1. Computer Network Specialist

  • Salary: $52,160
  • Future Outlook: 10%
  • Number of Jobs: 835,300
  1. Paralegal

  • Salary: $49,500
  • Future Outlook: 15%
  • Number of Jobs: 285,600
  1. HVAC Installer

  • Salary: $45,910
  • Future Outlook: 15%
  • Number of Jobs: 332,900

Keep in mind, this list is based on numbers from 2019, pre-Covid. So, the projected growth of certain jobs has likely changed, but these jobs will also likely be good options after the pandemic is over.

Associate in Science or Applied Science Degree

Based on this list, an Associate in Science or Applied Science degree seems to be worth the time, money, and effort, while an Associate in Arts degree might not be, if you’re looking to end up in a well-paying job after graduation. 

An Associate Degree is also a good step towards a Bachelor’s degree, as it gets your pre-requisites out of the way while saving money on the first two years of your higher education!

However, whether or not an associate degree is worth it for you is a personal decision. You should always complete your own research to find out if the career you’re looking for might be well supported with an associate degree. 



Since 2002, NSHSS has supported young academics on their journey to college and beyond as they prepare to become the leaders of tomorrow. The mission behind NSHSS is to recognize academic excellence and honor high-achieving students, providing them with the resources and network to excel in college, career and community. In doing so, NSHSS connects members with global events, scholarships, college fairs, internships, career and leadership programs, partner discounts, and more. Discover what makes NSHSS worth it to student members and how you can get involved. 

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