associates degree student

Associates Degree

What you can do with an Associates Degree?

Note: Some careers mentioned in the video do not require an associate’s degree. However, they take two years or less of education. If you are looking to finish school in two years and that is why you are considering an associate’s degree, research certification programs that take two years or less as well.

An associates degree is an undergraduate degree that lasts two years. It’s important to highlight that many of the courses taken during this first two years may be applied to a bachelor’s degree. In fact, many state schools and community colleges have academic tracks with larger universities to more easily transfer their students to a larger school to continue their education.

A benefit to earning a two year degree at a smaller school may be financial, as community and state colleges are more affordable if a student has in-state tuition. Many students may find living at home with parents (if able) and attaining their first two-years at a local school more affordable as well before moving onto a university.

The benefits of an associates degree doesn’t stop there. If a person is not accepted at a university, or perhaps their GPA is not strong enough, attaining a 2 year degree can be just the ticket to be accepted into that university once you have a track record of academic success and stronger grades.

How to get an Associate Degree

associates degree student

Getting an associates degree can be a wise choice for many people. You can complete your degree after only two years of college, often paying lower tuition fees, and earning high median salaries from the outset in a range of industries. Mature students and those with existing commitments often opt for the two-year pathway after finding out about the attractive salaries and associate degree jobs open to them after only a relatively short period of study in a more flexible study format.

In addition to the initial advantages, there are also strong opportunities for development for graduates with an associate’s degree, with many careers allowing on the job training and further prospects of career progression and salary rises.

We will look at the question of ‘what can you do with an associates degree?‘, across industries as diverse as nursing and construction, with details of prospective associate’s degree jobs, further opportunities for graduates as well as data on the highest paying associate degrees for salary potential.

Understanding AA, AS, and AAS Degrees

You can earn an associates degree with just two years of study at a range of colleges in the US, including community colleges, junior colleges, technical or vocational schools, and regular colleges and universities. There are three main associate degree awards and these are Associate of Arts (AA), Associate of Science (AS) and Associate of Applied Science (AAS). While the AA and the AS focus on general education, the AAS will offer ‘applied’ practical course elements, to prepare you in a specific vocational field or career.

While some graduate employers still prefer candidates with a four-year bachelor degree, an associates degree can provide a quick, flexible, and less expensive entry into the industry of your choice, giving specialized knowledge and the option to advance in your field with on the job training or further study.

Although the advantages gaining an associates degree are wide, you should be aware that (depending on your chosen degree specialism) you may have a more limited selection of careers available to you than with a bachelor’s degree. This is due to the shorter amount of study meaning that you will become more specialized for a specific role. If you are sure of your career choice however and want to get there more efficiently, then an associate’s degree remains a great choice.

Associates Degree Jobs

So, what can you do with an associates degree? There are jobs where an associate’s degree is often enough for entry into a whole range of well-paid technical and trade careers, including but not limited to construction, electronics, logistics, nursing, programming, and surveying. The high demand of these industries means that it is unlikely you’ll need a bachelor’s degree to get on track to your desired career. Read on for some specific industry jobs.

Nursing and Healthcare Associates Degrees

The fastest way to becoming a registered nurse in the US is to study for an associate’s degree in nursing. The jobs market for nurses has never been better, with over one million projected job openings through to 2022*, which is a demand reflected in rising salary levels.

In 2015, the median annual salary for a registered nurse in 2015 was US$67,490. Not only is nursing a rewarding career path, but on-the-job development is common, allowing associate’s degree holders to progress into more senior roles after gaining experience and further optional qualifications. Read more about how to become a nurse here.

In addition to nursing, there are many other technical associate degree careers within the medical industry. These roles include clinical laboratory technician, physical therapist assistant, medical imaging technologist, nuclear medicine technologist, cardio technologist, radiation therapist, respiratory therapist, and sonographer.

Web and Systems Development Associates Degrees

Due to the ever-rising need for workers in the web-based and technology industry, web development is an area which offers a large – and consistently growing – number of associate degree jobs. Web programming and development is an area where experience can be more useful than formal education, and knowledge of Java, C#, Visual Basic and .Net can put you on a salary of over $50,000 after two years or so on the job.

As well as a range of technical subset roles in the industry, such as network technician and computer support specialist, management is also a feasible career option for associate degree graduates, with information systems management being one of the highest earning associate degree careers around.

In a 2015 BLS report on national job openings and employment projections, it was found that the top 30 of the highest paying associate degrees have a median salary of over $50,000.


Dental Hygiene

While the dentistry profession is often reserved for certified doctors, dental hygiene is a growing sub-industry with lucrative prospects for associate’s degree holders. As of 2015 the median annual wage for dental hygienists stood at $72,330, with a surprising 113,500 job openings expected from now until 2022.

Engineering Associates Degree

Engineering technician roles are common associate degree jobs and offer entry into fields such as industrial engineering, electrical engineering, civil engineering, communications engineering, mechanical engineering, network engineering, aerospace engineering and more. If you are interested in engineering but don’t think you can stomach four years of university-level math, consider the associate degree route which teaches fundamental science, numeracy and engineering skills. As a technician you will likely assist fully-qualified engineers in designing and reviewing projects (for the production of machinery or industrial structures for example), conducting tests and generally aiding development in your specific engineering field.

Business Management Degree

Associate degree jobs in business have the potential to be highly lucrative as well as fairly flexible when it comes to the industry you wish to go into. During an associate’s degree in business you’ll gain a broad knowledge of business theory and applied skills for business operations. You’ll likely study modules including accounting, bookkeeping, communications, finance, human resources, office management, operations management and statistics.

Prospective associate degree careers in business include banking manager, department manager, human resources manager and marketing manager in either corporate, public or non-profit organizations. Or, you could even start a business of your own.


While general hands-on construction work is available to those without a degree, if you want to step onto the business side of things, having an associate’s degree in construction management is helpful, alongside experience. In addition to building and construction manager roles, you can also consider site manager, facilities manager or tradesperson. An associate’s degree can set you up for the industry, by teaching you problem-solving, logistics, engineering design and management skills. The 2015 median annual wage for construction managers (of all education levels) was a hefty $87,400.


If you are undecided about which associates degree to pursue, that’s fine. The first courses you can sign up to take at your college are those mandatory classes like math, english, science, humanities, foreign language and so on. Talk to a college’s academic advisor so you are set up with an academic schedule that gives you time to decide on a focused track while earning credits that will apply to multiple degrees.

More Associates Degree Careers

Other interesting associate degree careers not detailed above include police officer, court reporter, paralegal, HVAC mechanic, fashion designer, telecom installer, forest technician, occupational therapy assistant, and solar technician.

Video Transcript: Did you know that some of the fastest growing occupations require only two years of college or less and some careers pay over $50,000 a year. For instance, with two years of education, sonographers make over $60,000 and enjoy an occupational growth of 24%. If you like technology, which is a two year degree, website developers earn an average of $60,000 a year. Another really interesting career is surgical technology. With one to two years of education, surgical techs earn over $40,000 a year. Make sure to do your homework when selecting a career. Research it’s educational requirements and projected growth rate to ensure you are in a career with lots of opportunity.