Updated March 8, 2019: While bachelor’s degrees were once seen as the way toward a profitable career, several factors have made pursuing higher education less attractive in recent years. The cost of college, for example, has surged out of control, to the point that a public, four-year-school will set you back an average of $9,970 per year. And that’s just the price of tuition and fees; tack on the average $10,800 you’ll spend for room and board each year and you’re looking at more than $80,000 for a bachelor’s degree, according to CollegeBoard.
With the student loan debt at $1.4 trillion, it’s easy to see why some young people skip school altogether.
(If you have student loan debt, it may make sense to make a budget. Here's an easy budgeting spreadsheet for college graduates.)
Fortunately, there’s at least one way to expand your knowledge and work your way into a high-paying career without overspending. By pursuing a two-year degree instead, you can save money by spending less time in school and also enjoy lower tuition rates.
The best part is, many two-year degrees can lead to jobs that pay big bucks for your expertise. We dove into federal data to find jobs that pay more than $50,000 but require only an associate degree. Here are the best options we found:
1. Air traffic controller
While they only need a two-year degree and on-the-job training to get started, air traffic controllers take on a lot of responsibility. These professionals direct and control air traffic to ensure safety of passengers and a smooth travel experience for all involved.
The best part is, air traffic controllers earned an annual mean wage of $118,200 in May 2016. This job is high-stress for sure, but it pays the most of all associate degree jobs profiled by the U.S. Department of Labor.
2. Radiation therapists
Radiation therapists administer life-saving radiation therapy to cancer patients and individuals suffering from other illnesses. You only need two years of education and an associate degree to find entry-level work in this field.
Individuals who complete a program and find a job will be rewarded handsomely for their work since the annual mean wage for radiation therapists was $84,980 nationally at last count.
Here are some popular places to look for a job.
3. Nuclear technicians
While nuclear technicians typically work under the supervision of physicists and engineers, these workers still take on a lot of responsibility. Not only do they operate important equipment in nuclear facilities, but they are often charged with recording radiation levels in their facility. The results of a mistake could be tragic.
Because of the high level of skill required for this job, nuclear technicians were paid an annual mean wage of $77,820 nationally in 2016. An associate degree in nuclear technology is the best way to get into this field, although a significant amount of on-the-job training will also be required.
4. Nuclear medicine technologists
While you might believe these workers do their jobs in power plants, this is actually a position in the health care field. Nuclear medicine technologists prepare, administer and measure various levels of chemicals used to create radioactive materials for imaging or therapeutic purposes. They also study blood samples to learn the results of different therapies and the effect on the body.
Earning an associate degree in nuclear medicine technology is the best way to get into this field. Those who have completed this program enjoyed an annual mean wage of around $75,960 in 2016.
5. Funeral services managers
While working with the dead may seem like a strange career, funeral services managers earn quite a bit of pay in exchange for their knowledge and expertise. After earning an associate degree and completing an internship, funeral service managers prepare bodies for burial and cremation while also helping families grieve and plan funeral services. They also oversee other funeral service professionals who work in their respective facilities.
Funeral services managers earned an annual mean wage of $88,970 as of May 2016.
6. Dental hygienists
Dental hygienists are another set of workers that can earn some generous wages after earning a two-year degree. These workers brought in an annual mean wage of $73,440 in 2016, yet they only needed an associate degree and some on-the-job experience to get hired.
Dental hygienists clean your teeth at the dentist's office and prepare you for treatments. They also keep charts with updated dental information and educate patients on dental hygiene.
7. Diagnostic medical sonographers
Diagnostic medical sonographers typically earn an associate degree before they find entry-level work. These workers use sonography equipment to take X-rays or ultrasonic recordings doctors can use to diagnose ailments.
Diagnostic medical sonographers earned an annual mean wage of $71,750 in May 2016.
8. Magnetic resonance imaging technologists
These workers operate MRI scanners, or MRI machines. They help the patient prepare for their MRI and may insert contrast materials intravenously before the procedure. They also keep records of the MRI for doctors and other health care professionals, as well as monitor the patient for overall health during the MRI.
MRI technologists only need an associate degree to get started, but earned an annual mean wage of $69,240 in 2016.
Looking for more jobs? Here's a list of jobs that will survive the next recession.
Image: Damien Zaleski