By Larry Buhl, special to CareerBuilder
With annual tuition for many two-year programs costing as little as $5,000, an associate’s degree is just about the best bang for the education buck you can find – and the pay off is best in seven areas with hottest job prospects:
With an associate’s degree in accounting under your belt, you will be prepared for a number of entry-level accounting jobs, including:
- Accounts receivable clerk and accounts payable clerk. Starting salaries are between $21,000 and $27,000 (though they can rack up overtime pay too) and can reach nearly $50,000 with experience, according to CBSalary.
A bachelor’s degree can bring a significant salary bump, and company size, industry, and geographic location will also affect your income. With additional education, experience, and certification, controller and CPA are possible career paths, with salaries that can top $100,000.
An associate’s degree in nursing can land you a staff position in a hospital or other inpatient facility. Job growth in the industry should remain strong through the decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Starting salaries for registered nurses are around $30,000 (hospitals generally pay more). In addition to base pay, RNs are often paid extra for nights and weekend shifts. The median annual wage in 2010 for full-time RNs was just under $65,000, according to the BLS.
An associate’s degree may qualify you for a job as an IT specialist, network technician, help desk analyst, support specialist, computer specialist or data processing auditor. You may need to earn vendor certification to work with certain computer or network systems.
- Computer support specialist. Entry-level salaries fall between $30,000 and $50,000, based on our examination of Career Builder job openings. The national average for all computer support specialists is nearly $60,000, according to CBSalary.
According to the BLS, job growth in all information technology areas should remain high through 2018, with plenty of opportunities for advancement. Many experienced workers choose to start their own computer consulting businesses.
This broad field of study can include concentrations in aviation maintenance, air traffic control, telecom engineering technology and digital media technology. It’s possible to land a job with only a two-year degree, but many of the best paying positions require some internship experience and certificates.
- Nuclear technicians, for example, assist nuclear physicists, nuclear engineers, or other scientists in laboratory or production activities. The BLS reports that salaries range from about $40,000 to more than $90,000 for experienced workers.
Lawyers are increasingly turning to paralegals and legal secretaries to handle research, document preparation, court transactions and client depositions. That means high job growth — up to 22 percent growth through 2018, according to the BLS. Average U.S. salary is $46,000; paralegals just out of school can expect about $35,000, based on our analysis of CareerBuilder job listings.
Medical and dental specialties
With this two-year degree and a specific course emphasis, you could ultimately land a job as a medical assistant, pharmacy technician, dental assistant, radiology technician, cardiovascular technician or coding specialist:
- Medical Billing and Coding Specialist, starting salary: $22,860, and tops out at $51,510 annually. Medical billing and coding clerks usually work full-time for a hospital or a doctor’s office, although part-time positions are available. If you work for a smaller facility, you may double as a receptionist.
- Dental technician. These professionals typically earn around $22,000 right out of school, and can reach $47,000 with experience, according to the BLS.
Keep in mind that most medical specialties jobs require state certification. Many of these jobs are first steps to higher paying specialties and medical administrative jobs.
Coursework for the degree combines general education subjects with hands-on training in electronics and circuit wiring. You also might engage in computer exercises to solve electrical technology problems. An associate’s degree in electrical engineering technology prepares you to be an:
- Engineering technician, assisting electrical engineers in designing, testing and producing electronics or electrical parts. Telecom employs the majority of these workers, with salaries starting at $33,000 and a median income of $56,000 per year, according to the BLS.
In addition to the mandatory Professional Engineer (PE) license, optional certifications in specialty areas can increase pay and long-term prospects,
Looking to take the next step in your career? Consider adding an associate’s degree to your résumé. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, associate degree holders earn an average of $400,000 more over a lifetime than high school graduates.