Considering an associate’s degree? Then take note: There’s a slate of well-paying, fast-growing gigs for those with just two years of schooling.
CNBC Make It combed through data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to identify 11 occupations that pay workers more than $55,000 a year and require only an associate’s degree.
It turns out that certain jobs (like those in the healthcare industry) are growing at a rapid pace. Each of the jobs on this list will grow faster than 7 percent, the average rate of job growth in the United States. Some will grow at three or four times that rate.
These in-demand jobs are also well-paying, as employers compete for workers. All the jobs on this list earn thousands more than the $41,496 average annual salary those with associate’s degrees typically earn, according to the BLS. In fact, one of these gigs pays almost double that wage.
So, if you’re looking to outearn your friends, pick an associate’s degree that readies you for one of these 11 in-demand occupations.
Median annual wage: $75,660
Projected job growth through 2026: 10 percent
What they do: These healthcare workers prepare radioactive drugs for patients to assist with imaging and operate the equipment used to diagnose and treat patients. They may also help physicians in researching the uses of radioactive drugs.
How they train: Nuclear medicine technologists typically need an associate’s degree from an accredited nuclear medicine technology program. Some technologists become qualified if they have a degree in a related health field and complete a 12-month certificate program. Some states may require a license to practice.
Median annual wage: $80,570
Projected job growth through 2026: 13 percent
What they do: These workers are an important part of the healthcare teams called in to treat cancer. Radiation therapists operate the machines that deliver concentrated radiation therapy to a patient’s tumor. They are also responsible for explaining treatment plans to patients, determining the region of the body receiving treatment, and checking for unusual reactions.
How they train: Employers usually prefer to hire applicants with at least an associate’s degree in radiation therapy, though some companies accept those who’ve completed a certificate program. In most states, radiation therapists must be licensed or certified.
Median annual wage: $55,270
Projected job growth through 2026: 10 percent
What they do: According to the BLS, these healthcare workers operate special imaging equipment helping them document and conduct tests on the heart and lungs of a patient to help physicians diagnose that person’s medical condition. They can assist with cardiac catheterization, monitor a patient during open-heart surgery and during the insertion of pacemakers and stents, run EKG testing, or monitor and test a patient’s lungs and breathing.
How they train: Most employers want cardiovascular technologists that have a professional certification, though some accept applicants who intend to earn one shortly after being hired. Most in this profession obtain at least an associate’s degree in cardiovascular and vascular technology, though one-year certificate programs are also available from colleges and some hospitals. Employers tend to favor graduates of programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Program and who also have a basic life support certification.
Median annual wage: $57,430
Projected job growth through 2026: 31 percent
What they do: These workers aid patients who are recovering from injuries and illnesses regain movement and manage pain. They work under the supervision of physical therapists and are typically responsible for helping patients do specific exercises as part of their treatment plan, messaging and stretching a patient’s body, and educating patients on at-home care post treatment.
How they train: All states require that physical therapist assistants have an associate’s degree from an accredited physical therapist assistant program and be licensed or certified. To get a license, as is required in many states, you typically must also pass a national exam, and some states further mandate continuing education courses to keep that license.
Median annual wage: $58,440
Projected job growth through 2026: 12 percent
What they do: Also known as radiographers, these healthcare workers perform diagnostic imaging examinations on patients using X-ray and computed tomography (CT) imaging. They are also responsible for protecting the parts of a patient’s body not being imaged and maintaining the equipment. Some are also in charge of preparing mixtures for patients to drink to allow soft tissue to be viewed on the images they take.
How they train: To become a radiologic technologist, you need an associate’s degree, and you must be licensed or certified in most states. To get licensed, technologists usually need to graduate from an accredited program and pass a certification exam from the state or obtain a certification from a certifying body.
Median annual wage: $59,310
Projected job growth through 2026: 29 percent
What they do: These workers help people regain or develop the skills necessary for daily living. They work with patients to complete therapeutic exercises and stretches, engage children with developmental disabilities in play activities to help with coordination or socialization, and teach patients how to use special equipment that will make tasks, such as eating, easier. They work with occupational therapists to create and implement each patient’s treatment plan.
How they train: Occupational therapy assistants need an associate’s degree from an accredited occupational therapy assistant program, which can be easily found in most community colleges or technical schools. All states regulate occupational therapy assistants and most require a license as well as passing a national exam.
Median annual wage: $74,070
Projected job growth through 2026: 20 percent
What they do: Dental hygienists remove tartar, stains, and plaque from a patient’s teeth, check for signs of oral diseases, apply sealants and fluorides, take dental X-rays, and remind you how to brush and floss correctly.
How they train: Dental hygienists need at least an associate’s degree in dental hygiene as well as a license to practice. The college programs they take typically last three years and a passing grade on clinical examinations is required for licensure in most states.
Median annual wage: $69,930
Projected job growth through 2026: 14 percent
What they do: As their title suggests, these technologists operate magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners to create diagnostic images used for determining medical diagnoses and the staging of diseases.
How they train: Many MRI technologists start out as radiologic technologists. An associate’s degree is a common education requirement for this post but few states require a license.
Median annual wage: $59,710
Projected job growth through 2026: 23 percent
What they do: These workers look after and care for patients who have trouble breathing due to a chronic respiratory disease (such as asthma or emphysema), undeveloped lungs or diseased lungs. They can also provide emergency care to those who’ve just suffered a heart attack, been rescued from drowning or are in shock. Their day-to-day responsibilities could include: creating treatment plans with physicians, performing diagnostic tests such as measuring lung capacity, and treating patients via chest physiotherapy and aerosol medications.
How they train: To become a respiratory therapist in most states, you’ll need an associate’s degree and a license, one that’s typically obtained by passing a state or professional certification exam.
Median annual wage: $67,990
Projected job growth through 2026: 15 percent
What they do: These tech workers design and create websites, ensuring a company or client gets the look they desire as well as the performance and traffic capacity needed. Their job can range from helping a client determine what information the site should contain, to writing code or testing applications.
How they train: While there is no technical degree requirement for this job, many in the field have at least an associate’s degree in web design. Those who complement their design skills with programming languages also easily break into the industry as employers tend to favor developers with those skillsets, according to the BLS.
Median annual wage: $71,410
Projected job growth through 2026: 23 percent
What they do: Diagnostic medical sonographers specialize in creating sonograms or ultrasounds of the body’s organs and tissues using special imaging equipment. Their images help physicians assess and diagnose medical conditions as sonograms are often the first imaging tests performed when disease is suspected. Sonographers can specialize in scanning certain parts of the body such as breast tissue, the heart or the female reproductive system to track a developing baby’s health.
How they train: Becoming a diagnostic medial sonographer requires at least an associate’s degree in sonography. Like with cardiovascular technologists and technicians, employers prefer candidates that have a professional certification, have graduated from programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Program, and have a basic life support certification.
Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!