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10 associate degree jobs that pay well

Associate degrees aren't always considered the most prestigious of educational credentials, but they can be a great choice for someone looking for a degree that has the potential to pay off quickly. Unlike bachelor's degrees, which can often take four or more years to earn, many associate degree programs can be completed in just a couple of years, which can make them a much faster path to higher earning potential and the chance at a strong career. Some two-year degrees offer a particularly strong return on investment, often paying better or paying off faster than many higher credentials. Among the highest-paying jobs requiring an associate degree, the following are some of the best when it comes to average annual wages. The salary amounts listed below are based on data from May 2013 as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

1. Air traffic controller: $118,650. Aside from just an associate degree, applicants for this job must be U.S. citizens, pass medical and background checks, receive a qualifying score on the pre-test administered by the Federal Aviation Administration and complete a training course at the FAA academy.

2. Radiation therapist: $81,740. Radiation therapists, who are responsible for administering radiation to patients with cancer and other illnesses, also must be licensed in addition having a degree. Requirements vary by state, so check with degree programs based in your area or your state's medical board for more information.

3. Funeral service manager: $80,250. Most employers require that funeral service managers have an associate degree, serve a one-year apprenticeship, be 21 years of age and pass a state licensing exam.

4. Nuclear technician: $73,450. This job requires a great deal of on-the-job training after the associate degree opens the door, but those with enough experience may have the chance to move up to working with nuclear reactors.

5. Nuclear medicine technologist: $71,970. Nuclear medicine technologists prepare and administer radioactive drugs to patients, then take scans to help determine a diagnosis. In some cases, people can earn an associate degree in a related field and then complete a 12-month certificate program in nuclear medicine technology, but some states also require licensing.

6. Dental hygienist: $71,530. Dental hygienists must be licensed, in addition to completing a degree program. This can be a good career path for adults who need flexibility, as the BLS reports that many dental hygienists work part time. The job outlook, according to the labor department, is also projected to be strong.

7. Registered nurse: $68,910. After earning their associate degree, registered nurses must become licensed in their state. This career also has a unique educational option, as some nurses choose to transition from being a registered nurse with an associate degree to getting a Bachelor of Science in nursing, which can help boost earning potential or job prospects in some cases.

8. Web developer: $67,540. Web developers typically require an associate degree for most jobs, but a candidate's knowledge and experience can sometimes outweigh educational credentials in this fast-growing career.

9. Diagnostic medical sonographer: $67,170. Also known as ultrasound technicians, these professionals are in a field with strong growth. It's possible to get an associate degree in this subject specifically, or those who already hold a degree in another health care field can choose to earn a certificate in order to become a diagnostic medical sonographer.

10. Magnetic resonance imaging technologist: $65,960. MRI technologists prepare patients for scans, maintain and operate the MRI equipment, and work with physicians to analyze the results. In some states, licensing is required.

Fastest-growing jobs with a two-year degree

According to data collected by the BLS, certain jobs are expected to grow particularly fast nationwide for the decade between 2012 and 2022. This doesn't necessarily mean that they will pay the most or have the highest number of openings overall, but they will be adding the most new jobs relative to the number that already exists. This chart shows the 10 associate degree jobs that are projected to grow the fastest from 2012-22, which includes several of the highest-paying jobs listed above.

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How to find job information for your state

Remember that the salary numbers listed above are national averages; pay may vary with location, experience, certifications and other factors. Cost of living can be an important factor when considering the highest-paying jobs and opportunities in your area as well. For instance, the national average wages might mean something very different to an aspiring nurse living in California, which is ranked near the bottom (No. 45) when it comes to affordability, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, and to one living in Tennessee, which is ranked No. 2 overall.

There are several sources to find state-by-state information for annual average salaries and job growth. CareerOneStop, a website sponsored by the U.S. Labor Department, has information on hundreds of occupations at a state level, including which degrees pay the most at various education levels. Projections Central, a site run by the University of Utah, collects data on job growth from state labor departments and can be helpful in looking at which careers have the most potential in certain areas. The BLS' Occupational Employment Statistics also includes state profiles and has different types of wage data, including average hourly, average annual and median wages for certain jobs. To learn more about associate degree jobs that pay well, begin with labor department information in any particular state.

Sources:

Fastest-Growing Occupations with an Associate Degree, CareerOneStop,
http://www.careerinfonet.org/oview1.asp?next=oview1&Level=edu4&optstatus=&jobfam=&id=1&nodeid=3&soccode=&stfips=&ShowAll=

State Profile, CareerOneStop,
http://www.careerinfonet.org/select_state.asp?id=11&nodeid=12&next=state1

Long Term Occupational Projections, Projections Central,
http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm

May 2013 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,
http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm

May 2013 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,
http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oessrcst.htm

"Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,
http://www.bls.gov/ooh/

Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,
http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm