2021 Most Useful Associates Degrees [Ultimate Guide]

The most useful associates degrees can lead to entry-level jobs in rewarding careers. These postsecondary degrees typically take 2 years to complete with full-time enrollment.

Most Useful Associates Degrees

Many community colleges offer associate degree programs at economical tuition prices, so earning your associate degree may be a money-saving move in your educational plan.

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You can investigate online associates degree programs if you want to learn from home while maintaining work or family responsibilities. You can also choose to learn in-person with campus and hybrid degree programs.

Most Useful Associates Degrees

The most useful associate degrees provide a clear pathway to full-time employment in rewarding occupations. With one of these degrees, you may pursue a career and enter the workforce.

At the same time, these degrees can also set you up for continued education on the bachelor’s level and beyond, depending on your professional goals.

Methodology: The following degrees were included based on the data for average annual salary from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Select the program that most interests you to jump to that section of the guide:

Both of these fields offer plenty of opportunity for growth, a lot of different job prospects, and plenty of job security.

Associate’s in Aeronautics (online or campus)

Air traffic controller working

If you’re fascinated by aeronautic technology and air travel, you may want to pursue an associate degree in aeronautics.

Courses in this curriculum include aviation safety, aeronautical science, security, and occupational safety and health. With an associate in aeronautics, you may qualify for a job as an air traffic controller.

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Air traffic controllers work in the control towers at airports and aviation route centers. The job requires maximum mental focus and concentration. It is one of the highest paying jobs with an associate’s degree with an average annual salary of $130,420 (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Associate’s in Business Administration (online or campus)

business administrators meeting

To jumpstart your business career or advance in your current job, an associate degree in business administration may be advantageous.

By completing the courses in this degree program, you may gain an understanding of business fundamentals and technology for business. You may also develop your critical thinking skills as well as your interpersonal skills for working with others.

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With an associate degree in business administration, you may land a job in management and administration for a private or public business, retail organization, or nonprofit agency.

One example of a well-paying job for someone with an associate degree in business is that of claims adjuster or appraiser. These workers may investigate claims for insurance pay-outs related to damaged buildings and automobiles. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, claims adjuster or appraiser earns, on average, $68,270 per year.

Associate’s in Civil Engineering Technology (online or campus)

civil engineering technicians working on site

An associate degree is required for an entry-level job as a civil engineering technologist or technician. Curriculum for this degree includes courses in soil and materials testing, surveying, cartography, and computer-assisted drafting. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a civil engineering technician earns, on average, $54,080 per year.

With this degree, you may qualify to assist civil engineers with the planning, design, and construction of infrastructures, such as highways and bridges. You may become involved with cutting edge projects in land development.

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Civil engineering technicians don’t always sit at a desk. They frequently engage in onsite work for industrial, residential, and commercial infrastructure development jobs.

Associate’s in Computer Programming (online or campus)

Computer programmer working at home

Computer programmers write and test the code that makes computer applications and software programs work correctly.

Although many employers require their computer programmers to hold bachelor’s degrees, some hire workers with associate degrees. Computer programming is one of the highest paying associates degrees, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting an average annual salary of $89,190 for computer programmers. With this degree, you might work in a wide array of industries, businesses, educational systems, and nonprofit organizations.

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Most computer programmers specialize in a few different languages, such as CSS and JavaScript. Some associate degree programs incorporate internships that help students obtain real-world experience while they earn their degrees in computer programming.

Associate’s in Criminal Justice (online or campus)

police officers on streets

With an associate degree in criminal justice, you may step into an entry-level position in a law enforcement agency, correctional facility, or security company. Security-related jobs are available in both the public and private sectors.

An associate degree in criminal justice curriculum includes courses such as principles of law enforcement, introduction to forensic science, methods of criminal investigation, and juvenile justice.

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After completing your associate’s in criminal justice, you may attend an academy to pursue a career as a police officer or detective. These are demanding jobs that require physical fitness, determination, and the ability to withstand high pressure situations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, police officers and detectives earn on average a salary of $67,290 per year.

Associate’s in Dental Hygiene (campus)

dental hygienist with a patient

The position of dental hygienist is one of the highest-paying jobs for workers with associate degrees, with a reported $77,090 average annual salary (Bureau of Labor Statistics). The entry-level requirement is an AS in Dental Hygiene. The types of courses you might take for this degree include dental science, biomedical science, radiography, periodontology, and microbiology.

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Dental hygienists typically work in dentists’ offices, and their duties include examining patients for diagnosis of oral diseases, removing tartar and plaque from teeth, taking dental x-rays, and applying fluoride treatments. Additionally, dental hygienists educate their patients about proper care of their teeth and gums.

Associate’s in Diagnostic Medical Sonography (campus)

Diagnostic medical sonographer checking a patient

Diagnostic medical sonographers, cardiovascular technicians, and vascular technologists operate the equipment that produces sonographic imaging, or ultrasound, for doctors to diagnose illnesses and health conditions in their patients.

An associate degree is the entry-level educational requirement for someone who wants to work in this field. Many employers require professional certification along with the AS degree.

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Coursework for an associate degree in medical sonography includes biology, physiology, medical terminology, and sonographic imaging principles. Additionally, students learn how to operate the ultrasound machines along with studying the psychology behind effective interactions with patients.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, diagnostic medical sonographers earn on average $75,920 per year.

Associate’s in Electrical Engineering Technology (online or campus)

electronics engineering technician working

You can pursue an associate degree in electrical engineering technology if you want to work as a technician in this field.

Electrical and electronics engineering technicians earn top-notch salaries (Bureau of Labor Statistics), reportedly averaging at $67,550 per year. They assist electrical and electronics engineers in the design and development of equipment. They may work in research and development laboratories, manufacturing plants, engineering services, and government organizations.

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In this degree program, you may take courses in circuitry, electronics, digital logic, C++ computer programming, electric motors, and computer-assisted drafting and design. Internships in some electrical engineering associate degree programs allow students to put their classroom knowledge to work in real-life, hands-on situations.

Associate’s in Hospitality Management (online or campus)

restaurant operations manager briefing the staff

With an associate degree in hospitality management, you might step into a position as a lodging manager, food service manager, or a planner for large meetings, conventions, and events.

An associate degree in hospitality management focuses on topics such as food safety, sanitation, business accounting, and interpersonal skills for management.

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Courses in the curriculum include introduction to hospitality and tourism, lodging operations management, restaurant operations management, beverage management, customer relationship management, and more.

Study plans and internships may focus on students’ interests in lodging management, food management, event planning, or cruise and travel sales.

Food service managers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statics, earn $56,590 annually on average.

Associate’s in Industrial Engineering (campus)

Industrial engineering technicians working together

For a career at the intersection of manpower, machines, materials, and energy, you may consider an associate degree program in industrial engineering. With this degree, you may qualify to work as an assistant to industrial engineers in manufacturing and industrial settings. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an average annual salary of $57,320 for industrial engineering technicians.

Industrial engineering technicians gather data for improving manufacturing processes. They interpret engineering drawings, confer with engineers, and implement standards to suggest revisions to operational methods, material handling, and the use of industrial equipment.

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Course requirements for this associate degree may include advanced math courses, physical sciences, principles of quality assurance, and computer-aided design.

Associate’s in Information Technology (online or campus)

computer systems analyst working in the office

If you’re fascinated by technology, you may want to earn an associate degree in information technology. Courses required for this degree include web development, information technology applications and operating systems, network administration, and technical writing.

After graduation, you might work in a business, industrial, or educational environment where you would troubleshoot, analyze, and select operating systems and applications that optimize user experiences.

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The position of computer systems analyst is one of the highest paying careers for someone with an associate degree. Although most employers hire analysts with bachelor’s degrees, some do hire those with associate degrees. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this position earns on average $93,730 per year.

Associate’s in Marketing (online or campus)

marketing team in a meeting

An associate degree in marketing may prepare you for a career in business, advertising, or retail. Typical courses in the curriculum include introduction to marketing, marketing communications, social media marketing, digital marketing, and more.

After graduation, you might work in marketing research and analysis, sales, marketing promotions, or advertising. For example, an advertising sales agent with an associate degree may work for an advertising agency, radio or TV outlet, or an internet publishing company, selling advertising space to businesses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an annual salary of $54,940, on average, for this position.

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A social media marketer might manage the messaging on a company’s social media accounts.

Associate’s in Mechanical Engineering Technology (campus)

mechanical engineering technician on duty

Do you enjoy tinkering with machinery and have an understanding of how mechanical objects work? If so, you may want to consider an Associate of Science to become a mechanical engineering technician with an earning potential of $58,230 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In this role, you may work with mechanical engineers to design, test, and manufacture mechanical parts and products. Courses in this degree program include DC and AC circuits, hydraulic and pneumatic systems, 3D modeling, and geometric dimensions and tolerance.

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Upon graduation, you might land a job assisting mechanical engineers in a research and development lab or manufacturing facility.

Associate’s in Health Science (online or campus)

healthcare administrators in a meeting

With an associate degree in health science, you may jumpstart a career in the healthcare industry. You may qualify for a job in healthcare administration, medical records, health information technology, or community health.

Typical courses in a health science associate degree program include medical terminology, healthcare systems, medical ethics, and healthcare technology.

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With an Associate of Science in Health Science, you may choose to become a community health worker in a hospital, nonprofit organization, or government agency. In this role, you may collect data and help to educate people in a community about health issues. In the recent listing by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, community health workers earn on average $42,000 per year.

Associate’s in Network Systems Administration (online or campus)

computer support specialists working together

If you’re tech-savvy and enjoy working with computers, you may want to pursue an associate degree in network systems administration.

With this degree, you may become a computer support specialist, specializing in testing, evaluating, and maintaining network systems to be sure they operate correctly. As a computer support specialist, you may solve computer problems for customers and train users in the operation of new computer hardware and software. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an average annual salary of $55,510 for this position.

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In this degree program, you may study subjects such as wide area networks (WAN), local area networks (LAN), network security, PC assembly, routing, computer systems, and fiber optics.

Associate’s in Nursing (hybrid or campus)

nurse working in a hospital

For a career as a registered nurse, you may earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN) and follow up with passing an exam for licensure in your state. As a licensed, registered nurse, you might work in a doctor’s office, hospital, healthcare facility, or home health services organization. Registered nurses earn on average $75,330 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While working on your associate degree in nursing, you might take courses such as human anatomy and physiology, developmental psychology, nursing practice concepts, health illness concepts, and application of nursing skills.

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If you decide to further your education at a later time, you might enroll in a RN to BSN program to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Associate’s in Occupational Therapy Assistant Program (hybrid or campus)

occupational therapy assistant with a patient

An associate degree from an accredited occupational therapy assistant program may position you for a job where you can help patients overcome disabilities and lead more independent lives.

Because states regulate the practice of occupational therapy assistants, it’s important to choose an accredited program. After graduation, you might work in a hospital, nursing care facility, or occupational therapist’s office. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupational therapy assistants earn $62,940, on average, per year.

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A sampling of courses in this degree program includes human anatomy, kinesiology and physiology, developmental psychology, pediatric occupational therapy, occupational therapy for geriatric populations, and patient care skills.

Associate’s in Paralegal Studies (online or campus)

paralegal working in the office

With an associate degree, you may become a paralegal. You may assist lawyers in the preparation and execution of their duties in trials, hearings, and corporate meetings.

Paralegals conduct research, gather data, contact clients and witnesses, and draft legal documents for lawyers. They work in attorney’s offices, government agencies, and the legal departments of corporations, with a reported average annual earning of $52,920 (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

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The courses in a paralegal studies curriculum include legal ethics, legal research methods, estate law, contract law, and business communications, to name a few. Paralegals use technology and software to collect and manage the large amount of data and documents that must be organized for legal purposes.

Associate’s in Physical Therapist Assistant (hybrid or campus)

Physical therapist assistant helping a patient

Physical therapist assistants work under the supervision of licensed physical therapists to help patients regain physical movement abilities and manage pain after injuries, surgeries, or illnesses.

They observe patients and teach them to perform exercises or use equipment in an effort to gain strength, flexibility, range of motion, and mobility. Physical therapist assistants work directly with patients in hospitals, nursing care facilities, or therapists’ offices to carry out the plans of care formulated by physical therapists. The reported annual salary for this position is at $59,770, on average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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In associate degree programs, future physical therapist assistants take courses in anatomy, exercise physiology, kinesiology, biomechanics, neuroscience, and medical ethics.

Associate’s in Web Development (online or campus)

web developer working

Because an online presence is increasingly crucial for businesses, organizations, and individuals, web developers are in high demand. With a volume of available work, web development is a high-paying career.

A number of employers hire talented web developers and digital designers with associate degrees. These individuals work for clients to create and maintain websites. Their work involves developing and testing the interface layouts, functions, and navigation of websites, with an annual earning potential of $77,200 (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

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In an associate degree program in web development, students may study XML and HXTML, JavaScript, database concepts SQL, Windows and .NET, multimedia applications, graphics, internet marketing, and search engine optimization (SEO).

Types of Associate Degrees

Depending on the professional field of your choice, you may pursue an Associate of Arts, Associate of Science, Associate of Applied Arts, or Associate of Applied Science.

1. Associate of Arts (A.A.)

preschool teacher teaching kids

Courses in an AA curriculum include social sciences, humanities, history, and literature. With this degree, you may find employment as a human resources manager, paralegal, preschool teacher, or executive assistant.

Additionally, you may transfer AA credits to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree in your preferred field.

2. Associate of Science (A.S.)

An AS degree program features concentrations in advanced math, physical science, computer science, and engineering courses.

You may complete this degree to become an engineering technologist or technician, computer programmer or systems analyst, registered nurse, or dental hygienist. Additionally, an AS degree provides a foundation of knowledge for progressing to a Bachelor of Science degree.

3. Associate of Applied Arts (A.A.A.)

art teacher with his student

The AAA degree is useful for immediate employment in the arts. With courses in fine art, graphic arts, music, or advertising art, an AAA degree may lead you to an arts-centered job.

You may find employment as a layout artist, music sales representative, music instructor, or art instructor.

4. Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.)

To step into a science or engineering job immediately after completing your associate degree, an AAS may be an optimal choice. These degrees focus on acquiring skills or learning a specific technology for immediate employment.

Jobs for AAS graduates include web developer, accounting assistant, computer support specialist, and technical drafter.

Careers & Salaries

associate degrees careers and salaries

Earning your associate degree may lead to a well-paying and interesting job in a field that you’re passionate about. Some of the highest paying associate degrees lead to jobs where workers earn as much as those with bachelor’s degrees.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers with associate degrees are frequently hired in the twenty occupations listed below.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Air Traffic Controller $130,420
Computer Systems Analyst $93,730
Computer Programmer $89,190
Web Developer or Digital Designer $77,200
Dental Hygienist $77,090
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer $75,920
Registered Nurse $75,330
Claims Adjuster, Appraiser, Examiner, or Investigator $68,270
Electrical and Electronics Engineering Technician $67,550
Police or Detective $67,290
Occupational Therapy Assistant $62,940
Physical Therapist Assistant $59,770
Mechanical Engineering Technician $58,230
Industrial Engineering Technician $57,320
Food Service Manager $56,590
Computer Support Specialist $55,510
Advertising Sales Agent $54,940
Civil Engineering Technician $54,080
Paralegals and Legal Assistant $52,920
Community Health Worker $42,000

This list represents some of the best jobs with an associate’s degree. Depending on your areas of interest and ambition, you may want to investigate the many other jobs that you may qualify for with an associate degree.

Admissions Requirements

college students studying together

After selecting an associate degree program and college, your next step will be to apply. Here’s a list of typical admission requirements:

  • High school transcripts or equivalent
  • SAT and ACT scores, if required
  • Minimum high school GPA
  • Letters of recommendation

Some schools may also request an essay or writing sample. Colleges differ in their admission requirements, so you want to check carefully for the admission criteria specified by the college of your choice.

Accreditation

Associate Degrees Accreditation

Regional accreditation is proof of academic excellence for a college. To guarantee the value of your associate degree, you may want to look for a college that holds regional accreditation from one of these organizations:

Employers will often want to know that your degree is from an accredited institution. Likewise, accreditation is crucial for transferring your credits if you decide to enroll in a bachelor’s degree program in the future.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Associate degrees financial aid

As you make plans to enroll in an associate degree program, you may check out various financial aid options to help finance your education. You can start your search for financial aid by visiting the Federal Student Aid website and filling out your FAFSA form to determine your eligibility.

Financial aid is also available to qualifying students in the form of need-based and merit-based scholarships. These can be offered from state and federal departments of education, college alumni organizations, community service organizations, and even churches.

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Additionally, grants, student loans, and work-study jobs may provide financial assistance for students. If you’re a military veteran or a member of a military family, you can search the Federal Student Aid website for information about special military financial aid programs.

What Is an Associates Degree?

college students with teacher in library

An associates degree is an academic program for students who have earned a high school diploma or equivalent and want to continue their education without committing to a bachelors degree program.

With full-time enrollment, you may complete an associate degree in approximately 2 years. Many associate degree programs focus on learning skills in preparation for specific jobs. In this way, they are useful degrees that may lead to full-time employment that pays well.

On the other hand, associate degrees may provide the academic foundation for continued education in bachelor’s degree programs.

What Jobs Can I Get with an Associate’s Degree?

advertising team working together

Colleges and community colleges offer associate degree programs in many academic fields, leading to many different types of careers. You can choose a career field that interests you and look for an associate degree program that focuses on that area of concentration.

Examples of career fields for Associate of Arts or Associate of Applied Arts degrees include preschool teaching, advertising and promotion, paralegal or legal assistant, and sales and marketing.

With an Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science, you may enter a career as an engineering technician, community health worker, registered nurse, web developer, or computer support specialist.

What Are the Easiest Associates Degrees?

college students in library

An academic subject that is “easy” for one person might be difficult for someone else, so it’s difficult to name what the easiest associate degrees are.

There are some associate degrees that require more advanced math and science courses. These include technology degrees in civil engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and industrial engineering.

Some associate degrees focus on computer-related courses in network systems administration, web development, and computer programming. Other associate degrees emphasize reading and writing, such as paralegal studies, marketing, or business administration.

What Can You Do with an Associate’s Degree?

marketing manager with colleague

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an associate degree in the career field of your choice may help you qualify for an entry-level job that pays well.

For example, some associate degree programs prepare students for technician jobs in engineering fields, including electrical, mechanical, and industrial engineering. Other associate degree programs focus on the medical and healthcare fields, with graduates working as registered nurses, dental hygienists, or community health workers.

For students interested in business or computers, associate degree programs may lead to jobs in marketing, paralegal careers, advertising, hospitality management, web development, or computer network administration.

How Long Does an Associate’s Degree Take?

college students studying together in library

The length of time it takes to complete an associate degree varies depending on the program as well as your schedule.

If you enroll full-time at a college that offers traditional 16 week semesters, the typical timeframe for earning an associate degree is 2 years. If you enroll year-round in 8 week classes, you might be able to finish in less time.

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Some students decide to pursue their degrees part-time so they can maintain work and family responsibilities. If you enroll part-time, it may take longer to complete your associate program.

Is an Associate’s Degree Worth It?

web developers working in an office

Yes, an associate’s degree is worth it for many students. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs requiring an associate’s degree for entry are set to grow at 6% over the next 10 years, faster than the average job growth for all occupations.

Common careers include electrical engineering technician, dental hygienist, computer support specialist, registered nurse, and paralegal. You may pursue a rewarding career on the strength of your associate degree.

If you are interested in furthering you education, your associates degree may serve as the foundation for working toward your bachelors degree. With an associate degree from an accredited college, you may transfer your credits into a bachelor’s degree program for career advancement and higher pay.

Getting Your Associate’s Degree Online

Associate’s Degree Online

Planning your educational journey is an exciting endeavor. You may explore the program features that different accredited colleges offer as well as opportunities for scholarships and financial aid.

Online learning platforms might allow more flexibility in your schedule so that you can continue working at your current job or meeting your family responsibilities. Also, a growing number of colleges are offering accelerated associates degrees online. With a useful associate degree, you may begin working in your chosen career.

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Carol Benton
WRITTEN BY
Carol Benton
Carol is a retired college professor in the field of music education. She holds a Doctor of Musical Arts from Shenandoah University, a Master of Music in piano performance and a Bachelor of Music Education from Virginia Commonwealth University. Carol has many years of experience as a teacher and academic advisor for undergraduates.