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Top 9 Highest-Paying Jobs that Require an Associate Degree

If your teen is considering pursuing higher education, an associate degree can be a great option. Students can find good, high-paying jobs with a two-year degree. Here are the top nine according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of 2016.

Air Traffic Controllers

Air traffic controllers coordinate the movement of air traffic to make sure all aircrafts are safe distances apart during flight. They work in control towers, approach control facilities, or route centers, often on night, weekend, and rotating shifts.

  • Locations: The states with the highest concentration of jobs in this occupation are Alaska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Kansas.
  • Important qualities needed to do the job: Air traffic controllers have communication skills, concentration skills, decision-making skills, math skills, organizational skills, and problem-solving skills.
  • Median annual wage: $122,950
  • How to become an air traffic controller: Air traffic controllers complete a 2-year or 4-year degree program through the Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative, which the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) academy sets guidelines for. They must take a biodata test, which is a biographical assessment and personality exam to determine if the person is a good fit for additional air traffic education.
Image: A plane takes off from Ronald Reagan Washington National Reagan Airport
Kevin Lamarque / Reuters file

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Nuclear Technicians

Nuclear technicians assist physicists, engineers, and other professionals in nuclear energy production and nuclear research. They also operate equipment used to monitor the levels of radiation that are produced. They work in nuclear power plants, usually in offices and control rooms where they use computers and other equipment.

  • Location: The states with the highest concentration of jobs in this occupation are South Carolina, Idaho, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and North Carolina.
  • Important qualities: Nuclear technicians have communication skills, computer skills, critical-thinking skills, interpersonal skills, math skills, and mechanical skills. They must have monitoring skills, meaning they have to assess data from sensors, gauges, and other instruments to make sure equipment and experiments are functioning properly and radiation levels are controlled.
  • Median annual wage: $80,260
  • How to become a nuclear technician: Nuclear technicians typically need an associate’s degree in nuclear science or a nuclear-related technology. Nuclear technicians go through extensive on-the-job training as they must learn proper ways to operate and monitor equipment, safety procedures, regulations, and plant policies.
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Radiation Therapists

Radiation therapists treat cancer and other diseases in patients and provide radiation treatments. They work in hospitals, offices of physicians, and outpatient centers.

  • Location: The states with the highest concentration of jobs in this occupation are Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Arkansas, Alabama, and Tennessee.
  • Important qualities: Radiation therapists are detail-oriented, have interpersonal skills, physical stamina, and technical skills, including working with computers and large pieces of technological equipment.
  • Median annual wage: $80,220
  • How to become a radiation therapist: Radiation therapists must earn an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy. Some candidates may qualify for positions by completing a yearlong certificate program. In most states, they must be licensed or certified in radiation therapy, which means complete an accredited radiation therapy program and pass the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists certification exam.

Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Nuclear medicine technologists operate equipment that takes x-ray images of a patient’s body. They also prepare radioactive drugs and administer them to patients, which will cause abnormal areas of the body to appear different from normal areas in the images. Most nuclear medicine technologists work in hospitals, although some work in other medical offices or laboratories.

  • Location: The states with the highest concentration of jobs in this occupation are South Dakota, West Virginia, Louisiana, Wyoming, and Oklahoma.
  • Important qualities: Nuclear medicine technologists have the ability to use technology, analytical skills, interpersonal skills, and compassion. They are also detail oriented and have physical stamina.
  • Median annual wage: $73,360
  • How to become a nuclear medicine technologist: Nuclear medicine technologists typically need an associate degree from an accredited nuclear medicine technology program. Requirements vary by state, but about half of the states require technologists to be licensed.
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Dental hygienists

Dental hygienists clean teeth and provide preventive dental care for patients. They also educate patients on improving and sustaining oral health. Nearly all dental hygienists work in dentists’ offices.

  • Location: The states with the highest concentration of jobs in this occupation are Michigan, Oregon, Connecticut, Idaho, and Rhode Island.
  • Important qualities: Dental hygienists are detail-oriented and have good critical thinking skills, compassion, and interpersonal skills. They also have dexterity, meaning they must be good at working with their hands and working in tight quarters (in the mouth).
  • Median annual wage: $73,330
  • How to become a dental hygienist: Dental hygienists need an associate degree in dental hygiene. Dental hygiene programs are mostly found in community colleges, technical schools and universities. Programs typically take 3 years to complete and offer laboratory, clinical, and classroom instructions.

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