If you could spend as much as $27,000 a year at a public university or less than $4,000 a year at a community college, which experience would you choose? What if we said you could get a job with a six-digit income and have financial stability with a degree from the cheaper school?
Earning a bachelor’s degree seems like the all-American way to get a college education. But there are degrees that take less time and a lot less money that still can net you a good-paying job. Consider this: The College Board says that, for the 2020-2021 school year, in-state tuition and fees at a four-year public school set you back an average of $10,560 — or, $27,020 if you paid out-of-state tuition and fees.
In contrast, in 2020-2021, the average in-district tuition and fees at public two-year colleges ranged from $1,430 in California to $8,600 in Vermont. That makes public two-year institutions with degrees that lead to good-paying jobs look like a great bargain when tuition and fees average $3,770 a year.
Here is a list of top jobs that pay above the U.S. median wage — $56,310 — and don’t require more than a two-year degree, according to the latest numbers.
Best Jobs With 2-Year Degrees
1. Air traffic controller
Median annual pay: $130,420
If you want to earn a higher salary, become an air traffic controller. These professionals help guide planes in flight to maintain safe distances between them, earning a six-digit income.
Some of these professionals may have a bachelor’s degree, but you can also land one of these jobs with an associate’s degree from the Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Given the importance of the job and the high-stress nature of the work, air traffic controllers also have to undergo medical and background checks and take exams and courses at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Academy.
2. Radiation therapists
Median annual pay: $86,850
Advances in medical technology mean physicians use high-tech equipment to diagnose and treat disease. They need trained workers to operate these specialized machines.
Radiation therapists are among these workers. After two years of education, they are capable of administering radiation treatments for cancer and other diseases and get paid a median wage of $41.76 per hour.
3. Nuclear medicine technologists
Median annual pay: $79,590
Working primarily in hospitals, nuclear medicine technologists prepare and administer radioactive drugs used to monitor, diagnose and treat health conditions such as cancer.
Graduation with an associate degree from an accredited program in nuclear medicine technology is the typical path for these specialists.
4. Diagnostic medical sonographers
Median annual pay: $75,920
Diagnostic medical sonographers are another type of worker who can be trained in two years to use specialized medical equipment.
They operate ultrasound machines that not only give expectant parents a peek at a developing baby but also produce images of other parts of the body. The images are used to help physicians detect and diagnose medical problems.
5. MRI technologists
Median annual pay: $74,690
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) technologists are trained to use MRI scanners to obtain diagnostic images of patients. Top-paying employers for this specialty include outpatient care centers, hospitals, medical and diagnostic laboratories, and doctors’ offices.
MRI technologists need a two-year associate degree. High school students who would like to follow this career path can prepare by taking classes in mathematics and sciences, especially anatomy, biology, chemistry, physiology and physics.
6. Web developer
Median annual pay: $77,200
If computers are your thing, how about a career as a web developer?
These are the folks who design the websites you visit (like this one) and make sure everything looks and runs exactly as it should. It’s also a good job for working remotely; you can find opportunities on sites like FlexJobs.
An associate degree is all you may need to learn the basic skills for a job that pays a median annual wage of $77,200, or about $37.12 an hour.
7. Avionics technician
Median annual pay: $66,440
Avionics technicians have a solid-paying occupation in the field of flying.
These workers are in charge of testing, repairing and maintaining electronic equipment on planes and other aircraft. They may also be called in to examine planes for defects and interpret flight data.
8. Computer network support specialist
Median annual pay: $65,450
Texas employs the most people in this occupation, followed by California, Illinois, New York and Florida.
Industries paying the highest salaries for computer support positions include telecommunications, data processing and hosting, computer systems design, finance and insurance, and management of companies and enterprises.
A bachelor’s degree may help, but many companies will take applicants with an associate degree, says the BLS.
9. Fire inspectors and investigators
Median annual pay: $64,610
If you want a job that takes you out of the office, you could become a fire inspector or investigator.
As the name suggests, these workers inspect properties for compliance with government regulations, and inspectors may investigate the cause of a fire.
Most fire investigators and inspectors need to have worked previously as firefighters, the BLS says. You’ll need a high school diploma or the equivalent before getting on-the-job training. Depending on the employer, a two-year or four-year degree in fire science, engineering or chemistry may be required.
10. Respiratory therapists
Median annual pay: $62,810
From premature babies with underdeveloped lungs to adults with emphysema, a wide variety of patients benefit from the work of respiratory therapists.
These professionals measure lung capacity and consult with physicians to create and implement a treatment plan. They get paid well and only have to obtain a two-year degree to become employable. In every state but Alaska respiratory therapists must obtain a state license.
11. Occupational therapy assistants
Median annual pay: $60,950
The nation’s aging population is also expected to continue to spur job growth for occupational therapy assistants. These workers help occupational therapists with exercises and therapies intended to improve a patient’s ability to perform daily tasks.
12. Radiologic technologists
Median annual pay: $61,900
Also known as radiographers, radiologic technologists perform diagnostic imaging examinations, typically taking X-rays of patients in a medical setting such as a hospital or clinic. They also may become mammographers, using low-dose X-rays to make diagnostic images of breast tissue.
To be a radiologic technologist you’ll need an associate degree and, in most states, also must become licensed or certified.
13. Physical therapist assistants
Median annual pay: $59,770
In some states, physical therapists need to have a doctorate. However, nationwide, their assistants typically need only an associate degree from an accredited program, as well as a license or certification.
14. Cardiovascular technologists and technicians
Median annual pay: $59,100
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians use medical equipment to take images of the heart and lungs. You need only a two-year associate degree for this job that pays a median wage of $59,100.
Outpatient care centers, physicians’ offices, hospitals and diagnostic laboratories are among the best-paying employers for this specialty.
15. Funeral service workers
Median annual pay: $58,170
This may not seem to be the most glamorous job, but someone’s got to do it. Funeral service workers provide services that always are in demand. They usually are reasonably well-paid.
To work in this field, you’ll need an associate degree in mortuary science or funeral service. Every state except Colorado has licensing requirements for workers in the field. Colorado offers a voluntary certification program.
Median annual pay: $57,960
Drafters work with software to convert design plans into technical drawings.
They may specialize in architectural, mechanical or electrical drafting, and their services are employed across a variety of industries. To get started, get an associate degree from a community college or technical school.