Associate's Degrees With the Most Bang For Your Buck

1969

Your investment in these associate's degrees could mean a good salary in just two years or more.

By Terri Williams

You've heard the saying: "You have to spend money to make money." Well, investing in your education could be what you need for pursuing a better-paying career.

But your investment doesn't necessarily need to be long-term; there are plenty of great associate's degrees you could earn in as few as two years.

Not only that, but earning an associate's could make sense financially. Nearly 30 percent of Americans with an associate's degree actually earn more than those who hold a bachelor's, says the Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.

Plus, many of these degrees could prepare you to pursue careers that the U.S. Department of Labor reports have a median salary of at least $45K per year.

Looking for a good return on your investment? Keep reading to discover five associate's degrees that deliver the biggest bang for your buck.

Associate's Degree #1: Information Science

Are you the type of person who helps your friends and family members when they have problems with their laptops and smartphones? By earning your associate's degree in information science in as little as two years, you could prepare yourself to seek compensation for all of your technological tinkering.

The Value Factor: "As more organizations upgrade their computer equipment and software, there is an increased need for support services to perform installation, repair, and maintenance, which, in turn, creates a flood of new jobs," says La-Dana Jenkins of Career Calling, a career development firm in New York City. "An associate's degree in this discipline can quickly provide the educational background to enter this well-paying and rapidly-growing profession," she says.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Information Science Program.

Potential Career: Computer Support Specialist

Computer support specialists provide computer help and advice to companies and other organizations, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. And the pay isn't bad either. The median salary for a computer support specialist is $46,420, the Department of Labor says.

According to the Department, while an associate's degree is sufficient for some computer support specialist positions, a bachelor's degree may also be required for certain jobs. More technical roles are likely to require a degree in areas like computer science, engineering, or information science, the Department says.

Associate's Degree #2: Paralegal Studies

If Perry Mason, Matlock, and Law & Order's Jack McCoy are your role models - and you enjoy investigating facts and researching laws - you probably should consider a legal career. But before you sign up for seven years earning your bachelor's and then your J.D., you might consider an associate's in paralegal studies, which could be obtained in as little as two years.

The Value Factor: How do you get bang for your buck with this degree? While a law degree can run upwards of $100,000 over a three- or four-year period, Jenkins says, an associate's program in paralegal studies is normally two years with a much lower average cost. "If someone is interested in the field of law, but is not seeking to become an attorney, obtaining an associate's degree in paralegal studies is another avenue to pursue and it is more cost effective," she says.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Paralegal Studies Program.

Potential Career: Paralegal

Paralegals support lawyers and could find themselves maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research, and drafting documents, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. They could also be rewarded with a good salary for this support: The Department of Labor says the median salary for a paralegal is $46,990.

Most paralegals either have an associate's degree in paralegal studies, or a certificate in paralegal studies and a bachelor's degree in another field, reports the Department.

Associate's Degree #3: Nursing

If you have a compassionate heart combined with a passion for the medical field, you may have the perfect combination for a career as a nurse. And you don't have to spend four or more years in school to prepare for this career, either.

The Value Factor: "[G]iven the salary that can be earned with an associate's degree, nursing has a good return on investment," Jenkins says. "This is a field that is continuously growing, so the earning potential will always be great for individuals seeking a career in nursing," she adds.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Nursing Program.

Potential Career: Registered Nurse

Registered nurses coordinate and give care to patients, set up plans for patient care, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their families, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. And nurses can receive handsome compensation for their work. The Department of Labor reports that the median annual salary for a registered nurse is $65,950.

An associate's degree in nursing is one of three educational paths toward the career, the Department says. The other two are a bachelor's degree in nursing or a diploma from an approved nursing program. The Department also adds that registered nurses must be licensed.

Associate's Degree #4: Industrial Engineering Technology

If you're analytical and detail-oriented with a gift for effectively organizing people and processes, you could consider earning a degree in industrial engineering. How long will it take to earn this degree? You guessed it - as few as two years.

The Value Factor: "Because a person with this degree can work in so many different industries, including green occupations, and in public, private, and non-profit arenas, this is a beneficial and cost-effective educational investment," says Jenkins.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Technical Trade and Engineering Program.

Potential Career: Industrial Engineering Technician

Industrial engineering technicians plan ways to use personnel, materials, and machines in factories, stores, health care organizations, and other areas, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. And as assistants to industrial engineers, they can earn a pretty decent wage. The Department says that these technicians earn a median of $50,980 annually.

According to the Department, industrial engineering techs usually need an associate's degree or certificate. It notes that prospective technicians should study applied science, industrial technology, or industrial engineering technology. The Department also says courses that help students develop computer skills are helpful for learning computer-aided design or computer-aided manufacturing software on the job.

Associate's Degree #5: Dental Hygiene

If you want to help others keep their chompers sparkly and white, you might find fulfillment in a career improving the dental health of others. In as few as two years, you could earn your degree in dental hygiene - which could prepare you to pursue a career in the field.

The Value Factor: Jenkins says that earning this degree could not only give you a good ROI for your education, but you also don't need a bachelor's to pursue a career as a dental hygienist. "A dental hygiene degree is a win-win situation for a person interested in dentistry because this two-year degree can provide a median salary that exceeds $70,000 a year," Jenkins says.

Next step: Click to Find the Right Dental Hygiene Program.

Potential Career: Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists do things like clean teeth, examine patients for signs of oral diseases, and provide other preventative dental care, says the U.S. Department of Labor. And the Department of Labor median annual salary figure is on par with Jenkins' estimate: $70,210.

The Department of Labor states that an associate's degree in dental hygiene is typically needed for dental hygiene positions. Dental hygienists are also required to have a license, the Department says.

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