associate degree career options

What Can You Do with an Associate Degree?

College education pays. Generally speaking, the higher level degree you achieve, the more your salary potential will increase. Recent data shows that those with an associate degree earn almost 20 percent more per week than those with a high school diploma alone. Bachelor’s degree holders earn even more. However, a bachelor’s degree program is not the right path for everyone.

It’s reported that over 60 percent of high school students receive pressure from their parents to “get into a good college,” even when they don’t yet know what they want to do in their career. And while over 80 percent of college grads agree their degree was a good financial investment, the majority also stated that they would go back and change their major if they could.

In fact, many do. There is an increasing number of people going back to school for an associate degree. First-time college students, as well as transfer students, are also seeing value in the associate degree offering. This is because, simply put, not all careers require a bachelor’s degree. There are impactful, high-paying careers that you can achieve with an associate degree in hand. Some of the most respected healthcare professions, for example, only need an associate degree to get started. Manufacturing, human services, and business careers also have an array of career outcomes for AS degree holders.

Of the million associate degrees earned, the most common fields of study fall within healthcare, business, and liberal arts or humanities. These degrees can lead to rewarding careers in hospitals, private practices, business start-ups, criminal justice agencies, child welfare settings, and more.

So, what can you do with an associate degree, exactly? Let’s find out.

Examples of Careers with an Associate Degree

With just a couple of years in college, you can obtain fulfilling careers such as:

1. Registered Nurse

A registered nurse (RN) holds one of the most impactful positions in healthcare facilities, working with patients every day to ensure they are evaluated, educated, treated, and properly cared for. Registered nurses provide direct patient care and provide guidance and support to patients and their families. To become an RN, the standard award is an associate degree in Nursing. With this, you can become eligible to take the NCLEX-RN licensing examination and practice as a nurse.

Registered nurses earn, on average, $77,600 annually in the United States.

2. Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists are the people you spend most time with while in the dentist’s office. These professionals examine patients for oral diseases and provide preventive dental care, such as teeth cleanings, fluoride applications, and taking dental x-rays. They are essential for detecting dental issues and maintaining good oral hygiene. To enter the field, all dental hygienists need an associate degree in Dental Hygiene, which qualifies them to take the licensing exam and start working in the field.

On average in the United States, dental hygienists earn $77,810 annually.

3. Occupational Therapy Assistant

Occupational therapy assistants, or OTAs, help people develop or recover the skills needed for daily living and working. Their patients are typically people who have faced an injury, illness, or developmental disability, and need help learning (or re-learning) the skills to live independently. OTAs provide direct therapy to patients in need, which are typically physical exercises to help hone motor skills and independent functioning. In order to launch a career in this important profession, an associate degree in Occupational Therapy Assisting is required from an accredited program. This also qualifies aspiring OTAs for their licensing exam.

Once working in the field, OTAs can expect to earn an average annual salary of $61,730.

4. Respiratory Therapist

Another healthcare profession you can achieve with an associate degree falls in respiratory therapy, a field dedicated to helping people overcome breathing problems. Respiratory therapists help people with conditions like asthma, COPD, lung disease, as well as patients whose breathing is impaired due to illness or injury. Respiratory therapists may also work with infants born with underdeveloped lungs. To become a respiratory therapist, a relevant associate degree in Respiratory Care is required, which qualifies a professional for licensure.

Respiratory therapists earn an average of $61,830 per year in the United States.

5. Funeral Service Director/Mortician

Funeral service directors and morticians help to provide end-of-life services to honor the deceased. While this may sound like an atypical career path, these professionals enjoy a multifaceted profession. Funeral service directors provide counseling and comfort to grieving families, organize all the events of a funeral, and file important paperwork. They are counselors, event planners, and organizers all in one. Morticians also prepare obituaries, arrange transportation for families, and coordinate burials or cremations. In order to land this career, an associate degree in Funeral Service is required, followed by an apprenticeship and a licensing exam.

Funeral home managers and directors, on average in the United States, earn $74,000 annually.

6. CNC Machinist
CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control, an advanced type of machinery used in modern manufacturing to automate the production of parts. CNC machinists are the professionals who operate CNC equipment in fields like aerospace and motor vehicle manufacturing, mechanical engineering, metalworking machinery, and more. To become a CNC machinist, some postsecondary or on-the-job training is required. More employers, however, are seeking candidates with a postsecondary certificate or associate degree in CNC machining.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, machinists and tool and die makers earn between $47,000 and $57,000 annually, on average.

7. Bookkeeper

For those interested in a behind-the-scenes role in business, a bookkeeper is a possible career path you can obtain with a postsecondary certificate or associate degree. Bookkeepers help to manage an organization’s financial accounts, also known as a general ledger. These professionals prepare bank deposits, verify receipts, send payments, handle payroll, prepare invoices, make purchases, and more. Therefore, they must have a background in fundamental accounting, QuickBooks, and (ideally) professional certification. An associate degree in a related field, such as Business Administration, is therefore recommended, though not required by all employers.

Bookkeeping clerks earn an average of $45,560 annually in the United States.

8. Law Enforcement Officer

If you desire a career protecting your community, and have an interest in the criminal justice system, a career as a law enforcement officer may be right for you. Law enforcement officers, most commonly known as police officers, are dedicated to safeguarding the public from harm and apprehending those who commit crimes. However, there are other types of law enforcement officers, including detectives, correctional officers, state troopers, sheriffs, and more. Typically, requirements to enter these professions vary by each workplace, state jurisdiction, and local departments. However, many employers seek candidates who have relevant education, such as an associate in Criminal Justice.

Today in the United States, police officers and detectives earn an average of $66,000 annually.

9. Corrections Counselor or Case Manager
For those who desire to work in the criminal justice field but do not wish to become an officer, taking a counseling route is another option that doesn’t require many years in school. Those who earn an associate degree in Human Services are qualified to become a corrections counselor, also called a case manager. These professionals evaluate the progress of inmates in jail and on probation, out in their communities. They help inmates prepare for and acclimate to life outside of prison, as well as cope with any stressors that arise. This is done through dedicated counseling sessions.

On average in the United States, corrections counselors earn $60,250 annually.

10. Youth Worker
If you have a desire to work with children, or help the next generation find success, a career of a youth worker may appeal to you. Youth workers, generally speaking, help young people by facilitating their personal, social, and educational development. Depending on their place of work, youth workers may have formal titles like Child Welfare Advocate, Child Protective Services Specialist, Youth Specialist, Teen Center Worker, and more. These career titles are also possible with an associate in Human Services.
According to, youth workers typically earn between $30,000 and $45,000 annually.

Bonus: Carve Your Own Path with an Associate Degree

Many people choose to pursue a career-focused associate degree, that will specifically prepare them for a job in their passion area. Whether that be healthcare, working with patients, or criminal justice, rehabilitating criminals, there are a range of important vocations you can achieve with just two years of training and education. Most associate degree programs take two years to complete.

However, earning an associate degree does mean you are limited to a certain field of work. You also have the option to carve your own way and create a course of study that aligns with your interests and goals. For example, at Goodwin University, students have the option to pursue an associate degree in General Education. They can choose courses that match their passions, and often go on to careers in:

  • Advertising
  • Business/Business Administration
  • Journalism
  • Law
  • Library Science
  • Sociology
  • Teaching
  • Writing & Editing

Many with an associate degree in Business Administration also start inventing the wheel to open their own start-up and become entrepreneurs after graduation.

There are many options available to those with an associate degree. Rather than asking, “What can I do with an associate degree?”… Ask yourself, “What can’t you do?”

Learn about earning an associate degree through one of our online or on-ground degree programs in Connecticut. Contact Goodwin University by submitting a request here.