Jeanette Si 3 min read 12th Grade, Career Advice

6 Associate’s Degree Jobs with Six-Figure Salaries

Think of a six-figure job, and you usually think of something that comes with years and years of schooling — doctors, lawyers, engineers, the list goes on. But that’s not always the case: many jobs with six-figure salaries actually only need a two-year degree. Take a look:

 

1. Intensive Care Unit Nurse


ICU nurses handle critical patients that need immediate and intensive treatment — they often work with patients who come straight off an ambulance, so these nurses need to think fast in high-pressure situations.

 

Because of the unique skill set needed for this job, ICU nurses are paid more than normal RNs, with a median salary of $97,990 and 90th percentile earnings of $107,000 a year. The best part is that you can begin on-the-job training after just two years of school, once you have your associate’s degree in nursing.

 

2. Executive Pastry Chef


Pastry chefs show their work in beautiful cakes, sugary confections, and decadent desserts. Not only do they have to make food that tastes delicious, they’re also trained in various techniques to decorate and present their food so that those eating can have a holistically unique culinary experience.


Executive pastry chefs are typically employed at luxury hotels, resorts, cruise ships, or other exotic locations — and with average annual salaries that go up to $102,000, it’s definitely a pretty sweet deal. Many community colleges offer two-year hospitality programs that focus on pastry-making, and that’s all you’ll need to get started.

 

3. Air Traffic Controller

 

Navigating a plane is no easy task; it’s a constant coordination game between different pilots, planes, and airports. With the amount of air traffic that goes over our heads daily, it makes sense that the people who are responsible for keeping all of it running smoothly are paid well — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, air traffic controllers had a median salary of $122,990 in 2019.



While some air traffic controllers do hold four-year degrees, many community colleges have two-year programs that meet the same qualifications and are just as employable. Some of them even incorporate field training with real control towers and runways.

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4. Radiation Therapist   


Radiation therapists are the people who operate the machines that help diagnose and treat a variety of diseases, including cancer — and it’s a standout because it’s a hospital job where you mostly work in the daytime and have normal hours. It’s also a really fast-growing field with lots of hiring potential; the BLS estimates that the field will grow 9% in the next ten years (a rate faster than average).

 

The two-year program needed to become a radiation therapist covers the practical use of radiation technology along with human anatomy, research methods, and the hard sciences. The median pay for a radiation therapist is $85,560, but top earners can net up to $128,630 a year.

 

5. Network Systems Analyst   


Think you have to get a four-year CS degree to make money in the tech field? Think again. These analysts oversee the day-to-day operations of the tech infrastructures in businesses, and are usually good communicators, creative thinkers, and problem solvers that can troubleshoot a variety of issues. These are usually stable 9-to-5 jobs with all the benefits as well.


Only a two-year degree is required to enter the field, and as with all tech fields, experience and raw skill is given more weight than your degree. If you think you have what it takes, the median earnings for a networks systems analyst is $90,920, with top earners pulling in $147,670 a year.

 

6. Personal Trainer


Most personal trainers have a passion for health and fitness, and love working directly with other people. They also enjoy a flexible job where there’s really no upper limit to how much they can earn — if they’re willing to put in the time, effort, and dedication, they will get paid more. And they don’t all work in gyms either; some actually cater to individual clients, some work in medical facilities, and some others are hired as in-house fitness specialists for corporate wellness programs.

 

A two-year program in health and fitness is all you’ll need, and though the average salary is $55,000, experienced personal trainers can bring in over $100,000 a year.

 

These six jobs are only a small fraction of all the six-figure jobs that only need a two-year degree — there are many more out there in many different fields, for many different personalities and job interests. Which goes to show that if what you’re looking for is financial success and stability, a four-year college is definitely not the only way to get you there.

 

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Jeanette Si
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Short bio
Jeanette is a junior at Cornell University double majoring in Information Science and China and Asia-Pacific Studies. As someone who’s received a lot of help from mentors during her personal admissions process, she’s looking to give back now that her own admissions season is behind her. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found singing show tunes (terribly), playing MOBAs (passably), or quoting Jane Austen (expertly).