Four year college or university programs don’t suit everyone seeking to continue their education. Many of these graduates have degrees that will broaden their job prospects, but may be completely unrelated to their college major. Plus a high percentage of these grads leave college with considerable debt from student loans. You may prefer truncate your college years, obtain a more practical degree, and have no or little debt. This is where an Associate Degree enters the picture. What we mean by a “practical degree” is one that can applied directly to your job. The arenas of technology, creativity, or medical play a role in these jobs. Here are considerations in those categories:


  • Nuclear technician-  operates nuclear equipment, monitors radiation levels, provides quality control support and assistance to nuclear physicists. There is projected to be a nine percent growth rate through 2018 and the median annual salary is $69,000.
  • Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technician-  applies engineering principles and technical skills in support of engineers and other professionals engaged in developing, manufacturing and testing aircraft, spacecraft and their systems. The median annual salary is $62,000. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows the growth to be 0%.
  • Industrial Engineering Technician-  assists in facilitating productivity, efficiency and safety at businesses or manufacturing. There are related jobs in the field of mechanical and electrical engineering at the Associate degree level. The median salary is $51,000. Unfortunately, the BLS indicates that jobs in this area are slightly declining by minus 3%.


  • Culinary Arts–  guides the student into theories of gastronomy, hospitality and management, while gaining hands-on experience in food preparation.  The BLS projects job growth to be 5% through 2022 which is lower than average. The median pay for chefs and head cooks is $43,000 annually.
  • Cosmetology–  an associate’s degree includes instruction in beauty services, identifying hair and skin disorders, make-up application and salon management. Per the BLS, the growth rate over the next 10 years is forecast at 14% with a median salary of $28,000.
  • Fashion designer–  creates and designs clothing, shoes and/or accessories. This person typically works in conjunction with a technical designer whose job it is to bring the designer’s idea to a finished product. The median salary for a fashion designer is $63,000, however the BLS forecasts job growth as minus 3%.
  • Professional Catering–  entails the preparation of meals and beverages for weddings, conventions and business gatherings. Students learn recipe creation, nutrition, baking, culinary cost controls,  and kitchen safety protocols. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects job growth at 12% with a median annual salary of $50,000.


  • Nuclear Medicine Technologist–  prepares and administers radiopharmaceuticals for patients undergoing digital images using advanced computer technology. Technician also evaluates images to determine their quality and calibrates the instrumentation. This is a highly specialized health care profession. The  BLS sees job growth at 20% and a median annual salary of $71,000.
  • Dental Hygienist–  the job duties are familiar to anyone who has had their teeth professionally cleaned in a dentist’s office. The hygienist primary role is to remove tartar, stains and plaque from the patients teeth. He/she also assists the dentist and takes x-rays. Other duties include educating the patient on preventative care, advising on proper brushing techniques, and offering guidance on the best products for oral care. Employment is expected to swell by 33% over the next 8 years and the median salary is $70,000.
  • Radiation Therapist–  uses advanced computer systems to operate sophisticated radiation therapy equipment. This therapist works closely with radiation oncologists, medical physicists, and other members of the health care team. There are courses to advance beyond an associate degree to a bachelor or master’s degree of science. The BLS projects job growth at 12% and the median pay in 2012 was $78,000.


There is a broad spectrum of career options available for the student interested in an Associate’s Degree. There will also be opportunities to continue your education into a bachelor’s or master’s degree if you desire. Thus, it’s incumbent on the high school student to carefully evaluate your interests, skills, talents, then project how these will translate to the workplace. A workplace that will provide the greatest satisfaction both financially and intellectually.