Industry Market Trends

The Best Paying Jobs for Associate's and Bachelor's Degrees

Feb 07, 2013

Higher education leads to bigger paychecks over the course of a career, but not all degrees amount to the same earnings. A new study sheds light on the best paying jobs for two-and four-year degrees, and several engineering occupations are named.

Credit: satit_srihin at Credit: satit_srihin at

Previous studies have shown that earning a postsecondary degree boosts a salary by a significant amount, leading to higher lifetime earnings than high school degrees. A study released by The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce titled The College Payoff: Education, Occupations, Lifetime Earnings examines the differences in degree earnings, revealing that associate degree holders earn nearly 33 percent more than those with a high-school diploma. The gap multiplies for bachelor's degree holders, who earn 31 percent more than those with associate degrees and 74 percent more than those of high school grads.

The nation's employers are having a difficult time filling open positions with qualified employees. The shortage of educated, skilled workers is so great that it has been tied to boosting U.S. joblessness. Yet some employers have increased their candidate requirements. The CEO of Burning Glass, a business that analyzes job ads on thousands of online sources, revealed to the New York Times that employers are demanding more, requiring college degrees for openings that "did not traditionally require education."

"Nearly one in five employers (18 percent) reported that their educational requirements for jobs in their organizations have increased over the last five years," said Brent Rasmussen, president of CareerBuilder North America, in a release of new findings on the best paying jobs for two- and four-year degrees, by CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI). The findings were pulled from EMSI's market database, which includes information from more than 90 national and state employment resources, and from employees.

The report, published on CareerBuilder, reveals the top 10 best paying occupations that require associate's and bachelor's degrees and reveals the median U.S. salaries. Engineering jobs, ranging from nuclear to aerospace, dominated the list. The findings are invaluable at a time when full-time earnings are reportedly falling for college graduates in the 25-to-34-year-old bracket, and as more graduates struggle with steep debt as they start new jobs that cannot subsidize their loans.


Top 10 Best Paying Jobs for Associate's Degree Grads


1) Air Traffic Controller, $113,547


2) Radiation Therapist, $76,627


3) Dental Hygienist, $70,408


4) Nuclear Medicine Technologist, $69,638


5) Nuclear Technician, $68,037


6) Registered Nurse, $65,853


7) Diagnostic Medical Sonographer, $65,499


8) Fashion Designer, $63,170


9) Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technician, $61,547


10) Engineering Technician (except drafters), $58,698


Top 10 Best Paying Jobs for Bachelor's Degree Grads  


1) Petroleum Engineer, $122,242


2) Airline Pilot, Copilot and Flight Engineer, $105,518


3) Aerospace Engineer, $102,409


4) Nuclear Engineer, $99,715


5) Computer Hardware Engineer, $98,134


6) Software Developer, Systems Software, $96,034


7) Chemical Engineer, $92, 934


8) Electronics Engineer (excluding computer), $91,478


9) Actuary, $91,062


10) Atmospheric and Space Scientist, $89,794