Making Bank: 7 Best Paying Jobs for Community College Grads!
February 1, 2013

College tuition is constantly on the rise as is student loan debt. The longer you are in college, the more expensive your education. But there are a number of great paying jobs that don’t require an expensive four year degree. If you’re not sure what you want to be when you grow up, a great paying job you can get after two years at a very affordable community college may be a great plan for your future while you get sorted. You may assume that obtaining a four year degree is a requirement – but it’s not. Our country has a great need for skilled workers that require trade school training or just an associate’s degree.

Are you one of those people that seem to change their major every other semester because nothing quite fits? Do you feel aimless when others around you seem to be completely certain of their futures and are pursuing their passion? It seems unreasonable to expect a 17 or 18 year old high school graduate to know what they want to do with the next 40 or 50 years of their lives. Your maturity level and life experience at this age are so limited that making a life choice at this tender age seems ill-timed. Faulty immature decisions explain career changes, mid-life crises and a disconnect between the degree you’ve obtained and what you ultimately want to do.

While you’re figuring out your destiny and gaining life experience, it may make sense to opt for an affordable community college education that can lead to a good paying job. Here are the seven best paying jobs for community college graduates:

#7 Registered Nurse

Training to be a doctor takes eight years of school and we all know it’s nurses that really run everything. If you are a nurturer by nature and aren’t put off by the sight of blood and other bodily fluids, you may be a prime candidate for a career as a registered nurse. Nurses earn a median salary of $65,000, are greatly in demand and are in a growth field. After you get an associate’s degree, you can get a high earning job anywhere in the country in a doctor’s office, hospital, school, prison or in the armed forces. By working as a registered nurse, you can help yourself to a life-long career without a lifetime of schooling and the associated expense.

#6 Nuclear Technician

For those who think science is cool, but four or more years in college are not, a career as a nuclear technician can earn you $68,000 or more. You’ll work in a nuclear power plant alongside physicists and engineers using cool equipment to make sure radiation levels don’t get out of control. With fossil fuels on the way out, nuclear technician jobs are growing at a good clip and you’ll need an associate’s degree and then a brief stint of on-the-job training to get started.

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#5 Dental Hygienist

If you grew up a biter or were fascinated with the tooth fairy, a well paying job as a dental hygienist could have you cleaning up with a median salary of $68,000. Dental hygienists x-ray, inspect and clean teeth, apply fluoride treatments and instruct patients on how to take care of their teeth and gums. Working in a dentist office allows you to work reasonable hours in a nice environment for great pay after two short years of schooling. If you like people and hate plaque, this could be the gig for you!

#4 Nuclear Medicine Technologist 

With a median salary of nearly $69,000, nuclear medicine technologists are doing important work that helps diagnose cancer and other serious illnesses. You can start with an associate’s degree and no experience in a high growth job. The technologist administers radioactive medication to patients before they have tests such as PET-scans. Nuclear medicine professionals work in hospitals, doctors offices and imaging centers, so if you like the idea of hanging out in stylish scrubs and comfortable shoes, this may be ideal career for you.

#3 Radiation Therapist

Radiation therapists earn a median salary of $75,000 and the job entails treating patients with cancer and other diseases with radiation therapy. This is a fast growing career that requires no experience and an associate’s degree. This career will see you working in a hospital or cancer care center and involved in a life-saving and rewarding career. Interestingly, this is a field many people make a career change to pursue.

#2 Construction Manager

With a median pay of around $84,000, construction management could be a great career for someone who was a Lego junkie as a kid (or an adult). This job requires a two year degree, so community college is perfect! Construction managers plan, budget and supervise all types of construction projects from planning through completion. If you like being outdoors and don’t mind wearing a hardhat, this could be for you!

#1 Air Traffic Controller

Air traffic controllers need an associate’s degree in air traffic management or a similar program and earn a median salary of $108,000. There are 36 colleges and community colleges around the country that offer the training required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for this job. If you always liked model or paper airplanes, perhaps a high paying career in aviation is for you – and your feet need never leave the ground!

Finance website NerdWallet researched high paying and fast growing jobs that require only an associate’s degree and ranked the best bets. Joseph Audette, VP of Financial Literacy at NerdWallet says, “The common, accepted advice is to go to school for four years or longer, but there are great opportunities to go for less time and still get a high return on your investment. It’s not just about going to college. It’s about going with a plan for success. Why go through additional years of school and have more debt when the job isn’t going to be paying as much?”

If you’re considering a career change, toying with switching majors or just feeling rudderless about your future, an associate’s degree that can get you to work sooner with less out of pocket expense may be the answer. If you need financing, student loans are available for two year degrees and if you plan well and borrow the minimum you need to complete your education, you can be better off financially than those with a bachelor’s. Consider consulting a student loan expert who can help you manage your debt and you’ll make even more of your new career and life!