Associate's and Master's Degrees That Could Pay You Back

Degrees With Payoff Potential

The right associate's or master's degree could pay you back in time and in marketable skills to boost your career.

By Amy Howell Hirt
School is a huge investment of time and money, not to mention the sweat and tears. But what if you could cut your time invested in half, while still setting yourself up to reap financial benefits?
While not all degrees will deliver on both fronts, there are several programs that could take as little as two years and give you a leg up on pursuing a career that pays well. Whether you are ready to change jobs or go after that promotion, these associate's and master's degrees offer valuable skills in a reasonable timeline.
Keep reading to learn about seven programs that could pay off big down the road.

Degree #1: Associate's in Nursing

Looking for a degree that could offer rewards in more ways than one? In as little as two years, an associate's in nursing could prepare you to go after a high-paying career in nursing.
As for what you'll study in a nursing program, the College Board, a non-profit organization that promotes higher education, says you might take courses like pathophysiology, anatomy and physiology, and pharmacology. You'll also learn how to examine patients and how to design a plan of care.
Payback Potential*: Beth Jorgensen, a career counselor with Talent Curve, a career and education guidance company, also sees value in this degree. Although she says some employers prefer four-year degrees, an associate's degree in nursing could help you land a high-wage nursing job because the field has more open positions than qualified applicants. And here's what it comes down to: "You have a better chance of getting a decent-paying job without experience," she says.
And according to the U.S. Department of Labor, in addition to a license, an associate's degree in nursing is one path to pursuing a career as a registered nurse.
But how big is the payback potential for this career? Well, according to the Department of Labor, registered nurses report a median annual salary of $65,470. The bottom 10 percent earn $45,040, and the top 10 percent earn $94,720.

Degree #2: Master's in Education Leadership

Already working in education and looking to move up - in salary and responsibility? A master's degree in education administration could help you reach that payoff - in as few as two years.
Educational administration majors learn how to serve as school principals and may take courses that focus on how to supervise teachers, according to the College Board. And that knowledge could provide an advantage if you're pursuing a high-paying management role like an elementary school principal.
Payback Potential: This degree is valuable to an employer because it signifies that you are prepared to handle the administrative duties of the role, Jorgensen says. What kind of role, exactly? Well, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, a master's degree in education administration or leadership is required of most elementary school principals.
The degree could also prepare you to handle a bigger paycheck. Education administrators see a median annual salary of $87,760, according to the Department of Labor. The top 10 percent earn $130,810, and the bottom 10 percent makes $58,530.

Degree #3: Master's in Counseling

If you love helping people work out their problems and have already received a bachelor's degree in psychology, this graduate degree could provide a stepping stone toward a higher-paying career.
In a counseling psychology program, your courses might cover topics such as child, marital, and family therapy, according to the College Board. You could also expect to learn how to provide counseling individually or in groups.
Payback Potential: As for employers, this degree is attractive for the occupation-specific training it offers, Jorgensen says. What kind of occupations? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a master's degree in counseling or marriage and family therapy is required to practice as - you guessed it - a marriage and family therapist. A state license is also needed.
And what does the ultimate payoff look like? Marriage and family therapists take home a median annual salary of $46,670, according to the Department of Labor. The top 10 percent make $75,120, while the bottom 10 percent make $25,540.

Degree #4: Associate's in Dental Hygiene

If you're a detail-oriented people-person, this degree could help you pursue a high-paying gig where you can put those traits to work - on teeth. The best part? You could pick up this degree in as few as two years.
In an associate's program in dental hygiene, you could learn how to care for teeth and gums and how to treat tooth decay and oral disease, according to the College Board.
Payback Potential: Employers value the knowledge that the degree provides, but also the hands-on experience that most programs include, Jorgensen says. And armed with that knowledge and experience, you could be ready to pursue a career as a dental hygienist. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, dental hygienists typically need an associate's degree in dental hygiene, in addition to being required to have state licensure.
As for monetary payoff, the median annual salary of dental hygienists is $70,210, according to the Department. The top 10 percent make $96,280, while the bottom 10 percent make $46,540.

Degree #5: Associate's in Diagnostic Medical Sonography

Would you like to find a way to help people, and maybe help out your checkbook at the same time? An associate's degree in diagnostic medical sonography could point you in the right direction - all in as few as two years.
Common courses include medical terminology, abdominal and obstetrical sonography, and ultrasound physics, according to the College Board.
Payback Potential: Because this is a technical, machinery-focused occupation, employers value the degree's job-specific training, Jorgensen says. And according to the U.S. Department of Labor, formal education, such as an associate's degree or postsecondary certificate, is needed to pursue this career. Most employers prefer those with professional certification as well.
But the formal education could be worth it. Diagnostic medical sonographers report a median annual salary of $65,860, according to the Department of Labor. The top 10 percent make $91,070, while the bottom 10 percent make $44,990.

Degree #6: Associate's in Health Information Technology

Looking for a new career with payoff potential and a bright future? An associate's degree in health information technology could get you on your way by prepping you to pursue a good-paying field that's in its infancy.
In this program, you might take courses like introduction to coding, health care statistics, medical terminology, and computers in health care, according to the College Board.
Payback Potential: This degree is valuable to hospitals and other health care facilities simply because the field is so new, Jorgensen says. Which means the degree can make up for the lack of experience that's common among applicants, she adds.
More specifically, this degree might prepare you to pursue a career in the field as a medical records and health information technician. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, these professionals are usually required to have certification, although an associate's degree may also be acceptable.
The payback potential looks strong, too. Health information technicians see a median annual salary of $34,160, according to the Department of Labor. The top 10 percent make $56,200, while the bottom 10 percent make $22,250.

Degree #7: Master's in Business Administration (MBA)

If you have your sights set on a lucrative career in business, spending a couple years pursuing a master's in business administration could make sense. And you may only need as few as two years to do it.
An MBA aims to provide a broad overview of the main areas of business and offers courses in management, finance, and decision sciences, according to the Princeton Review, an organization that provides testing resources for students applying to college and graduate school.
Payback Potential: Employers value an MBA because it provides knowledge of the broader business world, Jorgensen says. And with broader knowledge, comes broader opportunities. Financial analyst is just one of the positions that employers might expect an MBA to fill. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, financial analysts typically have a bachelor's degree, but employers often require an MBA or master's in finance.
And as for pay, financial analysts see a median annual salary of $76,950, according to the Department of Labor. The top 10 percent make $148,430, while the bottom 10 percent makes $47,130.

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