Conventional wisdom insists that income “success” comes by getting a four-year college degree and using your education to qualify for a job that pays well.
But what if you didn’t need a bachelor’s college degree to start making money right now?
In fact, what if you could earn a little faster by getting a two-year associate’s degree in a skilled area and jumping into the workforce?
It’s possible to get a jump on earnings by getting an education at a technical college. Or, by focusing on an associate’s degree. Here’s what to consider if you’re not sure a “traditional” four-year college degree is right for you.
Looking to get a salary ASAP?
Attending a four-year college degree program? Well, you automatically push back when you can start earning your salary.
Sure, you might hold a job while attending college. But it’s probably not going to pay well since you’ll most likely be working part-time.
However, when you get an associate’s degree, you get out there earlier, making money faster. Not only that, but you might also make more money than someone with a four-year degree.
Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce released a report a few years ago indicating that 28 percent of associate’s degree earners make more than the average salary reported by grads with bachelor’s degrees.
More recently, CollegeMeasures.org and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission used data to look for trends in earnings by education level.
In Tennessee, there are some fields where those with associate’s degrees out-earn those with bachelor’s degrees.
And according to the graph below from CollegeMeasures.org and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, the average first-year wages for Tennesseans with an associate’s degree is slightly higher than someone with a bachelor’s degree.
So if you want to start making money quickly, a two-year degree might be a smarter course than a four-year college degree. Plus, you can avoid the same level of debt that comes with a bachelor’s degree.
Pay attention: your chosen field matters
Of course, not every associate’s degree is created equal. For instance, if you’re getting an associate’s degree in a liberal arts field, you probably aren’t going to have the same level of success.
While the CollegeMeasures.org study found that some two-year degrees led to earnings of $50,000 to $60,000 in five years, liberal arts associate’s degree earners only made about $35,000 a year.
The key seems to be focusing on jobs that take advantage of “middle skills.” With these jobs, it’s possible to achieve a middle-class income without the need for a four-year degree.
These are jobs that require a degree of skill and training, but that don’t require a lot of deep expertise. Jobs like lab technician, paralegal, computer engineer, machinist, and radiation therapist are good examples.
Some associate’s degree jobs offer even higher salaries. PayScale has a list of the highest-earning jobs that don’t require a four-year college degree.
The top-earning jobs that require an associate’s degree include:
- Computer engineering
- Management information systems
- Construction management
- Electrical engineering
- Electronics and communications engineering
- Dental hygiene
- Computer programming
- Occupational health and safety
- Electrical and electronics engineering
- Mechanical engineering technology
- Mechanical engineering
- Computer science
- Civil engineering
As with many jobs today, STEM fields are prominent if you want higher pay. PayScale reports that someone with a two-year computer engineering degree might be able to earn as much as $77,300 mid-career.
That’s not bad at all when you look at what the College Board says tuition costs in the following chart.
When choosing your field of study or college major, no matter how long you go to school, always consider the return on your investment.
Could you be in greater demand?
You might be surprised to discover that you could be in greater demand with an associate’s degree or technical degree — if you choose the right field.
For the last couple of years, surveys by the National Association for Business Economics’ have pointed to a shortage of skilled labor.
The latest survey, released in early 2016, shows that the shortage is less severe than in years past. Even so, about 30 percent of the firms surveyed indicated that they are experiencing a skilled labor shortage.
What about lifetime earnings?
Before you get too excited about attending community college or technical school, it’s important to understand that lifetime earnings are another story.
While you can start earning money faster with an associate’s degree, you could miss out on earning more money over time.
For instance, that same Georgetown study mentioned earlier found that while those with two-year degrees got an early jump on their bachelor’s degree earning counterparts, by mid-career, those with four-year degrees had caught up in earning power.
Over time, someone with a more traditional college degree might have higher earning power, according to the Georgetown study.
Using a two-year degree to get a head start on earnings can be a smart play, though. For example, you could continue your education while you work.
And, some companies will even help you by reimbursing you for the cost of reaching that next degree level.
Final words on college degree choice
Don’t get hung up on the idea of a “traditional” college degree if that’s not your interest.
With the right approach, a two-year degree can be a good choice. You can start earning earlier, spend less on your education, and learn a skill that’s in demand.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2018!
|1 Important Disclosures for CollegeAve.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
2 Important Disclosures for Discover.
3 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB) or Turnstile Capital Management, LLC (TCM), which are not affiliated entities. Certain restrictions and limitations may apply. Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. All loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions. Other terms and conditions apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of TCM and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.
* Application times vary depending on the applicants ability to supply the necessary information for submission.
* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.
4 = Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
5 Important Disclosures for PNC.
PNC Bank is one of the nation’s largest education loan providers. For over 40 years, PNC has been committed to helping students and their families make possible the adventure of college.
6 Important Disclosures for SunTrust.
Before applying for a private student loan, SunTrust recommends comparing all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships, and both federal and private student loans. To view and compare the available features of SunTrust private student loans, visit https://www.suntrust.com/loans/student-loans/private.
Certain restrictions and limitations may apply. SunTrust Bank reserves the right to change or discontinue this loan program without notice. Availability of all loan programs is subject to approval under the SunTrust credit policy and other criteria and may not be available in certain jurisdictions.
SunTrust Bank, Member FDIC. ©2018 SunTrust Banks, Inc. SUNTRUST, the SunTrust logo and Custom Choice Loan are trademarks of SunTrust Banks, Inc. All rights reserved.
7 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Additional terms and conditions apply. For more details see LendKey
8 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
A government loan is made according to rules set by the U.S. Department of Education. Government loans have fixed interest rates, meaning that the interest rate on a government loan will never go up or down.
Government loans also permit borrowers in financial trouble to use certain options, such as income-based repayment, which may help some borrowers. Depending on the type of loan that you have, the government may discharge your loan if you die or become permanently disabled.
Depending on what type of government loan that you have, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness in exchange for performing certain types of public service. If you are an active-duty service member and you obtained your government loan before you were called to active duty, you are entitled to interest rate and repayment benefits for your loan.
A private student loan is not a government loan and is not regulated by the Department of Education. A private student loan is instead regulated like other consumer loans under both state and federal law and by the terms of the promissory note with your lender.
If your private student loan has a fixed interest rate, then that rate will never go up or down. If your private student loan has a variable interest rate, then that rate will vary depending on an index rate disclosed in your application. If the interest rate on the new private student loan is less than the interest rate on your government loans, your payments will be less if you refinance.
If you don’t pay a private student loan as agreed, the lender can refer your loan to a collection agency or sue you for the unpaid amount.
Remember also that like government loans, most private loans cannot be discharged if you file bankruptcy unless you can demonstrate that repayment of the loan would cause you an undue hardship. In most bankruptcy courts, proving undue hardship is very difficult for most borrowers.
9 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|3.69% – 10.94%1||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents||Visit CollegeAve|
|3.82% – 12.82%3||Undergraduate and Graduate||Visit Ascent|
|4.34% – 12.99%2||Undergraduate and Graduate||Visit Discover|
|4.12% – 10.98%*,4||Undergraduate and Graduate||Visit SallieMae|
|5.03% – 11.23%5||Undergraduate and Graduate||Visit PNC|
|3.88% – 12.88%6||Undergraduate and Graduate||Visit SunTrust|
|4.72% – 9.81%7||Undergraduate and Graduate||Visit LendKey|
|3.72% – 9.68%8||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents||Visit CommonBond|
|4.04% – 12.01%9||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents||Visit Citizens|