So you want to earn an associate degree? To make your time spent in school worth your time, you probably want to know which programs will lead you into the best career. The good news is, associate degrees can lead you into plenty of solid career fields.

To help you sift through the best ones, we’ve consulted Economic Modeling Specialists International’s most recent report, which tracks job growth numbers and pay from 2009 to 2011. We’ve combined this information with numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to come up with our list of the 10 quality careers you can get with an associate degree. The rankings on this list are based on a combination of job growth rate, hourly salary, and level of competition. So without further ado, here is our list of 10 quality careers you can get with an associate degree:

5 Most Promising Careers for Associate Degree-Holders (by growth and salary)

1. Dental Hygienists

Total job growth: 15,407
% job growth: 9%
Avg. hourly salary: $33.15

Are you interested in working a dentist’s office, working closely with dentists and dental assistants, helping patients take good care of their teeth? This career features the best of all worlds, combining a comfortable salary with solid job growth.

To enter this promising career, students must earn an associate’s degree in dental hygiene and then pass state-specific requirements to earn a dental hygienist license. Requirements to earn this license will depend on the state in which you want to work. Whatever requirements you have to fulfill, it could be well worth your while-this career field is expected to grow by 38 percent by 2020.

Interested in learning more? To see a listing of available online Dental Hygienist programs, visit our Dental Hygienist page.

2. Registered Nurses

Total job growth: 193,932
% job growth: 8%
Avg. hourly salary: $31.15

There’s no denying the huge job growth in the field of nursing. This career field is simply bigger than any other field on this list. It should be noted, however, that on top of an associate degree, you must pass a national licensing examination to become an actual registered nurse. Despite the initial challenges, registered nurses enjoy strong job growth, strong pay, and demand that can’t be beat. This makes it one of the strongest careers that an associate’s degree-holder can pursue.

If you’re interested, you can learn more about online nursing degrees at our Nursing page.

3. Physical Therapist Assistants

Total job growth: 8,094
% job growth: 13%
Avg. hourly salary: $23.28

Excellent job growth put this career near the top of our list. While nowhere near the staggering numbers seen with registered nurses and with noticeably lower pay, physical therapy assistant jobs have been growing at such an incredible pace, with somewhat less competition, and sporting a mind-boggling growth rate of 45 percent by 2020, that it made our top three. To enter this career field, you would need to earn an associate degree from an accredited physical therapist program.

Interested in learning more about physical therapist assistant degree programs? Visit our physical therapy degree page.

4. Respiratory Therapists

Total job growth: 9,353
% job growth: 9%
Avg. hourly salary: $25.85

While this isn’t a career field that you hear of often, with an associate degree and by fulfilling your state’s respiratory therapist licensure requirements, you could enter this field, in which you would be helping patients with chronic respiratory diseases, like asthma or emphysema, or even assisting with patients suffering from heart attack or stroke. Respiratory therapists tend to work in hospitals, nursing homes, or in patients’ homes. What put this career higher on our list was the solid job growth rate and the decent salary.

5. Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics

Total job growth: 20,809
% job growth: 10%
Avg. hourly salary: $14.53

A very solid job growth rate (33 percent by 2020) put this career field in our top five. Although EMT’s and paramedics are not technically required to earn an associate degree to start in this career, it isn’t uncommon. At the very least, EMT’s and paramedics must have completed a formal training program and fulfilled their state’s licensure requirements.

To learn more about degree programs in this field, visit our Paramedic degrees page.

6. Radiation Therapists

Total job growth: 1,358
% job growth: 9%
Avg. hourly salary: $35.88

If you are interested in helping treat patients with cancer or other diseases using radiation treatments, you could be enjoying a comfortable salary and equally comfortable job growth. To become a radiation therapist, you must usually complete a formal training program, earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy, and then meet your state’s licensure requirements. So although the total numbers of these jobs are relatively small, you might also expect competition for these jobs to also be smaller.

7. Surgical Technologists

Total job growth: 8,618
% job growth: 10%
Avg. hourly salary: $19.13

Also known as operating room technicians, surgical technologists can expect to see their job opportunities grow noticeably for the foreseeable future. With an associate degree and a certification, students can enter this promising career field.

8. Computer Specialists, All Other

Total job growth: 7,713
% job growth: 4%
Avg. hourly salary: $37.25

Not interested in healthcare? This career field features the highest hourly salary on our list. This fact alone, despite only modest job growth, launched computer specialists to our number eight spot. As far as associate degree career fields go, this is by far the most lucrative.

9. Occupational Therapist Assistants

Total job growth: 2,918
% job growth: 11%
Avg. hourly salary: $24.42

Stellar job growth in this career field (41 percent by 2020) forced us to include it on our list. But aside from awesome growth, this field also beckons to students with a decent salary. In most states, occupational therapy assistants must have at least an associate degree from an accredited occupational therapy program and be licensed according to their state’s particular requirements.

10. Radiologic Technologists and Technicians

Total job growth: 12,842
% job growth: 6%
Avg. hourly salary: $25.87

The job growth is just average but the pay is respectable. Like many of the other career fields on this list, entrance into this career field requires an associate degree and either a license or certificate, whichever is required by your state.

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