You don’t have to study math, science or engineering to land a high-paying job. In fact, attending all four years of traditional college isn’t required for you to get on a path to a successful career.
Read more: 5 ways to save money on your college degree
According to PayScale’s new College Salary Report, there are several associate degrees — requiring just two or three years of school at a community or junior college — that can prepare you for a high-paying job. Plus, you won’t get buried in (as much) student loan debt.
Cheapest degrees with high-paying jobs
If you’re considering going back to school, or where to start your higher education, choosing the right major can have a big impact on your future — and your future income. According to PayScale, people with associate degrees in management information systems, construction management or economics earn a median mid-career salary of more than $71,000.
A few other majors at the top of PayScale’s list of associate degrees with the highest-paid graduates are dental hygiene, fashion design, engineering and computer programming. Graduates with these degrees earn salaries of more than $68,000 with 10 years of experience.
If you want to make good money early in your career with an associate degree, PayScale’s data found that dental hygiene majors earn the highest early career salaries ($61,300), followed by nursing majors ($52,200).
But in general, starting salaries for associate degree graduates are usually lower — around, or less than, $40,000 a year. The higher-paying salary potential comes down the road with more experience. But in some fields, even experience won’t earn you a higher paycheck.
An associate degree in early childhood education has the lowest salary potential, with a median mid-career salary of $23,000. This subject is also the lowest-paying bachelor’s degree major, with a mid-career salary of $38,000.
So if you’re looking for a future in a high-paying field, make sure to consider a major’s potential salary if/when you decide to take on student loan debt in order to get that degree.
How to save on a college degree
When considering the cost of a degree, community colleges tend to be cheaper than traditional four-year schools. According to Sallie Mae, attending a two-year public school, rather than a four-year public school, will save you about $10,000 per year. And that’s just for public colleges. Attending a private four-year school would cost you about $24,000 more per year than a two-year public college.
Clark is a big supporter of cutting college costs by doing your first two years at a community college and then transferring to the four-year school where you want to graduate from. And there’s a new program that takes it a step further. AmericanHonors.org will guarantee your admission to big name schools if you do the required coursework and maintain your grade point average. More details here.
Whether you start at a community college or a four-year college, if you’re after more money when you graduate, here are the top five bachelor’s degrees with the biggest median mid-career salaries:
Petroleum Engineering: $168,000
Nuclear Engineering: $121,000
Actuarial Mathematics: $119,000
Chemical engineering: $118,000
Electronics and computer engineering: $116,000
If you aren’t quite sure what to study, check out PayScale’s list of colleges with the highest-paid graduates.
Read more: Clark’s student loan guide