10 Most Useless Associate Degrees if You Want a High-Paying Job

Avoid these dead-end degrees if you're chasing a lucrative career.

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Updated May 28, 2024
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If you're looking for ways to jump-start your career and get ahead financially, you might think an associate degree is the path to advancement.

However, many associate degrees are unlikely to lead to higher pay. Some might even be described as “useless.”

Check out this list of associate degrees that probably won’t lead to riches or even a significantly higher salary.

Editor's note: All salary figures come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

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Christian ministry

Seventyfour/Adobe pastor reading Bible for believers

A degree in Christian ministry might seem like the ticket to a fulfilling career, especially if your faith is important to you.

But before pursuing an associate degree in this field, check with your local church to see if the degree is really necessary.

And if you do decide to become a Christian minister, don’t expect to boost your bank account significantly. The median annual salary for clergy is $55,500.

Paralegal

Natee Meepian/Adobe gavel with Justice lawyer

Paralegals help lawyers. An associate degree might be fine, but it’s important to do some research and check with local law firms. Some firms might require a bachelor’s degree, possibly paired with a paralegal certification.

These professionals earn a median annual wage of $59,200.

General studies

VadimGuzhva/Adobe students during the class

Taking classes in general studies is a good starting point if you’re unsure what kind of career you want to pursue.

However, an actual associate degree in general studies is unlikely to get you far in a career or to help you chart a lucrative path forward.

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Tourism

Roman/Adobe travel agent giving tickets

You probably don’t need an associate degree in tourism to work as a travel agent. Travel agent positions may only require a high school diploma and on-the-job training.

So, consider talking to a travel agency or investigating how to get a position before paying for an associate degree. Travel agents earn a median income of $46,400.

Fire science

Sergey/Adobe happy fireman with gas mask

An associate degree in fire science can teach you about fire safety and how to fight fires. But you can also learn these things via training through a fire academy if you pursue a career as a firefighter.

Working as a firefighter is a calling, and many find it richly rewarding. It pays a median annual salary of $51,680.

Business law

KOTO/Adobe female lawyer pleading case to jury

Being a lawyer can be lucrative, but you need extensive schooling to get to that point. Lawyers are usually expected to earn a law degree and pass the bar exam before they can begin to practice.

By contrast, an associate degree in business law is unlikely to get you nearly as far as an actual law degree. If you get the latter degree, you can earn a median salary as a lawyer of $135,740.

Human services

pikselstock/Adobe woman helping grandmother with bills

Perhaps you want to be a social worker who helps children, families, or seniors. If so, an associate degree in human services might not be your best bet.

To become a social worker, you typically need a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree. A social worker makes a median annual wage of $55,350.

Art

Drobot Dean/Adobe ceramic and pottery products

Artists are creative but probably don’t need an associate degree to ply their trade. Instead, artists can learn techniques through individual classes or simple practice without spending money on a degree.

Craft artists and fine artists make a median annual wage of $53,140.

Massage therapy

Pixel-Shot/Adobe woman receiving massage in spa

Massage therapists help clients by applying pressure to soft tissue and joints to relieve stress.

You probably need some postsecondary education. However, before you pursue an associate degree, check your state’s regulations regarding licensing and certification.

Either way, don’t expect riches. A massage therapist earns a median annual income of $49,860.

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Private security

Andrey Popov/Adobe security guard stands in position.

Private security guards protect people or property. You probably don’t need an associate degree for this job, as it usually requires just a high school diploma and on-the-job training.

A security guard also makes a low median salary of $34,770. That salary is modest enough that you might have to make cash on the side just to make ends meet.

Bottom line

fizkes/Adobe pensive millennial Indian female student

An associate degree can be helpful for some careers and might even lead to a salary that helps you build up your savings. But in many cases, an associate degree is not worth the time and cost.

So, think twice before pursuing the associate degrees on this list.

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Author Details

Jenny Cohen

Jenny Cohen is a freelance writer who has covered a bit of everything, from finance to sports to her favorite TV shows. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and FoxSports.com.