Associate’s Degree in Radiologic Technology

    The associate degree in radiologic technology (RT), usually offered as either an Associate of Science (AS) or an Associate of Applied Science (AAS), is the entry-level degree to begin a career in the field of radiography. Just over 500 not-for-profit colleges and universities in the US offer an associate degree program in radiologic technology.1 This degree is sometimes referred to as an associate degree in radiology or an associate’s degree in radiography, though strictly speaking, only “radiography” is an accurate synonym for radiologic technology, and radiology is limited to practice at the doctoral level. A radiologic technology associate degree can provide graduates with the qualifications for many of the available radiologic modalities and specializations. As with a bachelor’s in radiologic technology, majors (also known as concentrations, emphases, or specialties) for an associate degree in radiologic technology include radiography, radiation therapy, sonography (ultrasound), nuclear medicine technology, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

    A radiology associate’s degree typically takes two years of full-time study to complete, though due to clinical placement requirements, two-and-a-half or three years of study in an RT program is not unusual. Students should expect to take most classes on campus, although hybrid or partially online options may be available.

    Table of Contents

    Reasons to Pursue an Associate’s in Radiologic Technology

    An associate’s degree in radiologic technology is the entry-level degree required for employment in most modalities, including radiography, sonography (ultrasound), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). There are three main reasons to earn an associate’s in radiologic technology:

    1. To get a job. O*NET OnLine reports that 63% of current RTs recommend that those entering the field hold at least an associate’s degree, which indicates that earning an associate degree is a necessary step to get a job in this field.2 A recent wage and salary survey undertaken by the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) supports these recommendations, reporting that 50% of current RTs hold an associate degree as their highest level of education.3 Many employers (47%) provide tuition reimbursement to RTs, which can help you move from a certificate to an associate’s or from an associate’s to a bachelor’s, among other options such as earning a certificate in another modality.3

    2. To prepare for further study. An associate degree in radiologic technology also lays the groundwork for further study. Many schools offer bachelor’s degree programs structured as transfer programs for those who already have an associate’s in the RT field. Such programs often offer online study options for working professionals and can pave the way for career advancement.

    3. To get licensed. Another reason to pursue an associate’s in radiologic technology is to become licensed, either at the state level or through voluntary professional certification. Licensure and certification guidelines vary by modality and by state. Be sure to check with the department of health and/or radiation safety for the state in which you wish to practice for current guidelines.

    Many states use the educational qualifications and exams established by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) either in whole or in part. Other states use their own certification procedures and exams, and some states may use the ARRT process and also require prospective RTs to obtain additional state licensing before working in the field. The ARRT also offers voluntary professional certification to RTs who have completed acceptable education in one or more modalities. An acceptable education is commonly a degree from an institution accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT), the Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology (JRCNMT), and/or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). We provide an overview of major accreditors in radiologic technology that can help you understand these requirements.

    Associate’s in Radiologic Technology Majors and Areas of Study

    Depending on state guidelines, an associate’s degree can qualify the graduate for initial radiologic technologist certification in any of the five major areas of practice (also known as modalities). The area of initial certification is often referred to as the primary pathway, which is the term adopted by the ARRT. Secondary pathways–additional areas of licensure or specialization–are based on the candidate’s primary pathway. It is therefore important to consider your career goals and desired practice area as you plan your education. The primary pathways for associate degree programs are:

    • Radiography (often treated as a synonym for radiologic technology)
    • Radiation therapy
    • Sonography (ultrasound)
    • Nuclear medicine technology
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

    Associate’s in Radiologic Technology Program Options

    Full-time, on-campus programs are the most common structure for associate’s degrees in radiologic technology. This is mainly due to the hands-on nature of learning in this area. Some colleges may allow students to take the first year of general education courses on a part-time basis, but students should expect to transition to full-time, on-campus study as they begin radiologic technology courses and clinical placements.

    Students who already hold an associate’s degree in a non-RT subject or a certificate in one or more modalities may qualify for advanced placement or waivers for certain coursework. Be sure to talk to program advisor(s) to see if these options apply to you.

    Online Degree Program Formats

    Students pursuing a radiology tech associate’s degree for the first time will complete the majority of the degree on campus. However, there may be options to take general education courses online. Some degree programs may also offer hybrid courses, in which part of the coursework requires on-campus attendance while the remainder is completed online.

    Be sure to check with the appropriate state board of health or radiation safety for education requirements before choosing a radiologic technology program. This will help ensure that you qualify for the type of radiologic technologist certification and/or licensure you intend to pursue. Checking program status with program accreditors and a program’s alignment with ARRT standards is also a good idea.

    Admission Requirements

    Admission to an associate degree program will require a high school diploma or GED. Other application requirements, including high school GPA, can vary widely between schools. Applicants typically apply to the college or university of their choice by submitting transcripts and other supporting documents. Many programs require prospective radiography applicants to complete prerequisite coursework in science, math, and English to ensure they are prepared for the rigorous nature of the program. After taking the required prerequisites, students may formally apply to the radiologic technology degree program.

    Core Concepts and Coursework

    In addition to prerequisites, students should expect to take theoretical and foundational courses on radiographic procedures, safety, and anatomy along with practical, hands-on clinical courses where students can apply their learning. Foundational coursework generally must be completed before students progress to clinical learning. Courses that may be part of your radiologic technology associate degree program include:

    • Biochemistry
    • Diagnostic Concepts
    • Foundational Radiographic Procedures
    • Introductory Anatomy
    • Introductory Biology
    • Pathophysiology
    • Patient Care & Management
    • Radiographic Anatomy & Positioning
    • Radiographic Protection
    • Specialized Clinical Imaging

    Top-Rated Associate’s in Radiologic Technology Programs

    Niche Best Colleges in America: Two-Year RT Degrees 2020

    • San Jacinto College (#13)
    • Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (#14)
    • Hutchinson Community College (#17)
    • Ridgewater College (#18)
    • Western Technical College (Wisconsin) (#19)
    • Harper College (#24)
    • Minnesota State Community and Technical College (#29)
    • State Technical College of Missouri (#30)
    • College of Eastern Idaho (#31)
    • Mitchell Technical Institute (#37)4

    Select Associate’s in Radiologic Technology Degree Programs

    Traditional Programs

    City College of San Francisco

    At the City College of San Francisco (CCSF), students can complete a full-time Associate of Science (AS) in Diagnostic Medical Imaging. The program is specifically designed to prepare graduates for the ARRT exam. Prospective applicants must first complete the prerequisite courses, including but not limited to Chemistry, Human Anatomy, Human Physiology, and Intermediate Algebra, with a grade of C or higher before submitting an application during the August 1-10 application period for either a fall or spring start date. Only 15 students are admitted each year and are chosen by a random draw from all qualified applicants. Once admitted, the program consists of 66 credits taken over 30 months. The curriculum covers a broad range of radiography topics, such as pathology, patient care, and advanced imaging, and includes several clinical placements throughout the program. Example courses include Skull Radiology; Multiplanar Imaging; Intermediate Imaging Procedures; and Pathology.

    Kapi’olani Community College at the University of Hawai’i

    The Associate of Science (AS) in Radiologic Technology at Kapi’olani Community College consists of 85 to 89 credits organized in a set sequence that must be taken on a full-time basis. Students begin courses in the fall and the program takes two years to complete, including mandatory coursework during the summer, after prerequisite general education courses are completed. As spaces are limited in the program, the admissions process is competitive and is based on several factors including grades in prerequisite and other courses, results on the required Admissions Assessment test, and attendance at a mandatory information session. Students must also complete a physician’s assessment prior to beginning coursework. Admitted students take courses in human anatomy and physiology, radiographic techniques, and radiologic physics and complete 2,000 clock hours of clinical placements at clinics and hospital sites across the island.

    Missouri Southern State University

    At Missouri Southern State University, students can earn an Associate of Science (AS) in Radiologic Technology that is designed to be completed in 24 months. Admitted students begin classwork in the summer semester. Of the 82 credit hours required to earn the degree, 57 credit hours are centered on the study of radiologic technology and patient care. Required courses include Radiation Biology; Principles of Radiographic Exposure; Radiographic Positioning; and Clinical Training. The program provides training in the areas of RT, computerized tomography, cardiac catheterization, and mammography, among others. Admission is competitive and is based in part on interviews with currently admitted students. In addition to training aligned with the basic ARRT guidelines for prospective RTs, students will be provided with training in trauma and surgical protocols.

    Hybrid and Online Programs

    Ball State University

    Ball State University offers an Associate of Science (AS) in Radiography with a hybrid format; some classes can be taken online in combination with traditional on-campus courses at the Muncie campus. All clinical placements must be completed in person at Indiana University (IU) Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. In total, the program takes 26 months to complete including a coursework phase and a clinical placement phase that requires a separate application; application to both phases is competitive, and not all students will be accepted to the clinical phase. Acceptance into the clinical placement phase is based on a combination of overall and prerequisite course GPAs. The program curriculum includes course topics such as physiology, anatomy, and clinical techniques. In total, 60 credit hours of coursework is required to earn the degree.

    Cleveland University-Kansas City

    Cleveland University-Kansas City (CUKC) offers a hybrid Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Radiologic Technology. Certain prerequisites may be completed online, while lab work and clinical placements are completed in person. Most on-campus courses are held in the evenings in a convenient eight-week format that allows students to concentrate their studies. The campus is equipped with radiologic equipment rooms and demonstration suites that provide hands-on experience with up-to-date equipment and technologies. Admission is competitive and is based on transcripts, entrance assessments, an in-person interview, and other factors. Transfer students are considered, though students who otherwise meet requirements and complete the coursework prerequisites at CUKC receive guaranteed admission. Admitted students will take courses such as Imaging Concepts; Radiographic Pathology and Trauma; Contrast Procedures; and Radiation Protection and Modalities.

    Southeast Community College

    For applicants looking for a program with more online content, the Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Radiologic Technology at Southeast Community College (SCC) may be a good option. This program offers online coursework while allowing students to complete clinical and lab requirements on-campus and at medical facilities in their local area. The program begins each year in the fall term. Students take courses in diagnostic imaging, radiation biology, and pathophysiology as well as several clinical placements. Clinical placement locations must be pre-approved. SCC has an open admission policy and admits students who have at least a C+ average in the prerequisite courses. Note that this program is not available to students living in California and may not meet licensure or certification requirements in all states.

    Employment Opportunities for an Associate’s in Radiologic Technology

    *A bachelor’s degree may be required for this career by some state licensing boards and employers.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Can I earn an associate in radiologic technology online?

    While some programs offer online courses, due to the clinical requirements of associate-level programs in RT, there are few to no 100% online associate’s degree in radiology programs. Completing clinical hours under the supervision of a registered radiologist or RT ensures students have mastered the skills necessary to work safely and independently and, therefore, is an important part of the training process. There are, however, many RT programs that offer accredited online radiology tech programs in a hybrid format, with clinical hours and lab coursework on campus and other coursework online. There are also many bachelor’s degree programs that can be completed fully online for those who have already obtained their initial credentials.

    What is the difference between an associate’s in radiology and an associate’s in radiologic technology?

    While many who are new to the field begin their research looking for an associate degree in radiology, properly speaking, radiology is only a major area of study at the graduate level and is usually pursued by those seeking a Doctor of Medicine (MD) to qualify as radiologists. At the undergraduate level, the majors available are in radiologic technology, which is within the field of radiology but comprises different roles and responsibilities. Importantly, radiologic technologists must always be supervised by doctors or otherwise qualified medical staff. However, because radiology is commonly used to mean radiologic technology, we address the term here.

    How do I become a registered RT after completing an associate degree in radiologic technology?

    In addition to seeking state licensure or certification–where the requirements and process will vary by state–many new graduates seek certification as registered RTs through the ARRT. This shows potential employers that you have a good knowledge base and clinical experience. It can also be useful if you plan to look for work in states that require ARRT credentialing as part of their licensure process. Each state’s requirements vary, so be sure to check with your state’s RT licensing department for more details.

    What type of salary can I earn as a radiologic technologist?

    In 2019, the median salary for a radiologic technologist was $62,280, and the recommended education to enter this field is an associate’s degree.2,4 RTs working in specialty hospital settings earned the highest median salary ($70,140); RTs working in outpatient care centers earned a median salary of $69,140; and RTs working in doctor’s offices earned the lowest median salary ($58,160).2 RTs specializing in the field of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) earned a higher median salary, at $73,410 in 2019.2

    What is the job outlook for RTs?

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for radiologic and MRI technologists are expected to increase by 9% through 2028, representing 23,300 jobs added to the workforce.5 MRI technologists are expected to see the greatest increase as a distinct specialty, at 11% during this time period, compared to 9% for radiologic technologists alone–though this is still much faster than the average for all occupations, projected at 5%.5

    What skills will I learn during a clinical placement?

    During clinical placements, students may be exposed to a variety of client groups, such as children, athletes, and/or the elderly, while learning how to safely and accurately conduct radiographic procedures on different parts of the body. Learning how to work professionally as part of a healthcare team is also an important aspect of the clinical experience. After completing a clinical placement, students should feel more comfortable and confident in entering their first radiologic technology job in a hospital or healthcare setting.

    Can I specialize in one specific type of radiographic procedure at the associate degree level?

    Associate degrees in radiographic technology provide knowledge for general radiologic imaging practice in a primary modality such as radiography or ultrasound, as there simply is not enough time in a two-to-three-year program to learn both foundational skills and multiple specialized modalities. Students interested in specializing in less-common RT modalities may wish to pursue a bachelor’s degree or certificate program after completing the associate’s degree and/or after gaining work experience.

    How long does it take to complete an associate’s in radiography?

    Completing an associate’s degree in radiography or radiologic technology generally takes a minimum of two years of full-time study, although it can take three years or more, depending on the clinical components and other program requirements. Part-time study is less common at the associate degree level, and will further extend the length of time needed to complete the program.

    What jobs can I qualify for with an associate’s degree in radiology?

    With an associate’s degree in radiology (which will likely formally be conferred as an associate degree in radiologic technology or an associate’s degree in radiography), you can qualify for most entry-level jobs in medical imaging. The jobs you qualify for will depend on the major (or concentration, specialty, or emphasis) of your degree program, with common options including computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), nuclear medicine therapy (NMT), sonography/ultrasound, radiography/radiologic technology, and x-ray technology. Some degrees offer more than one specialty, meaning that you can become qualified in multiple modalities.

    Can I become a sonographer or ultrasound tech with an associate’s degree in radiology?

    Yes, formally, sonography and ultrasound technology are included in the field of radiology. If you choose to study towards becoming an ultrasound tech, your degree will likely be an associate’s degree in sonography, such as an Associate of Science (AS) in Sonography. This is because while sonography is included in the radiology field, the ARRT and other certifying bodies recognize sonography as its own primary pathway–meaning that you typically must have at least an associate’s degree in sonography specifically in order to qualify for this role. There are select online ultrasound tech programs that can help you prepare for this career, though these programs tend to take a hybrid format with at least some on-campus attendance required.

    1. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
    2. O*Net OnLine, Radiologic Technologists: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-2034.00
    3. American Society of Radiologic Technologists, Radiologic Technologist Wage and Salary Survey: https://www.asrt.org/docs/default-source/research/radiologic-technologist-wage-and-salary-survey-2016.pdf
    4. Niche 2020 Best Colleges with Two-Year Radiologic Technician Degrees: https://www.niche.com/colleges/search/all-colleges/?major=radiologic-technician&type=communityCollege&type=tradeSchool&type=other
    5. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Radiologic and MRI Technologists: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiologic-technologists.htm