There are lots of hot, high-growth jobs out there - and you can prepare to pursue them in as little as two years with an associate's degree.
Do you feel like your professional life is not getting the attention it needs, but you don't want to spend years in school to earn a four-year degree and change paths? Believe it or not, you can prepare to pursue an in-demand - possibly even a high-growth - career in as little as two years.
How? There are plenty of great careers out there that require only an associate's degree. If you're intrigued, read on to learn about five growing careers and the associate's degrees you can earn to pursue each of them.
In-Demand Career #1 - Dental Hygienist
Job Growth Rate from 2010 to 2020*: 38%
The demand for dental hygienists is skyrocketing. And if you want to be a part of it, then you might want to prepare for a career as a dental hygienist by earning your associate's degree in as little as two years.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, some of your daily tasks as a dental hygienist might include removing tartar, stains, and plaque from teeth, applying sealants and fluorides to help protect teeth, and teaching patients how to brush and floss correctly.
Little Schooling, Lots of Potential: The Department of Labor states that research linking oral health and general health will increase demand for preventative dental services - meaning more jobs for dental hygienists.
According to Ron Caruthers, president of Ducerus.com, a college planning company for high school and college students, and author of "What Your Guidance Counselor Isn't Telling You," dental hygiene programs could be completed in as little as two years because classes center on specific skills you'll need for the career, without spending time on extraneous topics you'd study for a bachelor's degree. "This is a specific program, focused on the requirements of the job," he says.
Education Requirements: If you're ready to join the front lines in the fight against gum disease, you'll typically need an associate's degree in dental hygiene to get started, the Department says. You'll also be required to have a license.
In-Demand Career #2 - Computer Programmer
Job Growth Rate from 2010 to 2020: 12%
As businesses increasingly depend on computers for everything from connectivity to creating a web presence, computer programmers are going to have a place at the table. And with the right experience, you could prepare to pursue this career in as little as two years.
Wondering if this is the right field for you? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, as a computer programmer you might write code to create software programs, update and expand existing programs, or debug programs by testing and fixing errors.
Little Schooling, Lots of Potential: "As more and more businesses move toward web and mobile apps, we'll need more computer programmers," says Caruthers. "Employers aren't looking for four-year degrees," Caruthers adds, noting that the technical skills and know-how to get the job done are more important than a specific degree.
"You can prepare for this career with little schooling, because you're skipping all the general education classes and focusing on the classes you'll need for your career," he says.
Education Requirements: According to the Department of Labor, while most computer programmers do have a bachelor's degree, some employers will hire workers with an associate's degree. Most computer programmers earn their degree in computer science or a related subject.
In-Demand Career #3 - Paralegal
Job Growth Rate from 2010 to 2020: 18%
The legal system is at the heart of America - but you don't need to go to law school to play a key role in it. Prepare to pursue a growing career as a paralegal by earning your associate's degree in paralegal studies.
Two years is all it could take to prepare for a career where you would be fully immersed in legal cases. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, as a paralegal you might investigate the facts of a case, draft contracts or other legal documents, get affidavits to be used as evidence in court, and even help lawyers during trials.
Little Schooling, Lots of Potential: "As the result of firm downsize, we saw a shift in the demands of paralegals to take over some tasks which had formally been parsed out to attorneys," says Lindsey Wagner, a labor and employment law attorney at Cathleen Scott & Associates.
So what kinds of things do paralegals learn in paralegal studies programs that could help them prepare for this field?
"Most paralegal courses, be they certificate or associate's degree programs, skip the general education portion and focus on legal education and legal requirements," says Caruthers.
In other words, you could earn your associate's in as little as two years, because these programs focus on the specific knowledge you'll need to pursue this career, without spending time on things like art history or calculus.
Next step: Click to Find the Right Paralegal Program.
Education Requirements: Ready to join the ranks of paralegals at the heart of our legal system? You might consider pursuing an associate's degree in paralegal studies or a bachelor's degree in another field with a certificate in paralegal studies, as according to the Department of Labor, most paralegals take one of these educational paths.
In-Demand Career #4 - Construction Manager
Job Growth Rate from 2010 to 2020: 17%
As we pull out of the recent housing crisis, construction is picking up again. And, as the U.S. Department of Labor notes, when building activity increases, more jobs may open up for construction managers. If you've got experience in construction, consider preparing to pursue this career in as little as two years by earning an associate's degree in construction management.
According to the Department of Labor, you might prepare and negotiate cost estimates, budgets, and work timetables; supervise construction personnel and activities onsite; and collaborate with architects, engineers, and other construction and building specialists.
Little Schooling, Lots of Potential: "Construction projects seem to be picking up again, so that's what's pushing the current trend of growth in this career," says Caruthers.
Caruthers explains that an associate's degree can give someone who already has a good background in construction the skills they'll need to move into a managerial position in the field.
"This degree preps them for things like OSHA requirements, hiring and firing, etc.," he explains. "Things they wouldn't have learned as a construction apprentice."
Education Requirements: The Department agrees that employers increasingly prefer candidates with both work experience and a bachelor's degree in construction management, construction science, engineering, or architecture. However, an associate's degree combined with work experience may be sufficient for some positions, the Department adds.
Degree #5 - Nuclear Medicine Technologist
Job Growth Rate from 2010 to 2020: 19%
One of the newer medical careers to experience excellent growth is nuclear medicine technologist. And you can prepare to pursue this high-growth career with an associate's degree in as little as two years.
Wondering what nuclear medicine technologists do on a day-to-day basis? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, as a nuclear medicine technologist, you might use scanners to produce images of numerous areas of a patient's body, prepare radioactive drugs and administer them to patients before their scans, and monitor patients to check for unusual reactions to drugs.
Little Schooling, Lots of Potential: "More and more of the medical advances rely on things like CAT scans and MRIs," says Caruthers. Because of this, he says, the demand for nuclear medicine technologists is extremely hot right now - so it's no wonder people are surging into nuclear medicine technology programs.
"An associate's degree gets you trained for this good-paying job in around two years," Caruthers says, noting that the program covers all the technical know-how for the profession without wasting time on "general ed" classes that might not have anything to do with the career. "You'll learn all the technical stuff, from basic bio and chem classes to how to administer doses."
Education Requirements: If this sounds like the right path for you, you'll typically need an associate's degree in nuclear medicine technology to get started, according to the Department of Labor. Technologists must also be licensed in some states, the Department adds, so check your state's regulations.