These lucrative careers offer high salaries but only require an associate's degree.
Do you think that earning a good salary means earning a bachelor's or master's degree? While studies have shown that, on average, more education means more pay, there are still a number of professions that pay well and require only an associate's degree, which can be completed in as little as two years.
And what do we mean by "pay well"? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average annual salary for all U.S. professions is $45,790. So we looked at several professions with an average pay that exceeded that. But the best part is you can pursue these careers with just an associate's degree.
So if your current job isn't living up to a living wage, check out these six high-paying professions that could improve your income sooner than you think.
Computer Support Specialist Average Salary: $62,960*Find Degree Programs
Twenty years ago, the star of the office was the guy who could clear a copier's paper jam. Now in the digital age, it's the techie who can solve your computer glitches. And if you think you'd like to be that guy - or gal - then this career might compute. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, these workers give advice to everyone from individual computer users to entire organizations about how to resolve their computing issues. Believe it or not, you could spend only two years in school to pursue this tech-savvy career.
Why It Pays Well: The proliferation and unimpeded growth of computers in both personal and business life is a major reason these professionals earn good pay, says Susan Heathfield, a management consultant and writer for About.com's Guide to Human Resources. And, she adds, the demand will only rise.
"Every company these days is reliant to some degree on computers and IT (information technology). In addition, the biggest industry in the nation, health care, is converting medical records to digital form. As they do, they'll need all kinds of computer specialists to support that network of computers and information and keep it safe," she says.
Education Needed: The Department of Labor says that education and training requirements for computer support specialists vary. Some positions may require a bachelor's degree, but for others an associate's degree or some postsecondary classes may be enough. A degree in computer science, engineering, or information science might be required for more technical jobs, says the Department.
Civil Engineering Technician Average Salary: $49,220*Find Degree Programs
If you love the idea of helping to build the society's infrastructure but hate the idea of spending many years in college to pursue a career as a full-fledged civil engineer, a career as a civil engineering technician might work for you. These professionals assist civil engineers in planning and designing things like highways, bridges, utilities, and other major infrastructure projects, says the U.S. Department of Labor. You can pursue this engaging, well-paid career after getting an associate's degree that you could earn in two years.
Why It Pays Well: Heathfield says a growing population means more roads, more bridges, more utilities, more - well, you get the idea. That means more civil engineers and more civil engineering technicians to assist them, and since they will be in demand, they will continue to command a decent wage, she says.
"Engineers and their assistants perform an important service. They also have very specialized knowledge, and their work must be done well for safety and other reasons. That's why they earn good salaries," says Heathfield.
Next step: Click to Find the Right Engineering Program.
Education Needed: The Department of Labor says that while not always required, an associate's degree in civil engineering technology is preferred for this job. It's also best to get a degree that has been certified by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, adds the Department.
Registered Nurse Average Salary: $67,930*Find Degree Programs
If you like the idea of caring for people when they're sick, providing them with emotional support during their road back to recovery, or even just teaching people how to stay healthy, a nursing career might suit you. Those are just a few of the things nurses do, says the U.S. Department of Labor. It's also a career that offers a good salary for a modest educational requirement.
Why It Pays Well: Going forward, with the aging baby boomer population and the implementation of Obamacare, nurses are and will be more and more important, says Nicole Smith, a researcher with Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.
Registered nurses - and many other health care workers - will always be paid well, she says, because their job is to care for people. "That means you have to do your job to the best of your ability. And it's an important job, so you'll need to have some credentials, but you'll also get good pay," she says.
Next step: Click to Find the Right Nursing Program.
Education Needed: The Department of Labor says nurses typically take one of three educational paths: a bachelor's of science in nursing (BSN), an associate's degree in nursing (ADN), or a diploma from an accepted nursing program. They also must be licensed.
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Average Salary: $66,360*Find Degree Programs
Whether it's diagnosing a serious medical condition or making sure your unborn child is healthy, you likely want your doctor or hospital to use high-tech equipment managed by a highly-skilled professional. That sums up this profession well, because, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, diagnostic medical sonographers use special imaging equipment to send sound waves into patients' bodies in order to assess and diagnose a multitude of health conditions.
The procedures are commonly known as ultrasounds, echocardiograms, and sonograms, says the Department. With such a high salary and the high-tech nature of this field, it might surprise you that you could pursue this medical career after only two years of school.
Why It Pays Well: "These workers are dealing with people's health, so they need to be able to perform at the best of their abilities. They have to show a high competency in operating sensitive equipment, and that's why they are paid well," says Smith.
She points to this career as a good example of the divide in pay levels and upward mobility opportunities in the health care industry. Careers that require formal education - whether it's some college education or a college degree - have much higher pay and better advancement opportunities than those that require no certification or degree, she says.
Next step: Click to Find the Right Sonography Program.
Education Needed: The Department of Labor says that these professionals need formal education, such as a postsecondary certificate or associate's degree. However, the Department says certificates are usually only useful to those already working in related health care jobs, such as nurses.
Dental Hygienist Average Salary: $70,700*Find Degree Programs
There's a reason why that friendly dental hygienist who takes care of your smile is smiling, too - they're earning pretty decent money. And they can be satisfied with the fact that they do an important, essential job. They not only clean those pearly whites, but also check patients for oral disease and educate patients on proper dental care, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. This career is especially high in pay but only requires a short amount of time in school.
Why It Pays Well: Heathfield says that since these workers are part of the health care industry - an industry that has shown nothing but growth with no sign of slowing down - dental hygienists will command a good salary and be in demand for a long while out.
"Also, the link between oral health and general health is pretty well-established now. And with the aging population of baby boomers focusing on staying healthy longer in life, these workers will be seen as more important. That means they will be paid accordingly," says Heathfield.
Education Needed: The Department of Labor says that dental hygienists usually need an associate's degree in dental hygiene to enter the field. They also need to be licensed, with requirements varying by state.
Paralegal Average Salary: $50,220*
If you enjoy reading a good mystery or watching a suspenseful legal thriller, working as a paralegal may be a way to live your passion without spending extended years in law school. Paralegals assist lawyers by investigating facts of cases, conducting legal research, and getting affidavits and other formal statements, says the U.S. Department of Labor. They even assist lawyers in court during trials. But unlike lawyers, you could pursue this legal career in less than half the time of law school.
Why It Pays Well: Paralegals earn good money because companies who hire law firms are relying on them more often, says Nancy Tetreaux, a communication and career coach with 20 years of experience in human resources management, much of it with law firms.
"[Companies] can keep their billing down, because attorney billing rates are much higher than paralegal rates, but often the work required can be done just as well by paralegals," she says. For instance, she says, much of the research and drafting of many simple legal documents can be done by paralegals for a fraction of the cost of an attorney.
Furthermore, you often have the chance to increase your pay, she says. "You can do really well if you can work a lot of hours. That's because your base salary is pretty good, and you can earn much more in overtime," says Tetreaux.
Next step: Click to Find the Right Paralegal Program.
Education Needed: Most of these professionals have an associate's degree in paralegal studies, says the Department of Labor, or a bachelor's degree in another subject with a certificate in paralegal studies. They also say that employers might hire candidates for entry-level paralegal positions with no experience or paralegal education and train them on the job. But these candidates usually have bachelor's degrees, says the Department.Find Degree Programs
* All salary information comes from the Department of Labor's "Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012" data.
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