Associate Degrees: A Beginner's Guide

Yahoo Education & Peterson's

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median weekly earnings of associate degree holders in 2007 were $740, compared to $604 for those with only a high school diploma. That's a difference of over $7000 each year! Additionally, the unemployment rate for graduates with associate degrees is significantly lower than that of high-school graduates.

In addition to the obvious benefit of being shorter and more economical than traditional, 4-year college degree programs, there are other important distinctions unique to associate degree (A.D.) programs:

  • Community colleges, private institutions, and vocational schools offer A.D.s, which means you can take your pick from hundreds of programs.
  • Many institutions offer online programs, a convenient option if you'd like to work while earning your degree.
  • The majority of A.D. programs incorporate hands-on training to prepare students for a smooth transition from the classroom to the workplace
  • Credits from an A.D can be transferred to a 4-year degree.
  • A.D.s are available in a wide variety of subject matters, ranging from communications and business administration to arts and design.

If your goal is to move from the classroom into the workforce as quickly as possible, choose a degree that will prepare you for a profession that is expected to experience rapid growth. The following careers are expected to boom over the next eight years and require only an associate degree.

  • Registered Nurse (RN) - Spend two years earning your Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and you're practically guaranteed a job upon graduation, since 587,000 new RNs will be needed through 2016. Earnings of RNs are close to $60,000, and when you're ready for a promotion you can take advantage of tuition reimbursement programs to help finance your Bachelor of Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

  • Massage Therapist - The healing powers of massage are widely recognized, which means there will be a demand for 24,000 massage therapists over the next eight years. An associate degree in massage therapy offers courses in anatomy, massage techniques, and business practices. Over half of all massage therapists were self-employed in 2006, and most earned between $35,000 and $50,000.

  • Dental Hygienist - The flexibility, bright employment prospects, and hourly earnings of around $30 for this career will keep you smiling as you polish your patients' pearly whites. Most of the accredited dental hygiene programs grant associate degrees to prepare graduates for one of the 50,000 anticipated new positions opening through 2016.

  • Preschool Teacher - You may already have mastered the art of play, but to be a successful preschool teacher you'll need to understand child psychology and development. In two years you could be one of the 115,000 new teachers of our youngest students.

  • Computer Support Specialist - In just a couple of years you could learn the skills necessary to make an office full of computer-users eternally appreciative of your existence. Employment of computer support specialists is expected to grow 18 percent, and many of these jobs will pay upwards of $40,000 annually.

  • Paralegal - An associate degree in paralegal studies can help prepare you to research cases, prepare reports, and draft contracts. Law firms and corporate law offices are expected to hire some of the anticipated 53,000 new paralegals needed over the next eight years. Median earnings for these professionals were over $43,000 in 2006.

  • Radiologic Technologist - A two-year degree can prepare you to work as a radiologic technologist, allowing you to administer X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans in hospitals or imaging laboratories. Thirty thousand radiologic technologists will be needed over the next eight years, and yearly earnings can often top $50,000.

  • Automotive Technician - Your tinkering under the hood could become more than a hobby when coupled with an associate degree in automotive technology. Choose a program that emphasizes hands-on practice to prepare you to work for a car dealership, repair shop, or even for yourself. In 2006 the median earnings of automotive technicians were over $16 an hour.

Where Will You Be in 2010?

It's not that far off. If you have aspirations to make more money, advance in your current job, or try something new, imagine how amazing it could feel if, only two years from now, you could have a degree and great career options.

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