Eight Great Careers You Can Launch in Two Years or Less

By Dawn Papandrea

If this lagging economy has taught us anything, it's that jobs aren't as secure as they once were. For many, that means carving out a whole new career path. The good news is that you can launch a healthy career in two years or less, and even out-earn many who enter the workforce with four-year bachelor's degrees!

According to a recent study by The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 14 million job openings will go to people with associate degrees or occupational certificates through 2018. And 27 percent of people with post-secondary licenses or certificates -- which can be earned in even less time than an associate degree -- earn more than the average bachelor's degree recipient.

Ready to start learning and earning in two years or less? Consider these eight professions:

1. Massage Therapist

What you need to know: You know that career tension that has you in knots? Consider this: Massage therapy careers are gaining in credibility among the medical community, and you may even work in lavish surroundings, such as vacation resorts, cruise ships, or exotic spas. What's more is job opportunities are expected to increase by about 20 percent by 2018, which is faster than the average of other occupations.

Countdown to career launch: Graduation from an accredited massage therapy school or program is often required by the state to practice, and can range between 500 and 1,000 hours of instruction. To become nationally licensed, students must pass the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCETMB).

Earnings: Median hourly wages of massage therapists, including gratuities, were $16.78 in May 2008. However, the potential for tips can increase earnings by 15 to 20 percent.

2. Dental Assistant

What you need to know: Smile for job security! Employment opportunities for dental assistants are expected to grow 36 percent from 2008 to 2018, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. Add to that, flexible scheduling and respectable earnings.

Countdown to career launch: All it takes is attending an accredited dental assisting program – usually for about one year -- and passing a written or practical examination. Another option is to complete a two-year associate degree program offered at a community college.

Earnings: Median annual wages of dental assistants were $32,380 in May 2008.

3. Surgical Technologist

What you need to know: You don't necessarily need hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical school loans (and nearly a decade of schooling!) to be an OR superstar. Surgical technologists are essentially operating room technicians who prep, assist, and help wrap up surgical procedures. With an expected job growth of 25 percent between 2008 and 2018, it's a career with a great diagnosis.

Countdown to career launch: Surgical technologists receive their training in programs that typically last between nine and 24 months and lead to either a certificate or associate degree. Programs are offered by community and junior colleges, vocational schools and other institutions.

Earnings: Median annual wages of surgical technologists were $38,740 in May 2008.

4. Construction Manager

What you need to know: Here's a career that you can literally build from the ground up. The number of construction manager jobs is expected to grow by 17 percent in the decade from 2008 to 2018 -- not a bad foundation to start with.

Countdown to career launch: You can start building your skills via a two-year program in construction management or construction technology. Or, you may choose to look into training programs sponsored by industry associations.

Earnings: Salaried construction managers earned $79,860 yearly as of May 2008.

5. Paralegal

What you need to know: If ever you wanted to lay down the law and put some order into your career, paralegal studies is an open and shut case. For starters, employment is projected to grow 28 percent through 2018, and you'll work right in the heart of the justice system.

Countdown to career launch: To become a paralegal, many students go the community college route to earn an associate degree. However, certificate programs are available that take only a few months to complete. The best bet is to choose one of the 260 paralegal programs approved by the American Bar Association (ABA)

Earnings: Paralegals earned an average median salary of $46,120.

6. Police Officer

What you need to know: Feeling like you've been in career lockup? If you take on the responsibility to protect and serve the public, you'll secure your future with one of the best pensions out there. Your local police force is counting on you.

Countdown to career launch: While requirements vary in each state or city, for the most part, the educational component of becoming a police officer can be done in less than two years. Some forces require a set number of higher education credits, while others may prefer an associate degree in a related field, like criminal justice.

Earnings: Police officers earned an average yearly wage of $52,810 in 2008.

7. Hotel Manager

What you need to know: Large hotel chains may offer better opportunities for advancement than small, independently owned establishments, but relocation every several years often is necessary for advancement. Career advancement can be accelerated by the completion of certification programs offered by various hotel and lodging associations.

Countdown to career launch: In order to get hired as a hotel manager, you should first earn your associate degree or certificate in hotel, restaurant, or hospitality management as that is becoming a common prerequisite.

Earnings: The average annual salary of hotel managers in 2008 was $45,800.

8. Radiological Technician

What you need to know: If there's any one "safe" industry, it's health care. Along those lines, the radiological technology field is expected to increase by about 17 percent from 2008 to 2018, faster than the average for all occupations.

Countdown to career launch: While licensing requirements vary by state, most radiological technicians break into the field with an associate degree or certificate. Certificate programs typically last around 21 to 24 months.

Earnings: Radiological technicians earned a median annual salary of $52,210 in May 2008.

Next:Congratulations on Graduating! Now What?

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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