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5 Hot Jobs for Associate Degree Holders

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Research shows overwhelmingly that a college degree pays off, but you don't need to earn a four-year degree to reap those benefits. New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that some of the fastest-growing careers out there only require an associate degree.

5 High-growth Jobs for Associate Degree Holders

The bureau recently released its employment projections for 2010-2020. If you are looking to jump into a new career quickly, here are the five fastest growing jobs for associate degree holders.

1. Veterinary technicians

  • Projected growth from 2010-2020: 52 percent
  • Typical degree: Associate degree in veterinary technology
  • Mean annual income in 2010: $31,030

Veterinary technicians work under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. They may record patient case histories, take vital signs and perform lab work. While some technicians may work in a research setting, most are employed in private veterinary practices.

The BLS reports demand for veterinary technicians should increase as pet owners are increasingly likely to seek out advanced care for their pets. In addition, the relatively limited number of veterinary technology graduates each year means those with the proper education and training will likely find their job prospects are excellent.

2. Physical therapist assistants

  • Projected growth from 2010-2020: 45.7 percent
  • Typical degree: Associate degree from a physical therapist assistant program
  • Mean annual income in 2010: $49,810

For the elderly and those with chronic conditions, physical therapy offers a way to regain mobility and reduce pain. Physical therapist assistants work under the supervision of a physical therapist to help patients with exercise, balance training and other therapeutic methods. Most states require these assistants to have at least an associate degree. While most physical therapist assistants work in health care facilities, some may provide services within a patient's home.

3. Diagnostic medical sonographers

  • Projected growth from 2010-2020: 43.5 percent
  • Typical degree: Associate degree in diagnostic medical sonography
  • Mean annual income in 2010: $64,900

Jobs for diagnostic medical sonographers are expected to grow significantly as sonography use expands as an alternative to radiological procedures. Sonographers use special equipment to transmit sound waves into a patient's body and then record and interpret the resulting echoes. While ultrasounds for pregnant women may be the most commonly known type of sonography, the technology is also used to monitor the heart, nerves and other organs. Most jobs for diagnostic medical sonographers are found in hospitals, but laboratories, physician offices and outpatient facilities may also employ these health care professionals.

4. Occupational therapist assistants

  • Projected growth from 2010-2020: 43.3 percent
  • Typical degree: Associate degree from accredited occupational therapist assistant program
  • Mean annual income in 2010: $51,300

Like physical therapist assistants, occupational therapist assistants work to help patients regain mobility. However, occupational therapy tends to focus more on rehabilitation services to help improve an individual's ability to conduct daily activities or return to the workforce. It is not uncommon for occupational therapy patients to have mental, emotional, physical or developmental disabilities. Occupational therapist assistants work under the supervision of an occupational therapist and typically see patients in hospitals, nursing homes or other health care offices.

5. Dental hygienists

  • Projected growth from 2010-2020: 37.7 percent
  • Typical degree: Associate degree in dental hygiene
  • Mean annual income in 2010: $68,680

Americans are taking better care of their teeth and that means greater demand for dental hygienists. These professionals take x-rays, remove tarter build up and polish teeth until they shine. In addition, hygienists regularly advise patients on the various aspects of good oral care and may assist dentists in procedures such as filling cavities. Dental hygienists work almost exclusively in dentist offices, and the BLS reports that more than half work on a part-time basis. Hygienists must be licensed, and nearly all states require graduation from an accredited dental hygiene program as a requirement for licensure.

If you are ready for a new job but don't want to spend years in a classroom, consider a career that requires only a two-year education program. Getting an associate degree could be the first step toward these hot jobs.