8 Fast-Track Career Options

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Find out how the right education could help you get ready to pursue a new career.

By Lynda Phung   

Do you ever find yourself daydreaming about switching careers? Perhaps you're planning for the future and wondering about your next steps.

The good news is that you don't necessarily need to plan for four years of college earning a bachelor's degree to get going in a new career. An associate's degree or certificate program could give you a focused education in significantly less time - and help prepare you to pursue a variety of exciting careers.

Check out these 8 careers you could prepare for with an associate's degree or certificate.

Career Option #1 - Administrative Assistant

Are you an organized individual who is good with people? Look at administrative assisting as a potential fast-track career option.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the skills required for this type of gig can often be developed through a one- to two-year certificate program.*

Typical responsibilities: Administrative assistants help manage offices by scheduling meetings, handling important documents, and organizing files.

Average earnings: $29,050**

Click to Find Administrative Support Education Programs Now

Career Option #2 - Bookkeeper

If you are a whiz at math, bookkeeping can be a fast-track career option to consider.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, bookkeepers typically have an associate's degree in business or accounting, which generally takes two years to complete, on average.*

Typical responsibilities: Bookkeepers are record keepers who deal with accounts payable and maintain a company's financial books. They also might calculate expenditures and handle receipts.

Average earnings: $32,510**

Click to Find an Accounting Program Now

Career Option #3 - Computer Support Specialist

Do you love being on the computer all day? If you've already got some related work experience, consider computer support specialist as a fast-track career option.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, computer support specialists with related work experience could pursue this career with an associate's degree in a computer-related area.

Typical responsibilities: Computer support specialists often provide technical or help-desk support, which can include assisting computer users, writing training manuals, and performing computer diagnostic work.

Average earnings: $43,450**

Click to Find a Tech Support Education Program Now

Career Option #4 - Paralegal

Does the world of law and justice fascinate you? Consider pursuing a paralegal career path.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, paralegals often have an associate's degree in paralegal studies. If you already have a bachelor's degree in another field, consider completing a shorter certificate program.

Typical responsibilities: Paralegals help draft legal documents, investigate cases and judicial decisions, and provide lawyers with assistance during trials.

Average earnings: $49,640**

Click to Find a Paralegal Education Program Now

Career Option #5 - Dental Assistant

Are you the kind of person who carries floss in your back pocket? Consider pursuing a career in dental assisting.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, most dental assistants have a two-year associate's degree or certificate in dental assisting, which could be completed in approximately one year.*

Typical responsibilities: Dental assistants prep the instruments required for patient care and ready patients for treatment. They also update records and help patients get comfortable before and after procedures.

Average earnings: $32,380**

Click to Find Dental Assisting Education Programs Now

Career Option #6 - Registered Nurse (RN)

If you've always wanted to work in medicine, consider pursuing a career as an RN.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, an associate's degree in nursing could take two to three years to complete.*

Typical responsibilities: RNs assess patients and perform diagnostic tests, working with doctors to ensure that patients receive the best possible care.

Average earnings: $62,450**

Click to Find a Nursing Program Now

Career Option #7 - Cosmetologist

Are you the person your friends and family call up for beauty advice? Consider cosmetology as a fast-track career option.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, cosmetologists often have a certificate in cosmetology, which could be earned in six months to one year.*

Typical responsibilities: Cosmetologists can apply their skills to a variety of beauty specialties, including hairdressing, skin care, and manicuring. They might also be responsible for record keeping and the ordering of supplies for the salon.

Average earnings: $26,510**

Click to Find a Beauty/Cosmetology Program Now

Career Option #8 - Fashion Designer

Are you well-known for your impeccable sense of style? Are you drawn to design? How about lending your talents to a career as a fashion designer?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, fashion designers generally need a two-year associate's degree or four-year bachelor's degree in fashion design.*

Typical responsibilities: Fashion designers generally study trends to create and produce men's, women's, and children's fashions.

Average earnings: $42,150**

Click to Find a Fashion and Design Program Now

*Program completion times will vary by school, program, full-time/part-time status, student's level of commitment, and other factors.

**All average salary data comes from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics website (www.bls.gov) and is based upon May 2010 median earnings.

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