How to Switch Careers in as Little as Two Years

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Do you want to make a career change? These degrees could help you prep for a career faster than you might think.

By Jennifer Berry

How long have you been sticking around in a career you can't stand?

If you're reluctant to make a change because you're afraid you'll have to spend forever in school to get ready, take heart. A certificate or associate's degree program - which could take as little as one or two years to complete, respectively - could provide the prep you need to make the career change you crave.

Certified career coach, Hallie Crawford, agrees and offers these words of advice: "Make sure you find a good program, with a solid curriculum and a good reputation," she says. "And keep in mind, these programs will prepare you for some - but not all - industries. You might want to make sure potential employers in the industry you want to get into will recognize a certificate or associate's degree."

Crawford also suggests non-degree holders earn an associate's first, and then add any relevant certificate on top of that. "I tend to think of associate's degrees as foundational, and certificates as more for people who are looking to specialize or narrow down their focus in their industry," says Crawford.

If you're ready to get started in something new, read on to learn more about these six education options that might be just the ticket to help you prepare for a swift career change.

Degree #1 - Paralegal Studies
Career-Change Option: Paralegal

Want to make a career change to law - without going to law school?

If you already have a bachelor's degree in another field, you may be able to complete a certificate in paralegal studies in as little as a few months, notes the U.S. Department of Labor. If you're starting from scratch, an associate's degree - which could take as little as two years to complete - is another relatively shorter option.

"A paralegal studies degree might get you into a solid, pretty stable industry in a short period of time," Crawford says. "The job security coming out of school would be higher than some other industries because paralegals will always be needed to a certain extent. The legal industry doesn't change rapidly."

Click to Find the Right Paralegal Studies Program for You.

About the Degree: According to the College Board, an educational organization that administers tests like the SAT, paralegal studies courses might cover legal topics like criminal law and procedure, ethics, legal research and writing, and law office administration. "You may learn how to prepare legal briefs, read legal jargon, and work effectively with lawyers," Crawford says.


Degree #2 - Information Technology & Information Systems
Career-Change Option: Computer Support Specialist

If you enjoy tinkering with technology, an associate's degree in information technology (IT) and information systems might be your ticket to pursuing a potentially rapid career change into a computer-related field.

And according to the U.S. Department of Labor, this degree could help you prepare to pursue a swift career change as a computer support specialist, though some positions may also require a bachelor's degree.

"This type of program can cover a wider variety of specializations than some of the other degrees," Crawford says. "Information security is one, computer programming and web design are some others. This is a very tangible degree that could always be in great demand because technology is the backbone of what we do every day regardless of our profession."

Click to Find the Right IT and Information Systems Program for You.

About the Degree: An associate's degree program in IT and information systems - which could generally be completed in as little as two years - might cover C++ programming, database management, and introduction to computer science, according to the College Board. You may also learn about web technologies and the ethical and social issues in information technology.


Degree #3 - Nursing
Career-Change Option: Registered Nurse (RN)

If you're interested in a medical career that lets you make a difference, look into earning an associate's degree in nursing. From there, you'll need to pass the national licensing exam.

Together, this could help you prepare for a potentially speedy transition into the nursing field as a registered nurse (RN), many of whom, in addition to giving patients medicine and treatments, also offers emotional support to patients and their families.

"Similar to paralegals, nursing is a known, needed skill," Crawford says. "One benefit of this career path is that nursing shouldn't be hit as hard by tough economic times as some other professions."

Click to Find the Right Nursing Program for You.

About the Degree: Studying nursing will involve more than learning how to administer medicine. According to the College Board, an associate's degree in nursing may cover childbearing-family nursing, anatomy and physiology, nutrition, psychology, and health assessment.


Degree #4 - Accounting
Career-Change Option: Junior Accountant

Do you enjoy working with numbers and solving problems? An associate's degree in accounting could help you prepare to pursue a career in the accounting field.

To get specific, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, this degree could prepare you to pursue a bookkeeping career. But that's not all.

"This degree can prepare you to pursue an entry level position in an accounting firm or in a corporation," says Crawford, who adds that an associate's degree may be just the beginning. "You will probably need to specialize over time. But this is a solid degree with tangible, marketable skills that you can put on your resume immediately."

Click to Find the Right Accounting Program for You.

About the Degree: The College Board reports that an associate's degree in accounting - which could be completed in as little as a couple of years - might include classes in business law, auditing, and accounting as it pertains to taxes, government, cost analysis, and information systems.


Degree #5 - Dental Assisting
Career-Change Option: Dental Assistant

If you floss habitually and want to help others maintain good dental health, a potentially fast career change into the dental assisting field could be in your future.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, it could take as little as one year to prepare to pursue a career as a dental assistant with a certificate, or as little as two years with an associate's degree.

"The associate's degree in dental assisting is something you can attain within a shorter amount of time, and with confidence you'll be able to gain employment afterwards," says Crawford.

Click to Find the Right Dental Assisting Program for You.

About the Degree: According to the College Board, this type of degree program may include instruction on dental assisting techniques and dental office management - two important functions of a dental assistant's job. You might also learn how to take dental X-rays, keep accurate dental records, and identify oral anatomy.


Degree #6 - Health Information Technology
Career-Change Option: Medical Records or Health Information Technician

Do you want to pursue a potentially quick career change using your knack for technology and an interest in the medical profession?

An associate's degree in health information technology - which could be completed in as few as two years - could help prepare you to make a switch into a career as a health information technician, notes the U.S. Department of Labor.

"An associate's degree in this field may give you specific, tangible skills you can use in the workplace right away with not a ton of hands-on experience required," Crawford says.

Click to Find the Right Health Information Technology Program for You.

About the Degree: While studying health information technology, you might learn about medical terminology, introduction to coding, health care law and statistics, and medical quality management, according to the College Board.


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