Can You Really Make A Career Change In One Year?

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These six professional careers don't require years of schooling.

By Terence Loose

Are you burnt out, fed up, or just plain ready to switch careers, but definitely not ready to sign up for years of college to do it? Don't get down - there might be a way for you to pursue a new career within a year.

And no, we're not talking about warm-body-needed, punch-a-clock kind of jobs. These are well-paying professions that - if you're on top of your game - could require no more than a year of schooling to obtain the right credentials.

Let's all say that together: "If you're on top of your game." It's important to keep in mind that degree completion times could vary from case to case.

Included here are a few careers for every personality that the U.S. Department of Labor has indicated have fairly lean educational requirements in terms of time commitment - some with year-long certificate programs, some with two-year associate's, and some with even less.

Burnt out or not, you should keep reading to find out if you can switch to one of these careers in one year.

Career #1: Paralegal

Always dreamed of working in a big fancy law office, but never had the nerve to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)? If you've already got a bachelor's degree, in any subject (yes, including Sanskrit), you might be poised to pursue another way into that palace of litigation - as a paralegal. And this could happen sooner than you think.

Can You Beat the Education Clock? It's certainly possible. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, some employers hire applicants for paralegal positions with a bachelor's degree and no legal experience or education and train them on the job.

Of course, if you're looking for a little more than on-the-job training before you go on the paralegal job hunt, there are a few paths to pursuing the career. Most paralegals either have an associate's degree in paralegal studies, or a bachelor's degree in any field and a certificate in paralegal studies, says the Department of Labor. Some certificate programs, notes the Department, may only require a few months for completion.

Click to Find the Right Paralegal Program.

Career Details: And if you've always dreamed of a career in law, the job's pretty cool. You might find yourself working side-by-side with attorneys, helping them prepare for a big case, or even assisting them during trials, says the Department. You'll also likely do a lot of legal research, draft legal documents, and investigate facts for cases.

As for compensation, it might not be Johnny Cochran money, but paralegals do all right. According to the Department, the median annual paralegal salary is $46,730, with the bottom 10 percent drawing $29,390 and the top 10 percent making $75,400.


Career #2: Dental Assistant

Does a bright, clean space with a lot of smiles sound like a good place to start your new career? If so, pursuing the job of dental assistant could brighten your own smile - and soon.

Can You Beat the Education Clock? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, some states might not require formal education, while others could ask you to graduate from an accredited program (which could take about a year to complete) and pass an exam. The Department of Labor also mentions that associate's degrees in dental assisting are available, but less common.

Click to Find the Right Dental Assisting Program.

Career Details: If you do successfully pursue this career, you might find yourself doing everything from sterilizing instruments and handing dentists tools during procedures to working that cool suction hose thing, says the Department. But it's not all chair-side stuff; you might also assist in the front of the office with billing and recordkeeping, says the Department.

Of course, you might not get as rich as the dentist you work for, but look at the bright side - you probably won't have multiple years of student loan debt either. According to the Department, the median annual salary for dental assistants is $34,140. The bottom 10 percent makes $23,080, but the top 10 percent makes $47,420.


Career #3: Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Giving couples the happy news that their unborn baby is healthy with all ten digits; mapping the strength of a person's heart; finding a tumor in time for treatment. These are just a few of the rewarding things a diagnostic medical sonographer does. But is it possible to pursue this satisfying career in one year flat?

Can You Beat the Education Clock? Sorry, folks. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, diagnostic medical sonographers need formal education, and although there are one-year certificates available, these are usually only useful to those who are already employed in the health care field, such as nurses. Otherwise, the Department of Labor says options include associate's or bachelor's degrees in sonography. These programs can be completed in as little as two to four years, respectively.

Click to Find the Right Sonography Program.

Career Details: All of this education is to prepare medical sonographers for their important career, which the Department says entails using what's called an ultrasound transducer, a small device that the sonographer presses against the patient's body. The transducer emits high-frequency sound waves whose echoes are captured to create images of vital organs, fetuses, and any worrisome abnormalities. Sound complicated? No wonder it takes some schooling to get it right.

For all their expertise, however, diagnostic medical sonographers do make a decent income, with the median annual salary, according to the Department, as $65,210. And while the lowest 10 percent in the field make $44,950, the highest 10 percent $90,640.


Career #4: Pharmacy Technician

If you're looking for a promising career that asks for little in the way of higher education requirements, pharmacy technician might be the right formula. But how long do these requirements take to complete?

Can You Beat the Education Clock? Surprisingly, the U.S. Department of Labor notes that only a high school diploma is usually required to qualify for a career as a pharmacy technician. That's because many pharmacy technicians gain their skills through on-the-job training, says the Department of Labor. Due to varying state requirements, however, others gain certificates through pharmacy technology programs that typically last a year or less, adds the Department.

Click to Find the Right Pharmacy Technology Program.

Career Details: According to the Department, pharmacy technicians do everything from routine tasks like answering phone calls and taking prescriptions to mixing up solutions, preparing ointments, and counting tablets.

According to the Department, pharmacy technicians typically fill their bank accounts to the tune of $28,940 in median annual wages, with the lowest 10 percent pulling in $20,310 and the highest 10 percent making $41,880.


Career #5: Bookkeeper

Are you good with numbers? Do you actually enjoy making a budget and keeping track of expenses? Life as a bookkeeper might add up for you, especially since it might not take years of schooling to pursue.

Can You Beat the Education Clock? While the U.S. Department of Labor reports that 25 percent of bookkeepers had an associate's or higher degree in 2009, you'll be interested to hear that most bookkeepers only need a high school diploma and usually learn some of their skills on the job. That said, the Department of labor notes that some employers prefer candidates who have some postsecondary education, especially coursework in accounting.

Click to Find the Right Accounting Program.

Career Details: As for what that job entails, well, there's some bookkeeping involved. Surprising - we know. Specifically, bookkeepers do everything from checking financial records for accuracy to producing balance sheets and using bookkeeping software, online spreadsheets, and databases, according to the Department. This means you can safely lose that image of the dusty ledger and green eyeshade.

According to the Department, the average bookkeeper's bank account sees an annual median salary deposit of $34,740. The lowest 10 percent in the profession make $21,450, but the highest 10 percent log $53,250 per year, says the Department.


Career #6: Police Officer

Like uniforms? How does serving as an authority figure sound? Oh, and did we mention the badge and gun? All part of being a cop, a career that you could potentially pursue within a year, depending on where you're applying.

Can You Beat the Education Clock? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, education requirements for police officers range widely. They usually must have a high school diploma or GED and graduate from their agency's training academy. Many agencies, however, require some college coursework or a college degree, the Department of Labor adds.

Oh, and there are some non-school requirements: Candidates must be U.S. citizens, 21 years old, have a driver's license, and, not surprisingly, meet specific physical qualifications, notes the Department.

Click to Find the Right Police and Law Enforcement Program.

Career Details: It's all to prepare police officers for a career serving the public in more ways than just giving speeding tickets. Police officers' most important job, of course, is to protect people's lives and property. Hence, says the Department, they respond to calls for service, patrol assigned areas, make arrests, testify in courts, and more.

And while crime may not pay, fighting it sure can. According to the Department, police officers have a median annual salary of $54,230. And while the lowest 10 percent make $32,080, at the other end of the force, the top 10 percent bring in $84,980.


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