Switch Careers Quickly with the Right Education

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Learn how an associate's degree or certificate program could help you pursue a new career in about two years.

By Lynda Phung    

One thousand, eight hundred twenty-four hours...

That's how much time Americans spend at work every year, according to the Chartbook of International Labor Comparisons by the U.S. Department of Labor.

That's a lot of time to spend at a job if you don't like what you're doing.

The good news is that you can use education as a way to prepare to switch careers.

"Continuing education can be one of the keys to helping you achieve your goals," says Rochelle Wanner, career and employment specialist at Madison Area Technical College in Madison, Wisconsin.

Associate's degree and certificate programs are a few relatively quicker education options you could go for. According to Wanner, not only do these shorter programs allow you to graduate sooner and move on to a new career faster, the costs of such degrees are also reduced when compared to longer bachelor's degree programs.

If you're looking to reinvent your life through your career, check out these hot careers and their quicker education options.

Career #1 - Paralegal

If you've always been fascinated by law, justice, and the legal system, but don't have the time to earn your bachelor's degree and your law degree, you might want to consider a career as a paralegal. Working closely with lawyers, paralegals help by investigating cases, preparing legal documents, and providing assistance during trials.

Search for Paralegal Studies Programs Now

Quick education options: According to the Department of Labor, the most common way to qualify for a career as a paralegal is to complete a two-year associate's degree program. If you already have a bachelor's degree, you can complete a certificate program in paralegal studies, which takes an average of nine months to one year.*

Average earnings potential: $50,080**


Career #2 - Pharmacy Technician

If you lack job satisfaction in your current career and want to make a direct impact on peoples' lives, consider pursuing a career as a pharmacy technician. Pharmacy technicians play an important role in the distribution of medicine to patients, processing prescription requests, counting tablets, and making sure the medicine and information are all correct.

Search for Pharmacy Technician Programs Now

Quick education options: Employers may favor applicants with formal education, says the Department of Labor. Consider earning a pharmacy technician certificate or associate's degree, which could take about six months to two years to complete, respectively.*

Average earning potential: $29,330**


Career #3 - Computer Support Specialist

Do you love technology and enjoy keeping up with the latest trends? Why not take that passion and use it in your career? As a computer support specialist, it might be your job to help support organizations and individuals with their technology-related questions

Search for Computer Science Programs Now

Quick education options: There are many options for aspiring computer support specialist positions. The relatively quicker ones include an associate's degree or certificate in a computer-related field, says the Department of Labor.* Consider studying computer science or information systems.

Average earning potential: $43,450**


Career #4 - Dental Assistant

If you want to help people work towards the perfect smile, look into pursuing dental assistant opportunities. In this in-demand field (according to the Department of Labor, job prospects are excellent), dental assistants work as the dentist's second pair of hands, helping prep patients for treatment and preparing instruments for care.

Search for Dental Assisting Programs Now

Quick education options: According to the Department of Labor, a two-year associate's degree program in dental assisting can help prepare you with the necessary skills for this career. There are one-year certificate programs as well.*

Average earning potential: $32,380**


Career #5 - Bookkeeper

If you're something of a numbers guru, but don't have the time to pursue a bachelor's degree, consider looking into a career as a bookkeeper. Bookkeepers handle financial records for organizations and help calculate receipts and expenditures.

Search for a Business or Accounting Program Now

Quick education options: According to the Department of Labor, bookkeepers often have an associate's degree in business or accounting. These programs take an average of two years to complete.*

Average Earnings: $32,510**


*Time estimates are averages and will vary by student, part- or full-time status, schedules, school, program, and other factors.

**All 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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