Hands-On Degrees You Could Earn In Two Years


Ready to take your future seriously? With the right hands-on education, you could prepare to pursue a great career in as little as two years.

By Jennifer Quintenz

Is the thought of spending four years or more in college the only thing keeping you from preparing for a new career? Well what if you could earn the degree you need in as little as two years?

"I think it's absolutely doable to prepare for a good career in just two years," says Melissa Loble, associate dean of distance learning at the University of California, Irvine. "Particularly in careers that require practitioner-based education."

By "practitioner-based education," Loble means learning the skills of your career during your education. "Paralegal work, nursing, education - these are some of the careers where you need to learn the practical skills of the job to be successful in your career," she explains.

Does a hands-on degree program sound like just the thing to motivate you toward making that career change? If so, keep reading to learn about five degrees that will keep you busy learning practical skills and may only take as little as two years to complete.

Degree #1 - Nursing

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Were you the kid with a row of "sick" dolls that you lovingly nursed back to health? Consider putting those nurturing instincts to work by earning your associate's degree in nursing.

"This is a great two-year degree to pursue," says Loble. "It's very skill-based, hands-on clinical work - exactly the kind of degree that can be done successfully in two years. It's taught by actual nurses, so it gives you exposure to patient care, and the environment and systems you'll be working with when you're nursing. In a nursing program, you're learning as you're doing on the job."

According to the College Board, a nonprofit organization that promotes higher education, some of the typical major courses for this degree include childbearing-family nursing, health assessment, nutrition, and anatomy and physiology. You might also study microbiology, pharmacology, and psychology.

Next Step: Click to Find the Right Nursing Program.

Potential Career: Registered Nurse

Once you earn your degree in nursing, you'll need to get licensed before you can qualify for an entry-level position as a registered nurse, says the U.S. Department of Labor. And, Loble notes, you might be able to get an entry-level position with an associate's degree, and then earn your bachelor's of science in nursing while working.

Degree #2 - Early Childhood Education

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Do children love to hang out with you because you listen to them and make them feel important? It takes a special person to create a nurturing environment for kids to learn and grow in. And if you want to turn this quality of yours into a career, consider earning your associate's degree in early childhood education.

"Early education programs are incredibly valuable to the student," says Loble. "You're immediately exposed to the classroom setting, which is critical in education. No matter what you learn academically or on paper, until you do it, you don't understand the day-to-day requirements of the job. Many of these two-year programs have you learning while you're doing - so you're building the skills you'll need on the job."

Some of the classes typical of this major include child development, classroom management, instructional design, and curriculum methods, according to the College Board.

Next Step: Click to Find the Right Child Education Program.

Potential Career: Preschool Teacher

Studying early childhood education could prepare you to pursue a career as a preschool teacher, but requirements vary by state, notes the U.S. Department of Labor. While they range from a diploma and certification to a college degree, some employers prefer applicants with postsecondary education in early childhood education. Some states and employers may also require you to have a nationally-recognized certification, like one from the Child Development Association (CDA).

And the Department of Labor also points out that teachers in Head Start - the government education program for children from low-income families - are obligated to have at least an associate's degree.  

Degree #4 - Dental Hygiene

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You know keeping your teeth and gums healthy results in more than just a pretty smile - good oral hygiene can contribute to your overall health. And if you want to take a stand on the front lines of oral health and help others, consider earning your associate's degree in dental hygiene.

"Most dental hygiene programs are hands on," says Roy Blitzer, an independent executive coach with a specialty in career management. "If you're interested in becoming a hygienist, you have to shadow someone. Follow them around and see how they spend their time during the day at their office."

As for some of the classes you might take for this major, nutrition, radiography, dental hygiene techniques, and periodontology could all be part of the program, according to the College Board.

Next Step: Click to Find the Right Dental Hygiene Program.

Potential Career: Dental Hygienist

After earning your associate's degree in dental hygiene, you could be qualified to pursue a career as a dental hygienist. That's because according to the U.S. Department of Labor, if you want to get started in this field, you'll typically need an associate's degree in dental hygiene. Additionally, the Department of Labor says every state requires dental hygienists to be licensed.

Degree #5 - Veterinary Technology

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Do you have an innate need to help animals who might be sick or hurting? Consider earning your associate's degree in veterinary technology in as little as two years, and you could be the one helping them get back to health.

This is another two-year degree that can provide what Loble calls practitioner-based education - helping expose you to the hands-on skills of the job. Volunteering is another way to get a taste of the career, which you can do before, during, or after you enroll for your degree.

According to the College Board, some of the courses that are typical for this major include animal anatomy and physiology, animal nutrition, parasitology, veterinary pharmacology and anesthesia, and veterinary surgical nursing.

Next Step: Click to Find the Right Veterinary Technology Program.

Potential Career: Veterinary Technician

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, you must complete a postsecondary program in veterinary technology to pursue a career as a vet technician. Most of these programs offer two-year associate's degrees. Veterinary technicians also need to take an exam to get credentials, and are required to become licensed, certified, or registered, depending on the state.

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