Pursuing an associate's degree is an economical way to ensure a promising future. For starters, you won't accumulate massive amounts of debt that'll adversely affect your financial future due to the rising cost of tuition. Most importantly, it'll enable you to secure a great job and fulfilling career that'll produce a bounty of rewards during your lifetime. The following 15 jobs are proof of that, providing all the perks bachelor's degree holders expect after putting in two additional years of academic work. (All salary information is courtesy of PayScale, and figures pertain to workers with 10 to 19 years of experience. All job projections are courtesy of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)
- Cardiovascular Technologist, $59,500 – $90,731: The lifesaving work performed by cardiologists wouldn't be possible without their trusty cardiovascular technologists. By providing information and images from echocardiograms, blood vessel studies and stress tests, they help prevent and treat heart attacks, strokes and other issues of the heart and its accompanying vessels. They specialize in different areas, including invasive cardiology, noninvasive technology and echocardiography. Thanks to the aging population and increased prevalence of heart disease, cardiovascular technologists will be in high demand from 2008 to 2018, as employment will grow 24 percent.
- Forensic Science Technician, $48,279 – $86,474: Criminal investigations require the careful collection, identification, classification and analysis from trained forensic science technicians. Testing items such as hair and fiber, they enable the team of investigators to develop hypotheses for their cases. On many occasions, they're asked to testify as expert witnesses during trials. Employment for all science technicians is expected to increase by 12 percent from 2008 to 2018.
- Radiation Therapist, $61,042 – $82,733: The ongoing fight against cancer relies on the expertise of radiation therapists, who use advanced radiation therapy equipment, such as the linear accelerator, to administer treatment. They work closely with doctors to design an appropriate course of action in a patient's battle and monitor their progress through it all. Radiation therapists must be organized, pay close attention to detail and genuinely care about the well-being of others. From 2008 to 2018, the occupation is expected to see 27 percent growth.
- Geological and Petroleum Technician, $52,080 – $81,389: Assisting petroleum engineers and other workers in the oil and gas industry, geological and petroleum technicians study the mineral and element characteristics of geological samples. Their ultimate goal, in many cases, is to find sources of oil and natural gas. Much of their work is performed in labs where they sometimes have to operate complex equipment. Employment for all science technicians is expected to grow by 12 percent from 2008 to 2018.
- Diagnostic Medical Sonographer, $54,640 – $74,403: A sonogram not only enables the sonographer to monitor the health of a fetus, but it also enables them to monitor the condition of vital organs such as the heart and kidneys. With their knowledge of pathology and anatomy, they can interpret the information they've obtained in the company of a physician. Like the other jobs listed in the medical field, the demand for diagnostic medical sonographers remains healthy. Employment is expected to increase by 18 percent from 2008 to 2018.
- Nuclear Medicine Technologist, $59,613 – $72,719: Nuclear Medicine Technologists uncover the function of organs or tissues by administering drugs that emit radiation, allowing equipment to take images of the areas. It's an efficient and effective way for doctors to diagnose problems and determine the proper treatments. Technologists are familiar with the effects of radiation, and therefore take close care when performing their jobs. From 2008 to 2018, 15 percent employment growth is expected, though competition will be high because of the amount of trained nuclear medicine technologists.
- Police Officer, $41,805 – $71,190: For those who want to devote their lives to serving and protecting, a career as a police officer is most appealing. Although the specificity of their duties may vary depending on whether they work for the local, state or federal government, they devote much of their time to catching suspects and documenting their experiences for court use. A good police officer must possess courage and must be devoted to the location in which they work. They are invaluable, and because of that, they'll always be needed. Employment growth of 10 percent is expected from 2008 to 2018 — aspiring officers with the most training will have the easiest time finding jobs.
- Registered Nurse, $49,830 – $71,106: There will always be a strong demand for registered nurses given the importance of their duties. Good nurses are strong-willed and patient, as they deal with sick patients — some of whom may be disoriented and irrational — on a daily basis and are often required to work 12-hour shifts. Of course, they must be alert at all times and there's little margin for error. Not everyone possesses the traits to be a competent nurse, so the career should only be pursued by those with a passion for caring for others. There will be plenty of opportunity for aspiring nurses in the coming years — from 2008 to 2018, employment is expected to grow by 22 percent.
- Court Reporter, $44,467 – $69,622: The responsibilities of the court reporter are simple but difficult. They transcribe what is said during trials and depositions, and accuracy is of the utmost importance, as the meaning of a sentence and thus entire deposition can be altered by a single word. Because there's only one court reporter in a courtroom in most cases, the entire burden falls on them. Durability, patience and a commitment to their craft are essential. From 2008 to 2018, employment is expected to grow by 18 percent.
- Dental Hygienist, $41,644 – $65,532: Without dental hygienists, you would be making plenty more trips to the dentist, which can prove very costly. It's their duty to examine and clean patients' teeth using a variety of tools and methods. Because it's a job that involves taking people out of their comfort zones, a dental hygienist must be good with people, calming their patients when performing their work. One of the fastest growing occupations, employment is expected to grow by 36 percent from 2008 to 2018.
- Physical Therapist Assistant, $43,489 – $62,508: An associate's degree equips aspiring physical therapist assistants with the knowledge they need to effectively help people with injuries and disabilities, rebuilding their strength and flexibility. Under the supervision of a physical therapist, they also record the progress of patients and help determine the right courses of action. It should be noted that if you wish to become a physical therapist, you should pursue a master's degree, an altogether separate course. A large increase in employment, 35 percent, is expected for the occupation from 2008 to 2018.
- Respiratory Therapist, $45,306 – $60,260: You already know that oxygen is essential for life — that's why respiratory therapists are so important. Working in settings ranging from homes to hospitals, they treat people with breathing disorders, including those with emphysema, cystic fibrosis and asthma using breathing machines. From 2008 to 2018, the occupation will see an increase of 21 percent.
- Paralegal, $40,975 – $59,896: A lawyer is nothing without a competent paralegal. Acting as their lawyer's right-hand man or woman, they lend their legal knowledge to research for big cases, help draft documents for litigation and reports, and follow changing cases and laws. Typically, paralegals focus on one area of law where they're the most passionate. Because of their value to the legal field, employment for the profession is expected to grow by 28 percent from 2008 to 2018.
- Computer Support Specialist, $40,168 – $58,557: As technology continues to expand, the demand for trained individuals who are capable of solving the problems it brings forth will continue to rise. Using their knowledge of computers and their software, computer support specialists work for companies where they assist employees or provide technical support, or for software companies that release new software periodically. Employment for computer support specialists is expected to increase by 14 percent from 2008 to 2018.
- Funeral Director, $38,644 – $53,868: It takes a special personality to be a trusted funeral director — a good one can help bring closure to a family after a difficult loss. The job is inherently complicated, as they help families select a casket or urn, schedule wakes, burials and the appropriate accommodations, release obituaries, and prepare grave sites. The job requires great attention to detail and patience, but it can be tremendously rewarding. Prospective funeral directors won't have too difficult of a time finding jobs in the coming years — from 2008 to 2018, 12 percent growth is expected.
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