20 In-Demand Jobs You Can Get With a Two-Year Degree

20 In-Demand Jobs You Can Get With a Two-Year Degree

By Chinh Ngo

Published on January 14, 2021

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While a four-year college education does prepare many people for career entry, the financial commitment can be hefty. Student loan debt in the U.S. is around $1.7 trillion, and the average bachelor's degree-holder owes more than $20,000 in student loans.

To save money and time, some Americans opt to pursue trade and technical careers that only require a high school diploma, certificate, or associate degree. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that, for the 2017-18 academic year, students attending two-year colleges spent an average of $10,700 on tuition, fees, and room and board, while learners attending four-year universities paid $27,360.

Many trade and technical professions pay well, and they may also be less competitive because high school graduates often overlook them as viable options. For example, a survey by the Associated General Contractors of America reveals that 70% of construction companies actually have trouble finding skilled employees to meet the demands of their growing industry.

What In-Demand Jobs Can I Get With an Associate Degree?

The list below describes 20 in-demand jobs you can get with an associate degree. These careers boast projected growth rates that far exceed the 3.7% average projected growth for all U.S. occupations, according to projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2019-29.

While you may be able to land some of these positions with only a high school diploma or a postsecondary certificate, earning a two-year degree can give you an advantage during the job hunt and prepare you for bachelor's completion later on, should you choose to return to school.

Wind Turbine Service Technicians


Wind turbine service technician is the fastest-growing occupation in the United States. These professionals inspect, maintain, and repair wind turbines, particularly the nacelle, which holds the gears, brakes, and generator.

Windtechs also service auxiliary components like fiber optic sensors and underground transmission systems. Additionally, they gather turbine data for analysis by personnel at a central office.

Education Requirements: Professionals typically obtain a certificate or associate degree in wind turbine energy technology and complete additional on-the-job training. Median Annual Salary (2019): $52,910 Projected Job Growth (2019-29): 61%

Solar Photovoltaic Installers


Also called PV installers, these professionals set up systems (usually located on rooftops) that turn sunlight into energy. They configure these systems according to client needs, building support structures and weatherproofing as necessary. PV installers work with electricians to activate these energy systems, checking for proper grounding and wiring.

Education Requirements: Most PV installers complete an apprenticeship or on-the-job training after earning their high school diploma. Many pursue professional certification from the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners. Median Annual Salary (2019): $44,890 Projected Job Growth (2019-29): 51%

Occupational Therapy Assistants


With the guidance of licensed occupational therapists, these assistants lead patients through exercises that help them recover from injury and maintain the physical skills they need for daily life. These professionals may also support children with developmental disabilities, facilitating activities that build coordination and social skills. In addition to therapists' offices, occupational therapy assistants work in nursing care facilities and hospitals.

Education Requirements: Candidates need an associate degree recognized by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. They must also pursue state licensure, which requires passing the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy exam. Median Annual Salary (2019): $61,510 Projected Job Growth (2019-29): 35%

Home Health and Personal Care Aides


These professionals help older adults and disabled individuals perform daily tasks like bathing, buying groceries, and washing their clothes. While personal care aides are limited to nonmedical tasks, home health aides can check a client's vitals and give them medication as directed by nurses or other healthcare practitioners.

Education Requirements: To work for a licensed hospice or home health agency, aides may need to complete a certificate program and additional on-the-job training. Other personal care positions may only require a high school diploma. Median Annual Salary (2019): $25,280 Projected Job Growth (2019-29): 34%

Physical Therapist Assistants


Also known as PTAs, these professionals work under licensed physical therapists to help patients recover from illness or injury. Physical therapist assistants lead patients through exercises designed to lessen pain and strengthen mobility. They also educate patients on how to use equipment like walkers and stretch bands, as required by their treatment plans.

Education Requirements: Physical therapist assistants need an associate degree in physical therapy accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. They also need to earn state licensure, which requires passing the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy exam. Median Annual Salary (2019): $58,790 Projected Job Growth (2019-29): 33%

Derrick Operators


Derrick operators usually work in the oil and gas industry, using drilling rigs and pumps to extract natural resources from far beneath the Earth. These professionals oversee every component of the derrick, including the console that displays performance and progress information. Derrick operators can also work on construction crews, handling cranes and towers to move heavy equipment.

Education Requirements: In addition to earning a high school diploma, derrick operators usually complete an apprenticeship or diploma/certificate program. Median Annual Salary (2019): $46,990 Projected Job Growth (2019-29): 31%

Forest Fire Inspectors and Prevention Specialists


Forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists patrol residential and public outdoor areas to look for potential hazards, including human-made and naturally occurring wildfire risks. These professionals report conditions back to their central command, preparing to address the hazards as necessary. The majority of inspectors and preventionists work for government agencies at the local and state levels.

Education Requirements: Many U.S. states require forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists to take certification exams established by the National Fire Protection Association. Median Annual Salary (2019): $45,270 Projected Job Growth (2019-29): 24%

Restaurant Cooks


Restaurant cooks prepare a variety of appetizers, entrees, and desserts. At the beginning of their careers, cooks typically work at a single station on the line, learning how to handle a grill or other kitchen instrument. As they gain more experience, restaurant cooks may advance into the position of head cook or chef, creating the restaurant's menu and managing daily staff activities.

Education Requirements: Some cooks pursue formal training at culinary schools, while others prefer to develop their skills practically by immediately joining the workforce. Median Annual Salary (2019): $27,790 Projected Job Growth (2019-29): 23%

Animal Caretakers


Animal caretakers water, feed, bathe, groom, and exercise pets and nonfarm animals. They also perform routine checkups, looking for signs of illness or injury and recording the information on detailed reports. About a quarter of animal caretakers are self-employed, with the remaining professionals working for pet stores, veterinary clinics, animal shelters, and zoos.

Education Requirements: Animal caretakers usually complete a high school diploma, followed by on-the-job training. They can also obtain certification from an organization like Pet Sitters International. Median Annual Salary (2019): $24,780 Projected Job Growth (2019-29): 23%

Massage Therapists


By strategically manipulating a client's muscles and other soft tissues, massage therapists relieve stress and pain and improve bodily circulation. Through their work, these professionals can even help their clients recover from illness and injury. Experienced massage therapists are skilled in multiple techniques, including deep tissue, sports, and Swedish massage.

Education Requirements: Massage therapists usually complete a diploma or certificate program before pursuing licensure by passing the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination or a state-specific test. Median Annual Salary (2019): $42,820 Projected Job Growth (2019-29): 21%

Extraction Worker Helpers


As part of their apprenticeship, extraction worker helpers assist derrick operators, earth drillers, and explosives workers. They gain the hands-on experience required for certification and licensure by cleaning work areas and preparing necessary equipment. These professionals also assist with loading and unloading heavy equipment, conducting routine maintenance, and making emergency repairs.

Education Requirements: These helpers need a high school diploma or GED, followed by on-the-job training that leads to a professional certificate or license. Median Annual Salary (2019): $37,120 Projected Job Growth (2019-29): 20%

Respiratory Therapists


Respiratory therapists support patients with emphysema and asthma, as well as infants whose lungs have not fully developed. They can also work as part of an emergency care team, treating people suffering from shock and heart attacks. Respiratory therapists collaborate with doctors to develop treatment plans, which can include treatments like aerosol medications and chest physiotherapy.

Education Requirements: Candidates need an associate degree accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care and state licensure. Median Annual Salary (2019): $61,330 Projected Job Growth (2019-29): 19%

Manicurists and Pedicurists


These beauticians shape, clean, and decorate fingernails and toenails according to their clients' wishes. Using clippers and cuticle tools, manicurists and pedicurists trim nails, remove calluses, and moisturize skin. They also teach their clients to maintain healthy nails and promote the sale of beauty products like lotion and nail polish.

Education Requirements: Most states (except Connecticut) require these professionals to complete a cosmetology program and obtain licensure. Median Annual Salary (2019): $25,770 Projected Job Growth (2019-29): 19%

Medical Assistants


Medical assistants perform clerical and administrative duties like answering phone calls, scheduling appointments, and updating patient records. They may also help physicians during examinations by measuring vital signs, giving medication, and preparing blood samples for laboratory analysis. While the majority of medical assistants work in doctors' offices, these professionals can also find employment with hospitals and outpatient care centers.

Education Requirements: Most medical assistants have some form of postsecondary education, such as a diploma, certificate, or associate degree in medical assisting. Median Annual Salary (2019): $34,800 Projected Job Growth (2019-29): 19%

Flight Attendants


Flight attendants ensure airline passengers have a safe and comfortable trip by providing routine services (like drinks and snacks) and responding to emergencies (like prolonged turbulence). Before the flight begins, these professionals gather for briefings with pilots. After all passengers depart the aircraft, flight attendants check cabin conditions and report any issues to management.

Education Requirements: Aspiring flight attendants should complete employer-provided training and obtain certification from the Federal Aviation Administration. Median Annual Salary (2019): $56,640 Projected Job Growth (2019-29): 17%

Phlebotomists


These healthcare professionals draw blood for donations, testing, transfusions, and scientific research. Before the procedure, certified phlebotomists talk with patients to confirm their identity and help them feel less nervous. Afterward, they ensure the blood samples are properly labeled and update patient information in an electronic database.

Education Requirements: These experts typically need to complete a postsecondary certificate program. Depending on their employer, they may also need professional certification through organizations like American Medical Technologists or the National Phlebotomy Association. Median Annual Salary (2019): $35,510 Projected Job Growth (2019-29): 17%

Diagnostic Medical Sonographers


These professionals use imaging equipment to examine organs and tissues through ultrasounds and sonograms; physicians use imaging results to diagnose diseases. Many diagnostic medical sonographers also help surgeons prepare for procedures. Sonographers can specialize in an area of the body (like the abdomen, blood vessels, or heart) or a patient group (like women or infants and children).

Education Requirements: Employers typically require candidates to hold an associate in sonography accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs and professional certification from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography. Median Annual Salary (2019): $74,320 Projected Job Growth (2019-29): 17%

Social and Human Service Assistants


Social and human service assistants help individual clients and families access government resources and community support. They can work in local and state government agencies, community centers, nursing care facilities, and nonprofit organizations. These professionals collaborate with social workers to determine client needs, create treatment plans, and coordinate relevant services.

Education Requirements: These assistants may need to have an associate in human services. They also complete on-the-job training. Median Annual Salary (2019): $35,060 Projected Job Growth (2019-29): 17%

Skincare Specialists


Skincare specialists treat their clients' bodies and faces to enhance their appearance and boost their self-esteem. They clean the skin, remove unwanted hair using laser and wax treatments, and help clients maintain a routine using appropriate cleansers and creams. About half of skincare specialists work for personal care services like beauty salons and day spas.

Education Requirements: Candidates must follow their state's requirements, which may include completing an esthetician or cosmetology program and passing a state licensure examination. Median Annual Salary (2019): $34,090 Projected Job Growth (2019-29): 17%

Veterinary Technologists and Technicians


Working under the guidance of licensed veterinarians, these professionals conduct procedures like X-rays, blood counts, and urinalysis to diagnose animal illnesses and injuries. Veterinary technologists and technicians also assist with surgical procedures, administering anesthesia and monitoring the animal's condition. Technicians usually work in private practices, while technologists typically focus on laboratory research.

Education Requirements: Technicians need an associates in vet tech, while technologists may need to complete a bachelor's program. Both types of workers must pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination before applying for state licensure. Median Annual Salary (2019): $35,320 Projected Job Growth (2019-29): 16%

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