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EDUCATION

Get a Head-Start on High Paying Careers with a Two-Year Degree

People always say that it's better to love what you do than to make lots of money. But let's face it -- the money would be nice, too, and there's no shame in admitting that. The question is, what are some of the best paying careers that you can jump into without a bachelor's degree -- and how do you get started?

When it comes to the careers with great salaries, one very clear fact emerges: we Americans value our health, our computers and our legal rights. The professionals who safeguard them are earning some pretty sweet salaries.

Health Care

The 77 million baby boomers in this country are aging, which is why eight of the ten fastest-growing careers are health care related.

Because of this "elder boom," Nursing opportunities are excellent and the employment is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through 2016. There are several ways to obtain an education in nursing, and most nursing programs offer online classes in addition to the traditional learning environment. Registered nurses can earn a bachelor's degree in nursing an associate degree in nursing or a diploma in nursing from an approved nursing program.

The bachelor's nursing program is customarily a four-year program offered by colleges and universities. The associate nursing program is a two or three year program offered by junior and community colleges. Diploma programs are typically available in hospitals and take about three years. Earning an associate degree in nursing is a great gateway into the nursing profession. For nurses with a diploma or associate degree, bachelor's degrees offer the chance to increase education and salary.

Many nurses who have earned a nursing diploma or associate degree work in the nursing field as they continue their education at the bachelor's level. Tuition reimbursement is widely available in these circumstances. To move up through the ranks to head nursing and administrative positions, master's degrees in nursing are usually required. The median wage for a nurse is over $60,000 a year. Depending on specialty, location and education level, nurses can earn a mean wage of over $90,000.

Computer Sciences

They may be made of wires and microchips, but they're as dear to our hearts as, well, our hearts. Those who know how to keep computers alive and kicking are usually paid accordingly. Armed with an associate degree in information technology, computer and information systems graduates play a vital role in the technological maintenance and development of a company. They do everything from network administration to security support. The median wage for computer support specialists is over $42,000 a year. For those working in certain areas, the mean wage soars to over $63,600.

While an associate degree will get you in the door, continuing your education as you work in the field will give you the chance to become a computer and information system manager. These vital employees do everything from constructing business plans to overseeing network security or directing Internet operations, and they oversee the work of others like systems analysts or computer programmers.

Computer and information systems managers can earn this responsibility with a bachelor's degree and an MBA or other graduate degree with a core technology component. This education combined with on-the-job training as a programmer or systems analyst is a straight path for IT experts who want to move into management. Computer and information systems managers earn a median wage of $108,000 a year and a mean yearly wage of over $140,000 in certain areas.

The Law

We live in an increasingly litigious society. Lawsuits are crowding our legal institutions, and lawyers and judges need help keeping up with the demand. With a certificate or associate degree in paralegal studies, paralegals are helping meet this demand. While paralegals are prohibited from giving legal advice and arguing cases in court, they can perform just about every other legal task including drafting contracts and pleadings, interviewing clients and witnesses, and researching cases.

An associate in paralegal studies will give you the tools you need to have a successful law career. If you've already got a bachelor's degree, there are accelerated weekend, evening and online study programs to earn a paralegal certificate. Paralegal degree and certificate programs include courses in legal writing, research, law and ethics, investigation and interviewing.

Employment of paralegals is projected to grow 22 percent through the next eight years, which the BLS characterizes as "much faster than the average for all occupations." The median yearly wage for paralegals is $44,990, with the top 10 percent of the profession earning $71,480.

Love and Money

While the jumping off point for these careers is an associate degree, the sky is the limit once you've started working in your chosen field. If you want to safeguard people's health, computers or legal rights, your earning potential is in your hands.