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Degrees for Careers that Don’t Require a Bachelor’s Degree: Finding the Right Program for You

By Ryan Hickey updated on Friday, November 08, 2013

As the costs of education continue to climb, many people find themselves in a bind. They need to get a degree that is beyond high school but do not want to risk their futures by leaving school with a mountain of debt. Getting a bachelor’s degree is a great goal, but what if you don’t need a bachelor’s degree for the career you want? Fortunately, many schools offer associate degrees, certificate programs, and vocational degrees to provide you with the career-oriented education you need.

Community colleges typically offer multiple degrees that can be terminal degrees or to start your career. For example, those who are interested in careers in cosmetology or auto service might choose a community college education. Their programs usually combine basic courses and courses that are geared towards the degree program, including preparation for professional licensing. Classes at vocational schools are generally focused exclusively on the intended skill or career path. Although vocational schools can save time and money, coursework cannot usually transfer if you do decide to pursue a bachelor’s degree later in your career.

Another alternative is a private two-year college. While private two-year colleges have been around for over a century, they have only recently entered the college spotlight. The ideal combination of flexibility and transferability of coursework can make them perfect for non-traditional students who need to fit their schooling into a busy life of work and family.  For example, Brown Mackie has over 25 locations in the US and offers programs in a broad range of disciplines, including business, information technology, health sciences, design, and legal studies. The Salina campus is one such location that offers a 2-year program. Because it is a fully-accredited school, you can be confident that your degree will be recognized by employers within your chosen field. If you choose to complete a bachelor’s degree as your career progresses, it is likely that most or all of your credits can be applied to your 4-year degree program (like the 4-year program at Salina that complements the 2-year program).

In the 2000s, there was a trend in people ‘front loading’ their careers with all of the education that they needed before gaining any real world experience. Now, employers are looking for experience as well as education, and people are thinking in terms of a ‘career ladder’ that includes gaining higher levels of education along the career path. The rising costs of education and changing demands of employers mean that it might be a better choice to acquire an entry-level education first and then add further education based on the specifics of your career progression.

About the Author

Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Peterson's and an expert in college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in admissions for nearly a decade writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants. He enjoys sharing his knowledge to aid others in achieving their educational goals and, when he gets a break, loves hiking and fly fishing with his wife and two border-collie mixes.

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