When it comes to earning a college degree, attending a four-year university may not be the surest route to a successful career: Depending on what you're interested in pursuing, a two-year or technical certificate can offer a better return on your investment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, careers in fields such as health care, manufacturing and information technology offer median earnings of up to $55,000 or more for graduates with associate degrees. Interested in the specifics? Check our
U.S. News & World Report’s four degrees that are better to earn at a community college below:
- Engineering technology: High-tech employers are looking for specific skills rather than degrees. This is especially the case in manufacturing, where employers have a hard time filling open positions, says Jason Premo, founder of the South Carolina-based aerospace manufacturing company Adex Machining Technologies. The median salary for aerospace engineering technicians ranges from $55,000-$75,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; with additional on-the-job training, that figure could rise significantly, Premo says.
- Radiation technology and medical imaging: Radiation therapist, nuclear medicine technologist and diagnostic medical sonographer are three high-paying positions a student can take on with a two-year degree. In 2012, radiation therapists and nuclear medicine technologists earned median salaries of $77,560 and $70,180, respectively, according to the most recent data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Plumbing and heating: A college degree isn't required to become a plumber or HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) technician. Instead, students become apprentices, where they receive on-the-job training (with a salary!) and take classes in math and science that cover topics relevant to the field, such as hydraulics and mechanical drafting. Apprentice programs are either offered directly via a union or through a community or technical college. The programs are typically tuition-free and trainees earn technical certifications and professional licenses required to work in the field.
- Dental hygiene: Bachelor’s and associate degrees in dental hygiene are both considered entry-level requirements for a career in the field but an associate degree is by far the more common route. The median salary for hygienists in 2012 was $70,210, according to BLS, which also estimated that job openings in the field will increase by 33 percent over the next few years.
Are you considering a two-year degree or technical certificate as opposed to a bachelor’s degree? If so, are you pursuing any of the careers listed above? Share your thoughts in our comments section. For more on the pros and cons of community college, head over to our College Prep section. And while you’re there, don’t forget to create a free Scholarships.com profile to help you fund your education.