Dental Hygienist Named as a Top Job for 2-Year Degrees

While many job seekers know that candidates don't always need to have a diploma from 4-year college on their resume

 in order to find work, there are a handful of positions that stand out as some of the best paying for graduates with a 2-year associate's degree.

A new study by the financial literacy website NerdWallet found that based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many jobs that require 2-year degrees pay more than those that need advanced postsecondary training.

The common, accepted advice is to go to school for  4 years or longer, but there are great opportunities to go for less time and still get a high return on your investment, Joseph Audette, vice of Financial Literacy and Education at NerdWallet, told Forbes. "It's not just about going to college. It's about going with a plan for success."

As it turns out, many of those jobs are in the healthcare field, including positions in dentistry. The study found that opportunities for dental hygienists are expected to increase by 38% over the next 7 years and pay an average annual salary of $68,000.

In Georgia, 12 colleges and universities offer associated degree programs for people interested in pursuing a career in health care who want to become dental hygienists. One of the main reason so many postsecondary institutes have added the program to their curriculum is because there more public health job opportunities available in rural Georgia than in any other state.

It's competitive to get into our program and it's harder to get a job in metro Atlanta in this economy, but it's still the most rewarding work I've ever done, Cherie Rainwater, department chair of dental hygiene at Georgia Perimeter College, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "In the long range, this is a viable, rewarding and much-needed career. As the population ages, there will be more demand for dental hygienists," she added.

Those thinking about a future in dentistry may want to take an online aptitude test to determine if they have the skills needed to advance in the field and which degree of postsecondary training will suit their needs.

Students studying dental hygiene typically take a number of science and related classes including anatomy and physiology, dental tissues, dental radiology, dental pharmacology, oral pathology and periodontology, as well as learn about dental hygiene techniques and instrumentation. For licensure, a person must be a graduate of an accredited U.S. dental hygiene program, take the National Board Hygiene Exam and pass a state or regional test.

However, students who want to advance in the field may want to consider adding a 4-year degree to their resume because it could open up more avenues.

For example, NPR recently reported that there has been a 175% increase in the number of online job postings looking for dental lab technicians with a bachelor's degree over the past 5 years. Dr. Madeleine Haggerty, dental hygiene program director for Youngstown State University in Ohio, said the school recently began offering a bachelor's degree because of student demand.

There are more options for dental hygienists that have a bachelor’s degree, Haggerty told WKBN News. "They can work in public health, research, marketing, dental sales, teach."

Similar to an associate's degree, a 4-year program in dental hygiene includes general education classes, as well as course that will expand their clinical expertise. While there are no postsecondary education requirements to become a dental lab technician, a bachelor's degree typically prepares workers how to perform complex tasks that include advanced laboratory operations, how to work with dental materials such as bridges and dentures and rehabilitation.

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