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No field, not even computer science, is growing like health care. The reasons for the growth have been rehearsed over and over: an exploding population; the aging of the Baby Boomers; and advanced in medical technology, just to name a few.

The simple fact is, if you want the security of knowing you’ll always be able to find a job, health care is the way to go. Whether you’re planning to become a registered nurse, a substance-abuse counselor, a nurse practitioner, or a brain surgeon, qualified health-care workers are needed at all levels and in all geographic regions. Salaries range from an average of $65,000 for an RN, to six and seven figures for specialized surgeons.

(Check out: University, Community College or Trade School: Which Makes the Most Economic Sense?)

Degree Program Types

AS: The place to start in health care is the associate’s degree, the standard for a registered nurse, technician (such a dental hygenist or radiologist), or assistants (such as physical therapist assistant). An associate’s degree is as simple as two years in a community college, though most jobs also require licensure.

(Check out: What is the Benefit of Going to a Community College?)

BS: The bachelor degree is necessary for higher-paying, higher-status jobs. Many registered nurses find themselves going back to school for the BSN, for instance, to gain access to better positions. It’s also an entry-level degree for professions in behavioral science such as counseling, as well as for more specialized technical roles such as MRI technicians. Most health care bachelor degrees are 4 year programs, though some are 5 years.

MS/MSN/PA/NP: In most fields of health care, the master’s degree will open doors for managerial positions, higher-order technicians, and therapists. For nurses who wish to take on leadership roles, the MSN is usually a minimum requirement, as well as for nurse midwives and nurse practitioners. Occupational and physical therapists will need a master’s degree, as will many counseling positions. Usually two to three years, most master’s level degrees are readily available online for students already working in the health care field.

MD/DO/PhD: To be a doctor or surgeon, you need an MD or a DO. To be a psychiatrist or psychologist, you need a doctorate. To teach health care at the college level, you need a PhD. In any case, a doctoral degree is a major commitment, requiring anywhere from 3 to 7 years of work.

Online vs. Residential Programs

The question of whether to choose an online or residential program is moot at the lowest levels; because health care requires a lot of hands-on experience, the associate degree pretty much always requires residential education, usually through community college or tech school. That goes especially for the RN. There’s more flexibility at the bacherlor’s level – some online programs are available for students who already have an associate’s degree, though online BSN programs often require students to travel for clinical experience, so few are truly 100% online degrees.

(check out: Are Online Degrees a Good Investment?)

At the master’s level, online programs can be tricky as well. There are many places to earn an online MSN, and counseling degrees can often be found online as well, though the issue of clinicals comes up again; sometimes you can get clinical credit from your current work, but not always. The real question is whether potential employers will trust your online degree. If it’s backed up with experience, it will probably be no problem, but if all you have is an online degree with little or no experience in a clinical setting, forget it.

To make a long story short, online programs in health care are fine if you’re very confident in your knowledge and have a lot of experience in your field; otherwise, you’re probably safer with a residential program.

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Financing Education

Everyone’s college education begins with the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). It’s the document that determines your official need, and what you have available in financial aid. It’s the main determinant in the Federal Work Study Program, for instance, a government program that allows students to pay for tuition in exchange for work. It’s an often-overlooked option, but useful, in that it’s usually on-campus for residential students, scheduled around your classes, and can be directly related to your major or intended career path (unlike, say, a job with a paper hat). Pell grants are another form of federal aid that do not need to be repaid.

Most American students end up taking out some form of student loan, the amount of which is also determined by the FAFSA. Federal loans are either subsidized or unsubsidized, and usually offer flexible options for repayment; private loans, through banks, run the gamut from easy to predatory. Take out loans wisely.

Another option is scholarships, which come from all kinds of sources. Some scholarships are offered by the college or university in a need-based or merit-based system (determined by a student’s or family’s income, or on academic performance). Others come from private sources for a variety of criteria: scholarships for women, scholarships for minorities, scholarships for contest winners, scholarships for anyone willing to do an obscure job no one has ever heard of. These can be highly competitive, or available to anyone who asks.

Working adults may find their employer offers tuition reimbursement as a benefit. These programs usually require that you get a degree directly related to the job, since more qualified, better-educated employees are an advantage to the company.

Career Paths

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those entering the healthcare sector will find themselves in one of the most stable career paths available. A meaningful and fulfilling career doesn’t always pay the most, however, the reward in helping humanity often trumps monetary wealth. The world will always need  registered nurses, radiologists, laboratory technicians, counselors, nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, psychiatrists, or one of the many different specialized doctors. Future healthcare workers can expect a decent wage and a plethora of job opportunity.