Deciding to become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer is step one. The next step is selecting the sonography degree to pursue, and that determines eligible ultrasound technician programs. What goes into the decision to pursue one type of degree over another in 2017 is a mix of diverse factors that include everything from finances to family preferences. Balancing the factors can be challenging at times because they involve practical and personal inputs that may collide at times.
There is a lot of proverbial handwringing going on in the sonography forums as people seek advice on the type of sonography degree to pursue. Some of the factors influencing the decision are obvious, like the time frame a student has in mind. It takes much less time to earn an Associate Degree in Diagnostic Medical Sonography than a Bachelor Degree in Sonography. Students who need to get to work as soon as possible may choose to pursue the Associate Degree or consider certificate programs.
Second Thoughts on the Right Sonography Degree
Not all factors to consider are as obvious as things like the desire to enter the job market as quickly as possible. There are some other points to keep in mind that are discussed less often.
Money is always a factor in modern life and can drive the choice of degree pursued. However, it is important to think in terms of not letting finances limit educational opportunities rather than saying, “I can’t afford it.” Most sonography programs are offered at schools that are approved for awarding federal and state grants and loan. They can also direct students to available scholarship funds. The three main issues with finances are:
- School rates for tuition and fees and program fees
- Amount of private funds available to cover education costs
- Amount of financial aid available to close the gap between total costs and financial aid
It is important to apply for as many scholarships as possible and as soon as it makes sense. Though the financial aid office will assist the student in identifying potential scholarships, there are thousands available that do not go through the school. The student must make the effort to find and apply for them and not rely solely on the school.
Many students make the mistake of only applying for a few scholarships and are disappointed when none come through. Apply for fifty or more scholarships and the chances of getting multiple awards are greatly increased. If a student really wants a Bachelor’s Degree but is settling for an Associate’s Degree due to a shortage of funds, the best step to take is to begin applying for sonography scholarships found on sites like fastweb.com or UltrasounTechnicianCenter.org.
Local Employer Practices
Do local employers prefer to hire sonographers who have a Bachelor’s degree? That information is found in a couple of ways. Students can discuss the post-graduation employment rates with the school offering a CAAHEP accredited sonography program. It may be that those with an Associate Degree experience a high employment rate then the two-year degree is likely as good a choice as the four-year degree.
A second method for understanding local hiring practices is to browse the open job postings on major employment sites like Indeed.com, Monster.com, SimplyHired.com and so on. The listed jobs contain a wealth of information because they explain the requirements for education, training, certification and experience. Since the listings can be sorted by city and state, it is easy to locate local information. By the way, Monster.com names the position of Diagnostic Medical Sonographer as one of the best jobs available for someone with an Associate Degree in a healthcare field.
Someone wants to attend an out-of-state school, and the family objects. This issue is regularly mentioned on forums dedicated to ultrasound technology careers. People are influenced by the company they keep, and family members often have the largest impact on student decisions.
Students frequently must attend an out-of-state sonography program because the nearest program offering the desired degree has limited enrollment. Some of the accredited programs only accept six or 10 new students once a year. Having to wait another year to begin a sonography program is discouraging so finding a program that is further away may be the best option for an earlier start. When parents or other family object out of protectiveness, the student must convince the family that getting started in an ultrasound technology program as soon as possible is a good decision.
One of the most persuasive arguments for getting family permission is sharing the statistics on projected job growth and median salary for a beginning sonographer. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 39 percent employment growth rate and a $45,840 salary for the lower 10 percentile of sonographers for the period 2012-2022, and not many jobs can claim such a high rate. The lower 10 percentile are mostly people who have just started their careers or have only a couple of years of experience.
Another option is to pursue an in-state program when a local program does not have openings. At least the student will be as close as possible to home. Yet another option is to earn a degree by completing a sonography degree online. The CAAHEP website list three schools offering online sonography programs in 2015. However, anyone who needs clinical training will still have to travel to approved clinical rotation locations.
People often decide to change careers or make career moves. A radiology technician or nurse practitioner may decide to earn a Certificate in Diagnostic Medical Sonography because it is time to branch out to expand career opportunities. In that case, a Certificate in Diagnostic Medical Sonography is the obvious choice. There is a nice selection of CAAHEP accredited certificate programs available and many offer some of their courses online and at night to accommodate the employed students.
Certificate programs are also a good choice if the goal is to get into the sonography job market as quickly as possible for the least cost. The certificate programs should not be viewed as shortcut programs. That is the wrong attitude. All CAAHEP programs awarding a certificate or degree are high quality and have stringent course and clinical requirements.
The Diploma in Diagnostic Medical sonography is another sonography degree option for people who have an Associate’s Degree or Bachelor’s Degree in an Allied Health field. There is really no need to pursue a second Bachelor’s Degree. There is also a Master Degree in Sonography for professionals who want to move into an administration, research or teaching job.
Balancing All the Factors
Balancing all the practical and personal factors during the selection of the best sonography degree is not always simple. The factors going into the decision concerning the best sonography degree to pursue include things like program location and cost, but no factor should be assessed in a vacuum. Personal preferences, family members, current circumstances and so on also go into the mix once a person decides to become a sonographer. Be sure to consider the big picture because making the right decision is of critical importance.