What is an Associate's Degree?

An associate’s degree is a two-year degree earned from a post-secondary institution like a community college or vocational college. They typically cost half as much (or less) than a bachelor’s degree. An associate degree can be a stand-alone or count towards the first two years of a bachelor’s degree if you transfer to a 4-year college.

Associate's degrees vary regarding factors like their type and course of study. The variety encompasses an Associate of Arts, an Associate of Science, an Associate of Applied Science among others. There are countless academic programs to select from, based on your scholarly inclinations and prospective professional aspirations. You're sure to find the perfect fit in science, healthcare, literature, or the fine arts.

Upon attaining your Associate's Degree, you're equipped to venture into the professional world to seek employment in your area of study or proceed to a four-year university to pursue your Bachelor's Degree. Since your Associate’s Degree count towards your first two years of study, you can complete your Bachelor’s Degree in as little as two years.

Online Associate Degrees That Might Interest You

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Abbreviation for Associates degree

The most common associate’s degrees are the Associate of Arts (AA) and Associate of Science (AS).

Here are a few other common associate’s degrees you can earn:

  • Associate of Applied Business (AAB)
  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS)
  • Associate of Business Administration (ABA)
  • Associate of General Studies (AGS)
  • Associate of Science (AS)

Associates of Arts Degree vs Associates of Science Degree

The associate of science degree (A.S) and the associate of arts degree (A.A.) share many similarities but have fundamental differences. Each is a two-year degree equivalent to the first four semesters of a bachelor’s degree. You can treat them as stand-alone degrees or transfer degrees to a four-year university. Both make excellent transfer degrees. Their broad liberal arts curriculum does not include specific technical or vocational training.

While there are numerous resemblances, some substantial distinctions should be considered when deciding the degree to follow. Associate of Arts (A.A.) degrees emphasize a liberal arts and science curriculum with a strong emphasis on the humanities. Typical fields of study include literature, social sciences, the fine arts, and the performing arts. Associate of Science (A.S.) degrees are also liberal arts degrees but focus more on math and science. Typically, students who pursue an A.S. are interested in a science-related field like computer science or engineering.

How to get an associates degree

Getting an associate's degree means studying at a 2 year college or vocational school. Students used to attend classes on campus, but online degrees and hybrid degrees that combine in-person learning with online studies are becoming more common.

The subjects you must study to attain your degree will be contingent upon the educational program you decide to undertake. Regardless of your field of study, you must take around 60 credit hours of classes (2 calendar years) to complete your associate’s degree.

Each academic program will have some unique requirements you need to complete to graduate. Some programs, especially those in the liberal arts, require only coursework. But programs focusing more on a career, like nursing or IT, usually require field experiences like internships or practica.

To enroll in a program, it’s best to reach out to an enrollment advisor at a community college or vocational college. The enrollment advisor will be able to fill you in on details related to the programs you’re interested in to ensure they fit with your professional goals. Remember that all schools vary; for example, some often have more online options than others, and some have a greater variety of academic programs you can choose from in case you’re undecided or considering multiple options. It’s important to feel confident that the school you choose for your associate's degree is the best possible fit for you and your goals.

Online Associates Programs That Might Interest You

How long does it take to get an associate's degree?

Associates Degrees are worth roughly 60 credit hours. While the schedule you complete those credits on is flexible, most students choose to complete them in two calendar years. Should you have to juggle educational pursuits with other commitments such as work or family, opting for a part-time study load of four or fewer classes per semester is possible, albeit this would extend the duration of your program beyond the typical two years. Keep in mind that some programs may require additional requirements like internships, practicums, and national board exams to earn licensure, so be sure to factor those into your academic timeline.

How many credits or credit hours for an associate's degree?

Typically an associate’s degree is worth around 60 credit hours, which is equivalent to 2 years of full time academic work minus the summer. The schedule you complete your degree on is flexible so you can balance with other aspects of your life like work or family. This implies that you can opt for a lighter than full-time study load (for example, 2 or 3 classes each semester instead of the usual 5), but bear in mind that this will extend your degree completion time beyond the conventional two years.

If I have an associate's degree how long will it take to get my bachelor's?

Associate’s degrees are designed to be “stacked” with a bachelor’s degree, meaning you upon completing your A.A. or A.S. you can transfer directly into a bachelor’s degree program. Instead of taking the standard four years to complete a bachelor’s degree, your associate’s degree will count towards the first two years of study so you only need to complete two years at your transfer college to finish your B.A. or B.S. Of course, this is contingent upon your transfer school accepting all of your course credits for your two-year college. Prior to settling on the university you intend to transition to, it is advisable to collaborate with your two-year college transfer counselor to ensure that your preferred transfer institutions will acknowledge all your earned credits.

Popular Associates Degrees (online and traditional)

Associates Degree in Nursing (online and traditional)

The associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) teaches students the foundational knowledge they need to pursue entry-level nursing positions or other careers in the healthcare field. These programs, which can be finalized in two or three years, are designed as an amalgamation of theoretical classroom instruction and practical on-site experience at nearby hospitals and clinics. Once you earn your ADN, you’ll have to pass the NCLEX-RN, the national nursing licensing examination before you begin working as a nurse.

Associates Degree in Business (online and traditional)

An associate’s degree in business prepares you to pursue a career in business or further studies in the business field. Business programs teach students a solid understanding of management skills, business technology, and key soft skills like communication, critical thinking, and project planning. Many associate’s degree programs let you choose a focus in a certain area of business, like human resources, business information systems, and health care administration.

Associates Degree in Accounting (online and traditional)

For those inclined towards a career in accounting an Associate of Science or an Associate of Applied Science in Accounting can be pursued. Instruction usually covers fields such as mathematics, finance, business law, and taxation. Although an A.S. or A.A.S. in Accounting doesn't suffice for taking the Certified Public Accountant exam, an industry recognized certification for accountants, it does serve as a stepping stone for advanced studies.

Associates degree in psychology (online and traditional)

Associates degrees in psychology can be earned as either an Associate of Arts or a Associate of Science. Programs are a combination of general studies courses and psychology-specific classes. Popular entry-level career options are Youth Counselor, Case Technician, Addiction Rehabilitation Assistant, and Preschool Teacher. Graduates often pursue higher education in the form of a bachelor’s degree or even PhD-level education in Psychology.

Associates degree in computer science (online and traditional)

An Associate's degree in Computer Science offers an excellent return on investment in terms of high-paying career opportunities. Even without additional education at the bachelor’s degree level, you’ll be prepared for entry-level employment in information technology, programming and development, and cybersecurity. Coursework includes computer languages, programming, and troubleshooting, and often includes hands-on internship opportunities.

Associates degree in Spanish (online and traditional)

An associate’s degree in Spanish will teach you conversational, reading, and writing skills in Spanish beginning with basic Spanish and ending in advanced-level coursework. Many programs also include classes in Spanish culture and literature. Your associate’s degree will prepare you for a job in translation or give you a competitive edge in business careers. If you want to teach Spanish, you’ll have to transfer into a bachelor’s degree program.

Associates degree in science (online and traditional)

An Associate's degree in science offers you multiple options to concentrate your studies in computer science, biology, chemistry, engineering, health science, and physics are all popular options. Students in these fields often go on to pursue bachelor’s degrees, but some programs may offer more vocationally-geared options like dental hygiene or emergency medical services.

Associates degree in social worker (online and traditional)

Social Work Associate’s Degree programs introduce students to psychology, sociology, and human welfare. Graduates typically transfer to a four-year program to earn licensure as a Social Worker. However, graduates can pursue a limited variety of entry-level jobs in the human services field like Residential Counselor, Preschool Teacher, Social Services Assistant, and Case Manager Assistant.

IT associates degree (online and traditional)

The Associates of Science in Information Technology will teach students career-oriented skills like software development, website design, data management, and troubleshooting. Popular entry-level jobs include IT specialist, systems administrator, technical support specialist, and security engineer.

Criminal justice associates degree (online and traditional)

An Associate of Science in criminal justice teaches students the ins and outs of the criminal justice system such as police strategy, types of crimes, criminal law, and criminal psychology. Certain programs may also offer concentrations in areas including law enforcement, security, and corrections. With just an associate’s degree, graduates can work within law enforcement organizations at the local, state, and federal levels. Other career options include corrections officers, probation officers, security personnel, and criminal investigators.

Associates degree in health science (online and traditional)

An Associate's degree in Health Science is tailored to cater to individuals aspiring to enter the healthcare sector, as well as existing professionals seeking career progression within the field. The program is a combination of general education courses and healthcare-specific training. Common careers include nurses, dental assistants, medical assistants, and laboratory technicians.

Physical therapy associates degree (online and traditional)

With an Associate's Degree in Physical Therapy, graduates prepare for a career as a Physical Therapist Assistant. The two-year program is a combination of classroom learning and clinical experience. Academic subjects covered include human anatomy, healthcare science, and medical terminology. The clinical experience teaches you important skills like patient communication, therapeutic exercises, and how to handle real-life scenarios in a clinical environment.

Respiratory therapy associates degree (online and traditional)

An Associate's Degree in Respiratory Therapy equips graduates to undertake the Certified Respiratory Therapist examination and the subsequent two assessments needed to attain Registered Respiratory Therapist status. Every state apart from Hawaii and Alaska, mandates the successful completion of these licensure exams for individuals to practice as a Respiratory Therapist.

Cheapest Online Associate's Degree Programs

The cheapest online associate's degree rankings below are based on NCES College Navigator data for 2017-2018 out-of-state annual tuition data.

Each school in the list below offers at least five, 100% online degrees (not certificates), regional accreditation, and has earned at least one national award or ranking recognition recently.

  1. Clovis Community College - $2,904
  2. Barton Community College - $3,456
  3. Lone Star College - $3,760
  4. Arkansas Northeastern College - $3,970
  5.  San Juan College - $4,114
  6. Southeast Community College - $4,182
  7. Western Iowa Tech Community College - $4,224
  8. Lake Region State College - $4,336
  9. Hutchinson Community College - $4,384
  10. North Hennepin Community College - $4,420

Best Online Colleges for Associate's Degree

All annual tuition rates for this ranking were collected from official school websites in July 2018, reflecting the 2018-2019 school year. All tuition amounts are for out-of-state students unless online students are offered in state tuition. The tuition figures below are accurate at the time of publication. For current tuition rates, contact the institution in question.

Top 10 Online Colleges for Associate's Degrees

  1. Clovis Community College - $2,664
  2. Kansas City Kansas Community College - $2,728
  3. Western Nebraska Community College - $3,239
  4. Albany State University - $3,540
  5. Georgia State University - $3,630
  6. Southeast Community College - $3,667
  7. Arkansas Northeastern College - $3,870
  8. Northeast Community College - $4,035
  9. Lone Star College System - $4,040
  10. Cochise College - $4,256

Highest Paying Jobs with an Associates Degree

The list below consists of the highest paying careers per the Bureau of Labor Statistics and each career's typical entry-level education required. The salaries are average salaries according to Payscale.com.

  1. Aeronautics-$70,000-$100,000
    1. Airline Pilot, Copilot, Or Flight Engineer – $100,722
    2. Commercial Pilot – $70,718
  2. Aviation Management
    1. Air traffic controllers – $84,396
  3. Logistics-$64,000-$80,000
    1. Supply Chain Manager – $81,380
    2. Transportation Manager – $64,486
    3. Logistics Manager – $64,015
  4. Electrical Powerline Technology - $75,000-$80,000
    1. Electric Lineman – $80,000
    2. Journeyman Lineman – $75,000
  5. Process Technology - $54,000-$75,000
    1. Refinery Operator – $75,000
    2. Power Plant Operator – $66,000
    3. Chemical Plant Operator – $54,000

For an in-depth analysis of the highest paying trade school careers, read here.

Common Questions about the Associate's Degree

Is an associate's degree worth it?

The answer depends on your specific situation and your professional goals. A notable advantage of an associate's degree is the considerably lower tuition associated with community colleges when compared to four-year institutions. Hence, if your ultimate goal is to earn a bachelor's degree, embarking on your academic path with an associate's degree from a community college can serve as an economical approach for the preliminary two years of your tertiary education.

For certain fields, an Associate's Degree is enough to give you access to desirable jobs without needing to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree. Information Technology, Computer Programming, Criminal Justice, and Nursing are a few examples of these fields. However, other fields like Accounting or Education require a Bachelor’s Degree in the long-run. While an Associate’s Degree in these fields is an excellent stepping stone, it’s not a terminal option.

Can I get my associate's degree in nursing online?

Yes, Associates's Degrees in Nursing are a popular option for students looking for a flexible class schedule as well as students who are not geographically located close to a physical college. Just like in-person programs, the online associate's degree takes two years to complete (unless you take a class part-time, which will result in your program taking longer to complete).

Typically all coursework is done online and the school will assist you in arranging clinical opportunities to complete in your local community. Once the program is completed, you’ll have to pass the NCLEX-RN, which is the national nursing licensing examination. Nursing is naturally the most popular career option for graduates of this program, but you can also work other entry-level jobs in the healthcare field that don’t require additional specialized licensure or training.

What can I do with an associate's degree in applied science?

An associates degree in applied science can pave the way for several career paths, contingent on the specific area of study you choose. Fields within the applied sciences encompass computer science, information technology, health science, military science, construction, among others. Typically Applied Sciences degrees have a stronger focus on developing hands on, career related skills as opposed to the theoretical or academic focus of Liberal Arts degrees.

What degree is 2 years of college?

Two prominent 2-year college degrees are the Associate of Arts and the Associate of Science.

What is an AA Degree?

For many majors, the AA degree or Associate in Arts degree is ideal for transferring to a four-year college. The AA degree offers great flexibility for students that are undecided about a transfer college or major.

How many credits for an associate's degree?

The AA degree requires 45 credits of general education (GE) coursework. GE, or "core" courses, are generally completed during the first two years of most four-year degrees.

Online Associate Degrees That Might Interest You

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

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