What is an Associate’s Degree?

There’s an educational qualification that sits between a high school diploma and a Bachelor’s Degree: an Associate’s Degree that can serve as a gateway to your dream career or a four-year degree.

An Associate’s Degree or Associate Degree is an undergraduate degree designed to provide a student with foundational knowledge and skills in an area of discipline.

It’s also sometimes called a two-year degree as it usually takes two years to complete and is commonly offered by two-year schools or community colleges.

Different Types of Associate’s Degree

While there are different Associate’s Degree programs, there are also different types of Associate’s Degrees that undergraduate students can obtain, depending on their academic and career goals.

Here are the four different types of an Associate’s Degree:

  • Associate of Arts (AA)
  • Associate of Science (AS)
  • Associate of Applied Arts (AAA)
  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS)

Generally speaking, both AA and AS are geared towards students who want to eventually work on a Bachelor’s Degree — they are practically halfway toward earning one with an Associate’s Degree under their belt.

But they may also choose to enter the workforce armed with either an AA or AS.

Associate’s Degree types with “applied” in the name, such as AAA and AAS, are usually more focused on preparing students for a particular career, given that these programs have more practical and job-oriented courses than AA and AS ones.

How and Where Do You Obtain It

Students must complete all required coursework, which usually includes general education and core courses, to obtain an Associate’s Degree.

An Associate’s Degree usually consists of 60 credits, and it typically takes two years to complete.

An Associate’s Degree program is available in various types of postsecondary institutions such as:

  • Technical schools
  • Community colleges
  • Four-year institutions

In the past, individuals who were interested in earning an Associate’s Degree after high school had to enroll in community colleges and some technical schools as well.

Things have changed these days, and many four-year institutions are also offering Associate’s Degree programs.

More than 2,800 accredited four-year colleges in the US had Associate’s Degrees.

Similarly, some community colleges are now offering a handful of Bachelor’s Degree Programs.

Some examples of community colleges that confer Bachelor’s Degrees are:

  • Arapahoe Community College
  • Austin Community College
  • Galveston College
  • Moorpark College
  • Odessa College
  • Pueblo Community College
  • San Diego City College
  • Tyler Junior College
  • Ventura College

But it’s worth noting that, unlike four-year institutions, community colleges offering Bachelor’s Degrees do not have a wide range of programs — it’s not uncommon for many of them to offer only one or two options.

Nowadays, you can obtain an Associate’s Degree either traditionally or on the internet.

A traditional Associate’s Degree will require you to go to school for several days a week for up to two years until you have completed all the requirements to earn the said type of undergraduate degree.

Meanwhile, an online Associate’s Degree, as the name suggests, can be earned by attending virtual classes. Some schools offering Associate’s Degree programs also offer hybrid classes, which are a mix of in-person and online classes.

Value-wise, there is no difference between a traditional and an online Associate’s Degree.

It’s a must to confirm, though, that the Associate’s Degree program online you are interested in is from a fully accredited school — any degree earned from a diploma mill is completely meaningless.

When it comes to how long it takes for a student to obtain an Associate’s Degree, it usually takes two years to complete the program, which is why an Associate’s Degree is also sometimes referred to as a two-year degree.

However, completing an Associate’s Degree program in less than two years is possible.

There are some technical schools and community colleges as well as four-year institutions with accelerated Associate’s Degree programs, which make it possible for students to earn an Associate’s Degree in just 12 to 18 months.

Associate’s Degree Jobs

In terms of earning potential, the median earnings of Associate’s Degree holders per week is $1,334, which is equivalent to almost $69,400 per year — that’s $963 per week or just over $50,000 per year for Bachelor’s Degree holders.

Here are the top-paying Associate’s Degree jobs, based on a list by Indeed:

Job TitleAverage SalaryJob Outlook
Radiation therapist$104,268 per year6%
Registered nurse$89,649 per year6%
Respiratory therapist$89,540 per year14%
Dental hygienist$85,897 per year9%
Audiovisual engineer$83,933 per year10%
Occupational therapy assistant$75,590 per year25%
Computer programmer$72,705 per year10%
Hydrologic technician$72,273 per year4%
HVAC installer$71,254 per year5%
Nuclear technician$70,202 per year17%
Landscape technician$69,969 per year5%
Drafter$69,430 per year3%
Web developer$67,839 per year30%
Fashion designer$65,467 per year3%
Office manager$63,511 per year7%
Electrical engineering technician$61,282 per year5%
Social services assistant$59,423 per year12%
Police officer$55,502 per year3%
Funeral director$54,452 per year8%
Web designer$52,816 per year16%
Cable installer$48,704 per year6%
Pastry chef$46,581 per year8%
Store manager$45,990 per year5%
Paralegal$43,051 per year14%
Air traffic controller$42,388 per year1%
Dietary technician$36,708 per year7%

Some Common Questions

Is an Associate’s Degree and a Minor the Same?

An Associate’s Degree and a minor are completely different things.

An Associate’s Degree is an undergraduate degree that consists of core courses related to a particular field of study.

A minor, on the other hand, is a concentration a college student acquires by taking a number of courses — it doesn’t have the same depth and specialization as an associate’s degree.

Does an Associate’s Degree Have a Major?

In some Associate’s Degree programs or at some community colleges, students must declare a major at some point similar to most Bachelor’s Degree students.

At Austin Community College, for instance, declaring a major before the end of the first semester is a requirement. As a matter of fact, those who are receiving financial aid must declare a major upon application.

Are Two Associate’s Degrees Equivalent to One Bachelor’s Degree?

Combining two different Associate’s Degrees does not result in one Bachelor’s Degree.

It’s true that two Associate’s Degrees are equivalent to one Bachelor’s Degree credit-wise — two Associate’s Degrees have 60 credits each, while a Bachelor’s Degree has 120 credits.

In terms of educational standards, however, two Associate’s Degrees are not equal to a Bachelor’s Degree.

Can You Attend Graduate School With Just an Associate’s Degree?

Most graduate schools do not accept applicants without a Bachelor’s Degree.

However, some schools offer programs that allow Associate’s Degree holders to earn the necessary credentials quickly so that they can obtain a Master’s Degree.

Associate to Master’s in Applied Psychology and Associate to Master’s in Business, for example, are programs at Albright College.

What to Do After Getting a Degree from Your Local Community College

After earning an Associate’s Degree, you can either enter the workforce and get a job that’s related to your undergraduate degree or transfer your earned credits to a four-year institution to work on a Bachelor’s Degree.

The next step after your Associate’s Degree program completion depends on your academic and professional goals.

From a low-income background?

You may also consider what’s referred to as an upward transfer — starting your college career at a community college to take general education courses and/or obtain an Associate’s Degree and then moving to a four-year school where you can continue your undergraduate career to get a Bachelor’s Degree.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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