Associate's Degrees: The Basics

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Is an associate's degree program right for you?


Are you looking to earn an undergraduate degree without the four-year time commitment?

An associate’s degree is a two-year degree typically offered at community colleges, and sometimes at four-year colleges and technical schools as well.

There are a few types of associate’s degrees:

  • Associate of Arts (AA)

  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS)

  • Associate of Science (AS)

  • Occupational Degree

Associate’s Degree Requirements

If you attend a community college, the associate’s degree prerequisite is usually a high school diploma. A four-year college may have stricter requirements, such as minimum SAT scores.

Generally, students are required to complete 60 credits in order to earn their degree. Unless you are enrolled in an occupational associate’s degree program, you must complete courses in general education, elective classes, and courses related to a chosen major. Occupational degrees are more focused on classes related to a specific major, rather than core liberal arts courses.

Financial Aid and Your Associate’s Degree

Earning your associate’s degree rather than your bachelor’s degree can save you money since it takes less time to complete. That means fewer classes, textbooks, and other required materials to pay for.

Despite the lower cost, you may still need help paying for the cost of your degree. There are federal, state, local and private financial aid options available for eligible students who are pursuing their associate’s degree.

If you are thinking about receiving an associate’s degree in a field related to your current career, speak with your company’s human resources department regarding obtaining tuition assistance. You may need to sign a contract agreeing that you will stay with the company for a certain amount of years.

Online Associate’s Degrees

Many associate’s degrees are offered via online courses. All you need to get started in your associate’s degree online is a computer with an Internet connection and an e-mail address.

Students with busy schedules find that online associate’s degree programs allow them the flexibility they need to learn and complete assignments on their own time.

Research each online school you are considering, in order to make sure the program you choose is accredited. You can do this by referring to the US Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education website.

Careers and Associate’s Degrees

Associate’s degrees open doors for new career opportunities. Depending on your major, an associate’s degree may provide you with enough education to land an entry-level job immediately. If you decide to continue your educating after completing your two-year degree, the credits can transfer to a four-year college or university in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree.

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