What Is an Associate Degree? Requirements, Costs, and More
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Associate degrees open paths to new job opportunities and can be used to transfer into bachelor's degree programs.
An associate degree is a two-year college degree that you can obtain from a community college, junior college, online university, or some four-year institutions in the US. In terms of education, an associate degree falls between a high school diploma and a bachelor's degree.
Students go on to do different things with their associate degree: some transfer into a bachelor’s degree program, while others choose to go directly into the workforce. You can also earn your associate degree after working for several years; it can be the first step to a new career or help you advance in your current one.
Read on to understand key facts about earning your associate degree, and the important factors—like educational and professional goals—you should consider as you decide whether it's the right choice for your future.
Associate degrees: Key facts
Earning your associate degree is typically more affordable and takes less time than earning your bachelor's degree. It can also help you forge new career paths in professional fields such as medicine, engineering, and computer science. Let's review the basics of what it costs—and what it takes—to get an associate degree.
Admissions requirements vary from college to college, but you'll generally need to meet the following conditions in order to gain entry to an associate degree program:
Be 18 years of age by the time you begin your first day of class
Have a high school diploma, or have passed a General Education Development test (GED) or an equivalent test
Meet GPA requirements established by some community colleges
While tuition levels vary between colleges and programs, the average tuition for one year in an associate degree program is $3,800 in 2021, according to the College Board . That’s for public in-district schools—meaning you’re a resident in the district the associate degree program is located.
Compare that with the average tuition for a year in a bachelor’s degree program, which is $10,740 for public in-state schools, $27,560 for public out-of-state schools, and $38,070 for private nonprofit schools.
Students enrolled in an associate degree program might be eligible for federal financial aid, as long as the institution is accredited. You can submit a FAFSA application to see if you qualify to receive federal aid or federal student loans. For the 2021-2022 school year, 56 percent of community college students received aid, while 33 percent received federal grants .
How long it takes
It generally takes full-time students about two years earn an associate degree, though it can take longer for part-time students. If you prefer to work while earning your associate degree, you'll be in good company. More than four million community college students attended part-time in 2021 (compared to 2.2 million full-time attendees) and 72 percent of them worked .
How many credits is an associate degree?
In order to graduate, you’ll typically need to complete the 60 course credits required (or 90 if your college is on the quarter system), and maintain a minimum GPA set by your college or department. Learn more about college credits and how they're measured.
Read more: Should You Go Back to School? 7 Things to Consider
Types of associate degrees
The most common types of associate degrees are:
Associate of Arts (AA): Associate programs focused on business, humanities, arts, or social sciences are often called Associate of Arts degrees. An AA may be a stepping stone to transfer to a bachelor’s degree.
Associate of Science (AS): Associate programs in a field related to science or math are often called Associate of Science degrees. Along with an AA, the AS is typically recommended by schools for students who want to transfer to four-year programs.
Associate of Applied Science (AAS): Associate programs that focus on technical and vocational skills are often called Associate of Applied Science programs. These programs are generally designed to prepare students for a specific occupation or work in a specific field after graduation. Fields can include computer science technology, hospitality management, paralegal studies, law enforcement, welding, among many others. Although it’s less common to use an AAS degree to transfer into a bachelor’s program, some four-year degree programs have begun accepting them for transfers.
What can you do with an associate degree?
Once you earn your associate degree, you have two options to consider. You can extend your education and apply to a bachelor's degree program, or you can pursue jobs in the medical, engineering, computer science, or legal fields, among many others.
Transfer to a bachelor's degree program
If you're interested in continuing your education, you can apply to bachelor's degree programs after you earn your associate degree, and begin completing courses in your declared major.
In fact, a number of students earn their associate degree at a lower-cost community college before transferring to a four-year college or university to finish their bachelor's. Remember that for in-state students, the average annual cost of attending a community college was $3,800 in 2021, compared to $10,740 for a public four-year school, which can amount to a significant savings over two years or more .
Earning your associate degree before deciding to pursue your bachelor's also gives you time to:
Build up study skills: If you’ve been out of school for a while and want to brush up on your study skills, or your high school GPA didn’t quite meet admission requirements for a four-year degree, an associate program can give you a boost. Not all community colleges have a GPA requirement for admissions.
Get more time to explore: If you’re not sure what you want to study, attending a community college for general studies courses can give you time to explore courses that might interest you before you fully commit to getting a bachelor’s degree in a subject.
Enjoy added flexibility: Many community colleges keep working people in mind and offer courses at night or on weekends. If you’re working or have family to take care of, starting off with an associate degree could bring you the flexibility you need.
If you’re hoping to start a degree, and factors like affordability and flexibility are important, online bachelor’s degrees may be another option. Online bachelor’s degrees are available in a wide range of topics, like computer science or psychology.
Pursue a career
You can explore new career opportunities with your associate degree—often with higher salaries than a high school diploma will yield. Associate degree holders in the United States earn a median income of $938 per week compared to $781 for high school graduates .
Here is a brief snapshot of some of the jobs you can typically start with an associate degree. They’re expected to grow at least as fast as average, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics , and the median salaries in the US are at least $40,000.
|Job||Median salary range|
|Computer network support specialist||$60,000-80,000|
|Physical therapist assistant||$40,000-60,000|
|Occupational therapy assistant||$60,000-80,000|
|Radiation therapist||$80,000 and over|
|Civil engineering technician||$40,000-60,000|
|Environmental engineering technologist||$40,000-60,000|
|Geological and hydrologic technician||$40,000-60,000|
|Agricultural and food science technician||$40,000-60,000|
|Mechanical engineering technician||$40,000-60,000|
Keep in mind that employers for some positions—like registered nurses—might prefer bachelor’s degree holders but may also hire associate degree graduates.
Read more: How to Get Your First Job: A Guide
Differences between associate and bachelor’s degrees
There are benefits to pursuing any kind of higher education, be it an associate degree or bachelor's degree. Holding an academic degree can lead to more career opportunities and higher salaries. If you're unsure which degree is right for you, here are important differences to compare:
|Associate degree||Bachelor's degree|
|Length of time||2 years||4 years|
|Average annual tuition||$3,800 (public in-district schools)||$10,740 (public in-state schools), $27,560 (public out-of-state schools), $38,070 (private nonprofit schools)|
|Credit requirements||60 credits||120 credits|
|Common enrollment requirements||High school diploma or GED||High school diploma or GED, letters of recommendation, GPA, standardized test scores|
|Campus experience||Students usually commute from off campus. Sports teams, clubs, and extracurricular opportunities are available.||Students can live on campus or off campus. Sports teams, clubs, and extracurricular opportunities are available.|
|Financial aid available||Yes||Yes|
|Median weekly earnings in 2019 for graduates||$938 (some college or Associate degree)||$1,305|
Which is better: Associate degree or bachelor's degree?
The best degree will be the one that helps you achieve your goals—either personal, educational, or professional. While there are a number of careers you can pursue with an associate degree, you may find more opportunities with a bachelor's degree. But if time is a major factor, then an associate degree may be the best choice for your immediate needs. Ultimately, it's important to review your situation—your financial resources, your schedule, your objectives—to determine which is the best degree for you.
If you're interested in earning an academic degree to gain entry to a new career path or advance your career in a chosen field, it can help to look at job postings and see the minimum education required. Understanding the standards your industry expects may help determine which degree you eventually earn.
Associate degree alternatives
If your goals don’t require an academic degree, there are other options that may offer some flexibility.
Professional certificates are qualifications you can earn by completing courses or exams to demonstrate your ability in a field. They often require no previous experience in a subject, and can take anywhere from several months to a few years to finish. You can get a professional certificate in a variety of fields, including IT support, data analysis, computer programming, and marketing.
Certificate programs can be part-time or full-time, and may be offered online and in person. Because they tend to take less time and financial resources than degrees, professional certificates can be a solid option for those who know what specific skills they want to develop, and prioritize flexibility. If you’re ready to explore, browse some online certificate options.
Trade or vocational school
Trade schools, also known as vocational or technical schools, train students to enter professions that require a certain set of skills. They’re characterized by their emphasis on hands-on training.
Graduates go on to work as electricians, dental hygienists, chefs, construction managers, and car mechanics, among many other professions. Trade schools typically take two years or less to complete, though some professions may require additional apprenticeships after the program. They can be a good option if you have a specific job in mind and don’t need or want to pursue an academic degree to secure employment in that profession. Some characteristics to consider when researching trade schools include: whether the program is accredited, has a track record of job placement, and makes sense for you financially.
Bootcamps—intensive programs that are designed to quickly equip you with a new skill set—can be a fast way to enter a new field or advance in your current one. Bootcamps typically take a few months to complete. Though computer coding bootcamps are popular, you can enroll in digital marketing, cybersecurity, or UX/UI design bootcamps, too. Bootcamps can be online or in person, full-time or part-time.
Frequently asked questions (FAQ)
This depends on the courses you took and the bachelor’s program you’re transferring into. Universities will generally evaluate your courses and decide if they’re transferable or not. Thanks to accreditation, some community colleges may have agreements with universities that will guarantee that some of your credits will transfer (if the requirements are met).
To make sure you maximize your transferable credits, talk to your academic advisor at your community college, and reach out to an admissions officer at the university you want to transfer to.
Other academic degrees include bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, doctoral degrees, and professional degrees. A bachelor’s degree typically takes four years (as little as two if you have an associate degree). You may go on to enroll in a master’s degree program after completing a bachelor’s. A doctoral degree, or PhD, is the generally the highest academic degree you can receive in most fields. Other professional degrees—such as JDs for aspiring lawyers, or MDs for doctors—are usually pursued after finishing a bachelor’s degree.
Yes. Though hospitals might prefer nurses with at least a bachelor’s degree, the minimum academic requirement to become an RN in the US is generally an associate degree or a diploma in nursing, according to the College Board .
Students must also pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) and any state licensure requirements. Many community colleges offer degrees specifically for those who want to enter the nursing field. An associate degree can also be transferred to a bachelor’s nursing program.
Read more: Your Guide to Nursing Degrees and Certifications
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What Is a Bachelor’s Degree?
10 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get with an Associate Degree
How Long Does It Take to Get an Associate Degree?
Can You Get a Bachelor's Degree at Community College?
1. College Board. "Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid 2021, https://research.collegeboard.org/pdf/trends-college-pricing-student-aid-2021.pdf." Accessed August 8, 2022.
2. American Association of Community Colleges. "AACC Fast Facts 2022, https://www.aacc.nche.edu/2022/02/28/42888/." Accessed August 8, 2022.
3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Education Pays, The median salaries in the US are at least $40,000." Accessed August 8, 2022.
4. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Occupation Finder, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/occupation-finder." Accessed August 8, 2022.
5. College Board. "Career: Registered Nurses, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/careers/health-diagnosis-treatment-registered-nurses." Accessed November August 8, 2022.
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An associate degree is a two-year college degree that you can obtain from a community college, junior college, online university, or some four-year institutions in the US. In terms of education, an associate degree falls between a high school diploma and a bachelor's degree.What do Associate's degrees require at least? ›
In accordance with commonly held standards, the minimum requirement for an associate degree is 60 semester or 90 quarter credits.What are 3 benefits of getting an associate's degree? ›
- Flexible. An associate degree program offers flexibility in multiple ways. ...
- Cost-Effective. Because it takes less time to complete an associate degree than a bachelor's degree, it typically costs less. ...
- Less Time-Consuming. ...
- Job Opportunities. ...
- More Education Options. ...
- Higher Earning Potential.
With an associate degree, you can work in many fields, including nursing, education, and social work. However, you may find that you qualify for fewer positions. Many careers require a bachelor's degree or higher, and those positions likely command a higher salary.What are two types of associate degrees and why are they important? ›
There are associate degrees that are designed to prepare students for entry-level careers, such as the Associate of Applied Science, and there are associate degrees designed to prepare students to transfer to a 4-year degree program, such as the Associate of Arts.
Most associate degrees earned in academic programs are Associate of Arts (AA) or Science (AS) degrees. Associate degrees earned in professional, technical or terminal programs are frequently called Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degrees, but will sometimes carry the name of the program of study in the title.What is the easiest associate's degree to get? ›
The easiest associate degree to get is an online Associate Degree in General Studies, Liberal Studies, or Education. Although these online associate degree programs have flexible curricula, how easy you find your coursework will depend on your learning abilities and style.What is the fastest easiest associates degree? ›
- Digital Marketing.
- Fashion Merchandising.
- Human Resources.
Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.)What is the value of an associates degree? ›
The benefits of earning an associate degree can include higher earning potential, better job security and opportunity, as well as advancement. If you're considering advancing your education, you might wonder what degree best matches your plans for the future.
- Associate in Arts (A.A.)
- Associate in Science (A.S.)
- Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT) to help you transfer to a CSU and certain UC, HBCU, and private universities.
- You may be competing with people with bachelor's degrees for the same jobs. ...
- Your earnings may be lower than that for people with a bachelor's degree.
- Getting into managerial or supervisory positions may be difficult without a higher degree.
While it's true that many jobs require a bachelor's or master's degree, the reality is that associate degrees can open many job opportunities, too.Is Associates harder than bachelors? ›
Usually, the coursework load for bachelor students is more intensive than those of associate students. Ultimately, a bachelor's degree requires the completion of approximately 120 semester credits (40 classes), whereas an associate degree requires the completion of roughly 20 classes or 60 semester credits.Is a degree better than associates? ›
In other words, students with a bachelor's degree earn nearly 39 percent more per year than those with an associate degree. This difference in long-term earning potential is often enough to make up for the cost associated with earning a bachelor's degree—in short, education pays.
An associate's degree is an academic program taken at the undergraduate level (the first stage after secondary school). It aims to give students the basic technical and academic knowledge and transferable skills they need to go on to employment or further study in their chosen field.What is the biggest difference between an Associate's degree and a bachelor's degree? ›
The most basic difference between a bachelor's degree and an associate degree is the time it takes to complete the programs. Associate degrees are typically 2-year programs, while bachelor's degree programs are typically 4 years and delve more deeply into the area of study.What is a 2 year degree called? ›
An associate degree is a two-year degree typically offered at community colleges, technical colleges, and career colleges. However, some four-year universities offer them as well. Examples of some associate degrees include Associate of Arts (AA) and Associate of Science (AS).What are prerequisites when working towards a degree? ›
Prerequisites, or pre reqs for short, are specific courses or subjects that you need to take (and get a passing grade in) before you can take higher-level courses in that same subject.How many hours are in a credit? ›
One credit hour is equal to 15 to 16 hours of instruction. Your credit hours are calculated over the full semester, which is generally 16 weeks. Most lecture and seminar courses are worth 3 credit hours. You must complete at least 45 – 48 hours of class time in one semester.
General education requirements usually include courses in the social sciences, the humanities, mathematics and communication. Most schools give you some choice as to the exact classes you'd like to take in these areas.What is the hardest degree to get a first in? ›
- Foreign Languages.
- Chartered Accountancy.
Starting with an associate degree is worth it as there are great benefits and opportunities that come with it. Earning an associate degree can have a significant economic impact. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), associate degree holders earn 20% more than workers with only a high school degree.What percent of people have at least an associate's degree? ›
The high school completion rate in the United States for people age 25 and older increased from 87.6% in 2011 to 91.1% in 2021. The percentage of the population age 25 and older with associate degrees rose from 9.5% to 10.5% between 2011 and 2021.What degree takes the shortest amount of time? ›
Associate degrees are one of the fastest degrees that pay well, requiring only 60 credit hours—half the time required for bachelor's degrees—and professional certifications can take only anywhere between three and six months depending on the program you choose.What degree takes the most time to get? ›
Doctoral program: Doctoral degrees are the highest and most difficult degrees in higher education. They can last anywhere from 3 to 6 years, depending on the program that you will take.How do you use associate degree in a short sentence? ›
This spring, Ms. Colindres will earn an associate degree from Greenville Technical College. When he was earning an associate degree in criminal justice, he wrote a paper on piracy. She needs to take two more classes, she said, to earn her associate degree.What is the main difference between an associate's degree and a bachelor's degree? ›
The most basic difference between a bachelor's degree and an associate degree is the time it takes to complete the programs. Associate degrees are typically 2-year programs, while bachelor's degree programs are typically 4 years and delve more deeply into the area of study.What is the goal of an AS or AA degree? ›
An associate degree program is designed to complete general education credit requirements for a bachelor's program. Pursuing an associate degree allows you to complete general education classes while also exploring future studies.What is one major difference between an associate degree and a bachelor's degree? ›
The most obvious difference between the two types of degrees is how long it takes to earn each one. For a full-time student, an associate degree program lasts two years. A bachelor's degree program, on the other hand, lasts four years for a full-time student.
Correct: I have an associate degree. Incorrect: I have an associates degree. I have an associate's degree.What is the importance of an associate degree? ›
It will not only give you the content-specific knowledge you need, it will also give you course work that will help to better understand things like time management, social skills – these are extremely important to employers.” An associate's degree gives a student a solid start in a particular career field.How do you write that you have an associate's degree? ›
Associate degree has no apostrophe or "s" When the degree mentioned is specific: Master of Business Administration, both the degree and the field are capitalized. If the word "degree" is used, then it is not capitalized: master of arts degree in business administration.Does an associate's degree mean you graduated? ›
Once you've earned your associate degree, you're considered a college graduate. While some consider their academic careers complete at this point, you may ultimately wish to pursue a bachelor's degree.Can you skip associate's degree and go straight to bachelors? ›
An associate degree is not a prerequisite to earn a bachelor's degree, you can skip an associate degree and go straight to a bachelor's degree. However, one option you may want to consider is earning your associate degree at a community college prior to transferring to a four-year university.Is it worth getting an associate's degree before a bachelor's degree? ›
If you're not yet set on a specific degree or want to rewrite your educational performance, an associate is your best bet. Comparatively, if you find a program that will put you on the career path you wish for and plan to continue with a master's degree, a bachelor's degree will benefit you most.Which is better between AA and as? ›
If you prefer learning about subjects related to humanities, an AA will likely suit your interests best. Alternatively, give preference to AS programs if you are skilled in math and science.What does BS mean in college? ›
The BS (Bachelor of Science) degree is offered in Computer Science, Mathematics, Psychology, Statistics, and each of the natural sciences.Is it good to have 2 associate degrees? ›
Of course you can get multiple associates in similar fields, and I highly recommend it. By having two associates and a bachelors degree, you are automatically more qualified than a person with just a bachelors or an associates and bachelors, under the pressumption you have the same GPAs.Do 2 associate degrees equal a bachelor's? ›
No, two associate degrees do not equal one bachelor's degree. However, after earning an associate degree, you can transfer to a four-year college for a bachelor's degree. The advantage is that you will have to spend just two more years on your bachelor's degree program.
The percentage of the population age 25 and older with associate degrees rose from 9.5% to 10.5% between 2011 and 2021. Between 2011 and 2021, the percentage of people age 25 and older who had completed a bachelor's degree or higher increased by 7.5 percentage points from 30.4% to 37.9%.Is an associate's degree equivalent to half of a bachelor's degree? ›
An Associate in Art or Science is often referred to as a transfer degree. Most of these 2-year programs are designed to give you exactly half of the credits needed for a bachelor's degree, and they transfer easily to most schools.