What is an Associate Degree?
An associate degree is a post-secondary undergraduate degree which is awarded by community colleges, junior colleges, technical schools, and some four-year bachelor's degree granting universities. It usually requires about 60 credits or 20 courses to obtain; typically this takes about two years to finish. The amount of time needed is really based on the amount of credits you can take during a semester, but most people finish the associate degree within two years.
Types of Associate Degrees
Associate degrees are generally classified into different types: transfer degrees and career/technical degrees. Transfer degrees are those that provide the foundation for a bachelor's (4-year) degree program and are intended for those who plan to transfer to a four-year university. Career or technical degrees provide a curriculum geared towards people who want to enter the work force upon graduation.
- Associate of Arts (AA): This degree is geared towards teaching students the general education requirements of most four-year universities, with a concentration towards the liberal arts (English, history, political science, etc.)
- Associate of Science (AS): This degree also focuses on general education requirements, but is constructed to tailor to those pursuing a bachelor's degree in the sciences (chemistry, physics, biology, engineering, etc.)
- Associate of Fine Arts (AF): This degree teaches general education requirements as well, with a concentration towards the areas of music, theater, dance, or art.
- Associate of Arts in Teaching (AAT): This degree allows students to receive credit for teaching courses for a bachelor's degree in the field. It allows students to start doing paraprofessional education work (teacher's aide) upon entering the bachelor's degree program generally in their 3rd year.
Career or Technical Degrees
- Associate in Applied Science (AAS): This degree is intended to teach students the necessary elements of a certain field to prepare them for immediate entry into the work force after finishing school. It has a variety of concentrations ranging from criminal justice to graphic design.
- Associate in Industrial Technology (AIT): This degree prepares students for a job after graduation in technological areas such as computers, electronics, and broadcasting.
- Associate in Business Administration (ABA): This degree teaches students the techniques necessary to enter a business-related career after graduation such as accounting, finance, management, or marketing.
- Associate in Occupational Studies (AOS): This is the name of a degree generally awarded by vocational schools and it can specialize in any number of fields, depending on what you attend the school for.
Where Can I Get an Associate Degree?
There are two different ways to receive an associate degree; deciding which one to choose depends on personal preferences.
- Traditional: An associate degree can be obtained from a brick and mortar institution. Most commonly these associate degrees are granted by community colleges, but four year universities also provide these courses of study.
- Online: The associate degree is the most popular online degree as the Sloan Consortium reports that 51% of all degrees earned online are associate degrees. This option is best for those who need to work and fit their education into their own schedule.
How Much Will an Associate Degree Cost?
The costs of attending a community college for an associate degree vary based on location, but the associate degree program will generally cost in the range of $5,000 to $10,000. An online degree's cost varies depending on the program and can cost anywhere from under $1,000 to $10,000.
All schools, whether online or off, offer financial aid for students based on financial need or scholastic achievement. Seeing those high prices for tuition should not scare you away as those unable to afford the fees out-of-pocket will receive help.
Transitioning to a Associate Degree
Many people who are pursuing an associate degree have not been in school for a number of years. If this is you, don't worry! Colleges and universities understand the need to work and appreciate the work experience that you have. Most schools allow you to transfer credits from previous education to the degree you pursue. Some schools even grant credits for work experience if it is related to your course of study. Some schools even offer degrees without classes to students that have had enough life/work experience in the major. The best way to find out if the school you are interested in does this is to call or e-mail their department of admissions.
There are a wide variety of majors to choose from in an associate degree program. Pretty much any career that is available has a corresponding major. Topics can range from engineering to finance to geology.