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Associate Degree: Meaning, Cost, and Highest-Paying Associate Degree Jobs

Bryan Wirtz - May 30, 2022

An associate degree is a type of undergraduate degree that usually takes two to three years to complete. Most people work toward this at community colleges or vocational schools. If you want to know more about what an associate degree is, this article goes into detail about the different types of associate degrees and the jobs available to associate degree graduates.

An associate degree is often used as a stepping stone to a bachelor’s degree. Many universities allow associate degree holders to transfer credits from an associate degree program to a bachelor’s program and graduate in an additional two years. Keep reading to find out more about transfer degrees, online associate degrees, and what an associate degree really is.

Associate Degree Meaning

An associate degree is a two-year program offered after high school. It is often considered the halfway point between a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree. It is usually offered by a community college or junior college, although some universities like Southern New Hampshire University also offer associate degrees.

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Associate Degree Fast Facts

  • Required Credits: 60
  • Average Length: 2 years
  • Average Cost: $6,754

How Many Credits Is an Associate Degree?

An associate degree is 60 credits. This is usually split up into 15 credits per semester for four semesters. Most courses are three credits, so students will take around 20 classes to get their associate degree. These education requirements will include general education courses, major-specific courses, and electives.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Associate Degree?

It takes two years to get an associate degree. If you are a part-time student, it will take you longer to complete this field of study, but you will have more flexibility. Alternatively, some schools offer accelerated associate degrees that take between 15 and 18 months to complete. Students in these programs take additional courses each semester or study in the summer semesters.

How Much Does an Associate Degree Cost?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, an associate degree costs $6,754 on average. The NCES reports that it costs an average of $3,377 for one year of tuition and fees at a public two-year institution. Since associate degrees take two years to complete, it will cost around $6,754 to get an associate degree from a public college or community college.

Expenses like books, housing, and transportation can be expected to increase the price. The total cost will ultimately depend on the school you attend, whether you attend in-person or online, and if you are living on campus or have to pay rent. Advanced degrees at four-year colleges, in general, are more expensive than associate degrees.

Associate Degree Requirements: Admissions Criteria

Associate degree requirements for admission are minimal because associate degrees are meant to offer an accessible entry into higher education. The main associate degree admissions criterion is a high school diploma or a GED. SAT and ACT scores are often not required, and if there is a minimum GPA requirement, it is around 2.00.

Although admission requirements differ from school to school, prospective students have to submit an application through the school or the Common Application. There are occasionally other admission criteria, such as letters of recommendation or a portfolio, but this will depend on the program and school.

Associate Degree Admissions Requirements

  • High school diploma or GED
  • High school GPA between 2.00 and 3.00
  • Online application
  • Official high school transcripts

What Comes After an Associate Degree?

A bachelor’s degree usually comes after an associate degree. Most universities accept transfer credits from associate degree programs and allow students to begin with third-year bachelor’s degree classes. Many people start with an associate degree and transfer to a bachelor’s degree because associate degrees have a lower barrier to entry.

Community colleges have minimal admissions requirements, which makes it easy for students with GEDs or low GPAs to begin their higher education. Associate degree programs are often offered by community colleges, and the tuition is relatively cheap compared to university tuition for two-year associate degrees.

What Associate Degree Should I Get? Types of Associate Degrees

The type of associate degree you should get depends on the field you’re interested in studying and the skills you hope to learn. There are seven types of degrees, although not all of the degrees are offered by every two-year institution. Find out more about the different types of associate degrees below.


Associate of Arts (AA Degree)

This is the standard associate degree awarded to students planning on transferring to four-year programs. AA degrees contain many general education courses that would be equal to the first two years of a usual bachelor’s degree. Both AA degrees and AS degrees can share many majors, like social sciences.


Associate of Applied Arts (AAA Degree)

Associate of Applied Arts degrees are specifically geared toward preparing students for entry-level careers in the arts. Programs are usually in music, music production, fine arts, or arts advertising. AAA programs are not commonly offered by most colleges. AAA degrees are not often used to transfer to bachelor’s degrees.


Associate of Science (AS Degree)

Associate of Science degrees are similar to AA degrees because they are usually used as transfer degrees for bachelor’s programs. In addition to general education courses, students will study mathematics and sciences. AS degrees apply more to careers in computer science and the natural sciences.


Associate of Applied Science (AAS Degree)

Associate of Applied Science degrees are considered terminal degrees, meaning students can find entry-level positions immediately after graduating. These degrees focus on teaching technical skills for careers like nursing, dental hygiene, radiology, and occupational therapy. If you have clear professional goals, this degree is a good choice.


Associate of Applied Business (AAB Degree)

AAB degrees deal primarily with business and business administration. These are perfect for those who want to gain an entry-level job in the business field. Both AAB and AAS degrees prepare students for almost immediate employment in their specific major. If you want to start your career after just two years of school, consider an applied associate degree.


Associate of Business Administration (ABA Degree)

Similar to Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees, Associate of Business Administration degrees cover general education coursework. In addition, ABA students will take classes on accounting, economics, and project management. An ABA degree prepares students for entry-level business careers in administrative roles.


Associate of General Studies (AGS Degree)

Associate of General Studies degrees are best suited for students who want to gain a broad, general knowledge of many subjects but are unsure what career path they want to pursue. The credits in this program will be made up of math, social science, natural science, and English courses. Students will also take elective courses.

If you are interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree after receiving your AGS degree, research the school and program you want to apply for ahead of time. Due to the wide variety of subjects covered in an AGS program, you may not be able to transfer all of your credits to a bachelor’s degree program in a specific subject.

Top Benefits of an Associate Degree

The top benefit of an associate degree is that it allows you to pursue a bachelor’s degree or enter the job market and earn more than you would with just a high school diploma. Associate degrees also take less time to complete than bachelor’s degrees and are generally more affordable. Find out more about the top associate degree benefits below.

Continuing Education Options

Many people use an associate degree as a stepping stone to a bachelor’s degree. Admission requirements for associate degrees are less strict, and those with a GED or low GPA can begin their higher education with an associate program. After completing the program, they can transfer credits to a four-year university and pursue a bachelor’s degree.

Lower Tuition

Associate degree programs are most often provided by community colleges and public colleges. These institutions have low tuition rates, especially for students living in the district or state where the school is located. This is why it’s smart to get a two-year degree for transfer, where you can move your associate degree credits to a bachelor’s degree.

Career Opportunities

An associate degree holder has more job opportunities than someone with a high school diploma. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for people with a high school diploma is 6.2 percent vs 4.6 percent for those with an associate degree. There are many high-paying jobs available to associate degree holders.

Less Time to Graduate

Associate degree programs usually take two years to complete. An associate degree provides a foundation of knowledge in a specific field, which allows graduates to quickly move on to higher degrees or entry-level jobs.

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Associate Degree vs Bachelor’s Degree

One of the main differences between an associate degree vs a bachelor’s degree is the time commitment. An associate degree usually takes two to three years to complete, and a bachelor’s degree is a four-year program. An associate degree will take around 60 credits to complete, and a bachelor’s degree will take 120 credit hours.

Because bachelor’s degree programs are longer, they cover a wider and deeper area of knowledge. Associate degrees introduce students to core concepts, but bachelor’s degrees teach more advanced skills and concepts in a specific field.

Other key differences are that cost is lower and entry requirements are often more relaxed for associate degree programs. There usually isn’t a lengthy application process involving essays and references. Prerequisites at this degree level also don’t require students to have received good grades in high school or high standardized test scores.

Bachelor’s Degree vs Associate Degree: Key Differences

  • Cost. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of one year of tuition and fees at a two-year institution is $3,377, and the average tuition and fees for one year at a four-year school are $16,647. This means the average cost of tuition and fees is $6,754 for an associate degree and $66,588 for a bachelor’s degree.
  • Credits. A bachelor’s degree takes an average of 120 credits to complete. An associate degree takes an average of 60 credits to complete. This means you can get an associate degree in half of the time it takes to get a bachelor’s degree.
  • Admission requirements. Most universities have stricter admission requirements for their bachelor’s degree programs, such as providing SAT/ACT scores, personal essays, a minimum GPA, and letters of recommendation. Many community colleges only require a high school diploma or GED and an online application.
  • Depth of knowledge. Associate degrees are meant to either teach students the skills needed for a specific career or cover the same knowledge as the first two years of a four-year degree. Bachelor’s degrees are longer and therefore can dedicate more time to advanced topics and skills in a specific subject.
  • Salary potential after graduation. Bachelor’s degree holders generally earn more than associate degree graduates. According to PayScale, professionals with bachelor’s degrees earn an average of $67,000 per year, while associate degree holders have an average salary of $57,000.

Can You Transfer Your Associate Degree to a Bachelor’s Degree?

Yes, you can transfer your associate degree to a bachelor’s degree. However, you will need to make sure that the university you applied to for your bachelor’s degree will accept the credits from your previous school. Many schools have specific bachelor’s degree completion programs for associate degree holders.

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Most Popular Associate Degrees

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the three most popular fields for associate degree students are liberal arts and sciences, health professions, and business. Engineering and computer and information science are two other popular fields of study for college degrees. Listed below are some of the top programs related to these fields.


Associate Degree in Animation

An Associate Degree in Animation will teach students the fundamentals of design, graphics, and visual effects. Some programs may be focused more on video game development. while others will focus on character design and creative storytelling. This professional degree will give you the building blocks for a high-paying job.

Best Associate Degree Animation Programs

  • Associate of Arts in Animation & Visual Effects | Academy of Art University | Tuition: $1,041/credit
  • Associate of Applied Science in Game Development, Animation, and Motion Graphics | Austin Community College District | $85/credit (in district); $286/credit (in state); $353/credit (out of state)
  • Associate of Science in Animation and Motion Graphics | CUNY Borough of Manhattan Community College | Tuition: $210/credit (in state); $320/credit (out of state)

Associate Degree in Computer Forensics

An Associate Degree in Computer Forensics will teach core concepts in cyber security and digital criminal investigation. Students will also learn about data collection and analysis and network security. Graduates of these programs can go on to become cyber security specialists, forensic science technicians, and criminal justice experts.

Best Associate Degree Computer Forensics Programs

  • Associate of Applied Science in Digital Forensics | Community College of Baltimore County | Tuition: $122 or $241/credit (in state); $242 or $372/credit (out of state)
  • Associate of Applied Science in Digital Forensics | Delta College | Tuition: $121-$205/credit (in state); $214/credit (out of state)
  • Associate of Arts in Cyber Forensics Technology (Transfer) | Howard Community College | Tuition: $144-$259/credit (in state); $324/credit (out of state)

Associate Degree in Health Informatics

Associate Degrees in Health Informatics prepare graduates for careers as medical records specialists, medical receptionists, and medical coders. Students in these programs learn about data collection and storage, specifically in a healthcare context. This is a good educational path for medical assistants.

Best Associate Degree Health Informatics Programs

  • Associate of Applied Science in Health Information Technology | Baker College | Tuition: $435/credit
  • Associate of Applied Science in Health Information Technology | Davenport University | Tuition: $885/credit (online, in state); $598/credit (online, out of state)
  • Associate of Applied Science in Health Information Technology | Neosho County Community College | Tuition: $123/credit (in state); $116/credit (out of state)

Associate Degree in Information Systems Management

An Associate Degree in Information Systems Management combines computer science and business to teach students how to collect, process, and store information. Database administration is one skill taught in these programs, although the specific requirements will differ depending on the college and the type of degree.

Best Associate Degree Information Systems Programs

  • Associate of Arts in Management Information Systems | Cowley College | Tuition: $65/credit hour (in county); $75/credit hour (in state); $125/credit hour (out of state)
  • Associate of Applied Science in Information Systems Management | Dakota County Technical College | Tuition: $206.94/credit (in person); $221.94/credit (hybrid); $219.14/credit (online)
  • Associate of Science in Management Information Systems | Saint Paul College | Tuition: $201.37/credit (in state); $292.45/ credit (out of state)

Associate Degree in Medical Billing and Coding

An Associate Degree in Medical Billing and Coding is a healthcare administration degree. Students learn to maintain documents and patient medical records for various types of healthcare organizations. Graduates of these programs can go on to become medical transcriptionists, information clerks, and pharmacy technicians.

Best Associate Degree Medical Billing and Coding Programs

  • Associate of Applied Science in Medical Coding | Cowley County Community College | Tuition: $65 or $75/credit (in state); $85 or $125/credit (out of state)
  • Associate of Science in Medical Administrative Billing and Coding | Keiser University | Tuition: $8,014/semester
  • Associate of Applied Science in Medical Coding | Northwest Technical College | Tuition: $190/credit

How to Get an Associate Degree Online

Woman sitting at a desk on laptop
As a college student, you can choose to pursue an associate degree online or in person.

Community colleges and universities have developed the option to earn associate degrees through completely online programs. Online associate degrees are usually more flexible and can be pursued through full-time or part-time schedule options. Most online programs offer some courses asynchronously, so students can watch lectures when it’s most convenient for them.

Associate degrees are perfect stepping stones for those who want to achieve their bachelor’s, master’s, and even doctoral degrees. If you choose to pursue an associate degree online, consider if your online credits will transfer to a bachelor’s degree program, what the student support services are for online students, and if the skills you’ll learn align with your career goals.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Associate Degree Online?

It takes two years to get an associate degree online. Online associate degrees take around 60 credits to complete. Online degrees are often more flexible than in-person programs, so students can choose to study part-time and graduate in three years. Some schools also offer accelerated associate degrees that allow students to graduate in less than two years.

How Much Does an Online Associate Degree Cost?

An online associate degree costs between $100 and $450 per credit, based on the online associate degree programs listed below. Most associate degree programs take 60 credits to complete, so an associate degree will cost between $6,000 and $27,000.

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What Is the Easiest Online Associate Degree to Get?

The easiest online associate degree to get is one that is offered completely online through an asynchronous format. This allows students to watch lectures at any time but assignments are still due on a set schedule. The online associate degrees listed below are all offered by schools that have platforms dedicated exclusively to online learning.

Easiest Online Associate Degrees

  • Online Associate of Applied Science in Legal Support. This degree will prepare students for careers as paralegals. The program is offered by Purdue University Global, a branch of Purdue University dedicated to online education. There are support services for remote students to make studying online easier.
  • Online Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts. This is a general liberal arts degree offered by the Florida Institute of Technology. Courses cover basic skills in writing, public speaking, and communication. It prepares students to transfer to a bachelor’s degree in any liberal arts subject.
  • Online Associate of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies. Similar to a liberal arts degree, this is a degree that covers a range of general knowledge. The program is flexible and students take courses in general studies, math, and science. It’s offered 100 percent online by Cameron University.

Best Online Associate Degrees

The best online associate degrees prepare students for careers in a specific field or bachelor’s degrees at four-year universities. These degrees should offer student support and interactive learning opportunities, even if they are taught completely online. You can find everything from an Associate of Arts Degree to an Associate of Applied Science Degree.


Online Associate Degree in Computer Programming

Online computer programming associate degrees cover topics relevant to computer science, such as programming languages, database management, and data analysis and communication. Depending on the school you attend, you may also learn core concepts in web development and economics.

Best Associate Degree Computer Programming Programs

  • Associate of Applied Science in Computer Programming and Database Management-Computer Software Development | Cincinnati State Technical and Community College | Tuition: $173.64/credit (in state); $347.28/credit (out of state)
  • Associate of Applied Science in Computer Programming | Southeast Technical College | Tuition: $305/credit
  • Associate of Science in Computer Programming and Analysis | St Petersburg College | Tuition: $111.75/credit (in state); $386.90/credit (out of state)

Online Associate Degree in Digital Marketing

Online digital marketing associate degrees teach students marketing and business concepts. The classes taught in this program are focused on developing marketing strategies for Internet-based media, like social media platforms, emails, and website advertisements. Students will develop skills in entrepreneurship and business communication.

Best Associate Degree Digital Marketing Programs

  • Associate of Applied Science in Digital Marketing | Bryant & Stratton College | Tuition: $15,077/year
  • Associate Degree in Digital Marketing | Northcentral Technical College | Tuition: $143/credit (in state); $215/credit (out of state)
  • Associate of Science in Digital Marketing | Southern New Hampshire University | Tuition: $320/credit

Online Associate Degree in Multimedia Design

Online multimedia design associate degrees combines elements of web design, graphic design, and photography. Applied assicate degrees prepare students to enter the job market as digital designers, video editors, and graphic designers. A full-time student can finish this degree in two years or even less.

Best Associate Degree Multimedia Design Programs

  • Associate of Applied Science in Digital Design and Graphics | Columbus State Community College | Tuition: $167.93/credit (in state); $343.47/credit (out of state)
  • Associate of Arts Design and Media Studies | Community College of Vermont | Tuition: $280/credit (in state); $560/credit (out of state)
  • Associate of Applied Business in Internet & Interactive Digital Media Design | Eastern Gateway Community College | Tuition: $131/credit (in state); $245/credit (out of state)

Online Associate Degree in Network Security

Online network security associate degrees teach the fundamentals of cyber security, network design, and operating systems. Network security is all about cyber defense and disaster recovery. You can choose to get an Associate of Science or an Associate of Applied Science degree depending on your aspiration after graduating.

Best Associate Degree Network Security Programs

  • Associate of Science in Network and Security Administration | Dakota State University | Tuition: $354.75/credit (in state); $464.90/credit (out of state)
  • Associate of Applied Science in Cyber Defense | Davenport University | Tuition: $598/credit (in state); $885/credit (out of state)
  • Associate of Applied Science in Information Security and Assurance | Minnesota West Community and Technical College | Tuition: $188.35/credit

Online Associate Degree in Web Design

Online web design associate degrees combines aspects of computer science and fine arts. Students will learn to code using various programming languages like HTML, JavaScript, and CSS as well as graphic design tools like Adobe Photoshop. College education is important for creative careers as well as applied technology and occupational studies.

Best Associate Degree Web Design Programs

  • Web Design and Development Online Associate Degree Program | Champlain College | Tuition: $328/credit
  • Web Design and Development AAS | Pueblo Community College | Tuition: $263/credit (online/resident); $401/credit (online/non-resident)
  • Web Design Associate Degree | Seattle Central College | Tuition: $131/credit

What Can You Do With an Associate Degree?

With an associate degree, you can either transfer your credits to a bachelor’s degree program or enter the workforce immediately after graduating. There are tons of careers that only require an associate degree, and many Associate of Applied Science programs are considered terminal degrees that prepare students for a specific career.

Professionals with an associate degree can expect to earn significantly more than those who only have a high school diploma. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, associate degree holders earn $154 more per week than high school graduates.

Highest-Paying Associate Degree Jobs

Associate Degree Job Associate Degree Program Average Salary
Air Traffic Controller Associate Degree in Air Traffic (additional certifications required) $129,570
Radiation Therapist Associate of Degree in Radiation Therapy $82,790
Dental Hygienist Associate of Degree in Dental Hygiene $77,810
Web Developer Associate Degree in Web Development $77,200
Electrical and Electronics Engineering Technician Associate Degree in Electrical or Electronic Engineering Technology $63,640
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist Associate of Degree in Biology, Chemistry, or another healthcare and science-related field $61,980
Respiratory Therapist Associate Degree in Respiratory Therapy $61,830
Occupational Therapy Assistant Associate Degree in Occupational Therapy $61,520
Funeral Service Manager Associate Degree in Funeral Service or Mortuary Science $58,900
Bookkeeping Clerk Associate Degree in Accounting, Business, or Mathematics $45,560

Best-Paying Associate Degree Jobs: What Job Can I Get With an Associate Degree?

You can get many technical jobs with an associate degree, including respiratory therapist, bookkeeping clerk, and air traffic controller. There are many other entry-level jobs available to associate degree holders not included on this list, but the highest-paying associate degree jobs are usually available to those who have a relevant applied associate degree.


Air Traffic Controller

Average Salary: $129,570

Air traffic controllers monitor the statuses and locations of various aircraft. They manage incoming and outgoing planes and communicate instructions to pilots. Although a high-paying position, this career can be stressful because of the concentration required to safely manage airport traffic. Eligible candidates for this position must take the required exams from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).


Radiation Therapist

Average Salary: $82,790

Radiation therapists work in hospitals and doctors’ offices. They work with oncologists and treat patients with cancer. Their duties include operating medical machinery, communicating with and monitoring patients, and keeping records of the patients’ treatment plans. This is a great career in the healthcare industry with a high annual salary.


Dental Hygienist

Average Salary: $77,810

Dental hygienists work in dentists’ offices and perform many different duties. They take x-rays, clean and protect teeth, and communicate with patients about proper dental hygiene maintenance. Dental hygienists should attend an associate degree program that has been accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation and be licensed to work as dental hygienists in their state.


Web Developer

Average Salary: $77,200

Web developers design and create websites for businesses and private clients. They may work for a specific company or be self-employed and work for multiple clients. Web developers may choose to specialize in either front end or backend web development or choose to learn both sets of skills and become full stack web developers .


Electrical and Electronics Engineering Technician

Average Salary: $63,640

Electrical and electronics engineering technicians work under the supervision of electrical and electronics engineers. These technicians help engineers build and repair electrical and electronic equipment. They also have to test designs and equipment to ensure any potential problems are avoided.


Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist

Average Salary: $61,980

MRI technologists work in hospitals, medical laboratories, and private clinics. They operate imaging equipment like MRI and x-ray machines. MRI technologists communicate with patients to ensure they are comfortable and understand the images being taken. Technologists also work with doctors to evaluate the images and create treatment plans.


Respiratory Therapist

Average Salary: $61,830

The majority of respiratory therapists work in private and public hospitals. They work closely with other healthcare professionals to treat patients with respiratory illnesses and cardiopulmonary disorders. They treat patients in a variety of ways and monitor their progress.


Occupational Therapy Assistant

Average Salary: $61,520

Occupational therapy assistants work under the direct guidance of occupational therapists. These professionals help patients with their therapeutic activities, like stretches and exercises. Occupational therapy assistants keep patient records and may be asked to do other administrative tasks.


Funeral Service Manager

Average Salary: $58,900

Funeral service managers plan and arrange funerals. They offer support to those close to the deceased and help answer questions about burial, cremation, and entombment. When funeral service managers have Associate Degrees in Mortuary Science, they will also be responsible for the removal and preparation of bodies for cremation or burial.


Bookkeeping Clerk

Average Salary: $45,560

Bookkeeping clerks use databases and software to produce financial reports. They generally work within a company and are also in charge of monitoring payroll, invoices, and corporate accounts. These clerks can work at a wide range of companies, and it can be a good entry-level job to begin a career in your ideal current field.

How to List an Associate Degree on Your Resume

You should list an associate degree on your resume in a section dedicated to your education. You only need to include the name of your degree, the school you attended, and the dates you were in college. You can also use this section of your resume to list any additional certificate or certification programs you’ve pursued after graduating.

Is an Associate Degree Worth It?

Yes, an associate degree is worth it, especially for those who are hesitant about taking the plunge into a traditional four-year program. You can graduate with an associate degree and pursue many fruitful careers in fields like data science, accounting, or software engineering. Many associate degree career paths have the potential to become high-earning positions.

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Associate Degree FAQ

What is the easiest associate degree to get?

An Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education is often considered one of the easiest associate degrees to get. The programs are usually project-based and focused on basic general education courses. Plus, if you’re someone who aspires to become a teacher, you may find the program easy to complete because of your dedication to your career path.

Is an associate degree equal to a bachelor’s degree?

No, an associate degree is not equal to a bachelor’s degree. Associate degrees are lower-level degrees that can be completed in just two years. Bachelor’s degrees are four-year degrees that are more involved and cover more advanced subjects.

What are two-year degrees called?

Two-year degrees are called associate degrees. Associate degrees are 60-credit programs offered at community colleges, junior colleges, and some universities. These two-year degrees may be used to transfer to a bachelor’s degree program at another school.

Is an associate degree a real degree?

Yes, an associate degree is a real degree. As long as you are studying at an accredited school, the degree you receive is legitimate. Although an associate degree is not as advanced as a bachelor’s degree, it is still a real degree.

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Bryan Wirtz

About the author: As a Career Karma writer, Bryan takes on topics such as career transitions, roles in technology, and higher education. A Philadelphia native, Bryan attended Penn State University, where he earned his undergraduate degree in integrated social sciences. Bryan has contributed to a range of publications related to education, software development, and financial guidance, including and

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