It is widely known that a traditional undergraduate degree consists of a bachelor’s degree. So, what is an associate degree?
In the United States, an associate degree is usually an academic degree program taken before enrolling in a bachelor’s program. These programs, usually offered by community colleges, technical schools, and junior colleges, take about two to three years to complete. So, is getting an associate degree worth it?
Depending on the type of associate degree, it can mean different things for different people. An Associate Degree in Computer Science or business administration could prove to be the perfect way to get a career started. For many, it is the first step in the undergraduate process.
Admission criteria vary from school to school to enter an associate degree program. Potential associate degree candidates will most often need to have a high school diploma or their Graduate Equivalency Degree (GED). Students can receive their GED by taking General Educational Development tests.
These tests contain the most pertinent parts of four school subjects: Math, language arts, social studies, and science.
Most importantly, exam results exhibit that the test taker has displayed enough skill to earn a diploma. The requirements for the GED vary by state. The most common prerequisites are that a student must be at least 16-years-old and not enrolled in high school.
When it comes right down to it, earning a GED allows students to pass high school. The catch is that it doesn’t provide the same robust job opportunities high school diplomas do. This is a great reason to explore associate degrees further.
Types of Associate Degrees
As with bachelor’s degrees, there are multiple subsets of the associate degree. They are as follows:
Associate of the Arts
These are the standard associate degrees students planning on transferring to four-year programs receive. AA degrees contain many 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 Science
These are more specific degrees that narrow down certain fields of study. These apply more to careers in computer science and the social sciences.
Associate of Applied Science
These degrees focus on careers like nursing, dental hygienist, radiologist, and Certified Occupational Therapy.
Associate of Applied Business
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 the associate of applied business and science prepare students for almost immediate employment in their specific major. If you are dead set on starting your career right away, consider these degrees.
Earning an Associate Degree vs a Bachelor’s Degree
We already know that the main difference between the two degree types is time commitment. An associate degree usually takes two to three years to complete, and a bachelor’s degree is a four-year program.
In other words, an associate degree will take around 60 credits to complete, and a bachelor’s is 120 credit hours. But their differences transcend just time commitments.
Cost and entry requirements are often more relaxed and more appealing to reluctant students. Courses for an associate degree, especially offered through a community college, can save you a lot of money. Additionally, these classes can easily be of the same quality as bachelor’s courses, if not better.
The entry requirements for an associate degree aren’t as stringent as for other degrees. There usually isn’t a lengthy application process involving essays and references. Prerequisites also don’t require students to have received stellar grades in high school.
Students often have the option to transfer many of their 60 credits towards a bachelor’s degree at a different school. For example, many community colleges in Pennsylvania have transfer credit agreements with a plethora of universities.
Earning an Online Associate Degree
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many schools to shift curriculums to be 100 percent online. These more mandatory online programs have put many students and professors on shaky, unfamiliar ground. But it can prove to be a fantastic advantage to those exploring a path toward an associate degree.
Community colleges and many four-year schools have developed the option to earn degrees through online programs. These schools can prove to be extremely flexible as well, offering full-time and part-time schedule options.
Right now, earning online associate degrees is straightforward, cost-effective, and hassle free. While this will affect graduation times, students can finish their associate degree at their own pace.
Associate degrees are perfect stepping stones for those who want to achieve their bachelor’s, masters, and even doctoral degrees. There are a few key things to keep in mind when considering an online associate degree.
Will online credits transfer?
You need to determine if your credits will transfer to a different university, even if received online. Many universities are understanding and flexible, but you need to remain diligent and do your research. You don’t want to repeat a core class you had a lot of trouble with.
Consider what you want to do career-wise
Are you using an associate as a means to an end? Or do you want to transfer right into a specified career?
Does the school or online program offer competent student services?
While perhaps not a priority for many, excellent student services are a vital part of a student’s success. Make sure to communicate often with advisors and support staff to see if a school’s learning aids are helpful enough.
Careers With an Associate Degree
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, earning an associate degree can open many opportunities to you. Nearly 100 occupations require an associate degree, and nothing more. This means that after a two-year program, you can secure a job at any number of workplaces. Many companies will often accept willing and experienced holders of associate degrees if you have a computer science degree.
Business administration, nursing, and science degrees are arguably the best to pursue; these degrees lead to the most sought after careers. Nursing assistants, web developers, and accountants are the most lucrative and dependable jobs to apply for with an associate degree.
Most importantly, those with associate degrees can expect to earn significantly more in median wages compared to those with only a high school diploma. It is projected that all occupations requiring only an associate degree will grow 11 percent by 2026. Completing a two-year program can give you a meaningful advantage in the workplace.
Let’s look at some of the higher-paying jobs you can get with an associate degree.
Median Annual Wage: $82,330
Median Annual Wage: $74,820
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologists
Median Annual Wage: $71,670
Electrical and Electronics Engineering Technicians
Median Annual Wage: $64,330
Median Annual Wage: $60,280
Occupational Therapy Assistants
Median Annual Wage: $60,220
Air Traffic Controllers
Median Annual Wage: $124,540
Funeral Service Managers
Median Annual Wage: $79,180
Median Annual Wage: $69,430