Earning an Associate Degree

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An associate degree is a post-secondary degree awarded to students who have completed an associate degree program. Students who earn this degree have a higher level of education than people with a high school diploma or GED but a lower level of education than those with a bachelor's degree.

Admission requirements for associate degree programs can vary, but most programs require applicants to have a high school diploma or the equivalent (GED). Some programs may have additional requirements. For example, applicants may have to submit high school transcripts, an essay, a resume, recommendation letters, and/or standardized test scores (such as SAT or ACT scores). 

How Long It Takes to Earn an Associate Degree

Most associate degree programs can be completed within two years, though there are some accelerated programs that can be completed in as little as one year. Students may also be able to shorten the amount of time it takes to earn a degree by earning credits through advanced placement (AP) tests and CLEP tests. Some schools also offer credit for work experience, 

Where to Earn an Associate Degree

An associate degree can be earned from community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, vocational schools, and trade schools. Many institutions offer students the option of attending a campus-based program or earning their degree online.

Reason to Earn an Associate Degree

There are many different reasons to consider earning an associate degree. First off, an associate degree can lead to better job prospects and a higher salary than what can be obtained with just a high school diploma. Second, an associate degree can provide the occupational training you need to enter a specific business field. Other reasons for earning an associate degree:

  • Most associate degree programs have reasonable tuition costs.
  • Most of the credits earned in an associate degree program can be transferred to a bachelor's degree program.
  • Employers may hire applicants who have associate degrees over applicants who have high school diplomas. 
  • In only two years, you can acquire the necessary training to enter fast-growing business fields like accounting, information technology, and finance.

Associate Degrees vs. Bachelor Degrees

Many students have a hard time deciding between an associate degree and a bachelor's degree. Although both degrees can lead to better job prospects and higher pay, there are differences between the two. Associate degrees can be earned in less time and with less money; bachelor degree programs typically take four years to complete and come with a higher tuition tag (because you have four years of school to pay for rather than just two).

Both degrees will also qualify you for different types of jobs. Associate degree holders are usually qualified for entry-level jobs, while bachelor degree holders can often get mid-level jobs or entry-level jobs with more responsibility. Read more about the occupational outlook for individuals with associate degrees.
The good news is that you don't have to decide between the two right away. If you choose an associate degree program that has transferable credits, there is no reason why you can't enroll in a bachelor degree program later on.

Choosing an Associate Degree Program

Choosing an associate degree program can be difficult. There are more than 2,000 schools that award associate degrees in the U.S. alone. One of the most important considerations is accreditation. It is essential that you find a school that is respectable and accredited by the proper institutions. Other things to consider when choosing an associate degree program include:

  • The courses the program offers (courses should help you achieve your career and education goals)
  • The reputation of the faculty (ask current students about their professors)
  • The school's retention rate (usually found on the school's website)
  • The location of the school (choose someplace with a cost of living you can afford)
  • The quality of the career services program (ask for career placement statistics)
  • The cost of tuition (ask about available financial aid to reduce tuition costs)
  • The likelihood that you will be able to transfer your credits to a bachelor degree program (you want a school that will allow you to transfer credits)
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Your Citation
Schweitzer, Karen. "Earning an Associate Degree." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, thoughtco.com/should-i-earn-an-associate-degree-467071. Schweitzer, Karen. (2020, August 25). Earning an Associate Degree. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/should-i-earn-an-associate-degree-467071 Schweitzer, Karen. "Earning an Associate Degree." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/should-i-earn-an-associate-degree-467071 (accessed June 10, 2023).