As you consider your degree options and career choices, you may notice there are various levels of degrees. The two types of undergraduate degree programs are the associate degree program and the bachelor’s degree program. Knowing what an associate degree is and how long it will take to one can help you decide which is right for you.
WHAT IS AN ASSOCIATE DEGREE?
An associate degree is an undergraduate degree program that is sometimes referred to as a two-year degree program. An associate degree program can usually be completed in less time than a bachelor’s degree, and it is typically more affordable as well.
You could pursue an associate degree at a vocational school, community college or university. Many students begin an associate degree program immediately following high school, but they also are a viable option for adult learners interested in elevating their careers or changing professions.
VARIOUS TYPES OF ASSOCIATE DEGREES
Associate degree programs are often geared toward skills-based careers or trade professions. These hyper-focused degree programs allow students to earn a degree that provides them with the knowledge and skills necessary for their field. Most associate degree programs require students to complete 60 credit hours of coursework, equivalent to the first four semesters of a bachelor’s degree program. You may pursue an associate degree to enter the workforce as soon as possible, or you may choose to use this degree program as a bridge to a four-year bachelor’s degree.
At a community college or university, there are often three types of associate degree programs available:
Associate of Science (AS)
An Associate of Science is a liberal arts degree with a focus on math and science coursework. Students who have earned a high school diploma and are interested in pursuing a career in technology or medicine may find that an Associate of Science is the best option for their professional goals.
According to College Rank, common Associate of Science degree programs include chemistry, biology, business management, computer science and engineering.
Associate of Arts (AA)
An Associate of Arts is also a liberal arts degree program, but it has a broader focus than an Associate of Science program and most coursework focuses on the humanities. An Associate of Arts is generally treated as a building block toward a bachelor’s degree and is an excellent and affordable option for students looking to transfer to a four-year university.
Common Associate of Art degree programs includes public administration, accounting, performing arts and social sciences.
Associate of Applied Science (AAS)
Associate of Applied Science degree programs are designed to provide graduates with a path to entering the workforce. These skills-based programs are often highly specialized and include vocational training as part of their curriculum.
Due to the technical nature of these degree programs, graduates can often secure high-paying positions immediately after earning their degree. According to PayScale, some of the most high-paying Associate of Applied Science degree programs include radiation therapy and software development.
However, students interested in transferring credits to a four-year degree program may want to avoid Associate of Applied Science programs since the coursework is typically hyper-focused and may not be relevant to other degrees.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET AN ASSOCIATE DEGREE?
Since many refer to the associate degree as a two-year degree, it’s easy to assume that it always takes two years to complete this degree program. However, the amount of time that it takes can vary depending on a variety of personal factors, with some people earning an associate degree in two years while others take up to four years to finish their program.
Factors that Impact the Timeframe
- Academic —The number of credit hours required will ultimately determine how long it takes you to complete your associate degree. Most associate degree programs require 60 credit hours of coursework to graduate, so the pace of your program will depend on how many credits you take per semester. If you can take 15 credit hours each semester, you can finish your degree in two years.
- Personal —Your personal circumstances will have a significant impact on how long it takes you to earn your associate degree. If you pursue your degree full-time following high school graduation, then you will likely be able to finish it within two years. If you take classes part-time while you balance work and family responsibilities, it may take you a bit longer to earn your degree.
- Program-Specific —Depending on the associate degree program you pursue, you may have various requirements to fulfill, such as completing an internship or passing a licensure exam.
Strategies for Accelerating Your Associate Degree
If you want to earn your associate degree as quickly as possible, you will find several strategies can help you reach graduation sooner.
- Accelerated Associate Degree —An accelerated associate degree program can be completed in as few as 12 months. Accelerated degree programs condense the typical program duration by providing credit for professional experience, creating a year-round coursework schedule, and designing condensed courses.
- Summer and Winter Classes —Some universities offer condensed summer and winter courses that allow students to continue earning credit during traditional school breaks. If you can enroll in these courses and continue completing your degree program requirements, you may be able to finish your associate degree in less than two years.
PERKS OF PURSUING AN ASSOCIATE DEGREE
Most students enroll in college degree programs to acquire the skills and knowledge needed for their chosen occupation, making the associate degree program particularly appealing for career-minded students.
Students who opt to pursue an associate degree will find that they enjoy many benefits, including:
When compared to a bachelor’s degree program, most associate degree programs are more affordable. Colleges and universities charge tuition based on the number of credit hours that you enroll in, and associate degree programs require fewer credit hours to graduate than bachelor’s degree programs.
In an age when tuition rates increase year after year, more students are looking for a financially responsible way to earn a degree. By earning an Associate of Arts or Associate of Science degree online or at a community college and then subsequently transferring to a four-year degree program, you could significantly reduce the cost of your education.
Pursuing an associate degree can also help you enter the workforce as soon as possible. By spending less time and money on your degree program, you will begin working in your career field sooner and start earning a regular salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), professionals with an associate degree earned an average weekly salary of about $1,005 in 2022. By comparison, the average weekly earnings of high school graduates were about $853 in 2022.
Increased Employment Opportunities
According to the BLS, the employment outlook for careers that require an associate degree is favorable. In an age where labor shortages continue to define the economy, companies and organizations across a variety of sectors are looking for skilled individuals willing to perform essential job functions.
The BLS notes that some of the fastest-growing career opportunities for those with an associate degree are within the computer and engineering fields, the office support sector and the medical field. Nursing assistants are in especially high demand, with more than 195,000 job openings anticipated by 2026.
HOW TO EFFICIENTLY PLAN YOUR ASSOCIATE DEGREE JOURNEY
By planning your academic path in advance, you can streamline the process of earning your associate degree and begin your career. You can efficiently plan your associate degree journey by:
- Researching the requirements needed to enroll in the degree program.
- Identifying your strengths and personal interests so you can select the associate degree program that is right for you.
- Outlining the required coursework and developing a plan that accommodates your personal circumstances.
- Relying on the support and resources available at your community college or university to successfully navigate your educational journey.
Remember, your plan for your educational path can be flexible — but it helps to have an outline to guide you as you begin your associate degree program.
FUTURE VALUE OF AN ASSOCIATE DEGREE
Not only will your associate degree allow you to secure a position now, but your investment also will pay off throughout the course of your lifetime. According to the American Institutes for Research, an associate degree program is a worthwhile and valuable investment for any individual, as the average associate degree holder earns $259,000 more over the course of their professional career than the average individual with a high school diploma. By preparing you for a skills-based career and allowing you to transfer to a four-year degree program more easily, your associate degree program uniquely positions you for success in whatever field you decide to enter.
PURSUE YOUR ASSOCIATE DEGREE AT JOHSON & WALES UNIVERSITY
At Johnson & Wales University, we offer online associate degree programs focused on skills development, allowing you to pursue your desired field as quickly as possible.