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Associate Degrees Explained

In short: Associate degrees are two-year junior college degrees. Associate degree holders earn, on average, $6600 per year more than high school diploma holders, and enjoy 30% lower unemployment rates (according to the US Department of Labor). After getting your Associate degree, you typically need only another 2 years to get your Bachelor's degree.
Search for your specific program interest at your specific location to find the Associate degree program right for you.

As a potential college student, it's not surprising that you might become overwhelmed at the barrage of tests, campuses, programs, and applications in front of you. Even the definitions of degrees are sometimes confusing. What will you be earning, and what kind of classes do you need to take? Do you need to declare a major in junior college or an online school? Read on for everything you need to know about earning an Associate of Arts or Associate of Science degree.

Subject

What does an associate's degree entail?

Associate's degrees are awarded by institutions of higher learning like junior colleges, community colleges, or universities. It is even possible to earn your associate's degree online, through an online college or school. Either way you do it, earning an associate's degree means that you have completed a certain amount of college credits. Associate's degrees are often completed in two years at a junior college before moving on to earn a bachelor's degree. Many students who do not wish to pursue a bachelor's degree decide to enroll in a vocational, technical, or certificate program, and complete an associate's degree at the same time.

What will I learn?

By earning your associate's degree, you demonstrate that you have learned the basics of higher education, usually referred to as "general education," without needing to declare a specific major or course of study. General education comprises four areas: communication, science and math, humanities, and social science. Communication applies to both verbal and written communication, and classes in these areas usually demand at some point a visual presentation, such as a speech, and a written essay. It's typical that students will need to demonstrate their skills more than once, as these requirements are the same in many English, literature, communications, and speech classes. There are many ways to meet your math and science requirements while earning your associate degree including marine biology, human anatomy, statistics, calculus, and more. Many universities often have special courses devoted to a specific study. At one particular university in California, for example, students often battle for a seat in female physiology.

Humanities and social sciences offer the higher education that you simply can't get in high school including coursework in psychology, sociology, comparative literature and religion, and political science. These are fascinating classes, which often involve the written and verbal communication requirements. Although all courses available for credit towards an associate's degree are closely required, you do have an element of choice in these classes and should focus on the subjects most interesting to you. Students perform better in class if they show interest and a natural aptitude for the subject.

How long will it take?

It will take you approximately two years to earn an associate's degree at a community college, provided you attend class full-time. Many students who cannot afford to commit to school full-time take longer to finish their associate's degree. Most associate's degree programs require you to complete 60 semester or 90 quarter units.

What's the difference between an A.A. and an A.S.?

There are a few different kinds of associate's degrees. You can earn an Associate of Arts, Associate of Science, or Associate of Applied Sciences. The Associate of Arts, or A.A. as it is commonly called, encompasses a liberal arts and sciences background, with emphasis on the humanities. The A.A. is a good degree to have under your belt if you choose to pursue a bachelor degree in a writing or arts-based field. The Associate of Science degree program gives a liberal arts and sciences background as well, but keeps an emphasis on math and science. Students going into business, engineering, or agriculture are encouraged to earn an Associate of Science. Associate of Applied Science is specifically geared towards students who want to finish their degree and move directly into employment. Many times A.A.S. degrees are available in nursing, medical assisting and so on.

An associate's degree is a good first step to take on your road of education. You will emerge from community college confident of your direction, with a certificate to show for it. Who knows if you will go out to find a job or move on to earn a bachelor's degree, but you'll have a solid background with which to do it.

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