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The number of associate degrees awarded by postsecondary institutions in recent years has increased dramatically. One million were granted in the 2015-16 academic year — an increase of almost 74 percent over the 2000-01 academic year. In 2015-16, most students earned associate degrees in:
- Liberal arts and sciences, humanities, and general studies
- Health professions and related fields
Other popular degrees in the 2015-16 term were in law enforcement, homeland security, and firefighting; and computer and information sciences and support services — all programs aligned with jobs that require an associate degree.
What's driving the increased interest in associate degrees? Many reasons could be in play, including employer demand for a more educated workforce. Another factor could be the increased availability of online associate degree programs. Students can now pursue their education at a campus-based school or online. This flexibility can be especially helpful for students who are working, raising children, or have other responsibilities.
5 Reasons to Pursue an Associate Degree
There are many reasons a student may wish to pursue an associate degree. Here are five common motivators:
- An online associate degree can typically be completed in two years — an attractive option for those who want to start their career sooner rather than later.
- Because of the shorter timeline — associate degree programs usually require half the classes and credits of bachelor's programs — they tend to be significantly lower in costs as a result.
- The unemployment rate for associate degree holders in 2017 was lower than for those whose education stopped with a high school diploma: 3.4 percent instead of 4.6 percent.
- Weekly earnings for those who held associate degrees in 2017 were $836 compared to $712 for those who only held a high school diploma.
- After completing associate degree requirements, students can either enter the workforce and start earning money or pursue a bachelor's degree.
According to a Georgetown University study on job growth and education requirements through 2020, 30 percent of job openings through 2020 will require candidates to have an associate degree or better.
Timeline of an Associate Degree Program
So how long does it take to earn an associate degree? Most programs can be completed in two years or 60 semester credit hours.
In the first year, students can expect to take general classes as well as courses that introduce their particular field of study. For those who aren't exactly sure what program they want to pursue, this can be a good time to explore different fields by taking classes in a range of subjects. It's possible to discover a new interest, and a potentially new career path.
During the second year, students typically dive deeper into their major. It's the time to take classes that provide more specific knowledge and to build the skills needed to begin careers in jobs you can get with an associate degree.
Typically, an associate degree translates into the first two years of a bachelor's degree. Students who have that longer-term goal in mind — earning a bachelor's degree — may want to check with their school's academic adviser about which associate degree requirements may transfer into credits for a bachelor's program.
Types of Associate Degrees
There are four major types of associate degrees. Let's take a closer look at each one.
- Associate of Arts (A.A.): An A.A. degree is one of the most common types of associate degrees. Often, students apply the credits they've earned in an A.A. program towards a bachelor's degree program. A.A. programs typically focus on liberal arts such as elementary education, English, history, music, and psychology. This degree is designed to transfer to a four-year college or university.
- Associate of Science (A.S.): A.S. degrees are also quite common. While the majority of A.S. degree programs are science focused, they also require students to complete some general education courses. These types of degrees can also prepare students to earn a bachelor's degree and help them begin a career in fields like computer science, engineering, and business administration. This degree type is also designed to transfer to a four-year college or university.
- Associate of Applied Arts (A.A.A.): An A.A.A degree is a specialized degree that is intended to help students begin working right after graduation. Students may earn an A.A.A. degree in a fields such as music, commercial music, fine arts, and advertising art.
- Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.): Just like A.A.A. degrees, A.A.S. degrees are often chosen by students who would like to enter the workforce as soon as possible. This type of degree is designed to help students qualify for associate degree jobs in demand. A.A.S. degrees are available for occupations in science-related industries such as nursing, accounting, machining, and welding.
The cost of tuition, textbooks, and other education-related expenses is a common concern among prospective associate degree students. Fortunately, there are financial resources that may be available to eligible prospective students. Scholarships, grants, and education loans can all help make associate degrees more affordable. Financial aid can be available for degree programs offered through traditional schools as well as schools that offer online associate degree programs.
Online Associate Degrees Available
WorldWideLearn.com features colleges and universities that offer online associate degree programs in the following disciplines:
Why Accreditation Matters
Accreditation refers to the process that higher education institutions undergo to confirm that they adhere to the strictest educational standards. Accredited associate degree programs are known to offer quality education and can help prospective students qualify for federal grants and loans. An online associate degree from an accredited institution can also paint the degree holder in a more competitive light to prospective employers.
What Comes After an Associate Degree
After an associate degree, students may choose to pursue a bachelor's degree and further their careers. For instance, a nurse with an associate degree may decide to earn a bachelor's of science in nursing so they could land a job at a magnet status hospital that only employs nurses with at least four-year degrees. In addition, some management positions in industries like accounting or technology require bachelor's degrees.
Instead of continuing their education to earn a bachelor's degree, some individuals with associate degrees such as those who are physical therapy assistants or occupational therapy assistants may earn a license. Licensing is a standard recognized by employers and clients and can allow associate degree graduates to pursue rewarding careers.