Online Associate's Degrees

An Associate’s degree requires at least a year of full-time study, although most programs take two years to complete. A few, especially in healthcare-related fields, take three years.

You can earn an Associate’s degree at most community colleges, junior colleges, business schools, and some four-year public and private universities. Online Associate’s programs are increasingly common as well; according to the Sloan Consortium, over half of the nation’s Associate’s degrees are earned online.

Benefits of an Associate’s Degree

You can enter the workforce sooner. Four years is a long time to be out of the workforce—especially when you’re a nontraditional student with a family to support. Many students find an Associate’s to be more practical and easy to fit into their lives. Many Associate’s degree programs cater to adult students and are tailored to accommodate their schedules; online Associate’s degrees are particularly strong in this area.

They’re less expensive than Bachelor’s degrees. They take half as much time to complete—and tuition can be half as much, or even less. An Associate’s degree can be a good option for cash-strapped students concerned about loans, debt, and paying student tuition while in school.

They’re easy to apply to a four-year program. Associate’s degree programs are often designed as a stepping stone to earning a Bachelor’s degree. Many students enter Associate’s degree programs at community colleges, then transfer after graduation to a more prestigious four-year institution. In most cases, students will then have a four-year diploma from a well-known university, but will have saved significant amounts of money by spending the first two years in a less expensive college. Some four-year institutions have transfer agreements with community colleges offering Associate’s degrees to ensure a smooth credit transfer process. Not all four-year universities allow you to apply your Associate’s credits to a Bachelor’s, however, so do your homework first.

Your earnings are higher. With an Associate’s degree, your earnings will be significantly higher than they would with a high school diploma alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau [], workers with Associate’s degrees earn approximately $8,000 per year more than those with only a high school diploma.

Types of Associate’s Degrees

Associate of Arts (AA): An Associate of Arts is designed to transfer to a four-year degree program, although it can be used as a terminal degree as well. It usually includes most or all of the general education requirements required to earn a Bachelor’s degree in the same subject. Most Associate of Arts degrees are awarded in the humanities or social sciences.

Associate of Science (AS): Like the Associate of Arts, the Associate of Science is usually intended to transfer to a four-year degree program—although they can be used as terminal degrees on their own. Most Associate of Science degrees are awarded in subjects including math, natural science, and technology.

Associate of Fine Arts (AFA): The Associate of Fine Arts can be applied to a four-year degree, typically in a subject such as art, theatre, or music with a performance or education focus. However, they are typically not as easy to transfer as Associate’s degrees in the Arts or Sciences, as not all general education requirements are usually satisfied in these subjects.

Associate in Applied Sciences (AAS): Unlike an Associate of Science, these degrees do not focus on satisfying general education requirements in the interest of applying credits toward a four-year degree. Most Associate in Applied Sciences degrees waive certain general education requirements to allow students to focus more strongly on specifics in science and technology. These degrees are generally intended to be terminal, and most students plan to enter the workforce immediately upon graduation.

Associate of Occupational Studies (AOS): These degrees typically fulfill no liberal arts requirements and are not transferable to a four-year degree program. In most cases, students do not intend to go back to school after graduation.

An Associate’s degree can be highly useful in your career—whether you plan to enter the workforce immediately after graduation or go back to school for a Bachelor’s degree. Check with your employer on education reimbursement programs, and do some research into job requirements in your industry. If an Associate’s degree is likely to be an asset in your area of work, then earning your degree is a good investment.