What Is an Associate Degree? Requirements, Costs, and More

An associate degree is a two-year college degree that you can earn from a community college, junior college, online university, or some four-year institutions in the US. In terms of education, an associate degree falls between a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree.

Associate Degree
Associate Degree

This degree is basically designed to train the students for a specific career and is vocationally oriented. An associate degree is considered a higher level of education than a high school diploma.

Similar to the degree Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts, it is distinguished among different types of associate degree: Associate of Arts degree for programs in the fields of social sciences, Associate of Science degree for programs in the fields of mathematics, technology, and science. Natural Sciences as well as Applied Sciences associate for more practical oriented studies. In Europe, the associate degree is generally not regarded as a sufficient higher education degree.

Students do different things with their associate degrees: some transfer to graduate degree programs, while others choose to go straight into the workforce. You can also earn your associate degree after working for several years; It can be the first step in a new career or help you advance in your current one.

Read on to understand key facts about earning your associate degree, and important factors—such as educational and professional goals—you should consider when deciding whether it’s the right choice for your future.

Associate degrees: Key facts

Associate degree is a two year degree course. A student who completes the two-year program can earn an Associate of Arts or an Associate of Science. These degrees are typically earned in the fields of the humanities, business, and social sciences. And those who study in scientific and technical fields are honored.

Difference between an Associate’s degree and a Bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree program is often an extension of an associate’s degree program. A bachelor’s degree program typically takes twice as long to complete and graduates have more potential career opportunities.

Admissions requirements

Associate Degree Admission requirements vary from college to college, but in order to gain admission to an associate degree program, you generally must meet these conditions:

  • You must be 18 years of age by the time you start the first day of class
  • You must have a high school diploma, or have passed a General Education Development Test (GED) or equivalent
  • You must meet minimum GPA requirements established by some community colleges


Associate degrees are much more affordable than bachelor’s degrees, given the shorter curriculum, shorter completion time, and generally fewer resources. In many cases, associate degrees are about half the price of their four-year counterparts. As such, they come across as a cost-effective option.

How Much Does It Cost To Get An Associate’s Degree?

On average, an associate degree from a public institution costs approximately $10,950 annually, which includes room and board rates, while private institutions charge approximately $28,627 each year. If we factor in living expenses such as rent and transportation, the cost increases dramatically but public institutions remain significantly cheaper.

Types of Associate Degree

Associate degrees are diverse not only in range but also in the way students pursue them. Students can choose a major in fields such as medicine, computer science, and the liberal arts to pursue their bachelor’s degree as well as associate degrees.

The most common types of associate degree are:

Associate of Arts (AA): Associate programs focused on business, humanities, arts or social sciences are often called associate of arts degrees. An AA can be an important step in moving into a graduate degree.

Average time of completion: 2 years

Associate of Science (AS):The natural and applied sciences are at the heart of an AS degree, as students gain an understanding of the various branches of science mixed with general education. Subjects covered include computer science, chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics. As far as skills are concerned, students gain knowledge that is useful in continuing education and in the professional field.

Average time of completion: 2 years

Associate of Applied Science (AAS): Associate programs that focus on technical and business skills are often referred to as Associate of Applied Science programs. These programs are generally designed to prepare students for a specific occupation or to work in a specific field after graduation.

Fields may include computer science technology, hospitality management, paralegal studies, law enforcement, welding, among many others. Although it is less common to use AAS degrees to transfer to a graduate program, some four-year degree programs have begun accepting them for transfers.

Average time of completion: 2 years

What can you do with an associate degree?

While it is true that many jobs require a bachelor’s or master’s degree, the reality is that an associate’s degree can open up many job opportunities as well.

In fact, earning an associate degree can be a good investment, especially for individuals who want some of the benefits of earning a college degree without the time and money it usually requires.

At a glance, the jobs included on this list are as follows:

Job TitleMedian annual Salary
Web Developer$77K
Dental Hygienist$77K
Registered Nurse$75K
Diagnostic Imaging Worker$70K
Respiratory Therapist$62K
Occupational Therapy Assistant$60K
Computer Network Support Specialist$55K
Paralegal Assistant$52K
Real Estate Agent$51K

Is an associate degree worth it?

An associate degree is definitely worth it, especially for students who are working on a tight budget and are looking to further explore their educational and professional options. Return on Investment is Important Degree-earners take their upcoming endeavors seriously. And the data really supports it.

How long it takes

It typically takes about two years for full-time students to earn an associate degree, although it may take longer for part-time students. If you love working while earning your associate degree, you’ll be in good company.

Which is better: Associate degree or bachelor’s degree?

It’s hard to know what elements to consider when deciding what’s right for you. Community college can be a cheaper and less time-consuming route to earning a degree. But a 4 year degree can open doors to more jobs. There are changing trends in given fields as well, so your best bet is to do your research before making a final decision on whether you will attend school for an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Here are some helpful comparators to consider.

For associate degrees, the courses usually prepare you for a specific career (technical or business degree). You can also take general studies (a non-professional degree), and the credits you earn toward an associate’s degree can sometimes be transferred toward a bachelor’s degree.

For a bachelor’s degree, you must complete a program of approximately 120 credits of coursework. For many fields, such as architecture, chemistry, or mathematics, a bachelor’s degree is considered the minimum level of education required to enter a career. Often, “general education” courses are required in subjects such as history, fine arts, science, math, and English. You may be required to take a number of elective courses, which are designed to add depth to your chosen field.

Associate degree alternatives

Trade or vocational school

Trade schools, also known as vocational or technical schools, train students to enter occupations that require a certain set of skills. They are characterized by an emphasis on hands-on training.

Graduates find work as electricians, dental hygienists, chefs, construction managers, and car mechanics, among many other occupations. Trade schools typically take two years or less to complete, although some trades may require additional apprenticeships following the program. They can be a good option if you have a specific job in mind and do not want or need an academic degree to secure employment in that profession.

Bootcamps-Bootcamps—intensive programs designed to quickly equip you with a new skill set—can be a fast way to break into a new field or advance in your current field. Bootcamp usually takes a few months to complete.

Professional certificates-Professional certificates are qualifications you can earn by completing courses or exams to demonstrate your competence in a field. They often require no previous experience in a subject, and can take anywhere from several months to a few years to complete. You can earn professional certifications in a variety of fields, including IT support, data analysis, computer programming, and marketing.

Associate Degree vs Bachelor’s Degree: Which is Better?

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