An associate’s degree is a two-year degree that lays the foundation necessary to join the workforce or continue on to earn your bachelor’s degree. There are many two-year degrees that prepare graduates to enter the workforce and earn an above-average salary in high growth occupations. Watch the video to learn more.
If you are looking to finish school in two years or less, some students attend community colleges, state colleges, or trade schools that focus on degree programs or certification programs that students can complete in two years or less. Example careers that require an associate’s degree include: police officer, court reporter, paralegal, nurse, HVAC mechanic, medical imaging technician, telecom installer, forest technician, occupational therapy assistant, and solar technician. If your goal is to continue your education and earn a bachelor’s degree at some point down the road, consider sticking to two-year Associate of Arts (AA), Associate of Science (AS), or Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degrees.
You can also research certification programs that take less than two years. These may not be associate’s degrees, but the certification may be required by an employer. These certification programs include: Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), surgical technologist, and web developers. Be aware that coursework taken during a certification will not count towards an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
The Difference between AA, AS, and AAS Degrees
There are three main associate degree types you’ll want to know about. The two-year degree you choose should depend on the type of bachelor’s degree you may want to earn after achieving your associate’s degree. The three types of associate’s degrees are:
- Associate of Arts (AA): An AA degree will focus on general education that includes social science and humanities courses. Along with your core classes of math and English, you may take courses that include politics, geography, law, psychology, and sociology.
- Associate of Science (AS): An AA degree will include general education courses that focus more on math and science. Unlike the Associate’s of Arts degree that will include social science and humanities courses, an AS degree will include more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) courses in the curriculum.
- Associate of Applied Science (AAS): An AAS degree prepares people to enter the workforce quickly. Not all courses taken may count towards a bachelor’s degree but it does provide the education necessary to meet a job requirement.
While some employers prefer applicants with a four-year bachelor degree, an associates degree can provide a quick, flexible, and less expensive entry into the workforce. These degrees can provide you the specialized knowledge to get your foot in the door and the option to advance in your field with on-the-job training or further study. While you gain experience on-the-job, you can always continue your education and earn a bachelor’s degree.
How much does an Associate’s Degree Cost
The cost of college always depends on the college and can also depend on the state you live in. If you attend a state college in the state you have resided in for at least a year, you would qualify for in-state tuition. In-state tuition is often 3 times cheaper than out-of-state tuition. Some states even offer free college to students who meet a certain GPA and other requirements. These states believe that offering free college will produce a more educated workforce for their state in the long run and invest early in their population’s education. Students who demonstrate financial need on their FAFSA application can often cover the tuition of an in-state community college or state college with their Pell Grant alone.
Smaller schools are often more affordable and maybe close to where you live. Often, living at home with parents or a guardian can lower the cost even more. Community colleges and state schools may also be much easier to get accepted into especially if you don’t have a strong GPA.
How long does an Associate’s Degree take?
An associate’s degree can be accomplished in two years if attending school full-time. Some students choose to take extra courses over summer semesters or even dual enroll in high school and can finish their associate’s degree faster. Other students work full-time and may choose to attend college part-time so it may take a bit longer.
Community colleges often collaborate with state universities to offer academic tracks that flow right into the university’s degree programs. Students at these state schools and community colleges can easily transfer from the smaller school to the larger university seamlessly.
Older students and those with existing commitments often opt for the two-year degree pathway after finding out about the attractive salaries of jobs that require an associate degree. Once in the workforce, there is often the opportunity to continue their education with tuition reimbursement from their employer or to take online courses toward a bachelor’s degree.
Healthcare Associate’s Degrees
Did you know that the fastest way to becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) in the U.S. is with an associate’s degree? Nursing is considered a fast-growing occupation and salaries continue to rise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for nurses in 2019 is $71,730. Not only is nursing a rewarding career path, but on-the-job development is common. You can read the article How to Become a Nurse for more information.
While the dentistry profession is often reserved for certified doctors, dental hygiene is also a fast-growing career field that only requires an associate’s degree. As of 2019 the median annual wage for dental hygienists stood at $74,820, with a 20% occupational growth rate. There are many other technical associate degree careers within the medical industry as well. If interested, you can check out the following medical careers that require an associate’s degree (links open in a new tab):
- clinical laboratory technician
- physical therapy assistant
- nuclear medicine technologist
- cardiovascular technologist
- radiation therapist
- respiratory therapist
Web and Systems Development Associates Degrees
Due to the ever-rising need for workers in the web-based and technology industry, web development is an area which offers a large and consistently growing number of associate degree jobs. Web programming and development is an area where experience can be more useful than formal education, and knowledge of Java, C#, Visual Basic and .Net can put you on a salary of over $50,000 after two years or so on the job. As well as a wide range of technical careers, IT management is also a feasible career option for associate degree graduates after gaining experience on-the-job. Information systems management is one of the highest earning associate degree careers around.
Engineering Associate’s Degree
Engineering technician roles are common associate degree jobs and offer entry into fields such as industrial engineering, electrical engineering, civil engineering, communications engineering, mechanical engineering, network engineering, aerospace engineering and more. If you are interested in engineering but don’t think you can stomach four years of university-level math, consider the associate degree route which teaches fundamental science, numeracy and engineering skills. As a technician you will likely assist fully-qualified engineers in designing and reviewing projects (for the production of machinery or industrial structures for example), conducting tests and generally aiding development in your specific engineering field.
Business Management Degree
Associate degree jobs in business have the potential to be highly lucrative as well as fairly flexible when it comes to the industry you wish to go into. During an associate’s degree in business you’ll gain a broad knowledge of business theory and applied skills for business operations. You’ll likely study modules including accounting, bookkeeping, communications, finance, human resources, office management, operations management and statistics.
Prospective associate degree careers in business include banking manager, department manager, human resources manager and marketing manager in either corporate, public or non-profit organizations. Or, you could even start a business of your own.
While general hands-on construction work is available to those without a degree, if you want to step onto the business side of things, having an associate’s degree in construction management is helpful, alongside experience. In addition to building and construction manager roles, you can also consider site manager, facilities manager or tradesperson. An associate’s degree can set you up for the industry, by teaching you problem-solving, logistics, engineering design and management skills. The 2015 median annual wage for construction managers (of all education levels) was a hefty $87,400.
If you are undecided about which associates degree to pursue, that’s fine. The first courses you can sign up to take at your college are those mandatory classes like math, english, science, humanities, foreign language and so on. Talk to a college’s academic advisor so you are set up with an academic schedule that gives you time to decide on a focused track while earning credits that will apply to multiple degrees.
Associate’s Degree Career Video Transcript
Video Transcript: Did you know that some of the fastest-growing occupations require only two years of college or less and some careers pay over $50,000 a year. For instance, with two years of education, sonographers make over $60,000 and enjoy an occupational growth of 24%. If you like technology, which is a two-year degree, website developers earn an average of $60,000 a year. Another really interesting career is surgical technology. With one to two years of education, surgical techs earn over $40,000 a year. Make sure to do your homework when selecting a career. Research it’s educational requirements and projected growth rate to ensure you are in a career with lots of opportunity.