An individual that completes an associate’s degree has monthly earnings that are typically several hundred dollars above the earnings of an individual with only a high school diploma or that has less than a high school education. So, what is an associate’s degree, and what can you do with it if you do earn the degree? What is an associate’s degree benefits for graduates? Is it really worth it to complete an associate’s degree program? How much money can you earn with an associate’s degree?
These are all excellent questions that a person likely wants answers to before enrolling in an associate’s degree program. Get the answers to the important questions that you have about associate’s degree programs, and learn how completing an accredited program can benefit you throughout your career.
Learn the difference between an associate’s degree and bachelor’s degree, and the reasons that earning an associate’s degree first is potentially a better option than simply enrolling in a four-year bachelor’s degree program.
What is an Associate’s Degree?
An associate’s degree is the first college degree that a person earns after high school. It is typically considered to be a two-year degree. There is another possibility of further learning after high school prior to earning an associate’s degree, which is a certificate program. It is important to note that a certificate program is often a six-month or one-year technical or trade school occupation program, and not the same as a college degree.
An associate’s degree consists of approximately 60 credit hours of study. Some programs require that students also complete an internship, a specific number of clinical hours, or the completion of a practicum, depending upon the specific program. An associate’s degree is considered to be the foundational degree program. Many students enroll in the two-year program just to get a feel for what college is like before moving on to an advanced degree, whether enrolling in college right after high school, or enrolling as an adult learner going to college for the first time after graduating from high school many years ago.
There are four types of associate’s degrees, including:
- Associate of Arts (AA)
- Associate of Applied Arts (AAA)
- Associate of Science (AS)
- Associate of Applied Science (AAS)
Another type of degree is the associate’s degree in nursing, typically abbreviated as the ADN degree.
The two-year post-secondary degree program is open to most applicants that have a minimum of a high school diploma and that meet other admissions requirements.
What are the Admissions Requirements to Enroll in an Associate’s Degree Program?
Although most schools require that an applicant already hold a minimum of a high school diploma, there are exceptions at some schools. One example is when a college has an agreement with local high schools where students can take courses that count towards their college education.
One example of this type of agreement is at Columbus State Community College in Ohio that partners with dozens of high schools to allow high school students in grades 7 – 12 to earn college credits while still in high school.
Another rule of applying to a college to complete an associate’s degree program is that the prospective student must complete the application in its entirety. Applicants must also submit all required documentations in a timely manner. Failure to do so may result in delay or rejection of your application to attend the school.
Do you already know what is an associate’s degree major that you want to pursue while attending college? Many college departments require that students meet with an academic advisor and that they complete core courses prior to taking any courses in the specific major.
Some schools have a minimum grade point average (GPA) for acceptance into the program, while other schools do not have the GPA rule. For example, if you wanted to apply to the Associate of Science in Nursing program at Baton Rouge Community College, the admissions requirements state that you must have a minimum of a 2.8 GPA in prerequisite coursework before being admitted into the program. Nursing programs, along with several other college programs that produce graduates that work with the public or in a government profession, also usually requires that the student have a clean criminal records check.
Although many admissions requirements are the same or similar across most associate’s degree programs and at schools offering associate’s degrees, there are some variations from one school to another school. It is the student’s responsibility to know the requirements to apply to a particular college or to a specific associate’s degree program.
What Can I Do with an Associate’s Degree?
An associate’s degree is often considered the foundation or the building block towards earning a bachelor’s degree. That is not always the case. There are many career opportunities for students that graduate with an associate’s degree and that do not go on to earn a bachelor’s degree or to complete another educational program.
When students earn an associate’s degree and then enroll in a bachelor’s degree program, their credits from the associate’s degree program often count towards the bachelor’s degree program. Some two-year schools have agreements with four-year colleges or universities to accept students that complete their associate’s degree at the partner school. One example of this is the articulation agreement between community colleges and four-year universities in North Carolina, as explained by Alex Granados, writing for EdNC.
There are many jobs and career positions that require no more than an associate’s degree that offer good to excellent wages. There are also many careers that require only a certificate or on-the-job training. The worker that has an associate’s degree likely has a better chance of getting hired, of receiving higher pay, and greater chance of receiving promotions, compared to another worker with only a high school diploma or short-term certificate.
Everyone that earns an associate’s degree does not complete the program to transfer credits to a university or to go to work in a specific field. Do you have a passion for learning? Do you have an interest in a specific topic that you want to learn everything about at a reasonable cost? Enrolling at a school that offers an associate’s degree in that area of interest provides an affordable way for you to learn more. Perhaps you have a personal interest in art and want to learn how to improve your skills. Do you plan on traveling abroad and want to learn a language or about the history of the country? Local colleges or schools that offer associate’s degrees are often an ideal source for learning more about your interests.
Benefits of Earning an Associate’s Degree
There are a variety of advantages to earning an associate’s degree, in addition to the opportunity to start the pathway towards earning a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree. The flexibility of completing an associate’s program, compared to pursuing a more-advanced degree is one benefit that likely makes a difference to many students.
Some students have work responsibilities, while others have family responsibilities and can only attend classes during certain hours. Colleges with two-year programs are often considerably more flexible with scheduling of classes compared to universities. A community college may offer the same course on different days and at several different times, providing students the flexibility of choosing a daytime class, an evening class or even the option to complete the course online. A university, on the other hand, may offer one on-campus opportunity to take the course for the entire term. There are a multitude of other benefits of completing the program once you know what is an associate degree benefit besides the flexibility.
The Lower Cost is a Benefit of Earning an Associate’s Degree
Universities typically charge higher tuition compared to the tuition at two-year colleges that offer associate degree programs. The cost of one credit hour of study at a four-year school may be several times the cost of one credit hour of study at a community college. Some universities charge as much as $1,000 to $2,000 or more tuition for one credit hour of instruction. Compare that to the fact that tuition for an entire semester is often as little as a few thousand dollars at a community college that offers associate degrees.
Students that plan to transfer to a university benefit from the lower costs for the first two years of college when they complete an associate’s degree program, compared to if they start in a bachelor’s degree program at a university. The cost-effectiveness can potentially result in thousands of dollars in savings.
Another way to save money is to enroll at a school that offers an accelerated program option. Enrolling in an accelerated associate’s degree program allows the student to complete the program in less time, resulting in some savings over the cost of going to school for the entire two years. The format of the accelerated program varies among different colleges. Some schools offer an accelerated program in the traditional classroom while other schools offer online accelerated associate degree programs.
Qualify to Sit for Exams or to Obtain Licensure
Some occupations require that employees have a specific license or that workers pass a specific state exam in addition to earning an associate’s degree.
Schools that offer associate degree programs often include exam or licensure preparation as part of the curriculum. An example is preschool teacher licensure, or nursing programs that qualify graduates to sit for the NCLEX exam to become a registered nurse (RN). If a student does not meet the educational requirements, they possibly cannot sit for the exam or obtain licensure until those requirements have been met by the student. Colleges keep record of how many students pass the specific exam or successfully complete other licensure requirements each term.
Benefit from Greater Job Opportunities and Higher Earnings with an Associate’s Degree
The options to benefit from greater career opportunities with higher wages are not limited to mundane, boring careers. Career Outlook, a publication of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, recently revealed the highest paying jobs by education level, including associate’s degrees. The air traffic controller topped the list as the highest-paying occupation for individuals with an associate’s degree. Air traffic controllers had median annual wages of nearly $125,000, with no prior work experience requirement.
Radiation therapists, nuclear technicians, funeral service managers, and dental hygienists are among the high-paying occupations that require only an associate’s degree. Some occupations that may offer better opportunities for individuals with an associate’s degree include electrical and electronics repair workers, and firefighter and prevention first-line supervisors.
What are Some Other Occupations that Requires an Associate’s Degree?
There are several occupations that requires only an associate’s degree to work in the profession. Do you want to work as an HVAC installer? Earn an associate’s degree and start your career path to a rewarding career in the industry.
Consider earning an associate’s degree in criminal justice to work as a probation or parole officer, to work as a prison guard, a police officer, detective, investigator or in another law enforcement or corrections occupation. Some criminal justice program graduates have long-term careers in the government.
You cannot become an elementary school or high school teacher by earning an associate’s degree, but you can complete the requirements to work as a preschool teacher or in another occupation in early childhood development.
Students that earn an associate’s degree in radiation therapy typically find work as a radiation therapist, treating cancer and other types of diseases that requires radiation treatments. Pursue an associate’s degree in surgical technology program and learn to prepare operating rooms and to assist doctors with operations.
Paralegals start their career by first earning an associate’s degree in paralegal studies. They perform detailed research on case law, prepare briefs and conduct other duties to assist attorneys with their cases.
Web developers design and create websites. There is an excellent job outlook for individuals that complete the required degree program. Complete a computer science associate’s degree and enjoy your choice of career from the many professions that seek qualified computer scientists.
These are just some of the many exciting careers and occupations that are available to a graduate of an accredited associate’s degree program.
How Do I Choose the Right School for Me that Offers Associate Degree Programs?
Choosing the ideal school and the ideal program requires some research and some considerations. What are your career goals? Look for schools that offer programs that align with your personal career goals. Do you want to go to work immediately after earning your degree, or do you plan to continue your education and transfer to a school that offers bachelor’s degrees?
Do you prefer to follow a strict plan of study for two years or do you like options? Perhaps you have responsibilities that prevent you from going to school full-time. If you like to study at your own pace, consider a school that allows students to complete the program on a part-time basis. Another option to consider is to look for a school or program that you can complete online. Learning what is an associate’s degree does not simply mean that everyone follows the same definition or plan to complete the program.
Make sure that any college that you consider is an accredited school. Some occupations only require that a school has regional accreditation, while other occupations require that specific programs meet accreditation requirements. Examples include nursing programs, and engineering programs. If you earn a degree from a school or program that does not have proper accreditation, you may have difficulties finding employment.
Do you need help finding the right college? We can help you find the right college based on the program that you select. Get started on your associate’s degree program to start a new career, to advance your career opportunities, or to change your career today.