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What is an Associate Degree?

By K T Solis
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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An associate degree is typically a two-year degree awarded by community colleges, technical schools, and universities in the US. Someone who earns an associate degree has usually completed about 60 college credits, the equivalent of two years of coursework. In order to earn one, students must typically complete general education courses, core classes required for the college major, and electives. This degree is sufficient for work in some fields, while other positions may require completion of additional education.

How To Get One

Receiving an associate degree usually requires about two years of education, though this can vary depending on the individual program a student completes. Schools often require introductory and core curriculum courses, such as language studies and mathematics. Students also take additional classes that focus on the degree subject, such as computer science or healthcare. While this study is not usually as specialized or focused as degrees that require many more years of classes, it can give a valuable overview needed for additional schooling or employment in certain fields.

Fields of Study

Common types of degrees include the Associate of Arts, Associate of Applied Science, and Associate of Science. These degrees can be earned in business, information technology, and health services, as well as early childhood education, engineering, and other career fields. More specialized areas of study, such as the history of a specific culture or in-depth linguistic courses, are not offered as part of a two-year program.

Merits of This Degree

People who choose to earn a two-year degree do so for various reasons. For example, students who do not wish to pursue a four-year bachelor's degree often prefer the shorter length of an associate program. Students can also save money by attending a junior or community college for the first two years of their post-secondary career; an associate degree usually transfers quite easily to a more expensive four-year college. Some students may need to bolster their grades before applying to a four-year university, which they can do while working toward an associate degree.

It is also possible to find a high-paying job in some career fields if a graduate has earned a two-year degree. While lawyers, doctors, and teachers typically complete additional schoolwork, computer programmers, nurses, and automotive technicians may be qualified with only one or two years of study. Many cities and towns have accredited community colleges and career schools that provide students with this type of short-term post-secondary education, even if they do not have larger, four-year schools.

Online Programs

Some people may feel that they do not have time to pursue a two-year degree. If they have access to the Internet, however, then they may be able to earn a degree from the comfort of their own homes. Many schools offer distance education programs using an online format. Prospective students can enroll in courses through an accredited online college and work toward a two-year degree within their schedule. No matter what type of school the student decides to attend, it's important to verify that the school is accredited and legitimate, so that he or she receives a quality education.

After Completion

After earning an associate degree from an accredited school, a graduate can often apply these credits toward a bachelor's degree program. Many universities accept an associate's degree as a replacement for the first two years of coursework toward a higher degree. Someone with this degree can also enter the workplace in many careers, especially technical fields like computer science and programming. Other fields like nursing have opportunities for people with only one or two years of education, which may result in a specialized certification, rather than a degree.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon991514 — On Jun 27, 2015

Success is a function of what is in you, not the paper you carry about. Go to school, but depend on God.

By anon934085 — On Feb 18, 2014

Is an Associate degree in early childhood (which is all online) without a work experience component as good as one with a work experience component?

By anon350069 — On Oct 01, 2013

I want to get an Associate Degree in Arts, then get a job and experience. I don't think I will need a four-year degree to get a job and then if I want to, continue my four-year career while working is much better. --Ivette.

By anon333032 — On May 02, 2013

One problem with the Associate degree is trying to get over the board on a TN visa like I am currently trying to do. A TN in a lot of cases requires a full bachelors degree, but honestly, it's the first time it has been an issue for me in the tech industry.

By anon324584 — On Mar 11, 2013

I have done quite a lot of research about this and from what I found, for those interested, is that:

An Ontario, Canada based two year 'diploma' is equivalent to a Quebec based two year 'associates degree.'

A Quebec based two year 'associates degree' is also equivalent to an American two year 'associates degree.'

An American two Year 'associates degree' is equivalent to an Ontario, Canada two year diploma in any program.

This was also concluded by the two women who helped, one named Anne at Ontario Colleges, and Gloria from the Ministry.

So if your 'diploma' from an Ontario College, and says the words 'diploma' and 'two year' on it, it is also considered an 'associates degree' in Ontario, but there is no official document that states this.

As for other provinces or countries, I am unsure on that answer and do not intend to research that in the future.

By anon313812 — On Jan 14, 2013

I went to both and honestly found that I received a better, more individualized education from my three Associates degrees than I received from my Bachelors degree. People should be hired on ability and merit, not the type of degree. The only problem is how do you identify those best qualified.

By anon305548 — On Nov 26, 2012

How many years credits and requirements are needed for an associates degree?

By Marylee123 — On Jul 12, 2012

Is a Trilingual Secretary Accountant Degree ( three years) a Bachelor's or Associate's Degree?

By amypollick — On Jun 11, 2012

I think some folks are getting a little confused about degrees. The Associates Degree is awarded by colleges and universities in the United States. I am not certain if Canadian universities also award Associates Degrees.

In the United States, a diploma is the piece of paper one receives when one graduates from high school, college, etc. It is not a degree -- only the actual piece of paper. So a diploma in the United States may mean something completely different than it does in other parts of the world.

In the United States, the Associates Degree is a two-year degree, a Bachelors Degree is usually a four-year degree, a Master's is the next step and then a Doctorate.

Some professions require only the two-year degree, while others require a four-year degree, or even beyond.

Any student outside the United States should contact the university they are interested in attending to find out what its requirements are for any degree program. The Head of the Admissions Department at any college or university should be able to answer any question concerning degrees, and most of them have an e-mail address.

By anon274277 — On Jun 11, 2012

I have enrolled my Associate Degree in Business Management, therefore, I would like to take on studying. So I am asking if I should apply for a first degree or masters degree?

By anon274276 — On Jun 11, 2012

Is an Associate Degree equal to a Diploma?

By anon259427 — On Apr 06, 2012

Is a diploma an associate degree?

By anon241852 — On Jan 20, 2012

I have an Associate's Degree in Business and am currently taking courses for my Bachelor's degree. Was disappointed when I applied to a position after obtaining my Associate's because it was only worth 50 cents more than I made before my degree. Kind of feel like I wasted my time. Maybe my Bachelor's will be worth more.

By anon233092 — On Dec 04, 2011

I can tell some people who are posting negative comments on here, are people with no education or wish to finish. I have an associate degree and it opened the door to an $80,000 a year job and I ended going back to finish my B.A. It's up to the person and how you sell yourself in a market.

By anon196993 — On Jul 15, 2011

Depending on your career/job choice, an associate degree can be an excellent choice. There are many jobs that just require an associate degree, for instance an x-ray tech, paralegal etc. Education is about getting a job to make money.

By anon166712 — On Apr 09, 2011

Many larger institutions will not look unfavourably on an Associate Degree as they are often technical or vocational degrees backed up with real work experience, rather than a four year academic or paper/lecture based four year Bachelor degree with little or no work experience component.

By anon149597 — On Feb 04, 2011

I agree with mendocino and sevenseas that Associate Degrees are fine for some students depending upon their career choices. My community college prepared me well for matriculation to a 4-year. university (SEC). I aced the community college courses and graduated with an even higher GPA from the SEC university.

By anon143610 — On Jan 17, 2011

Biggest waste of time and energy. Either study properly for GCE A levels in real subjects and if they are good enough go and study for a real degree as in BSc (Hons) first or upper second class and then carry out research for a PhD. I did and do not regret it, but an associate's degree is not worth the paper it is printed on.

By anon99325 — On Jul 26, 2010

When you stop learning, you age quickly.

When you learn/educate yourself, you stay young


By mendocino — On May 26, 2010

An associate degree is a perfectly fine degree to have. It depends on the individual student, how serious they are with their studies, and what they want to accomplish through their schooling. It is much less important what institution they are attending.

Bachelor's degree is mostly overrated, very often producing people who are not well rounded. There is nothing wrong with attending a two year college and getting some work experience. Getting a taste of real life.

By bananas — On May 26, 2010

Associate degree, and community colleges do not carry as much weight as does a four year university.

Community college is mostly an extension of high school, designed for people who are not scholars.

By sevenseas — On May 23, 2010

I think attending community college for 2 years is a great alternative for many students. You can get an associate degree and start working if you want to.

For example you can work in the nursing field, or as a technician in a laboratory, or in a variety of other fields.

You can always transfer your units to a four year college if you wish to continue with your education.

Getting an associate degree is an excellent choice if not for all, but for many students.

Definitely something worth considering.

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