Online Associate Degrees
On average, it takes about two years to complete an associate's degree. Once you earn an associate's degree, you usually will need an additional 60 credit hours (about 2 years of college education) to complete a bachelor's degree. While some graduates go on to complete a bachelor's degree, others use their associate degree to enter the workforce and obtain entry-level career positions.
Many associate degrees are now available entirely online, enabling students to earn their degree at their own pace, according to their schedule. According to the National Center of Education Statistics, over 50% of all degrees earned online are associate's degrees – so you can rest assured you're in good company if you decided to pursue your degree online.
Associate degree programs typically consist of three components: general education courses, major courses, and elective courses. Earning an associate's degree requires full-time study for 4 semesters, or 2 years (15 credits per semester). However, many schools offer accelerated programs online that enable students to earn an associate degree in less time. Online associate degrees are almost identical to campus-based associate degrees earned in the classroom, but online degrees can be completed entirely over the Internet via distance education.
Associate degrees are typically offered in an occupational area (such as Veterinary Science) or in liberal arts (such as humanities). Occupational associate degrees (specifically the Associate of Applied Science – AAS) are now preferred by many employers for mid-level technology positions. An associates degree in liberal arts is a good choice for students planning on pursuing a bachelor's degree upon graduation.
National vs Regional Accreditation
Earning an associate degree from a regionally accredited higher education institution is important if you plan on pursuing a bachelor's degree at a four-year college or university following graduation. Most four-year colleges and universities are regionally accredited and will only accept transfer credits from other regionally accredited schools. Unfortunately, many of the community colleges and vocational schools that award associate degrees only hold national accreditation status. Credits earned at a nationally accredited institution will not transfer to a regionally accredited institution.
You can learn more about regional and national accreditation by reading Accreditation in Higher Education. Always check the accreditation of a school before enrolling in an educational program.
Schools Offering Online Associate Degrees
The following is a list of accredited colleges and universities that offer online associate degrees in a variety of academic disciplines and career-oriented fields of study. You can request information from any of these schools by clicking on the "Request Info" button to the right and filling out a personal information form. If you're not sure if an associate degree is right for you, we recommend jumping below and reading the "Why Earn an Associate's Degree?"
Why Earn an Associate's Degree?
Traditionally, the bachelor's degree was the degree of choice among employers looking to fill entry-level career positions – but that isn't the case anymore. The value of the associate degree, especially the Associate of Applied Science (AAS), has grown tremendously over the last decade as employers have begun to recognize the value such a degree brings to the table. Not only is earning an associate degree less expensive than a bachelor's or master's degree, it often produces the specific and specialized technical skills in job candidates that employers are looking for – without all the extras. But that's just one of several reasons why you might want to take a second look at earning your associate degree. Consider the following benefits of earning an associate degree.
- Cost effective.
One of the biggest advantages of earning an associate degree is that it is still much more affordable than a bachelor's degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual in-state tuition and fees for an associate degree at a 2-year community college is roughly $2,500 per academic year, compared with nearly $9,000 per academic year to earn a bachelor's degree at a public 4-year college, and $30,000 at a private 4-year university. Additionally, the cost of an associate degree is rising at a much slower rate than the cost of a bachelor's degree.
The cost savings in earning an associate degree don't end there. A traditional bachelor's degree takes four years to complete, where an associate degree can easily be completed in just two years. So the average associate degree holder is able to enter the workforce two years sooner than they would be able to if they were to earn a bachelor's degree. This could mean an additional $60,000 to $100,000 in income over one's lifetime. If your career path doesn't require a bachelor's degree, earning an associate degree may be worth more to you.
- Skills oriented.
Where a bachelor's degree requires students to complete a bunch of liberal arts courses that are ultimately going to be irrelevant to their future career, occupational associate degrees are laser focused on developing skills and knowledge that are directly applicable in the workplace. If, for example, you decide to complete an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree in Gerontology, you'll be ready to work in a number of healthcare service roles immediately following graduation. Not surprisingly, many associate degree programs provide students as much, if not more, hands-on technical training than a comparable bachelor's degree. Since associate degrees only allow students two years to prepare for their career, most schools that award associate degrees pack as much relevant skills training as possible into each course offered throughout the program.
- More personal attention.
Without a doubt, a larger number of associate degree programs provide students with more personal one-on-one attention than they'd receive if earning a bachelor's degree at a traditional four-year college or university. It's not uncommon for a traditional college class to have anywhere from 50 to 200 students and for most students to never actually interact directly with their professor. Associate degree programs, offered at public community colleges and vocational schools, usually have class sizes that range from 10 to 30 students, no more. Students who pursue an associate degree can expect to receive individualized instruction and attention from professor and other faculty throughout their program. The same holds true when completing an associate degree online. Before enrolling in an online associate degree program, we recommend looking into the school's student-to-faculty ratio.
Most associate degree programs offer evening classes, weekend classes, and online distance learning classes that are ideal for working students and career professionals seeking to advance their education while maintaining a busy lifestyle. Public community colleges that offer associate degrees also tend to allot more time slots for each class, thereby providing busy students additional flexibility in planning and organizing their schedules.
- Quality of education.
Community colleges were once thought of as "second-rate" higher education institutions. If you couldn't attend a "real" college or university, then you'd have to settle for earning an associate degree at your local community college. That stigma has all but vanished. Most community colleges today, especially those associated with public education systems like the California Community Colleges, provide the same quality of education and level of academic rigor as four-year colleges and universities. Community college instructors usually have a graduate or professional degree in their field of expertise – just like college professors, and since they don't have to focus on research, they have more time to focus on their students.
- Fast track to a career.
Earning an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree is one of the quickest ways to develop the skills required to launch a successful career. Typically, by earning an AAS, whether that be online or at a brick and mortar campus, a student will be ready to enter the workforce in just two years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is an array of career options available for professionals who possess an associate degree. Job opportunities include, but are not limited to, Mechanical Engineering Technician ($52,000/yr), Physical Therapist Assistant ($52,500/yr), Cardiovascular Technician ($53,000/yr), Radiologic Technologist ($54,600/yr), Geological and Petroleum Technician ($53,500/yr), Occupational Therapy Assistant ($54,300/yr), Veterinary Technician ($55,000/yr) and Avionics Technician ($56,550/yr), to name just a few.
There are four general types of associate degrees: Associate of Arts (AA), Associate of Science (AS), Associate of Applied Science (AAS) and the Occupational Degree. Both the AA and AS degrees are designed for students who intend on transferring to a four-year college following graduation to pursue a bachelor's degree. The AAS and Occupational Degree are for students who want to enter the workforce after completion of their degree. If an associate degree is completed at a regionally accredited higher education institution, credits earned can be transferred and applied toward the completion of a bachelor's degree at any regionally accredited higher education institution, which includes most four-year colleges and universities in the United States. If you have any inclination toward pursuing a bachelor's degree down the road, it's important you earn your associate degree at a regionally accredited school. Earning an associate degree now does not preclude you from earning a bachelor's degree, master's degree or Phd in the future – in fact, it can be a great stepping stone in that direction.
- It's a great way to get started.
Not sure exactly what you want to be when you grow up? Not ready to commit to college? If not, an associate degree is a great way to keep moving forward in your education and career without committing to a four-year degree program. An associate degree costs less, is local (or online), more flexible and allows you to work toward earning your bachelor's degree down the road. All around, earning an associate degree is a great way to start down the path toward a higher education or career.
Types of Associate degrees
Once you've determined an associate degree is the right degree for you, it's time to decide what type of associate degree to pursue. There are four types of associate degrees. They include:
- Associate of Arts (A.A.)
The Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree is designed specifically for those who intend on pursuing a bachelor's degree at four-year college or university upon graduation. For credits earned via an A.A. degree to be transferable and applied toward a bachelor's degree they must be earned at a regionally accredited institution. Most four-year colleges and universities are regionally accredited. Regionally accredited institutions only accept transfer credits from other regionally accredited higher education institutions.
- Associate of Science (A.S.)
The Associate of Science (A.S.), like the Associate of Arts, is designed for students intent on applying to a bachelor's degree program at a four-year college or university upon graduation. However, the Associate of Science is not typically as general in scope as the Associate of Arts. For those seeking career opportunities following graduation, the Associate of Science may provide a deeper, more focused education in a specific subject area.
- Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.)
The Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree is designed for students who want to receive the vocational training required to launch a career in a specific occupational field. Credits earned through an A.A.S. program can be applied toward a bachelor's degree if earned at a regionally accredited community college or vocational school.
- Occupational Degree
A 2-year occupational degree is very similar to the Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree. It is designed for students who want to prepare to pursue a specific line of work following graduation. As with other associate degrees, credits earned through an occupational degree can be applied toward a bachelor's degree if earned at regionally accredited college or school. However, the majority of graduates from occupational degree programs enter the work force immediately following graduation.