Associate degrees are undergraduate degrees that can be completed in two years and generally require students to complete 60 semester credit hours. They’re offered primarily through community colleges and technical schools but can also be found at some four-year colleges and universities. There are two general categories of associate degrees: Occupational and Transfer.
Occupational Associate Degrees
Occupational associate degrees are designed to help students acquire specific knowledge and skills in preparation for a particular career path. These degrees include the Associate of Applied Science (AAS), Associate of Applied Arts (AAA), Associate of Occupational Studies (AOS) and Associate of Applied Technology (AAT). See other abbreviations for associate degrees below.
As occupational degrees are intended to prepare students to enter the career field immediately following graduation they tend to be much more hands-on and skill based than transfer degrees. Notwithstanding, occupational degree program still have several general education requirements which include coursework in English, math, and communications. The credited earned via an occupational associate degree may still be applied toward a bachelor’s degree program at a four-year college.
Transfer Associate Degrees
In contrast to occupational degrees which are very hands-on and skill development-driven, transfer degrees are more academic in nature and have a greater focus on general education and liberal arts. Transfer degrees are designed to prepare students to pursue a four-year degree at a college or university. Courses offered in transfer degree programs include mathematics, writing, literature, science, and English. Even though transfer degrees are not career oriented, many do allow students to pursue a specific major or field of study.
The two most common types of associate degrees are the Associate of Arts (AA), a liberal arts degree, and the Associate of Science (AS). a liberal arts degree with a greater focus on math and sciences. Unlike the AAS degree, which is primarily an occupational degree, the AA and AS degrees are traditional tracks for students looking to transfer to a four-year college upon graduation. Other liberal art oriented associate degrees include Associate of Arts in Teaching (AAT), Associate of Engineering Science (AES), and Associate of Fine Arts (AFA).
If your plan is to transfer to an accredited four-year college after completing your associate degree, you’ll want to make sure the community college where you earn your degree is regionally accredited. Most four-year colleges (which are regionally accredited) will only accept transfer credits from community colleges that are regionally accredited. Before enrolling in a program review your options with a college counselor.
The Benefits of Earning an Associate Degree
The following are some of the benefits of earning an associate degree.
- Increased Earning Potential – On average, a professional with an associate degree will earn $400,000 more during their lifetime than a professional with only a high school diploma.
- Increased Employment Opportunities – Compared to those with a high school diploma, the unemployment rate is substantially lower for those with an associate degree.
- Cost of An Associate Degree – The cost of earning an associate degree is typically much less than it is for earning a bachelor’s degree. Best of all, if you earn an associate degree at an accredited community college you can apply your credits toward a bachelor’s degree down the road.
- Convenience – Associate degree programs at community colleges and vocational/technical schools are typically quite flexible. Many offer night-time, weekend and online classes tailored to meet the needs of working adults and students.
- Additional Certification – Many associate degree programs allow students to earn a professional certificate after one year or less of study. This enables students to gain a valuable credential quickly, which can aid them in their current career.
Choosing a Junior College, Community College, or Online School
The school you choose to earn your associate degree can make all the difference in the world. The first thing you’re going to want to look at is accreditation. Is the school regionally accredited? If you plan on transferring to a four-year college after earning your associate degree, it’s imperative you earn your degree from a regionally accredited community college or vocational school. Most four-year colleges and universities are regionally accredited and will only accept transfer credits from other regionally accredited institutions.
Other factors you’ll want to consider are curriculum, transfer rates, available degree programs and courses, faculty qualifications, academic facilities and support, career services, and graduation and job placement rates.
Abbreviations for Associate Degrees
- AA – Associate of Arts
- AE – Associate of Engineering or Associate in Electronics Engineering Technology
- AN – Associate of Science in Nursing
- AS – Associate of Science
- AF – Associate of Forestry
- AT – Associate of Technology
- AAA – Associate of Applied Arts
- AAB – Associate of Applied Business
- AAS – Associate of Applied Science or Associate of Arts and Sciences
- AAT – Associate of Arts in Teaching
- ABA – Associate of Business Administration
- ABS – Associate of Baccalaureate Studies
- ADN – Associate Degree in Nursing
- AES – Associate of Engineering Science
- AET – Associate in Engineering Technology
- AFA – Associate of Fine Arts
- AGS – Associate of General Studies
- AIT – Associate of Industrial Technology
- AOS – Associate of Occupational Studies
- APE – Associate of Pre-Engineering
- APS – Associate of Political Science or Associate of Public Service
- ASPT-APT – Associate in Physical Therapy
Best Occupations for Associate Degree Holders
Occupations With the Most New Jobs
|Occupation||Total Job Openings||From Growth||From Replacement Needs||Median Annual Wage||Training||Experience|
|Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers||404,500||98,800||305,800||$39,520||Short-term on-the-job training||None|
|Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses||322,200||117,300||204,900||$42,490||None||None|
|Automotive service technicians and mechanics||237,200||39,100||198,100||$37,120||Short-term on-the-job training||None|
|Hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists||212,100||58,400||153,700||$23,120||None||None|
|Preschool teachers, except special education||158,700||29,600||129,100||$28,120||None||None|
|Firefighters||112,300||17,400||95,000||$45,970||Long-term on-the-job training||None|
|Emergency medical technicians and paramedics||98,000||58,500||39,500||$31,700||None||None|
|Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers||84,200||39,600||44,600||$44,630||Long-term on-the-job training||None|
|Paralegals and legal assistants||82,700||21,200||61,400||$48,350||None||None|
|Medical records and health information technicians||71,200||29,000||42,200||$35,900||None||None|
|Medical and clinical laboratory technicians||68,100||29,000||39,000||$38,370||None||None|
|Physical therapist assistants||54,700||31,900||22,800||$54,410||None||None|
*median salary data from May 2014
All Occupations That Require at Least an Associate Degree
|Occupation||On-the-Job Training||Projected New Jobs||Projected Growth Rate||2015 Median Pay|
|Aerospace engineering and operations technicians||None||0 to 999||0 to 9 percent||$55,000 to $74,999|
|Agricultural and food science technicians||Moderate-term on-the-job training||1,000 to 4,999||0 to 9 percent||$35,000 to $54,999|
|Air traffic controllers||Long-term on-the-job training||Declining||Declining||$75,000 or more|
|Architectural and civil drafters||None||Declining||Declining||$35,000 to $54,999|
|Avionics technicians||None||0 to 999||0 to 9 percent||$55,000 to $74,999|
|Broadcast technicians||Short-term on-the-job training||Declining||Declining||$35,000 to $54,999|
|Cardiovascular technologists and technicians||None||10,000 to 49,999||20 to 29 percent||$35,000 to $54,999|
|Chemical technicians||Moderate-term on-the-job training||1,000 to 4,999||0 to 9 percent||$35,000 to $54,999|
|Civil engineering technicians||None||1,000 to 4,999||0 to 9 percent||$35,000 to $54,999|
|Computer network support specialists||None||10,000 to 49,999||0 to 9 percent||$55,000 to $74,999|
|Dental hygienists||None||10,000 to 49,999||10 to 19 percent||$55,000 to $74,999|
|Desktop publishers||Short-term on-the-job training||Declining||Declining||$35,000 to $54,999|
|Diagnostic medical sonographers||None||10,000 to 49,999||20 to 29 percent||$55,000 to $74,999|
|Drafters, all other||None||Declining||Declining||$35,000 to $54,999|
|Electrical and electronics drafters||None||1,000 to 4,999||0 to 9 percent||$55,000 to $74,999|
|Electrical and electronics engineering technicians||None||Declining||Declining||$55,000 to $74,999|
|Electro-mechanical technicians||None||0 to 999||0 to 9 percent||$35,000 to $54,999|
|Environmental engineering technicians||None||1,000 to 4,999||10 to 19 percent||$35,000 to $54,999|
|Environmental science and protection technicians, including health||None||1,000 to 4,999||0 to 9 percent||$35,000 to $54,999|
|Funeral service managers||None||1,000 to 4,999||0 to 9 percent||$55,000 to $74,999|
|Geological and petroleum technicians||Moderate-term on-the-job training||1,000 to 4,999||10 to 19 percent||$55,000 to $74,999|
|Human resources assistants, except payroll and timekeeping||None||Declining||Declining||$35,000 to $54,999|
|Industrial engineering technicians||None||Declining||Declining||$35,000 to $54,999|
|Magnetic resonance imaging technologists||None||1,000 to 4,999||10 to 19 percent||$55,000 to $74,999|
|Mechanical drafters||None||Declining||Declining||$35,000 to $54,999|
|Mechanical engineering technicians||None||0 to 999||0 to 9 percent||$35,000 to $54,999|
|Medical and clinical laboratory technicians||None||10,000 to 49,999||10 to 19 percent||$35,000 to $54,999|
|Medical equipment repairers||Moderate-term on-the-job training||1,000 to 4,999||0 to 9 percent||$35,000 to $54,999|
|Morticians, undertakers, and funeral directors||Long-term on-the-job training||1,000 to 4,999||0 to 9 percent||$35,000 to $54,999|
|Nuclear medicine technologists||None||0 to 999||0 to 9 percent||$55,000 to $74,999|
|Nuclear technicians||Moderate-term on-the-job training||Declining||Declining||$75,000 or more|
|Occupational therapy assistants||None||10,000 to 49,999||30 percent or faster||$55,000 to $74,999|
|Paralegals and legal assistants||None||10,000 to 49,999||0 to 9 percent||$35,000 to $54,999|
|Physical therapist assistants||None||10,000 to 49,999||30 percent or faster||$55,000 to $74,999|
|Preschool teachers, except special education||None||10,000 to 49,999||0 to 9 percent||$25,000 to $34,999|
|Radiation therapists||None||1,000 to 4,999||10 to 19 percent||$75,000 or more|
|Radiologic technologists||None||10,000 to 49,999||0 to 9 percent||$55,000 to $74,999|
|Respiratory therapists||None||10,000 to 49,999||10 to 19 percent||$55,000 to $74,999|
|Veterinary technologists and technicians||None||10,000 to 49,999||10 to 19 percent||$25,000 to $34,999|
|Web developers||None||10,000 to 49,999||20 to 29 percent||$55,000 to $74,999|