Both students fresh out of high school and adult learners aspiring to earn a degree are often surprised to hear about how many different types of associate degrees are available. There are many options when thinking about degrees; however, when discussing degrees, what often comes to mind for the majority of people are either bachelor’s degrees or master’s degrees. Although these are good options to pursue, the truth is that these are not the only choices. Earning an associate’s degree, usually in just two years, is a great option for many students. Associate degrees are generally found at community colleges, vocational schools, junior colleges, and technical colleges, as opposed to degree programs that are usually offered at universities. Depending on the type of associate degree, it may be used as a foundation for a bachelor’s or master’s degree, or it may be obtained solely as a qualification for immediate employment. There are a growing number of professions that can be entered, at least in some capacity, with nothing more than an associate’s degree. In any case, the following article will help to both identify and define the various types of associate’s degrees that are available today.
Types of Associate Degrees
There are four categories of associate’s degrees, and each has their own purpose or goal.
Associate of Science (A.S.)
Associate of Arts (A.A.)
Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.)
Associate of Applied Business (A.A.B.)
An Associate of Science degree is a two-year degree program designed for students who eventually plan to enter a field considered in a medical or science-related field. Likewise, an Associate of Arts degree is a two-year program that is designed for students planning to enter a field related to the arts. This could include history, art, communications, literature, or music, to name just a few. The Associate of Science and the Associate of Arts degrees are both generally used by students who plan to transfer to four-year colleges or universities and pursue a bachelor’s degree and possibly eventually a master’s degree. These two degrees do not usually include a minor of study. They do include courses that are equivalent to the first two years of a bachelor’s degree program. Students can expect to gain a broad framework of learning which will prepare them to continue their pursuit of a more specific career goal.
The Associate of Science degree includes at least five or more credits of math or science courses and may be used for careers that are founded in math or sciences, such as nursing or engineering. The Associate of Arts degree is a much broader degree that includes at least five credits of social science and/or humanities courses. This degree prepares students for transfer into a wider variety of fields than the A.S. degree does. Many community colleges offer transfer programs with local affiliated colleges. Transferring to these four-year colleges and universities enables students to smoothly transfer to a bachelor’s degree program after the completion of either an Associate of Science or Associate of Arts program.
The Associate of Applied Science and the Associate of Applied Business are the last two types of associate degrees. These degrees are considered career degree programs because they prepare students for immediate employment after graduation. Rather than including general education and college courses, their curriculum focuses primarily on major-related courses. Usually when choosing to pursue a degree program in one of the applied sciences, students already have a clear idea of the career path they want to pursue. The options of career pathways they could enter may be more limited as they will not take as many general education courses, but it is certainly a quicker way to gain the education needed to enter the workplace quickly. Students with an A.A.S or A.A.B. do still have the option to transfer to a university, but they will likely need to take additional required general education courses.
Why Pursue an Associate Degree?
There are many reasons why students may choose to earn an associate’s degree.
- The first one is that it is a cost efficient option. Associate’s degrees are most often offered at community colleges, and community colleges are known to offer tuition at a more affordable rate than colleges and universities. If students choose to learn at an in-state learning institution, they can save even more money on their associate’s degree program. Since tuition is generally charged on a per-credit basis, an associate’s degree will be roughly half the cost of a bachelor’s degree.
- Another reason why an associate’s degree is a good option is the time needed to complete the degree. When compared to a typical four-year bachelor’s degree, an associate’s degree can be completed in just half the time. Traditionally, bachelor’s degrees have been considered the best option for degree completion, but things are changing and and associate’s degrees are proving to be a viable option for entrance into many successful professions. Completing a degree program in two years as opposed to four years allows for quicker entrance into the workplace and therefore a more immediate opportunity to earn money.
- Additionally, an associate’s degree is an extremely convenient path to take. With many local community colleges offering degree programs, it is easy to start an associate’s degree program without the disruption of relocating, finding new employment, etc. It is also a convenient option, as an associate’s degree can serve as a building block for any number of degree programs. It allows for students to get a good bit of learning under their belt, even if they’re not yet sure exactly which career pathway to ultimately pursue.
Cost, time, and convenience are arguably the biggest reasons why students choose an associate’s degree over a four-year degree. Most associate degree graduates state that they chose that path because it allowed them to join the workforce and start earning money more quickly.
Associate vs. Bachelor’s
As touched on above, the associate’s degree is the precursor to the bachelor’s degree and any subsequent accolades that the learner chooses to pursue. This foundational level of degree provides a valuable entry into all kinds of disciplines, but it is only the beginning of what has the potential to be a much larger educational journey. Because the bachelor’s degree is directly next to the associate’s degree in the hierarchy of academia, one very common question is related to the differences between these two degrees. How does an associate’s compare to a bachelor’s degree?
First and foremost, the biggest difference between the two degrees is the amount of time needed to complete them. Associate degree programs require roughly two years of study, while bachelor’s degree programs usually take four years to complete. This is a considerable difference and is worth considering when choosing what degree to pursue.
In terms of complexity and difficulty, the bachelor’s degree builds off of what the associate’s degree has taught the student beforehand and therefore only stands to present more of a challenge than the associate’s. A bachelor’s degree program will often include courses that will dive deeper into the subject matter than an associate’s degree course will. Since the associate’s degree can serve as a building block, it is only logical that courses offered in a four-year program will sometimes require more of the student.
The cost difference between the degrees is often notable, but this cost is often offset in career earning potential. While the tuition for an associate’s degree is clearly more affordable, those earning a bachelor’s degree will likely have a higher ceiling of earning potential. Students may also consider that there are a growing number of places of employment that offer to either cover tuition or assist in tuition for the pursuit of further education. This means that a student could earn an associate’s degree, get a job, and make money while continuing to pursue their education at little or no cost.
Finally, in terms of the power of this degree, the bachelor’s degree proves a higher achievement of learning than the associate’s, so it will naturally command more professional respect and open far more occupational doors than the associate’s will. However, there are a growing number of professions that pay well, offer room for growth, and only require an associate’s degree. It is true that the bachelor’s degree is known to hold more power and weight, but that does not necessarily mean that it is always the case, and as we will soon see, there are a number of great options for jobs that require nothing more than an associate’s degree.
Careers with an Associate Degree
In addition to only taking only two years to complete, an associate’s degree can qualify students for great careers. It can lead the way towards various careers in many different fields. These fields include healthcare, engineering, computer science and technology, and many others. When researching potential career paths, it may become evident that an associate’s degree is the most efficient option for a number of fields. Many popular careers can be pursued with only an associate degree. Here are some popular career choices for graduates of associate degree programs.
- Diagnostic medical sonographer
- Respiratory Therapist
- Computer programmer
- Registered nurse
- Veterinary technician
- Mechanical designer
- Dental hygienist
- Geologic and petroleum technicians
Hot Associate’s Degree Programs Today
While just about any associate’s degree can provide just the right accolades needed in order to gain a valuable foothold in a new career or job, there are most certainly a list of associate degrees that are particularly popular among students today. There are many possible reasons for their popularity: better money, job security, or sometimes even simple cultural fad and opinions can lead some associate’s degree programs being much more sought after than others. The following 10 types of associate’s degrees represent some of the most popular programs pursued right now.
Business Administration/Management Associate Degrees
This highly popular degree choice sets the learner on a path to become a master of managing all types of organizations and the many potential operations therein. A keen proficiency in math, leadership approaches, common business tactics, and operations and organizational division is stressed here. While most associate’s earners in this area do go on to higher-level degrees in the discipline, the associate’s degree in business management is, nonetheless, a highly popular and essential learning milestone in the business administration world.
General Business Associate Degrees
General business degrees teach students the overall lay of the land in organizational practice. While some approach to leadership is also taught here, this program focuses more on the overall business practice than the singular concept of management that the above-mentioned business administration program does. An associate’s degree in this area can serve as a springboard to any number of career options, and general business program graduates typically have no problems finding plenty of opportunity in today’s demand-filled business world.
Accounting Associate Degree
The associate’s degree in accounting is yet another very popular degree choice right now. This is mainly due to the greater demand in the business world for those who are skilled in matters of money, math, and the accounting of it all. Graduates of these associate degree programs can look forward to many opportunities in accounting, as well as the possibility of work in a number of related fields.
Nursing Associate Degree
After successfully completing an associate’s degree in nursing, a student has certainly shown some great capability already for a wide array of jobs in the medical industry. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, those holding this degree can find themselves working as actual nurses or even working in a variety of other roles in or related to the medical world. Many hospitals or medical facilities will hire nurses who have completed their associate’s degree in nursing, and some either assist or fully pay for tuition as students continue their studies with the purpose of earning a bachelor’s degree. Nursing is also a very helpful discipline to be trained in for personal reasons, and it is applicable in many situations outside of a workplace.
Psychology Associate Degrees
Unfortunately, in and of itself, an associate’s in psychology doesn’t open a very large number of vocational doors. However, this necessary stepping stone in the pursuit of higher accolades in psychology makes it an incredibly popular career pursuit, year after year. Many earners of associate’s degrees in psychology eventually go on to work as therapists, psychologists, school counselors, and more.
Communications Associate Degrees
The applicability of skills in communication is virtually impossible to overstate. With a keen ability to receive, interpret, craft and broadcast information perfectly designed for whatever the situation at hand may be, anyone can become a vital asset in virtually any component of the modern business operation. Some of the more popular jobs that graduates of this degree eventually fill include journalist, communications manager, teacher, and public relations specialist. These skills carry over into a number of fields and can give candidates an advantage when seeking employment.
Marketing Associate Degrees
An associate’s in marketing ensures that the graduates are well trained and prepared in the wide world of marketing today. Marketing itself is the study and professional practice of advertisement. Graduates of this degree will certainly be valuable assets in a number of other business roles, making it a wise degree plan to pursue.
General Education Associate Degrees
A general education degree is a great way to become a teacher. Aside from this more well-known fact, this degree also offers a valuable pathway into jobs in educational administration, consultation, and even lobbying and advocacy work. Those who have earned an associate’s in general education have come to understand the overall educational system in the United States, its various components, legal and ethical parameters, and so on. This degree serves as a building block for an innumerable amount of degree options and career choices.
Elementary Education Associate Degrees
Elementary education majors learn much of the same material as do the general education majors discussed just above. However, in this degree program, a much greater emphasis is put on students learning the ins and outs of the elementary level of U.S. school systems in particular. Elementary grades in the US are typically considered to be those between first and sixth grade. An associate’s degree in elementary education or early childhood education is designed to prepare the learner for the many unique challenges and opportunities they are bound to face as they work with this particular age group.
English Language Associate Degrees
Finally, an associate’s degree in English language is another of today’s most popular associate’s majors. In this direction of study, the learner can expect to become a growing expert in the whole of the English language. Elements to this extensive background of knowledge will include English history, modern English literature, English in world culture, and much more. This can be used in the education field, as well as in editing, writing, and many other jobs that benefit from a firm grasp on the ins and outs of the English language.
Earning an associate’s degree can be a great way to enhance earning potential. U.S. News & World Report states that individuals with an associate’s degree typically earn about $200,000 more over their lifetime than those without a degree. The decision to enter an associate’s degree program is often a wise one, as it opens the door to so many career pathways. It serves as a foundational and educational building block, and the choice to pursue an associate’s degree is not one that learners are likely to regret. With so many different types of associate degree programs offered in so many fields, the career possibilities are almost endless.