What Is an Associate Degree?

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There are many options available when it comes to college degrees. After graduating from high school, some students elect to further their education with an associate degree. An associate degree aims to give students the basic technical and academic knowledge and transferable skills they need for employment or further study in their chosen field. In two years of online or on-campus college, you can earn a basic college degree that increases your qualifications compared to just a high school diploma and potentially transfer your credits to a bachelor’s degree program.

Overview of an Associate Degree

An associate degree is an academic program taken at the undergraduate level. It is a quicker, less expensive educational route than the traditional four-year degree. The typical associate degree programs will require you to earn roughly 60 credits, which can be completed in two years of study. Upon completing the program, you will have gained the basic knowledge necessary for certain employment opportunities and may pursue a bachelor’s degree at a later date to continue your career development.

Types of Associate Degrees

There are three categories of associate degrees and each degree has its own purpose or goal.

  • Associate of Science (AS)
  • Associate of Arts (AA)
  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS)

AA and AS degrees generally focus on developing core knowledge alongside introductory education in a selected focus. With an AA, you will typically take a set of liberal arts or humanities courses alongside courses in your area of concentration. AS degrees concern more technical or scientific subjects. You will have to choose one of these associate degree programs if you want to go on to a bachelor’s degree.

An AAS is an applied degree that typically focuses on developing technical skills for specific careers. They are recommended for students who are preparing to go directly on to the job market from community or online college as they are not designed to transfer to a four-year program.

Career Opportunities With an Associate Degree

An associate degree can lead the way towards careers in many different fields, including healthcare, engineering, computer science and technology, among others. Here are some popular career choices for graduates of associate degree programs:

  • Air traffic controller
  • Dental hygienist
  • Registered nurse
  • Radiological therapist
  • Occupational therapy assistant
  • Computer network support specialist
  • Web developer
  • Diagnostic medical sonographer

For the most part, career options are limited for those with an associate degree. Possessing a bachelor’s degree opens many more doors by comparison. The four-year degree has become the standard for many industries, so job opportunities will be easier to come by with a more advanced education.

Transferring From an Associate to a Bachelor’s Degree

Before you start earning your associate degree, consider whether you’ll want to earn a bachelor’s degree at any point. If so, you can work with your academic advisor and start investigating the various seamless transfer pathways and possible program-to-program articulations or crosswalks that are available to you.

Transferring from an associate degree to a bachelor’s degree is often very simple. Always make sure your course credits are relevant and accepted by the university offering the bachelor’s degree. If they are, you can transfer them to the bachelor’s program, essentially picking up halfway through. This is often called a 2+2 program.

How to Choose the Right Associate Degree Program?

There are many factors to consider when picking a program. First, determine if you're looking for career training or if you intend to transfer to a bachelor’s degree program. Below are some things to consider while choosing an associate degree program.

  • Consider your strengths and interests.
  • Research career options.
  • Decide if on-campus or online learning is best for you.
  • Look into hybrid programs.
  • Compare costs, convenience and specific courses.
  • Consider how easily your credits will transfer to a bachelor’s degree.

Earning your associate’s can be the first step in a great education and rewarding career, so take the time to figure out what degree is right for you.

Make the most of your transfer credits by transferring to Grand Canyon University. Visit the GCU Transfer Center or click the Request Info button on this page to get started. GCU's online and evening programs offer the flexibility you need to get ahead while providing a quality education to help you thrive in today's complex world. Check out GCU’s degree options today to get started on your journey to find your purpose.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.