What is an Online Associate Degree?
Whether you earn an associate of arts or an associate of science degree, these two-year undergraduate programs can give you a leg up in your chosen occupational field and open doors to higher education. For many, an associate degree provides the hands-on training needed to land an entry-level job in fields like nursing or technology. Others use an associate of arts program to get a start on their bachelor’s degree, quickly earning the necessary general education credits. As hiring practices increasingly favor candidates with college experience, an associate degree is often the first step towards better opportunities.
An associate degree is often the first step towards better opportunities.
Don’t have the time or money to earn an associate degree the traditional way? You’re not alone! Many individuals who struggle to balance work with family and personal obligations find that an online associate degree is just what they need. An online associate degree curriculum is identical to its on-campus equivalent, but is offered in a convenient format that lets you study when and where you prefer — and often, for much less money. Earning an associate degree online is the most flexible, affordable option for busy people everywhere.
Still wondering, "What is an associate degree, and how can it help me?" In this guide, we’ll explore the different types of associate degrees you can earn online, who they’re designed for, and which online associate degree program is right for you.
How Many Credits are Needed to Complete an Associate Degree?
Every online associate degree has different graduation requirements, and the number of credits needed to complete an associate of arts or science will vary between programs, schools, and majors. Most traditional programs consist of 60 semester credits, although an online associate degree may require more or less.
For some students, getting an associate degree is the most affordable way to complete general education requirements and prerequisite courses before transferring to a bachelor’s program. In fact, some who complete an online associate degree graduate with almost half the credits they need to finish a bachelor’s. Each school has different policies, and if you already have a particular bachelor’s program in mind, it’s important to find out ahead of time which credits from your associate degree will transfer.
What are the Different Types of Associate Degrees?
What is an AS degree? How does it differ from an AA degree, and does it really matter which one you choose? The type of associate degree you pursue depends largely on your professional and academic aspirations, as well as your intended major. For many students, earning an associate degree is an effective way to complete general education requirements before moving on to a bachelor’s program. Others earn an AAS with the intention of entering a particular occupational field. But what about majors like psychology, that are commonly offered as both AA and AS degrees? Let’s examine how all three degrees differ.
- Associate of Arts
- Offering more general education courses than an associate of science program, an AA degree combines college-level coursework in a variety of fields with major- or career-specific instruction in the humanities. Graduates generally pursue additional education or seek entry-level jobs in areas like psychology, education, and fine art.
- Associate of Science
- For students interested in STEM fields like math, biology, or engineering, earning an associate of science degree is the first step. Narrower in scope than an AA degree, AS programs feature less general education coursework in favor of major-related courses. Most graduates go on to seek a bachelor’s degree in their area of concentration.
- Associate of Applied Science
- Similar to an associate of science degree, the AAS is a two-year degree with an emphasis on STEM topics. Stressing hands-on, experiential learning, this program is designed for students intending to enter the workforce immediately after graduation. Popular career areas include nursing, veterinary technology, and computer programming.
Why Should I Get an Associate Degree Online?
Nobody likes to waste time! Whether you’re a working professional hoping to expand your opportunities, or a recent high school graduate considering your options, time is of the essence. Unlike a four-year bachelor’s degree, students can earn an online associate degree in two years or less. Offering college-level coursework in fundamental topics while covering basic concepts related to your major, an associate curriculum provides a broad foundation -- and course credits -- useful in any bachelor’s program. For many high school graduates, it’s a great way to stay sharp, develop study skills, and become acclimated to the college atmosphere. Transferring credits earned in an associate program can also significantly shorten the length of a bachelor’s degree.
An associate degree also enhances your career prospects and increases your earning power. As the table below demonstrates, degree holders make significantly more than those with only a high school diploma. Earning an associate degree online can open up many opportunities for advancement in the workplace and increase your marketability; it can even lead to a new career entirely. There are several lucrative and challenging positions available to associate degree-holders. In some sectors, such as nursing and computer science, an associate degree is all you need to get started. Earning a degree puts a wide range of jobs, from court reporting to air traffic control, within your reach.
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Educational Paths for an Associate Degree Holder
What is an associate degree good for, anyway? As we discussed previously, earning an associate degree online can be a fast and cost-effective way to jumpstart your academic career. Providing many of the general education credits and core courses required by most bachelor’s programs, an associate degree curriculum also helps students develop strong research and time management skills.
In some applied fields, such as nursing and information technology, holding an associate degree is enough to qualify for an entry-level position. While many of these jobs require additional licensing or certification, the fundamental knowledge and skills you'll develop in an online associate degree program can help you get your foot in the door, and prepare you for future licensing programs. From dental hygienist to engineering technician, many rewarding careers begin with an associate degree.
How Much Does a Typical Associate Degree Cost?
Several factors influence the cost of an online associate degree, from the type of school to nonresident fees. Some distance learners pay nearly half the tuition of their traditional counterparts, at around $350 per credit. However, cost per credit often varies depending on your course load, with part-time students paying more per credit hour. Many schools also charge additional technology fees for online programs. When you factor in the cost of textbooks and other expenses, these fees can quickly add up. Creating a budget before you enroll can help you avoid any unpleasant surprises.
School status, policies, and your state of residence can also affect the cost of an associate degree. While some institutions charge a flat cost per credit for online programs, others require out of state students to pay more. This is often the case for private colleges, which rely on tuition earnings and donations to operate. Public schools, on the other hand, receive government funding and can afford to charge lower tuition rates. But if a private school has caught your eye, don’t worry -- many colleges offer large, need- and merit-based scholarship packages.
Choosing an Online Associate Degree Program
It’s easy to become overwhelmed as you research schools and online associate degrees. The right program will align with your work schedule, personal life, and learning style, providing a quality educational experience without breaking the bank. Keeping a few factors in mind as you explore your options can help you find the perfect program with less stress. While your personal goals and preferences will undoubtedly influence the decision-making process, it can be helpful to consider the following before selecting a school.
In-state or out of state
Selecting an out-of-state school can cost you more in the long run. Many institutions charge out-of-state students, even those enrolled in web-based programs, higher tuition and additional fees. In some states, schools are prohibited by law from offering online degrees to nonresidents.
Public or private
While private colleges often have prestigious reputations, they tend to charge higher tuition, and offer fewer majors. Public schools, which receive government funding, typically offer lower tuition and a wider range of degrees.
Size of school
Larger schools tend to offer more majors and more resources, from libraries to virtual tutoring programs. However, big schools often have big class sizes, which can make it difficult to receive help from faculty when you need it. Smaller colleges may come with fewer options, but lower student-teacher ratios make it easier to receive individual attention.
Cost of program
How much are you willing to spend out of pocket, and how much debt are you willing to take on? Have you applied for any scholarships or grants? Creating a budget can be helpful in determining how much and what kind of funding you may be eligible for.
Asynchronous or cohort
Determining your learning style is crucial to choosing a program. Independent, motivated students might be bored in cohort courses, while those requiring structure can quickly become overwhelmed in an asynchronous program. Only you can decide which format is best for you.
Length of program
Will you be studying part- or full-time? Where do you see yourself in a year? Two years? The length of an associate degree should closely align with your plans for the future, personal goals, and any other obligations you currently have or expect to take on.
What are the Best Associate Degree Programs?
Have you decided to earn your associate degree online, but don’t know where to start? We’ve compiled a list of the best online associate degree programs to help you out. Each of these accredited schools offers strong academics, courses taught by expert faculty, and some of the lowest tuition rates in the country. If you’re ready to start earning your associate degree online, read on for our list of top-ranked programs.
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Scholarships for Students in Associate Degree Programs
There are thousands of scholarships targeted towards students earning an associate degree. These financial awards are presented to individuals who meet certain academic, economic, or personal criteria. Offered by schools, nonprofit organizations, companies, and private groups, scholarships may be awarded on the basis of need, merit, or participation. You may qualify for more than one! Here is only a small selection of scholarships you might wish to apply for.