Online Associate’s Degree Guide

Higher education may start with a 4-year bachelor’s degree for some, but what about those who don’t want to put in that kind of time and expense before embarking on a career? An online associate’s degree, a 2-year post-secondary degree, is a perfect option for pursuing college, university, or a high-level career.

An online associate degree is a faster and less expensive route to a degree and has become a popular choice for adult learners over the past twenty years. The Associate designation is a good option for jobs that require a college education and has established itself as an essential professional qualification in today’s market.

Although there are generally more options for online bachelor’s degree programs, there are still many online associate degrees to choose from. These are just a few from our database:

  • Affordable, transfer-friendly affiliate programs are designed specifically for busy adult students at Southern New Hampshire University.
  • Purdue University Global is perhaps the largest provider of associate degrees, offering a variety of programs in business, criminal justice, technology, and law.
  • Strayer University offers learning options designed to put you in control of your schedule that are flexible, affordable, and collaborative.

As we continue this article, you will learn what, why, and how to earn your online associate degree and follow the next chapter in your academic and professional journey.

Fast Facts on Online Associate’s Degrees

Why Do an Online Associate’s Degree?

Online associate degrees can be a prerequisite for entering a career or can qualify students to work in higher paying professions. An online associate’s degree can also serve as a stepping stone to earning a bachelor’s degree.

How Much Does it Cost?

The cost varies by school, in-state or out-of-state, traditional or online, etc.

Is it Worth it?

The average weekly salary of online associate degree graduates is about 18 percent higher than that of high school graduates. It makes a big difference in the time it takes to pay off student loans or reach higher paying positions.

What Types of Online Associate Degrees are there?

All online associate degrees include some level of general education combined with a degree in a core subject. There are three types of online associate degrees: associate in science, arts, and applied science.

How Do I Choose the Right Online Associate’s Degree Program?

Whether you choose to study online, at a local community college, technical school, or university, you need to consider the cost, expected career salary benefits, schedule, financial support, and life goals you have chosen.

What is an Online Associate Degree?

An associate degree is typically a 2-year program designed to introduce students to the most rudimentary aspects of a subject. A combination of general education and undergraduate courses helps provide the academic foundation for earning a bachelor’s degree or entering a chosen career.

Community colleges can be a cheaper and more flexible way to pursue this type of program. Other institutions that offer associate programs are community colleges, trade and technical schools, affiliated colleges, and universities.

The right title for a specific job can help. For example, a candidate with a college degree in nursing administration is qualified for this position, while a bachelor’s degree in history is not. Depending on your career goals, an associate degree may be the best qualification for a particular job.

Earning an online associate’s degree can mean that a person can continue their education while fulfilling other responsibilities. This is important given the rapid evolution that comes with technology, innovation, and rapid organizational change in the modern workforce. Keeping up with trends and developments in your field through continuing education is a sure way to capture the attention of current and potential employers.

Many students earn an associate’s degree while pursuing a career and then choose to continue their education in an undergraduate program. An associate is considered the first step in post-secondary education.

How Many Credits are in an Online Associate Degree?

Typically, an online associate level program consists of 60 semester credits or 90 semester credits. This is equivalent to about twenty university courses. Most are awarded by private vocational colleges or public adult education centers.

Many associate degree programs in traditional and online settings allow for flexible study schedules. Some people choose to take accelerated courses, while others with more responsibilities and time constraints may choose to take one or two courses per semester.

Types of Online Associate Degrees

When deciding what type of title you need, consider the following factors:

What kind of job are you looking for? What educational requirements are required for entry-level jobs in this field? Is this a job that requires more science and math skills and knowledge, or more liberal arts qualifications?

There are three types of associate titles:

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

What are the Differences between an AA, an AS, and an AAS?

The main differences between these different types of associate degrees are the course requirements. Associate of Science or Arts degrees prepare graduates for further study at the bachelor’s level with a greater focus on academic requirements and general coursework. An AAS has more “applied” course requirements, meaning that the courses are practical in nature and generally more focused on a specific career or professional area.

What is an AAS degree?

Associate of Applied Science degrees are career-oriented professional degrees and do not necessarily provide students with the coursework required for a bachelor’s degree. Students who are seeking a graduate degree but are not interested in a 4-year program may wish to explore the value of an AAS degree in their chosen career.

What is an AA degree?

Associate of Arts degrees cover general subjects in the humanities, literature, languages, fine arts, and more. This type of degree is suitable for people who are pursuing a bachelor’s degree in one of these specialties. Jobs with associate of arts degrees include sales, management, and teaching positions at the non-teaching level.

What is an AS title?

Associate of Science degrees offer a wide range of career opportunities. These programs focus on math and science subjects that translate directly into entry-level work in their respective fields. AS majors include business administration, nursing, computer science, criminal justice, and more.

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How Do I Choose the Right Online Associate Degree?

Carefully compare degree requirements at different schools when choosing the best online associate’s degree for your situation. A simple way to determine if an associate’s degree is right for you is to think about the type of career you want to pursue. Apply for the degree that meets the educational requirements for an entry-level position in this field.

Further and continuing training is always possible after gaining professional and practical experience. Search for specific positions that interest you and follow the specific requirements in job postings.

When to Pursue an Online Associate Degree

If you …

  • You have already completed your studies but have less than 60 semester credits and want to quickly complete your previous credits in order to obtain an official degree
  • Know that you are looking for jobs with associate degree requirements
  • You do not yet have any university experience, but you absolutely want to acquire a full degree as quickly and as cheaply as possible.

PRO TIP: Because associate degrees are in high demand, private for-profit institutions compete with public community colleges for students. For-profit colleges advertise significantly more online than their public college counterparts, so do your research carefully to save thousands of dollars.

How Much Does it Cost?

Although earning an online associate’s degree is cheaper to start with than a bachelor’s degree, tuition can still range from a few thousand per year to astronomically fluctuating prices. It is important to consider the same factors as for other grade levels:

  • Public vs private schools
  • In state or out of state
  • Online vs in person
  • Your personal budget

Educationdata.org reports that the average tuition at public community colleges in the state in 2021 is $4,444, while out-of-state tuition averages $8,516. The average cost of attending a 2-year private institution can range from $15,800 for a non-profit school to over $17,000 for a nonprofit college. It will always be in your interest to do your research before you buy.

Financial aid is available for associate degrees, and on average, students attending a 2-year public college receive enough financial aid to cover their tuition and fees. Financial aid can come in the form of grants and scholarships, federal student loans, student tax credits, and work-study programs.

PRO TIP: Getting into college debt can strain your budget for years to come, so you might want to see if there are any public institutions or online programs that offer the degree you want at a cheaper price.

Is an Online Associate’s Degree Worth It?

According to a study by the Georgetown University Center for Education and Workforce, high school graduates already had jobs available with an average annual salary of more than $50,000. However, today’s economy favors workers with post-secondary education, which the study describes as “intermediate skills,” including online associate’s degrees. The proportion of high-paying jobs for associate degrees has consistently exceeded that for high school graduates over the past 25 years.

According to the Georgetown University study, 28% of associate degree graduates earned more than the median income of their peers with bachelor’s degrees. In many cases, an associate’s degree salary can mean greater earning and savings potential than a bachelor’s degree. For example, an associate’s degree in accounting may mean a salary comparable to a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

Either way, the cost and time spent on an associate degree can be worth the skills and knowledge gained and applied to your professional or academic future.

Highest Paying Jobs with an Online Associate Degree

Many of today’s highest paying jobs only require an associate’s degree. Associate degree jobs and their reported average salaries in 2019 include:

  • Heavy truck and tractor driver: $45,260
  • Practical nurse: $29,660
  • Bookkeeping, accounting and auditors: $41,230
  • Teaching Assistant: $27,920
  • Physician Assistant: $34,800
  • Computer Network Support Specialist: $52,270
  • Licensed Practical and Vocational Nurse: $47,480
  • Automotive Service Technician and Mechanic: $42,090

Trends in Online Associate Degree Education

On average, you are more likely to make a good living with an associate’s degree than without a degree. The lowest unemployment rate for those with an associate’s degree, at just 2.7%, is higher than the rate for those with only a high school degree. The median weekly income for associate degree holders in 2019 was $887, about 18% higher than for those with just their GED.

Many areas increase the educational requirements to start a career. Some careers that once required only a high school diploma now favor an associate’s degree. This trend extends to higher levels of education as well, for example, nursing is a field where an associate’s degree has been the primary requirement for decades. There is currently an increase in nursing fields for bachelor’s degrees or higher. However, there is an opportunity to earn an AS and then move up to higher paying nursing jobs.

A growing number of 4-year colleges offer 2+2 programs, or articulation arrangements, making it easier to find an associate on the path to a bachelor’s degree. This is particularly helpful for students who are working alongside their studies or pursuing their careers.

What is an Articulation Agreement?

The Articulation Agreement is a guarantee that a student will be able to earn their bachelor’s degree at a major college or university in the future if they comply with the terms and rules of the agreement, usually related to study requirements. Articulation agreements are a great way to earn an online associate’s degree and start a career before committing to a bachelor’s degree program. Many online colleges offer accredited online associate degree options that flow seamlessly into undergraduate degrees.

PRO TIP: Always research the credit requirements for an associate’s degree compared to a bachelor’s degree. This may affect the transferability of an associate’s degree to a bachelor’s degree.

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What to Expect in an Online Associate Degree Program

Each college has its own schedule of required and elective courses. Universities are now offering online associate degrees for students pursuing their careers while seeking educational advancement. The curriculum for an associate degree typically focuses on the foundational academic and technical knowledge required to obtain an entry-level job in a specific field. The focus is on transferable skills for career advancement.

You can expect general courses in critical thinking or liberal arts. Liberal arts include courses such as English, humanities and arts, social studies, science, and math. Most online associate degree programs allow you to focus on a major, such as: Health Sciences, Computer Science, Technology, Arts, or Industry, as well as other career-oriented majors.

Steps to Choose an Online Associate’s Degree

Consider your Strengths and Interests

Take the time to explore your likes, interests, and abilities, and then consider possible careers that will not only make you happy, but also earn you a living.

Research Your Career Options

Consider all the factors in a specific job category where your interests, knowledge, and skills could be used. An excellent source of information on different jobs is the Job Finder from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Choose between an Online or Traditional In-person Associate Degree

Whether you attend school full-time or part-time, degrees online and on campus are available to you. Opportunities for online associate degrees have expanded dramatically, allowing more mature students to balance work, education, and personal life. Typically more accessible and affordable than on-campus programs, online education is designed for self-directed, highly motivated individuals who can continue their studies at their own pace.

Consider Blended or Hybrid Programs

Hybrid and co-ed college programs are great ways to study technical fields. While most courses take place asynchronously online, hands-on technical training can be taken on campus or at an approved workplace.

Refine your School Options

Once you’ve decided on a career path and chosen the right format, it’s time to see which school fits your needs. With online programs, you can have a wider variety of programs than schools in your area.

Compare Program Costs, Convenience, and Courses

Take the time to consider all aspects of a program. Check the program’s accreditation to make sure it’s from an accredited school and compare the total cost of the degree. If two programs are similar in many ways, but one is from a non-profit school and the other is from a community college, you can save money by choosing a community college. However, the convenience of a flexible online program from a top national school can make schooling easier and more profitable in the long run.

Contact the School(s) of your Choice and Apply

Don’t forget to apply for financial aid by completing the FAFSA application.

Take this information and get your associate’s degree today! For a list of accredited online schools offering associate degrees, see the list below.

Best Online Associate’s Degrees of 2022

1. East Mississippi Community College

Associate of Applied Science in Accounting Technology

The Accounting Technology program is designed to prepare students for entry-level positions in accounts payable, accounts receivable, payroll, and inventory, and to enhance the skills of those currently employed in accounting who wish to progress. Upon successful completion, students should be prepared for positions in accounting in business and industry, authorities and auditing companies.

2. Campbellsville University

Associate of Science in Business Administration

Campbellsville University offers an Online Associate of Science in Business Administration degree online. This program provides students with an introduction to the essential concepts and knowledge needed to succeed in the business world. Students develop fundamental business skills that are used daily in the workplace. Students gain knowledge in areas such as marketing, management, and microeconomics.

Courses emphasize modern trends that are changing the way businesses operate. An internship allows you to gain hands-on experience and enhance your resume before you graduate. There is a wide range of career opportunities for graduates. Some of the positions you can apply for after completing this program are:

  • Logistics
  • Customer service expert
  • HR Generalist
  • Sales coordinator

3. Champlain College

Associate of Science in Web Design and Development

Learn how to make an organization stand out on the web with this online AS in Web Design and Development. With classes starting every 7 weeks at Champlain, you can start your career when you’re ready and embark on a sought-after career path. You will learn web design from a frontend and backend perspective using an integrated approach and the latest platforms, programming techniques, and applications. Classes may include:

  • Server-side scripting
  • Network Basics
  • Website development with CSS and XML

4. Rasmussen University

Associate of Science in Web Programming

At Rasmussen University, the online associate’s degree in web programming will help you pursue a coveted career in web development, where you can turn ideas into functional websites and applications. The program provides a solid foundation in programming languages, allowing you to create robust and attractive web applications and software interfaces.

Experienced teachers and small class sizes allow you to learn the skills employers are looking for, from customer service and communication skills to proficiency in programming languages ​​that run in a browser or on a server. To further enhance your resume, you can earn certifications from industry leaders like Microsoft, Oracle, or Java. You can earn your degree entirely online and take advantage of Flex Choice, an option that allows you to combine traditional courses and optional exams at your own pace, giving you the freedom to choose how you learn.

5. ECPI University

Associate of Science in Electrical Engineering/Mechatronics

The AS in Electronic Engineering Technology at ECPI University offers a concentration in mechatronics for the working adult student. This accelerated program offers a career path to fast and challenging career opportunities and skill development. Your online Electrical Engineering in Mechatronics degree covers specific topics such as:

  • 3D modeling
  • basic concepts of statics
  • material science
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Through a program developed with input from professionals in the field, you’ll develop critical skills employers seek in fields ranging from applied mechanics, hydraulics, and programming to data measurement, problem solving, and component analysis. Graduates can pursue entry-level technical careers in electronics, engineering, field service, and more. Build knowledge that you can immediately apply in your current organization or start a new career in mechatronics with ECPI University online.

6. King University

Associate of Arts (General Studies)

King University’s Associate of Arts is an online liberal arts degree designed for those new to higher education who wants to start a career after graduation or use it as a stepping stone to completing a bachelor’s degree. This program includes a comprehensive curriculum that gives them a solid academic foundation on which to build. With this liberal arts degree, students will learn skills essential to their academic success and gain a deep understanding of a wide range of fields. Classes are based on subjects like math, history, foreign languages, humanities, and more, and develop writing, speaking, problem-solving, and critical-thinking skills. You will take courses in these fields of study:

  • College introduction
  • Traditions
  • Preparation for Citizenship
  • Nature and culture
  • World community

7. Shawnee State University

Associate of Arts in General Studies

Shawnee State University’s Associate of Arts in General Studies is an online liberal arts degree for those who want to further their careers or move on to a bachelor’s degree program, but are unsure which subject to pursue. This degree is designed to serve as an introduction to a variety of educational topics.

With a flexible curriculum, students take a selection of general education and elective courses on topics that interest them or that they would like to pursue professionally in the future. The goal is to enable you to develop the academic foundation necessary for success while exploring the many options available to you in terms of future majors or careers. These online liberal arts courses develop advanced skills and knowledge in various areas of interest and prepare students for success through a practical degree option.

8. Concordia University-Saint Paul

Associate of Arts in Early Childhood Education

The online Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood Education program focuses on the knowledge and skills teachers need to meet new standards for early childhood educators working with children from birth to 3rd grade. The program meets the educational requirements of the Child Development Associate (CDA) national accreditation program. Courses focus on child growth and development, early childhood best practices, and the role of the early childhood educator.

9. Liberty University

Associate of Applied Science in Physician Office Assistant

The Department of Health Professions at Liberty University offers an Associate of Applied Science Office Assistant degree that can be completed completely online. Students are designed to gain the knowledge and experience necessary for a career as a medical assistant. After graduating, students may find other potential careers as medical billing professionals, medical office assistants, or receptionists at medical clinics.

Additionally, graduates of the program can find jobs in institutions such as hospitals, clinics, or public health organizations. Program instruction is delivered using biblical and moral perspectives to prepare students for future careers. Associate degree courses provide students with instruction in a variety of subjects in areas such as health and business. Specifically, courses cover topics such as basic nursing assessment, medical terms, professional roles in healthcare, promoting healthcare philosophies, and billing procedures.

10. Rasmussen University

Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Education/Child Development

At Rasmussen University, the online Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood Education with a Focus on Child Development prepares you with the skills and knowledge to support the healthy development of young children. This online program prepares you to apply for your Child Development Diploma (CDA) and can be completed in as little as 18 months, or just 15 months for students who already have a current CDA diploma with a waiver of up to ‘ at 12 credits.

The professional program is based on the standards of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and is taught by experienced teachers. You will gain relevant skills that employer’s value, including the ability to structure environments and activities for a variety of students and provide developmentally appropriate education and communication strategies.

With the Flex Choice option, you can combine traditional courses and self-paced testing to save time and money while earning a degree at a pace that suits your lifestyle. Now is the time to amplify your impact on the lives of children at a university that has been training educators since 1992.

11. Purdue Global University

Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice

The online Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice will:

  • Helps prevent and predict crime.
  • Prepare for opportunities in criminal analysis, law enforcement, and more.

Complete your degree 100% online with one of the largest providers of public safety programs in the United States. Program highlights include study criminal investigations, criminology, and criminal justice and choose from a variety of electives in criminal justice, corrections, public safety, and more.

Career Opportunities include Police Patrol Officer, Private Investigator, Investigator, Loss Prevention Manager, Law Enforcement, Corrections, Security or Public Safety Opportunities. Students can earn points for previous college, work, or military experience. You can transfer your online associate’s degree to a future Purdue Global bachelor’s degree in criminal justice to cover half of the requirements.

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