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What Can I Do With an Associate Degree?

If you want to get a college education, attending a four-year school and earning a bachelor’s degree isn’t the only way to go. Associate degrees are a popular choice for students who want to save money, spend less time in school, and enter the workforce as soon as possible. In this guide, we’ll discuss what you can do with an associate degree. 

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What is an associate degree?

An associate degree is a type of postsecondary education credential. Associate programs are offered at community colleges, take two years to complete, and are relatively affordable compared to bachelor’s degree programs. Unlike many bachelor’s degree programs, which apply to a variety of career paths, associate degree programs usually prepare students to enter a specific field. 

Some students use their associate degree as a way to quickly learn a trade and enter the workforce. Others earn their associate and then transfer into a bachelor’s degree program. In the next section, we’ll talk more about the different paths you can pursue with an associate degree. 

Learn more: What is an associate degree?

Associate degree pathways

If you choose to earn an associate degree, there are two main paths you can choose from. The first option is to earn an occupational degree, which will prepare you to launch your career immediately after graduation. The other option is to earn an academic degree, which is meant to be paired with further education. Let’s discuss each type of degree more in-depth. 

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Occupational degrees 

Occupational associate degrees train students to immediately enter the workforce in a specific field. Students in these programs may take a few general education courses, such as English, humanities, and basic math and science classes. However, most coursework is career-oriented. For example, students in an electrical technology program will receive the specific training they need to become electricians. Because occupational programs are very focused in nature, they’re a great option for students who know what job they want to pursue and are eager to launch their career as quickly as possible. 

The most common types of occupational degrees are the Associate of Applied Science (AAS) and the Associate of Applied Arts (AAA). Applied Science degrees typically feature a lot of math, business, and science coursework. Applied Arts degrees are much more oriented around communications, arts, and the humanities. Popular AAS fields of study include accounting, business administration, medical assistance, and computer support and operations. Some of the most common AAA programs include advertising, fine arts, and commercial music. 

Academic / transfer degrees

Also known as transfer degrees, academic associate degrees serve as a foundation for students pursuing bachelor’s degrees. They’re a popular option among students who want to earn a bachelor’s degree eventually, but don’t have the financial resources or academic record needed to immediately attend a four-year college. It’s common for students to start at community college, earn their associate degree, then use transfer credits to enroll in a bachelor’s degree program

Unlike occupational degrees, which are very hands-on in nature, academic degree programs are more oriented around classroom study. Students typically take more general education and liberal arts courses in preparation to continue their education at a four-year university. The two most common types of academic associate degrees are the Associate of Arts (AA) and the Associate of Science (AS). While academic degrees are typically used as a stepping stone to another school, in a lot of cases they can also be used to immediately enter the workforce. That’s why you should research your particular field and see what type of degree is expected for entry-level work. 

If your plan is to earn an associate degree then transfer to a four-year institution, it’s important to make sure your associate degree credits will actually transfer. Do your research beforehand to understand the requirements of the college that you’d like to eventually transfer to. After all, you don’t want to spend two years earning your associate degree then find out all your hard work counts for nothing at your new school. To learn more, check out this guide on how to transfer from a community college to a four-year university. 

Benefits of earning an associate degree

There are many great advantages to earning an associate degree. As mentioned previously, they are flexible degrees that can be used to either find a job or continue your education. They’re also cost-effective and take less time to earn than bachelor’s degrees. Let’s talk more about the benefits of associate degrees:

Save money 

One of the biggest benefits of earning an associate degree from a community college is the money you save. According to Education Data Initiative, the average annual cost of tuition for in-state community college is $3,400, compared to $9,349 at four-year in-state colleges. The cost of tuition is even higher at out-of-state four-year colleges, where the average annual price is $27,023. In the end, you can save up to tens of thousands of dollars by spending the first two years of school earning an associate degree, 

Less time in school 

If your goal is to receive an education and land a job as quickly as possible, then associate degrees are a great option. Most of the time, associate degree programs require two years of full-time study. You may even be able to earn your degree in less time by taking advantage of CLEP credits or college credits that you earned in high school. 

More flexibility 

Associate degree programs are great for students who are also juggling work and family obligations. Compared to four-year universities, associate degree programs at community colleges offer students a lot more flexibility to take part-time classes. Community colleges also tend to offer more online, evening, and weekend classes. All these options are designed to accommodate students with busy schedules.

Highest paying associate degree jobs

At this point, you may wonder if it’s possible to make a good living with an associate degree. The answer is yes – there are many well-paying jobs you can obtain with an associate degree. Here are a few examples from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook

  • Air traffic controller: $130,420 per year
  • Radiation therapist: $86,850 per year
  • Nuclear technician: $84,190 per year
  • Nuclear medicine technologist: $79,590 per year
  • Dental hygienist: $77,090 per year
  • Diagnostic medical sonographer: $70,380 per year
  • Aerospace technician: $68,570 per year
  • Aircraft technician: $66,680 per year
  • Radiologic and MRI technologists: $63,710 per year
  • Respiratory therapist: $62,810 per year

Check out our in-depth guide on the highest-paying associate degree jobs to learn more about these careers. 

Final thoughts

There are plenty of positives to earning an associate degree. Associate degree programs allow you to save time and money while gaining the skills needed to land a job in your desired field. Plus, you can always continue your education and earn a bachelor’s degree if that’s still on your radar. If you want to learn more about alternative education options, check out our guide on the top certificates to earn in 2022

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