Q&A: What Is an Associate Degree?

Answer: There are four typical degrees that can be earned. The first is an associate degree, which most often is earned at a community college, junior college or technical school. The typical time for an associate degree to be completed is two years and/or 60 credits. There are three different types of associate degrees. The first is an A.A. (Associate of Arts); the second is an A.A.S. (Associate of Applied Science); and the third is a A.S. (Associate of Science). The type of associate degree earned is determined by the program of study.

While some career fields require higher education or more classes/training, there are some in which associate degrees are more common. These fields include Early Childhood Education, Health Services and IT, or Information Technology. To earn an associate degree, students must take general studies courses, such as English and math. After the general courses are completed successfully, students move on toward specific classes for their degree.

Many students attend a community college to save money, but may have plans to transfer to a four-year college or university afterward or later on. An associate degree can be considered the equivalent of completing the freshman and sophomore year at a college or university. This means if students have successfully completed all the requirements of an associate degree, they should be able to transfer into a university or college at the junior level. Usually, all of the general studies courses are done at the community college level. Therefore, the university classes are mostly or all focused on the student's major (i.e. elementary education; engineering; communication; psychology, etc).

Starting at a community college and then transferring to a four-year school may be a way to save money as community college classes typically cost less per credit hour. For example, the average community college class can cost $100 to $200 per credit hour (or less) while most university classes are $400 to $500 per credit hour (and up), although a student going full-time may find that a flat rate for the semester is available. Whether you are thinking of earning an associate degree for employment or for transferring, take the time to contact a college and explore your options.

Dr. Beverley BrowningDr. Beverly A. Browning (Dr. Bev) has been a higher education adjunct faculty member for over 25 years. She has taught in the classroom and online for multiple colleges and universities including Spring Arbor College, Baker College of Flint, Mott Community College, and Rio Salado College. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan, Spring Arbor College and Mott Community College. She is currently an online instructor for ed2go.com (Cengage Learning). In addition to founding and directing the Grant Writing Training Foundation, Dr. Bev is also Vice President of Grants Professional Services for eCivis, Inc. She is the author over over 37 grant-related publications and a frequent keynote speaker and workshop presenter for national and regional conferences. Dr. Bev is a product of lifelong learning and an advocate for online teaching and learning!