What Is An Associate Degree? (Plus Types You Can Earn)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 6 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many professionals pursue academic credentials, such as associate degrees, to help them prepare for more advanced academic experiences or to enter the workforce. Getting an associate degree can allow professionals to develop crucial academic or vocational skills related to their desired career path. Learning more about the types of associate degrees available and what you can do after earning one may help you decide if obtaining this credential is a good decision.

In this article, we discuss what is an associate degree, explain its four major types, compare it to a bachelor's degree and explore the various academic or professional options you can pursue after earning one.

What Is An Associate Degree?

You might be wondering "What is an associate degree?". It is an academic credential that you can earn from a college or university. Associate degrees are typically foundational credentials that prepare students to either pursue a more advanced degree, like a bachelor's degree, or enter the workforce. Many academic institutions in the U.S. offer this type of degree, but you can also find schools that offer associate degrees in countries such as Australia, the Netherlands and Hong Kong. While other countries might offer similar academic programmes, they typically go by different names.

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Types Of Associate Degrees

Following are the four primary categories of associate degrees:

Associate of Arts

An Associate of Arts (AA) degree focuses on a liberal arts curriculum. Liberal arts programmes typically encompass subjects such as the humanities, composition, foreign languages or sociology. An Associate of Arts degree may be a good option for students interested in getting a bachelor's degree.

Related: What Is A Bachelor In Fine Arts Degree? Definition And Careers

Associate of Science

An Associate of Science (AS) degree is a type of credential offered in fields related to science or math. Students may also take several courses related to the arts as part of their prerequisite requirements. Academic advisors often recommend this type of associate degree to students interested in pursuing a more advanced scientific or mathematics degree later.

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Associate of Applied Science

An Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree emphasises practical or vocational skills involved in a scientific or mathematical subject. The primary goal of an AAS degree is to prepare students to enter jobs that require specific sets of hard skills, meaning abilities developed through rigorous studying or training. Fields that professionals might pursue after completing an AAS degree include engineering, home repair, healthcare and construction.

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Associate of Applied Arts

An Associate of Applied Arts (AAA) degree helps prepare students for entry-level positions related to the liberal arts. Subjects that you can concentrate on while earning an Associate of Applied Arts degree can include business management, fine arts, marketing or criminal justice. Students typically also take subjects that can help them fulfil general education requirements, like mathematics and writing.

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Associate Degree Vs. Bachelor's Degree

If you are considering earning an undergraduate degree, it is important to understand the similarities and differences between an associate degree and a bachelor's degree. While many colleges and universities frequently offer both credentials, knowing how these credentials are alike and dissimilar may help you choose the best academic experience for you. Following are the key commonalities and distinctions between associate degrees and bachelor's degrees:

Time to complete

A bachelor's degree typically takes students more time to earn than an associate degree. On average, students take approximately two years to get an associate degree. In comparison, the average amount of time to complete a bachelor's degree is four years. It is important to remember that both of these completion times can vary based on factors like whether the student attends part- or full-time and their specific course of study.

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Cost

A bachelor's degree usually costs more than an associate degree. This is partly because bachelor's degrees often take longer to complete. Some students may be able to pursue financial aid options to help lessen the cost of either degree programme. It is also important to remember that an array of factors can affect the prices for both bachelor's and associate degrees, including whether the institution is private or public.

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Admission requirements

Both associate degree programmes and bachelor's degree programmes usually have admission requirements that students meet before applying. These requirements often vary between academic institutions, but typically include possession of a high school diploma or GED, a minimum GPA and a personal statement about why they want to enter the programme.

In general, bachelor's degree programmes may have more strict admission requirements compared to associate degree programmes. For example, a bachelor's degree programme may receive more applications and have a higher minimum requirement for each student's GPA. Students who do not quite meet the admission requirements for bachelor's programmes can often improve their chances of getting admitted by first getting an associate degree.

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Options After Earning An Associate Degree

Once you hold an associate degree, there is an array of options you can pursue as part of your long-term academic or career goals. Here are some of the next steps that many professionals take after getting their associate degree:

Get a more advanced degree

An associate degree can give you the option to earn a more advanced degree. Many students decide to pursue a bachelor's degree after obtaining their associate degree. In some situations, you might be able to earn a graduate degree, like a master's, after getting your associate degree, but it is vital to research the specific schools or careers you are interested in first to see the prerequisites.

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Complete a certification programme or boot camp

Some professionals may want to get a certificate or take part in a boot camp after getting their associate degree. For instance, finishing a coding boot camp along with an associate degree in a subject like computer science may help you qualify for a job as a web developer or coder. As another example, you might want to earn a professional certificate that, coupled with an associate degree, can help you advance in fields like healthcare or business management.

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Pursue employment

An associate degree qualifies professionals for diverse entry-level roles across an array of industries. Here are just a few of the careers that you can pursue when you have an associate degree:

  • Dental hygienist: A dental hygienist performs routine cleanings on patients, educates them on oral hygiene and looks for signs of potentially serious dental conditions, like gum disease. They also provide supportive services to dentists, oral surgeons and other dental professionals.

  • Welder: A welder joins different types of metals together using specialised tools. This process often involves interpreting blueprints, measuring the dimensions of metal pieces and determining the ideal method for joining the pieces together.

  • Air traffic controller: Air traffic controllers monitor and direct the movements of flying, descending or ascending aircraft, like planes or helicopters. An air traffic controller prioritises not only the safety of the aircraft and people inside, but also makes sure that the aircraft can depart or land at their destinations on time.

  • Web developer: A web developer builds, updates, tests and monitors the performance of websites. Many web developers handle both a website's front end, meaning the aspects that end-users engage with, along with its back end, or the parts that support the site's functionality.

  • Paralegal: Paralegals provide essential supportive services to lawyers. This might include organising digital or paper files, preparing legal documents like contracts, conducting research to help lawyers prepare for trials and scheduling meetings with clients, witnesses or providers of expert testimony.


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