In the general manner of speaking, an associate degree is an academic degree involving two years of course study and most commonly done at a community or junior college. The specifics of an associate degree depend on the area of study. In some cases, an associate degree is a terminal degree, meaning that the student is fully intending on entering the workforce upon successful completion of course studies. The most commonly awarded terminal degree is an Associate of Applied Science, followed by the Associate of Business Administration, which can be terminal or transferable.
In the case of a transferable associate degree, the area of study is intended to be transferable to a four-year program to serve as the foundation for completion of a bachelor’s degree. Though any associate degree can be terminal, the Associate of Arts and Associate of Science are both commonly awarded as transferable degrees.
Allied health is another area of study in which an associate degree can be earned, but in many cases, it is a terminal degree intended to place graduates immediately in the workforce pursuing careers as surgical technicians, dental hygienists, and similar healthcare professions. Allied health is an area of study that may take three years to complete depending on the program.
Though the associate degree ranks lowest of all possible higher education achievements, many students pursue an associate degree for a number of reasons. Often times, the cost is lower and the course schedules are more convenient and flexible even though it still full-time. In the event that a student is working towards a bachelor’s degree, they can usually structure a course of study that will allow all earned credits to transfer towards their four-year degree.
People interested in pursuing an associate degree for transfer should talk to a career councilor or academic advisor from their school of interest. Not all programs are transferable from all schools and not all areas of study will apply to certain, specific bachelor degree programs. However, with proper planning, an associate degree can be earned in as little as 24 months and can serve either specific job readiness or as the foundation for a professional degree.