Get the 411 on Associate’s Degrees

Earn an associate’s degree in just two years

If you want to go to college but don’t have four years to commit to a program, an associate’s degree might be just what you’re looking for. Associate’s degrees are two-year college degrees awarded from community colleges, specialized business or art schools, and many universities. Associate’s degree programs have core class requirements and electives, so they’re very similar to bachelor’s degree programs, but they take just half the time. While bachelor’s degrees tend to get most of the attention when it comes to college talk, there are plenty of careers that require or encourage only a two-year degree, including nursing, paralegal and graphic design.

Associate’s degrees come with all sorts of titles. Some of the most popular associate’s degrees awarded include:

  • Associate of Arts (AA) – Liberal arts degrees, including social sciences and humanities

  • Associate of Science (AS) – Earth and other natural sciences, technology, engineering and math degrees

  • Associate of Fine Arts (AFA) – Degrees for music, theater and fine art

  • Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) – Nursing degrees that typically prepare students for registered nursing (RN) licensure

  • Associate of Arts in Teaching (AAT) – Degrees for aspiring teachers who are planning on transferring credit toward a bachelor’s degree in education, or for those who wish to become certified paraprofessionals

One of the biggest advantages to an associate’s degree is the cost. The average cost of an associate’s degree in 2007 was $4,544, according to That’s tuition for both years combined, a savings of $18,800 when compared to the cost of the average bachelor’s degree. Those students who eventually want to earn a bachelor’s degree find that starting with an associate’s degree and transferring to a four-year program is another way to save some money.

One reason many students turn to associate’s degree programs is that four-year colleges are becoming harder and harder to get into every year, and unless you really worked it out in high school, your grades may not be high enough to get you into a bachelor’s degree program. Most community colleges only require you to have your high school diploma to be admitted, and they don’t punish you for how you performed in Chemistry 101.

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