Conventionally speaking, higher education is split into three stages; beginning with a bachelors degree, proceeding to a masters degree, and concluding with a doctorate, or PhD. But in some jurisdictions – such as the USA, Canada, Hong Kong, and Australia - you will also come across something called an associate degree. What is an associate degree, and does it fit in with your career plans? Read on to find out!
An associate degree is an undergraduate-level qualification, offered by certain universities, colleges, and technical institutes, as an alternative to a bachelors degree. Through this career path, on can qualify as an Associate of Arts (AA), an Associate of Sciences (AS), or an Associate of Applied Sciences (AAS). While a bachelors degree is academically oriented, the aim of an associate degree is to provide students with a more vocational syllabus – incorporating the basic academic and practical skills needed in a particular profession. The kinds of professionals who can qualify via an associate degree include dental hygienists, paralegals, civil engineers, radiation therapists, and entrepreneurs. In other jurisdictions, these professionally-oriented degrees also exist, but are referred to using different terms – such as foundation degrees in the UK. They are often available at local community colleges, so attending classes is typically very convenient.
The admission requirements are often lower for associate courses, and they are also much less competitive, and charge much lower fees than a bachelors course. An associates degree is often shorter than a bachelors too, lasting only two years; longer if a student chooses to study part time. The syllabus is often delivered through fewer contact hours – sometimes as few as 20 classes – and the assessment process can be less intensive, requiring fewer credits. But it’s normally very straightforward to transfer to a bachelors degree if you change your mind; the credits can be transferred to a relevant degree so long as they are accepted by the host institution – allowing you to continue join your chosen bachelors programme half-way through, following your two year associate course, with the final two-years of a BA.
Associate degrees make a good fit to those who, for whatever reason, have not achieved particularly high grades academically, but are nonetheless looking to enter the workplace with a qualification that will be sought-after by employers and will thus improve their earning potential. Associate degrees are also an excellent option for those interested in particular technical fields – such as nursing, air traffic control, construction, and hospitality – where an expensive undergraduate education may not provide you with the best mix of skills for the job you want. They also make an excellent, affordable qualification for those already working full-time and thus with less time available for study, but who want to improve their CV. There are a huge range of reasons to choose an associate degree!