What Is an Associate’s Degree?

In today’s working world, an associate-level degree program is an educational option which is starting to receive more attention than in years past. Rising educational costs, coupled with the growing popularity of the idea of making public community colleges free, have led to students and employers alike giving this two-year program a second look. Community college enrollment is rising as a result, but while many fields are widely open to both associate- and bachelor-level graduates, there is still some measure of disparity in how these respective programs are viewed (particularly in more technical fields).

So, what exactly is an associate’s degree, and how will obtaining one affect your career prospects?

An Associate-Level Program is Traditionally a Two-Year College Program

While some outlets are now presenting accelerated programs, a traditional associate’s education is a two-year program which provides a basic to intermediate introduction to a field. As an undergraduate program, meaning that it represents the first level of post-secondary schooling in the US educational system, it is meant to impart essential concepts and technical skills, which can prepare someone to enter the workforce at an entry-level position in fields which would otherwise be out of reach (such as nursing).

Related reading: 50 Great Schools Where High School Students Can Get College Credit

An Associate’s Degree Can Be a Lead Into More Advanced Degree Programs

Often, people focus upon the career options of an associate’s program, but the degree also provides a foot in the door of additional academic opportunity. Someone whose high school career lacks ample distinction can pursue an associate-level program, then go on to enter a bachelor’s degree program at a traditional four-year university, usually beginning at a more advanced point than somebody who entered the four-year program straight out of high school. Many schools, including prestigious state colleges, have arrangements worked out with local community colleges to allow for just such a transition. Some students choose to pursue this option deliberately, seeing it as a way to ease into the hectic and unfamiliar pace of the college lifestyle.

An Associate-Level Education Opens Up a Wide Range of Career Options

Some high-paying career options used to be satisfied with a high school education, but are now looking at the growing body of associate-level graduates as a more highly qualified pool of applicants. Other career paths have always been traditionally open to this level of education. Jobs like air traffic controller fall into the former group; once considered the most high-paying job in America to not require a college education, tightening standards and heightened levels of attention post-9/11 have today’s airlines and airports increasing their expectations. Meanwhile, construction managers and dental hygienists are among the jobs that have traditionally been open to people with two-year degrees.

For More Information

There are a lot of factors to take into consideration when deciding whether or not an associate’s degree is right for you, including its relevance to your chosen career path, as well as concerns of a purely financial nature. That being said, it remains an increasingly popular solution to many of the issues facing today’s college applicants, and is likely to receive still more attention in the future, thanks to changing attitudes about education and its indirect promotion via the movement towards free and low-cost academic options.