When many students think of earning a degree, the bachelor’s degree is typically the degree level that comes to mind, or at least it used to be that way. Today more and more students are pursuing an associate’s degree because it’s a faster and less expensive way to attain their career goals than bachelor and master degree programs. Surprisingly an associate degree offers degree holders a unique versatility in comparison to other degree programs. The advantages this degree offers are numerous to those willing to dedicate themselves to their studies and work hard to attain their goals.
Overview of the Associate Degree
An associate degree is a degree that takes two years to complete and is found at community colleges, technical schools, and private career colleges. Most colleges require that the student complete at least 60 semester credits to earn the associate degree. Today many 4-year colleges are offering 2+2 programs that enable the student to earn an associate degree after completing the first two years of a bachelor degree program.
The three most common types of associate degrees are:
• Associate of Arts (AA) – The AA degree requires students to complete 60 hours of coursework, which includes major-related courses and general education courses. Approximately, seventy-five percent of the curriculum of AA programs is based on the liberal arts. Students who earn this degree usually plan to earn a bachelor’s degree.
• Associate of Science (AS) – The AS degree also requires 60 hours of coursework, which is both core courses and general education courses. Students in the AS program can focus on a specific area of specialization. This degree has few liberal arts courses and more courses geared towards the specialization or major.
• Associate of Applied Science (AAS) – The AAS degree is usually chosen by students who wish to pursue their chosen career immediately upon graduation. This degree has few liberal arts and general education courses and more courses that focus on a particular set of career-related skills.
What Careers Are Available with an Associate’s Degree?
One of the best features of the associate degree is the wide variety of career choices it offers. Regardless of what field a student may wish to enter, chances are there are positions requiring only an associate degree. Associate degrees can lead to careers in technology, healthcare, and skilled labor. Here is a list of some excellent careers that can be obtained with an associate degree. Some of these jobs may even be later mentioned below in the best-paying jobs section.
• Air traffic controller
• Radiation therapist
• Dental hygienist
• Nuclear medicine technologist
• First-line supervisor of non-retail salespeople
• Nuclear technician
• Funeral service director
• Diagnostic medical sonographers
• Registered nurse
• Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technologist
• Web developer
• Aerospace engineering and operations technician
• Engineering technician
• Computer network support specialist
• Electrical and electronics engineering technician
• Electrical and electronics drafters
• Avionics technician
• Radiologic technologist
• Occupational therapy assistants
• Geological and petroleum technician
Advantages of an Associate Degree
Earning an associate degree offers several advantages over bachelor and master degree programs or not earning a degree at all. Students only need to complete two years of college as opposed to four, six or eight years of school. Associate degree programs are generally offered at public community colleges and technical schools, which are much more affordable than universities.
According to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), students who have an associate degree generally earn at least twenty-three percent more than high school graduates without a degree. Associate degree holders who hold licenses or certifications can earn about twenty-seven percent more than an individual who holds just a bachelor degree.
The AACC also reported that 770,797 associate degrees were awarded in the 2011-2012 year. The other benefits of earning an associate degree at community colleges are location, flexibility, variety in programs, and excellent preparation for students who wish to advance their education at universities.
Best Paying Careers with an Associate Degree
Students don’t have to attend college for four or more years to have a lucrative career while working jobs they enjoy. Below is a list of the ten best-paying jobs that require only an associate degree as well as the average annual 2012 earnings for those qualified for the best-paying jobs according to a Forbes report.
1. Air Traffic Controller – $122,530
2. Construction Manager – $82,790
3. Radiation Therapist – $77,560
4. Nuclear Medicine Technologist – $70,180
5. Dental Hygienist – $70,210
6. Nuclear Technician – $68,090
7. Registered Nurse – $64,690
8. Diagnostic Medical Sonographer – $64,380
9. Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technician – $58,080
10. Electrical and Electronic Engineering Technician – $ 56,040