What Can I Do With an Associate’s Degree?

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Key Infor­ma­tion:

  • An Associate’s degree offers ver­sa­tile career paths in var­i­ous fields such as health­care, tech­nol­o­gy, and skilled trades.
  • It gen­er­al­ly takes two years to com­plete, mak­ing it a quick­er and often more afford­able path than a Bachelor’s degree.
  • Many use an Asso­ci­ate’s as a step­ping stone towards a Bach­e­lor’s degree, with trans­fer pro­grams avail­able to con­tin­ue education.

When many stu­dents think of earn­ing a degree after their high school diplo­ma, 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.

Approx­i­mate­ly 32.9% of stu­dents who start a four-year degree pro­gram don’t fin­ish. Many stu­dents decide that col­lege isn’t the right choice for them, but oth­ers drop out because they can’t afford to con­tin­ue. If stu­dents want to get a good job but don’t want to or can’t afford to go to col­lege, an asso­ciate degree may be the right option.

What can I do with an asso­ciate degree? That’s a com­mon ques­tion. An asso­ciate degree is a two-year degree that can be earned at a com­mu­ni­ty col­lege or online. It offers many of the same ben­e­fits as a four-year degree, includ­ing bet­ter job prospects and high­er earnings.

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. Many of these career oppor­tu­ni­ties show high job growth, great earn­ing poten­tial, and fur­ther job oppor­tu­ni­ties in less time than a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Here is a list of some excel­lent asso­ciate degree jobs. 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

Many of these jobs, like den­tal hygiene or MRI tech­nol­o­gist, work in health care under a den­tist or doc­tor. Oth­ers, like res­pi­ra­to­ry ther­a­pists or med­ical assis­tants, can go far­ther with cre­den­tials from a col­lege degree.

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.

Nation­al Cen­ter for Edu­ca­tion Sta­tis­tics reports that over 1 mil­lion asso­ciates degrees were award­ed. 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.

What Will They Learn in An Associate’s Degree?

An asso­ciate degree is an under­grad­u­ate degree award­ed after suc­cess­ful com­ple­tion of a two-year pro­gram at a com­mu­ni­ty col­lege, junior col­lege, or tech­ni­cal school.

Gen­er­al­ly, it takes two years to com­plete an asso­ci­ate’s degree, although some schools offer accel­er­at­ed pro­grams that can be com­plet­ed in as lit­tle as 18 months. Upon grad­u­a­tion, stu­dents earn an Asso­ciate of Arts (AA), Asso­ciate of Sci­ence (AS), or Asso­ciate of Applied Sci­ence (AAS) degree, depend­ing on their major.

While the spe­cif­ic cours­es required for an asso­ciate degree vary by pro­gram and insti­tu­tion, most pro­grams include a mix of gen­er­al edu­ca­tion and core course­work in the student’s cho­sen field of study. Com­mon sub­jects stud­ied in an asso­ciate degree pro­gram include Eng­lish, math, sci­ence, and social sci­ences. Asso­ciate degree pro­grams also typ­i­cal­ly include a cap­stone or intern­ship expe­ri­ence to help stu­dents tran­si­tion into the workforce.

Grad­u­ates of asso­ciate degree pro­grams may find entry-lev­el posi­tions in their field of study, or they may choose to con­tin­ue their edu­ca­tion by pur­su­ing a bachelor’s degree. For instance, legal assis­tants can learn from a para­le­gal stud­ies pro­gram, but can go on to a bachelor’s, master’s or even go to law school. Some asso­ciate degree pro­grams also offer the oppor­tu­ni­ty to earn cred­its that can be trans­ferred to a four-year insti­tu­tion, allow­ing stu­dents to com­plete their bachelor’s degree in a short­er time frame.

What Are the Associate Degrees That Pay Well?

There are a num­ber of asso­ciate degrees that can lead to high-pay­ing jobs. Stu­dents don’t have to attend col­lege for four or more years to have a lucra­tive career while work­ing jobs they enjoy. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Sta­tis­tics rec­og­nizes some of these as high-growth and pay. Below is a list of the ten best-pay­ing jobs that require only an asso­ciate degree:

1. Accounting

If grad­u­ates have an asso­ciate degree in account­ing, they could find a job as an accoun­tant or book­keep­er. Accoun­tants earn a medi­an salary of $59,358 per year accord­ing to Indeed, and book­keep­ers earn a medi­an salary of $47,440 per year accord­ing to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

2. Business administration

With an asso­ciate degree in busi­ness admin­is­tra­tion, stu­dents could work as a human resources man­ag­er, mar­ket­ing man­ag­er, or sales man­ag­er. Human resources man­agers earn a medi­an salary of $106,910 per year, mar­ket­ing man­agers earn a medi­an salary of $142,170 per year accord­ing to US News, and sales man­agers earned a medi­an salary of $132,290 per year in 2020.

3. Construction management

Con­struc­tion man­agers earned a medi­an salary of $98,890 in 2021, accord­ing to the BLS. With an asso­ciate degree in con­struc­tion man­age­ment, grad­u­ates can work as a con­struc­tion man­agers, project engi­neers, or con­struc­tion superintendents.

And, with expe­ri­ence, they could even­tu­al­ly become a gen­er­al con­trac­tor. Hav­ing an asso­ciate degree in con­struc­tion man­age­ment can also lead to jobs in oth­er indus­tries, such as facil­i­ties man­age­ment or real estate development.

4. Graphic design

The medi­an annu­al salary for graph­ic design­ers is $47,851 accord­ing to PayScale. Graph­ic design­ers use col­or, images, typog­ra­phy, and space to cre­ate visu­al com­po­si­tions that con­vey mes­sages or present infor­ma­tion. They work in a vari­ety of indus­tries and may spe­cial­ize in print, dig­i­tal, or motion graph­ics design.

5. Liberal arts and sciences

Stu­dent often find that an asso­ciate degree in the lib­er­al arts and sci­ences can open up a vari­ety of oppor­tu­ni­ties. With this type of degree, they’ll be able to pur­sue a num­ber of dif­fer­ent careers, includ­ing teach­ing, social work, and even law.

In addi­tion, if they decide to con­tin­ue their edu­ca­tion and earn a bach­e­lor’s degree, they’ll find that they have a num­ber of options open to them. The aver­age salary for some­one with an asso­ciate degree in the lib­er­al arts and sci­ences is $54,000 accord­ing to BLS.

6. Nursing

If stu­dents won­der “what can I do with an asso­ciates degree in sci­ence?,” they should first con­sid­er what sub­jects they’re inter­est­ed in. An asso­ciate degree in nurs­ing (ADN) is the most com­mon type of nurs­ing degree in sci­ence, and it can lead to a vari­ety of high-pay­ing jobs.

“What can I do with an asso­ciate of sci­ence degree in nurs­ing?” Many stu­dents decide to pur­sue a high­er degree, such as a bachelor’s or mater of nurs­ing in their specializations.

7. Occupational therapy assistant

An occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­py assis­tant (OTA) works with patients who have phys­i­cal, devel­op­men­tal, or men­tal dis­abil­i­ties. If they’re think­ing “what can i do with a asso­ciate degree in science”—OTAs help patients in devel­op­ing, recov­er­ing, and improv­ing the skills need­ed for dai­ly liv­ing and work­ing. The medi­an salary for an OTA is $86,398 per year accord­ing to Ziprecruiter. Most states require a license for OTAs, and prac­ti­tion­ers often get their cer­ti­fi­ca­tions. from the Nation­al Board for Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in Occu­pa­tion­al Therapy.

8. Human resources management

With an asso­ciate degree in human resources man­age­ment, grad­u­ates can work as a human resources man­ag­er. Human resources man­agers earned a medi­an salary of $136,350, accord­ing to the BLS. With an asso­ciate degree in human resources man­age­ment, a stu­dent might also work as a train­ing and devel­op­ment man­ag­er, labor rela­tions spe­cial­ist, or ben­e­fits manager.

9. Information technology

What can I do with an asso­ciates degree if I love com­put­ers? An asso­ciate degree in infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy can lead to a vari­ety of high-pay­ing jobs, includ­ing com­put­er sys­tems ana­lyst, net­work admin­is­tra­tor, and web devel­op­er. Com­put­er sys­tems ana­lysts earn a medi­an salary of $79,030 per year accord­ing to Payscale, net­work admin­is­tra­tors earn a medi­an salary of $79,917 per year accord­ing to Indeed and web devel­op­ers earned a medi­an salary of $78,580 accord­ing to US News.

10. Marketing

With an asso­ciate degree in mar­ket­ing, stu­dents can work as a mar­ket­ing man­ag­er. Mar­ket­ing man­agers earned a medi­an salary of $142,170 accord­ing to US News. Their duties as mar­ket­ing man­ag­er would include plan­ning, direct­ing, and coor­di­nat­ing mar­ket­ing efforts. Stu­dents can also work as a mar­ket research ana­lysts or adver­tis­ing and pro­mo­tions man­agers if they’re still ask­ing them­selves “what can I do with an AAS degree?”.

Final Thoughts

Now that stu­dents know what can u do with an asso­ci­ate’s degree, it’s no won­der an asso­ciate degree can lead to a vari­ety of high-pay­ing jobs. If they’re con­sid­er­ing pur­su­ing an asso­ciate degree, be sure to research the job out­look and salary poten­tial for the careers that inter­est they.

For learn­ers who want to know “what can i do with an asso­ci­ate’s degree,” the pos­si­bil­i­ties are end­less! And if they’re not sure what they want to do with their life, an asso­ciate degree can also be a great way to explore their options and fig­ure out what they’re pas­sion­ate about. Last­ly, if prospec­tive stu­dents still ask them­selves, “what can I do with an AA degree,” maybe a pro­fes­sion­al can help they out. Stu­dents can choose the right field of study for their two-year degree so they can find a career path or go on to grad­u­ate school.


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