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What is an Associate Degree?

A degree may open the door to a variety of opportunities and diverse career paths. The degree programs offered at AIU will not necessarily lead to the featured careers. This collection of articles is intended to help inform and guide you through the process of determining which level of degree and types of certifications align with your desired career path.

Have you considered returning to college but are hesitant to jump in and commit both time and money to a four-year degree program? Think about your education like building blocks for a moment: First, imagine constructing a solid foundation and then building up from there. When you think about furthering your education in smaller chunks, it can help make the process seem less daunting and may even build the confidence you need to move forward.

For many students, an associate degree program serves as the foundation to build upon other educational achievements. In addition to requiring fewer completed credit hours than traditional 4-year bachelor degree programs, associate degree programs often include more general, introductory courses that can help students explore their academic strengths and interests.

How is an Associate Degree Program Different From a Bachelor's Degree Program?

An associate degree is the first level of post-secondary education that high school graduates can pursue at non-vocational institutes of higher learning. Typical associate programs take two years to complete; however, flexible online programs can be designed to help you graduate in as little as 18 months.

Courses offered in an associate program can be similar to the introductory courses taken in a comparable bachelor's degree program. For example, the general education requirements in a bachelor's program may consist of similar courses needed to complete an associate degree, in addition to 100 and 200-level courses.

Why Should You Pursue an Associate Degree Program?

There are a number of reasons why you may choose to pursue an associate degree, whether you're planning to pursue your bachelor's afterward or you just want to take the first steps toward higher education while working full-time.

  1. An associate degree program may lead you down the path toward earning your bachelor's degree.

    Since an associate program’s curriculum is often taken from and built around several general education requirements needed to earn a bachelor's degree, an associate degree may help you prepare to complete a future bachelor's degree program. Two additional years of school may be required to earn a bachelor's degree after earning an associate degree; however, certain online programs may allow you to earn a bachelor's degree program in as a little as three years total.

  2. An associate degree program may help determine how you can work to balance both education and personal commitments.

    Advancements in education technology have led to online classrooms and adaptive learning platforms. Thus, more options are available for students to help balance school, family, and work responsibilities. Because an associate degree requires completing fewer course credits than a bachelor's, and because these are usually introductory classes, this may help gauge whether 300 and 400-level courses could fit in your schedule should you decide to pursue a bachelor's program in the future.

  3. An associate degree program is designed to complete general education credit requirements for a bachelor’s program.

    Pursuing an associate degree allows you to complete general education classes while also exploring future studies. If you're interested in business, then you may pursue a business associate degree and complete introductory, general education requirements while also exploring other interests in management, marketing, finance, or another aspect of the field. This may help you prepare for a bachelor's program and decide if you want to continue in business or pursue another specialization.

  4. Associate degree program graduates may see lower levels of unemployment.

    While no degree program can guarantee a career in your chosen field, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that associate degree-holders face lower unemployment rates than those with just a high school diploma. Specifically, according to data from 2017, unemployment is at 3.4% for those with an associate degree, while those with a high school diploma face 4.6% unemployment.1

  5. Earning an associate degree program shows you are taking steps to invest in your professional and academic future.

Earning a college degree, beginning with an associate degree, is an investment in your future. Earning your degree shows that you are serious about your continuing education and that you're committed to growing and developing your professional knowledge and skill set.

Are you ready to take the next step? Explore associate degree programs at AIU today.

1. "Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from: (Visited 10/17/18). This data represents national figures and is not based on school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary.

American InterContinental University cannot guarantee employment or salary. Find employment rates, financial obligations and other disclosures at Financial aid is available for those who qualify.
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