All About Associate Degree: Cost, Requirement, Value, Types

Last Updated on August 15, 2021 by David Shaw

All About Associate's Degree Cost, Requirements, and Types

You’ve probably heard about Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree a lot at some point in your academic career. Although these terms and topics are generally common throughout our daily lives, you might hear less about an Associate’s Degree and its usefulness. Predominantly common in the US, an Associate’s Degree can be obtained in a short amount of time before students pursue a Bachelor’s Degree.

So what is an Associate’s Degree all about?

In general, Associate degrees are 2-year undergraduate degrees intended to help students obtain professional academic certification in less time compared to Bachelor’s Degrees. Additionally, an Associate’s Degree is also designed to prepare students to transfer into 4-year universities towards earning a Bachelor’s Degree and beyond.

Despite both Associate’s and Bachelor’s programs being professional education degrees, there are still different requirements and usages requirements they are eligible for. This article further discusses what you should know about an Associate’s Degree and its application.

How does Associate Degrees compare to other certifications?

Unlike most degree programs offered mainly throughout Europe and Asia, Associates Degree widely offered in the US can be completed in less time, ideally taking 2 years or less compared to other professional degrees programs.

Commonly known across universities in the United Kingdom, the most basic Degree programs typically last for 3-4 years and do not offer students flexibility in transferring to different universities between the program duration.

Conversely, Associate Degrees serve students an advantage because they can either obtain a degree qualified for working in a company or choose to further pursue a Bachelors’s Degree by transferring to a well-established 4-year university to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree.

Best of all, if you plan to major in any science or arts subject – take Computer Science, for example, you get to enroll in introductory classes and semi-advanced classes for these subjects. After gaining the knowledge and skills from an Associate’s Degree program, whether you choose to pursue advanced materials in undergraduate programs offered by other universities is totally up to you.

Requirements And Costs Of An Associate’s Degree

A student’s Degree progress is commonly counted in terms of unit hours in the US, with the gradings calculated with the Grade Point Average (GPA) measurement system (scaled between 1.0 to 4.0). An Associates Degree would have lesser unit requirements compared to a Bachelor’s Degree program given its shorter program duration. With that said, it is also useful to get an insight into how much a typical Associate’s Degree would cost you.

– Graduation requirement

In order to graduate with an Associate’s Degree, depending on the school system, students are required to complete a minimum of 60 or 90 units hours. While in terms of a student’s GPA, colleges and admissions offices usually require students to maintain an overall GPA of 2.0 and above to qualify for further transfer admission.

Although the bars might seem low in terms of GPA requirements, it is worth mentioning that students who wish to transfer to 4-year universities are highly expected to maintain a GPA of 3.0 and above at all times to increase their chances of admission. For instance, UCLA recommends a “GPA of 3.2 or higher earned in transferable courses” for transfer admissions on their website.

Associate’s Degree Unit RequirementsAverage Units Per TermAverage duration
Semester System
(15 weeks)
6012-152 years
Quarter System (10 Weeks)9012-1815-24 months

In order to graduate within 2 years, here’s a quick breakdown of the number of units you should expect for each respective school system. For colleges following the 15-week semester system, 60 units would equate to an average of 15 units per semester given that there are 4 semesters within 2 years. As for the 10-week quarter academic system, there are 6 quarters within 2 years excluding summer, which also equates to 15 units per quarter.

To learn how can you strategically graduate with an Associate’s Degree within 2 years or less, check out this post for tips and guides.

– Cost of tuition fees

The cost of an Associates’s Degree is generally cheaper than any other degree within the span of 2 years given the fact that most public community colleges offer them. Compared to 4-year universities, tuition fees at community colleges are often significantly cheaper than 4-year public or private universities.

According to College Board’s 2020 Trends in College Pricing Report, the tuition fees of full-time undergraduate students in public two-year in-district institutions is an average of $3,770.

Here’s a glance at the cost for undergraduate programs between a few community colleges and 4-year universities in the US as full-time students, excluding accommodation, financial aid, and board expenses from 2021’s data:

Academic InstitutionState In-State Tuition
Santa Monica CollegeSanta Monica, CA$1,144Public, Community College
De Anza CollegeCupertino, CA$1,561Public, Community College
North Dakota State College of ScienceWahpeton, ND$5,317Public, Community College
Howard Community CollegeColumbia, MD$6,240Public, Community College
Harvard UniversityCambridge, MA $51,904Private, Research University
California Institute of TechnologyPasadena, CA$56,364Private, Research University
Duke UniversityDurham, NC $60,594Private, Research University
Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridge, MA $55,510Private, Research University
University of California, Berkeley Berkeley, CA$14,312Public, Research University
Costs are subjected to change. Costs are not subjected to financial aid and different for out-of-state students.

Types of Associates Degree

With the extensive number of subject fields available today, there are a few types of Associates Degree to choose from depending on the discipline subject you might be interested in. Among the common ones are:

  • Associate of Science (AS) – meant for students who wish to pursue a major in the STEM field, it covers subjects related to math, biology, physics, engineering, and many more.
  • Associate of Arts (AA) – meant for students who wish to pursue liberal arts and humanities, it provides options for subjects such as anthropology, literature, history, psychology, life sciences, and more.
  • Associate of Applied Science or Arts (AAS)/(AAA) – Applied Associates Degree are more vocational and require more applied classes related to your declared major. It is usually taken by students who do not wish to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree. As AA and AS degrees prepare students for a Bachelor’s Degree, AAS or AAA degrees requires more specialised courses to be taken in order to prepare students to pursue a career.
  • Associate Degrees for Transfer (ADT) – also known as Associate of Arts for Transfer (AA-T) and Associate of Science for Transfer (AS-T) degrees – are intended primarily for students who plan to transfer into a similar baccalaureate major at a California State University campus. Given the fact that California has the most universities in the US, AD-T gives students priority admssion into certain CSUs and UCs to faciliate a smooth transfer process.

Regardless if you wish to start working early or not, an Associate’s Degree is usually considered to be a stepping stone to completing an undergraduate degree program if we wish to at any point in time. For people who prefer to work early other than studying, pursuing AAS or AAA would be ideal as it equips students with basic and intermediary skills sufficient to supplement the requirements of an entry-level career.

Why Should You Choose An Associate’s Degree

happy graduate student

Associate’s Degree is basically for everyone, it can be optional if you’re still unsure of your major as it serves as a convenient pitstop before you venture further into the Junior year of university with a major declared. If you’re still indecisive deciding between the right academic degree, here are some major factors to help you decide whether if you would want to pursue an Associates’ Degree:

– Get an education certification quickly

If you simply need to quickly get a degree and start working early without being tied long term dedication in school, an Associate’s Degree is quick and easily attainable. If you take classes at certain community colleges compared to teaching or research universities, the class difficulty and grading structure are expected to be easier and more lenient. (gets require only AA)

– Transfer to elite universities with higher acceptance rate

A great number of students both in and out-of-state transfer with an Associate’s Degree earned from a college to increase the chances for admission in top universities across the US. Transferring from community colleges to 4-year universities with an Associate’s Degree also helps to avoid the competitive batch of freshmen applicants. This option is generally popular as it keeps clear of any class prerequisite issues as well as less competition due to its lower volume of applicants. According to the University of California’s Fall transfer admissions data, they routinely admit more than 20,000 transfer applicants yearly since 2010, which the numbers are still growing steadily.

– Tight on budget

Associate’s Degree is unarguably the most budget-friendly professional certificate you can get nowadays, with tuition fees at public two-year institutions averaging under $4,000. If you’re eligible for any scholarship or financial aid like FAFSA, the final cost of 2 year-public colleges averages out just under $10,000 or even as low as $5,000 per year.

Compared to a Bachelor’s Degree, pursuing an Associate’s Degree also lets you save on 2 more years in tuition fees. It is worth noting that public community colleges are also well known to have cheaper tuition fees while still being on par with the quality lectures offered in 4-year universities.

Related Questions

Do 4-year graduate universities offer Associate’s Degree? Associate’s Degree is typically not offered at graduate universities. Associate’s degrees are most commonly offered at community colleges, junior colleges, technical colleges, and affiliated colleges of universities.

What is the minimum GPA requirement for Associate’s Degree? There is no minimum GPA requirement for an Associate’s Degree as students are usually required to get grades ‘D’ and above or would have to repeat the class. As a rule of thumb, maintaining a GPA of 2.0 and above is the general minimum requirement for a strong transcript for transfer or on your CV.

Well-paid jobs you can get with an Associate’s Degree? Among the highest paying jobs with an Associate’s Degree are Air Traffic Controllers, Radiation Therapists, Nuclear Medicine Technologists, Software Designer, Civil Engineer Technicians, Dental Hygienists, Electrical and Electronics Engineering Technicians and many more related fields.

How many years is an associate’s degree? Associate’s Degree is designed to be completed within 2 years or less for full-time students, with a minimum of 60 or 90 units depending on a semester or quarter school system.

David Shaw

I enjoy blogging about the college experience, teaching people how to navigate and hack their way through college. I also enjoy promoting financial literacy among young individuals.

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