How To Earn Associate Degree Under 2 Years (In-Depth Guide)

Last Updated on July 4, 2022 by David Shaw

Associate's Degree Under 2 Years

During my college days, I came across many students struggling to obtain an Associate’s Degree within two years. I personally obtained my Associate’s Degree within 2 years and wanted to share how I easily did it. The real question is, how quickly can you really earn an Associate’s Degree?

With things done right, some people can obtain an Associate’s Degree within as short as 15 months! The key to obtaining a degree as quickly as possible is to plan and structure your class schedules ahead of time. Besides, enrolling in a quarter system college can potentially also help you graduate quicker.

In my opinion, obtaining an Associate’s Degree in under 2 years can be easily attainable by formulating strategic planning and making the right choices for certain decisions and factors. In contrast, I’ve known people who are still pursuing an Associate’s Degree after 3 years in college. Just imagine how much could’ve been achieved in the timeline difference! In this article, we’re going to talk about what to do and avoid in order to obtain your Associate’s Degree within 2 years.

Choose A Community College

Compared to 4-year universities, community college provides you with the optimal community and environment that helps you focus with less distraction in terms of its campus activity. Although some might argue otherwise, I notice community colleges are often less engaging in terms of their campus activities and outreach programs, which also potentially lets you focus more on your studies easily.

If you compare the number of clubs between institutions like the University of California, Berkeley with Santa Monica College, both top institutions in California, the stark difference between 1,425 and 58 student club organizations tells you a lot about their differences in campus liveliness.

Let’s not forget that community colleges are also very budget-friendly which can be affordable if you’re financially tight on budget. The average total cost of community college across the US is about $10,300 per year while the 4-year universities can cost up to $25,864 per year!

Another controversial factor for choosing community colleges over 4-year universities to obtain an Associate’s Degree is that classes will be easier in terms of the workload and lecture materials. Although this opinion might be biased, is it worth mentioning this fact from a logical standpoint of comparing study schools with research schools.

If you compare a class like ‘Introductory Class To Business’ in a research school like Harvard University and a community college, you can expect lecture materials covered in research universities to be more in-depth and difficult compared to community colleges which are study schools.

Choose Quarterly Over Semester Academic Systems

Another trick to securing your Associate’s Degree quickly is to attend a college following the quarter systems. The quarter system gives students more flexibility and advantages to benefit from because it simply enables students to leverage the option to take more units per year compared to semester schools.

The minimum unit requirement for an Associates’s Degree is 60 semester units, which is equivalent to 90 quarter units. In order to understand the unit difference, we should first look at the general differences in structures between a semester and quarter system.

Quarter System
(10-11 Weeks per Quarter)
Semester System
(15-16 Weeks Per Semester)
Fall Quarter
(Mid September – Late December)
Fall Semester
(Late August – Late December)
Winter Break (3 Weeks)Winter Break (5 Weeks)
Winter Quarter (Early Jan – Late March)
Spring Break (1-2 Weeks)
Spring Quarter
(Late March – Mid June)
Spring Semester
(Late January – Early May)
Includes 1 Week of Spring Break
Summer Break (13-18 Weeks)Summer Break (15-16 weeks)
Optional Summer classes (6-10 Weeks) Optional Summer Classes (5-10 Weeks)

If you look at the quarter system, it actually offers an extra quarter comprised of 3 terms – Fall, Winter, and Spring compared to the semester systems which only have 2 terms, commonly referred to as the Fall and Spring semesters.

If you do the math, a typical timeline comparison of semester vs. quarter schools to obtain the minimum required units for an Associate’s Degree would look like the following:

Quarter SystemTotal Cumulative Units
(90 to graduate)
Semester System Total Cumulative Units
(60 to graduate)
Fall Quarter 202120Fall 2021 Semester15
Winter Quarter 202120+18 = 38Winter Break
Spring Quarter 202138+20 = 58Spring 2021 Semester15+15 = 30
Summer Quarter 202158+12 = 70Summer Break(optional)
Fall Quarter 2022 70+20 = 90Fall 2022 Semester30+15 = 45
Winter Quarter 2022(graduated)Winter Break
Spring Quarter 2022(graduated)Spring 2022 Semester45+15 = 60
Summer Quarter 2022(graduated)Summer Break(graduated)

As we can see, a quarter system gives you more flexibility for both the time and classes we choose to take. In the data above, it only took 15 months (5 Quarters) which is the quickest possible timeline you can obtain an Associate’s Degree with an average of 5 classes per quarter including a summer quarter.

If you follow the pace of the above example, you can potentially graduate 9 months earlier in quarter system schools compared to a typical semester system school. Plus if you get a job out of graduation, would’ve earned an additional 10,000$ from pay by the time others only graduate.

Pros of Quarterly Academic SystemsCons of Quarterly Academic Systems
Offers year-long classes throughout the academic, giving students the opportunity and flexibility to take more classesNo ‘Study Week’ before Finals Examinations compared to Semester schools
Less cumulative materials for Midterm and Final examinationsThe class curriculum feels cramped and fast-paced due to the short duration
Longer Summer BreakShorter Winter break
Graduate with an Associate’s Degree earlierRequires more dedication as a full-time student

The only notable drawback of the quarter system is that it can easily overwhelm students with a heavy workload given its short duration of around 10 weeks compared to the Semester system. Other than that, the quarter system offers many other perks on top of what semester academic systems can offer in many aspects.

Take Advantage Of Short Summer Classes

The Summer quarter is a perfect opportunity for students to finish certain classes in a short duration within 6 weeks compared to the usual 10 weeks like other quarters. By strategically planning a range of classes that are offered in the Summer that you can enroll in, you get to leverage the Summer quarter to complete simple or difficult classes very quickly.

As for my strategy, I disliked Calculus and Biology so I took them during the Summer quarter to get over them and graduated with an Associate’s Degree earlier. In other cases, some people would use this opportunity to clear several general education classes or fewer major-related classes like I did. As for the workload, keep in mind that professors usually would reduce the amount of coursework to compensate for the short quarter duration.

With both the ‘extra’ Winter quarter and a short Summer quarter in a quarter system college, it can drastically help students take more classes and ultimately obtain an Associate’s Degree sooner. Make sure to utilize every quarter wisely in terms of class planning, as missing a single prerequisite class could hold back your progress to obtaining an Associate’s Degree.

Keep An Updated Academic Plan

Simply creating and constantly updating an academic plan is absolutely crucial to ensure your graduation within a timeline of 2 years by successfully registering for the classes you need.

By creating and following a strategic academic plan, you will have more flexibility over the classes you can choose from which is important when selecting the correct classes in order to graduate on time. Most important of all, creating one is not hard at all even without a counselor’s assistance.

Here is a sample academic template using an Excel sheet you can reference to create an academic plan easily, here’s an example of my academic planner.

Sample Academic Plan
Academic class planning sample for a Computer Science student

A good academic plan at a glance should easily show you the list of recommended classes to choose from, remaining classes to take, total cumulative units, as well as major-related classes to take.

Helpful Tips to include in a strategic Academic plan:

  • List all possible options on the side of your planner that you can choose from
  • Have several academic plans, ask a counselor or let time determine which is more practical
  • Check-off list of classes you’ve taken
  • Highlight classes that have course sequences in different colors
  • Keep track of the total cumulative units

Avoid Withdrawing Or Retaking Classes

Throughout my college experience, I find that the biggest setbacks and mistakes that keep students from graduating within 2 years are their poor choices of important academic decisions. Students who spent a long time in colleges either spend a long time taking many different classes, which many will likely misuse or abuse the withdraw and retaking option.

A ‘Withdraw’ grade policy is designed for students to simply withdraw from a class a few weeks prior to the end of the quarter or semester to avoid receiving a grade. While the repeat grade policy presents students with another chance to retake the class same after receiving a failing grade for the course on their first attempt.

You should know that colleges typically only offer 3 chances to retake a specific class until you are referred to counseling services before taking further attempts. Although these options won’t likely impact or harm your academic transcript, it is among the most unproductive way to waste your precious time.

In short, these policies are simply the biggest trap and mistake you should avoid in a college or university if you’re deciding to obtain an Associate’s Degree within 2 years or less.

Stay Dedicated By Finding Motivation

Striving for an Associate’s Degree quickly in a short burst of attempt undoubtedly requires a solid amount of dedication. As a rule of thumb, the quicker you want to obtain an Associate’s Degree, the heavier the workload should you expect.

The good news is that like many other grand tasks, there are endless creative ways to help complete them easier.

During my college days, finding sources of inspiration to stay motivated was a major factor that led me to finish what I started. If you can set clear goals by drawing motivation from other sources, each little push and effort always goes a long way, making us closer to achieving our goals each day.

  • Read A Motivational Book

The mind and body are complex but there are ways to discover and maximize our worth by reading motivational books. Motivation authors are simply not gifted, but they specifically study human emotions and tricks to master our minds and senses to make better use of it. As humans, it is easy to feel demotivated after a heavy task or semester. Instead of slacking and procrastinating waiting for motivation to come, find them instead from read books! Here are some books I recommend by inspiring figures like Tony Robbins,

Unlimited Power : The New Science Of Personal Achievement – If you have ever dreamed of a better life, Unlimited Power will show you how to achieve the extraordinary quality of life you desire and deserve, and how to master your personal and professional life.

Tony Robbins has proven to millions through his books, tapes, and seminars that by harnessing the power of the mind you can do, have, achieve, and create anything you want for your life. He has shown heads of state, royalty, Olympic and professional athletes, movie stars, and children how to achieve. In this book, he passionately and eloquently reveals the science of personal achievement.

You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life – This is a book is by a bestselling author and world-traveling success coach, Jen Sincero which entails 27 bite-sized chapters full of hilariously inspiring stories, sage advice, easy exercises, and the occasional swear word, helping you to: Identify and change the self-sabotaging beliefs and behaviors that stop you from getting what you want. Create a life you totally love. And create it NOW!

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance – In this instant New York Times bestseller, pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth shows anyone striving to succeed—be it parents, students, educators, athletes, or business people—that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls “grit.”

Drawing on her own powerful story as the daughter of a scientist who frequently noted her lack of “genius,” Duckworth, now a celebrated researcher and professor, describes her early eye-opening stints in teaching, business consulting, and neuroscience, which led to the hypothesis that what really drives success is not “genius” but a unique combination of passion and long-term perseverance.

Awaken the Giant Within : How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny! – Is a book by Toby Robbins that shows you his most effective strategies and techniques for mastering your emotions, your body, your relationships, your finances, and your life.

Tony Robbins is a professional lifestyle coach in the psychology of change, this book provides a step-by-step program teaching the fundamental lessons of self-mastery that will enable you to discover your true purpose, take control of your life, and harness the forces that shape your destiny.

  • Frame A Quote or Goals In Your Living Space
frame of motivation quotes on wall

If you stumble across motivational quotes that inspire and align with the purpose of your goals, spend some effort framing them around your house or room. Similarly like how powerful words can impact you, putting up quotes or positive notes to constantly motivate and remind yourself helps you get through everyday challenges. It’s a simple yet useful trick to constantly revolve ourselves with positive and inspiring energy in the form of words.

Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other

– Walter Elliot
  • Spread Kindness In Your Community

This might sound cliche but works like a charm. A simple gesture of helping a stranger hold the door or offering compliments is enough to make us happy and motivated to do greater things when we receive positivity in return. Another thing you can do is buy a homeless person a meal or a pair of socks, when we talk to certain homeless people and understand their struggles, we can often be motivated by how they fight the odds to survive with great determination and positivity in the streets.

When we learn from their vitality and fulfillment of how little things can impact them to live on with high hopes, we can often learn a thing or two from their perseverance and vitality in finding meaningful reasons to march and live on with such simple and little things.

Whenever we spread kindness, endorphins are released as our actions bring us satisfaction and joy. The next time you feel depressed or demotivated, try doing something kind for the community to get positivity back in return that helps us find reasons to do things better.

Final Take

Let’s be real, academic milestones are not an overnight tale. Know that bigger opportunities await you after earning an Associate’s Degree. These tips and guides will undoubtedly help you to achieve the Associate’s Degree you want in your designted amount of time within 2 years. As long as we stay consistent with our progress and avoid common mistakes, our effort will seemlessly pay off in no time.

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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