You may have heard the term “associate’s degree” without understanding exactly what that means. Normally, an associate’s degree is a two-year degree, but does it always take two years to get this degree? What can you do with an associate’s degree? What is the average cost? The answers to these questions and others that follow will help you learn whether an associate’s degree is the right educational path for you.
How Long Does It Take To Get an Associate’s Degree?
The amount of time required to finish an associate’s degree depends on how many credit hours are required for the particular program. The average number of semester hours for an associate’s degree required is usually around 60, although some programs require less and others more. This means that if you take 15 hours per semester, which is an average load, you can receive your degree in four semesters. This is two years if you maintain a regular college schedule of taking classes fall and spring semesters with summer off. However, you could potentially finish your degree in 1.5 years if you took a summer semester or added extra classes to your normal schedule. This is called an “overload” and you often have to have permission from your advisor before you can add extra classes to your regular schedule. Of course, your associate’s degree could also take longer than two years if you take less than a full load or if your degree requires more hours.
What Can You Do With An Associate’s Degree?
An associate’s degree is the minimum entry-level degree required for many jobs. While some jobs require only a high school diploma, many employers will not interview people without at least an associate’s degree, and when you are competing for a job, the best-educated candidate often has an edge. This means that a two-year degree can open the doors to many employment opportunities which would be closed to you with only a high school diploma.
Your associate’s degree will have a focus area such as nursing or business. The area of focus determines the jobs for which you may be qualified.
An associate’s degree is also a stepping-stone to higher degrees. You can often move straight into upper-division classes at a four-year school if you have completed a two-year degree from an accredited college. Many four-year colleges will even count your associate’s degree as your core classes even if the classes do not exactly match the college’s core requirements.
How Much Does It Cost To Get an Associate’s Degree?
Just as the number of credit hours needed for your associate’s degree determine the length of time it will take to get your diploma, the number of hours required also determine the cost. Most schools use one of two methods to calculate your semester cost. Some schools charge a flat per-semester fee regardless of your credit hours and based on a 15-hour schedule. Even if you take fewer or more than 15 hours, you still pay the same amount. Most schools, however, figure your cost per credit hour. You can find your school’s per-credit-hour rate on the college’s website, usually under the “registrar or “admissions” page. Simply multiply the number of credit hours required for the degree by the cost per credit hour and add in any required fees.
For example, at one particular college, students are charged $88 per credit hour. However, there is an additional fee of $70 per credit hour for students who do not live in the college’s residential district, and an additional fee of $90 for students who live out of state. This means that if a student needs 60 credit hours and lives in the district, he or she would pay a total of $5,280 in tuition for that degree. However, an out-of-state student would pay $14,880 for tuition for the same degree. These prices are independent of any other costs assessed by the school such as health or computer fees.
Where Can I Get An Associate’s Degree?
Some colleges only offer two-year degrees. These schools are called “junior colleges” and are often feeder schools for larger four-year colleges and universities. Credits earned at junior colleges will usually transfer easily from one college to another.
However, there are other schools that award two-year or associate’s degrees such as vocational schools and vocational colleges. While these credits will not usually transfer from one school to another, most of these programs offer terminal degrees that lead to certification in some field, so you may not need to transfer to another school and continue your education. However, if you are entering a field such as nursing in which you will likely want to seek a higher degree, you are usually better off getting a two-year degree from a junior college than a vocational school.
However you decide to advance your education it’s important to understand what degree programs are available, compare different schools and focus on a study area that you enjoy and that is in demand. An Associate’s degree can often be a great first step in furthering your career.