Online Associate Degrees

Associate degrees are typically awarded by community colleges, junior colleges, technical, and vocational schools, as well as four-year colleges and universities that award bachelor's degrees. When it comes to higher education, the associate degree is the lowest level degree that can be obtained at a post-secondary institution. Degree completion usually requires students to earn around a minimum of 60 to 90 credit hours depending on the type of program, which translates into around 20 to 30 courses. Full-time students can typically complete these requirements within a two-year period, taking at least 15 credit hours each semester.

From personal enrichment to professional advancement, there are various reasons that prospective students set their sights on an associate degree. Career was the motivation for Lubens Masere, an American Intercontinental University alumnus, who knew he needed an education to advance.

"I'd been working in retail for more than a decade," he said. "[But] since I didn't have a college degree, I was not able to move up to a higher position, so I've decided to go back to school."

What Is Required of Online Associate Students?

Associate degree programs are generally either occupation or transfer focused, meaning that they are purposed to either provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary to begin a career upon completion, or to prepare them to transfer into a bachelor's degree program at a four-year institution. In occupation-focused programs, students are required to take courses to fulfill general education requirements in basic subjects, such as mathematics or English, although the bulk of their course load will consist of classes that are relevant to their chosen occupational major. These occupational majors commonly are within the industries such as healthcare, technology, criminal justice, and human services.

I didn't have to take any additional general classes for my bachelor's program. The transition from the associate to the bachelor's degree program was very easy.

Lubens MasereAlumnus of American Intercontinental University

In 2009, Michelle McLamb, who had worked in administrative positions for 20 years, decided to pursue an occupation-focused associate degree in paralegal studies at Kaplan University Online after she was laid off from her job as an administrative assistant. "I primarily studied legal courses such as civil litigation, legal writing, and different areas of law," she said. "I only had to take one general education class (English) as most of my general education classes from another school transferred to Kaplan."

Along with taking courses that cover basic concepts, those in these types of programs often have the opportunity to do some hands-on work. It is not uncommon for students to also be required to obtain professional experience through an internship or cooperative. To gain real-world experience, McLamb spent some time doing volunteer work for the City of Durham, North Carolina as a guardian ad litem, someone who is appointed by the court to be an advocate for a child who has come into the court system, usually because of abuse or neglect. "This allowed me to be able to be an advocate for children in the family law setting," she explained.

Upon fulfilling all requirements, these types of vocational programs will result in the following degrees: Associate of Applied Science, Associate of Occupational Studies, Associate of Applied Technology, and Associate of Applied Arts.

In transfer-focused programs, students choose majors within broad areas of study, like liberal arts, general studies, natural sciences, business, art, or communications. They complete courses to fulfill the general education requirements of a bachelor's degree program as well as major-specific courses. The purpose of general education requirements is to provide a well-rounded education, and the requirements usually involve introductory courses in subjects like English, mathematics, history, science, business, government, and other types of electives. Transfer-focused programs can result in degrees such as an Associate of Science, Associate of Arts, or Associate of Fine Arts. Masere earned a transfer-focused degree, an Associate of Arts in Business Administration, from American InterContinental University. Along with general education courses, students in this program take introductory courses in business, accounting, economics, and marketing.

I had to do a lot of research on different topics and read different chapters … The program was very challenging, but if you focus and do your work, you’ll be just fine.

Lubens MasereAlumnus of American Intercontinental University

Many people choose to complete these types of associate degrees through a two-year institution for financial, academic, or personal reasons before transferring to a college or university where they can earn a bachelor's degree. Associate degree candidates who plan on continuing their education should make sure that the courses they are taking will transfer to the four-year institution of their choice.

After completing his associate degree program, Masere was motivated to continue his education and earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Web/Graphics Design Visual Communication to help his achieve his goal of working as a graphic designer. "I jumped right into the bachelor's degree program, and all of my credits were transferable," he said. "I didn't have to take any additional general classes for my bachelor's program. The transition from the associate to the bachelor's degree program was very easy."

What Is the Online Environment Like?

When it comes to associate degree programs, many people choose to pursue their education online. For Masere, higher education in a traditional classroom setting was not a realistic option so he turned to the Internet. "I was working a full-time job when I decided to go back to school, and AIU Online made it possible," he said. "I'm grateful for AIU Online because it's a great way for busy adults to earn a college degree."

McLamb had a similar experience with the online learning platform, crediting it for helping her earn a degree while fulfilling her responsibilities at work and home. "The online program was easy to manage with my professional life, taking care of my children, and going through some trying personal things," she said. "My professors were always helpful and understanding."

Generally, in online associate degree programs, students utilize an online learning system to access course materials, interact with instructors and classmates, and turn in homework assignments. Depending on the type of program, coursework can be reading and writing intensive, and sometimes interactive, requiring students to collaborate with one another.

McLamb enjoyed the online platform and found her course load relevant and manageable. "I mostly had discussion board posts and projects to write," she said. "I did have a couple of assignments that I was required to work on with another student in my class. It was a great way to make friends with classmates even though we never met in person."

Masere, who took two classes for each session, was also satisfied with the course load within his transfer-focused degree program. "I was very busy with tons of school projects, like individual and group work and discussion board assignments. I had to do a lot of research on different topics and read different chapters," he said. "I had a great time at AIU. The program was very challenging, but if you focus and do your work, you'll be just fine."

How Does Earning an Associate Degree Online Impact Your Career Prospects?

Whether or not someone chooses to exclusively to earn an associate degree or to continue their education and earn a higher-level degree, these programs help students establish a solid academic foundation on which to build a career. In 2008, individuals who held an associate degree and worked full time year-round earned a median income of $42,000, according to the College Board's Education Pays 2010 study. This was $8,200 more annually than high school graduates and $13,700 less than those with bachelor's degrees. The study also found that among individuals 25 and older who completed some college or earned an associate degree, 98% were either very satisfied or moderately satisfied with their jobs.

Job satisfaction is exactly what Masere was looking for when he decided to earn his associate, which he knows will help him tremendously in fields other than graphic design, such as management. "I've learned what it takes to run a successful business and how to operate a business on a daily basis," he explained. "I also learned what it takes to start your own company. One of my goals in life is to have my own design studio."

Earning an Associate of Applied Science in Paralegal Studies made it possible for McLamb to establish her career in a new industry but sheís not stopping her education there. "Earning my associate degree helped me find a job as an entry-level paralegal in a Social Security disability firm. I used my skills to do legal research and apply legal ethics to my work," she explained. "I am currently working on my bachelorís degree in paralegal studies at Kaplan and have an anticipated graduation date of February 2012. I have taken more general education classes during this level of study and have learned that they are weighted differently than my legal courses. However, I have enjoyed all of my educational experiences at Kaplan."

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