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What is an associate degree?

We explore the difference in tuition fees, duration and entry criteria between an associate degree and a bachelor's degree to help you decide.

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Once you’ve started researching universities, colleges, and courses at degree level, you’ll probably find that there are a lot of options out there. This can feel both exciting and overwhelming. As you’ll come to realise, there are several types of degrees and many acronyms used within higher education. For example, should you apply for a bachelor’s, master’s, PhD, foundation, or associate degree? In this article, we’re going to focus on the latter to help you understand the meaning of associate degrees and how these differ to other qualifications.

 

What is an associate degree?

Offered predominantly in the U.S. but also available in Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and across parts of Europe, an associate degree is a post-secondary course, typically taking two years to complete.

 

The UK offers similar programmes, known as foundation courses, and in the U.S. associate degrees are typically offered at community colleges as well as some public universities.

 

Essentially, it is the equivalent of studying just the first and second year of a bachelor’s degree. This type of course is best for students who either want to gain relevant skills and knowledge to prepare for a full bachelor’s degree, or for students who want to enter into a profession which only requires an associate degree.

 

Types of associate degrees

There are a few types of associate degrees depending on the subject you choose. These are as follows:

  • Associate of Arts (AA) – attributed to the liberal arts and humanities subjects such as sociology and history.
  • Associate of Science (AS) – for students who wish to pursue a bachelor of science, this qualification teaches the foundational concepts needed for transferring.
  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS) – more vocational, typically taken by students who do not want to continue to a bachelor’s degree. Common careers to follow an AAS include hairdressing and construction.

 

Find out more about the different types of bachelor’s degrees.

 

Why study an associate degree?

So why would you choose to do an associate degree over a bachelor’s degree? Here are a few reasons:

1. Time

An associate course is 60 credit hours as opposed to 120 which is the standard for a bachelor’s degree. With an associate degree you still study for two years on a full-time basis, instead of three to four, which is preferable for some students. You can also choose to do an associate degree on a part-time basis, but this will of course take longer to complete.

2. Cost

As an associate degree is shorter than a bachelor’s degree, tuition fees are comparably lower. This is an attractive option to international students who want to study abroad but cannot afford to pay full fees. Of course, the cost of studying abroad will depend on the university and course, but here is an example of the difference in tuition fees between associate and bachelor’s courses:

Public two-year associate degree: USD 3,730 per year (USA)

Public four-year bachelor degree: USD 26,820 per year (USA)

(Source: College Board 2019-2020)

 

As you can see, the difference in cost is substantial. If you do need financial support, check out our article on understanding scholarships and bursaries.

 

3. Entry requirements

Another reason for choosing an associate degree is if you didn’t make the grades for a bachelor’s degree. This way, you can gain the necessary knowledge before transferring onto a bachelor’s course. Entry requirements tend to be much less competitive on an associate course and so that’s a great way to start your studies even if you didn’t quite get the grades you had aimed for.

 

How do I transfer from an associate to a bachelor’s degree?

If you are looking to transfer to a bachelor’s degree, you want to make sure that you check the entry requirements of the institution you later apply to or ask the admissions team at your current university if you plan on staying. This should be a straightforward process if you do your research beforehand. However, the credits you’ve gained must be applicable to the bachelor’s degree you want to pursue. If you do not meet these requirements, you may need to earn extra credits in the right subject area.

 

Where can I study an associate degree?

Check out the following institutions for associate degree courses:

 

Charles Darwin University (Australia)

Torrens University (Australia)

University of Cincinnati (USA)

Florida Institute of Technology (USA)

Hong Kong Baptist University (Hong Kong)

 

What are the career prospects like for an associate degree?

Graduating with an associate degree qualifies you for entry level positions across a range of fields such as healthcare, IT, education, fashion, hospitality, fitness and more. However, there are many professions which do require a bachelor’s degree as a minimum qualification. If you already know what you want to do and it’s clear that an associate degree is sufficient then that’s absolutely fine. But, if you are aiming for a career in which an associate qualification isn’t enough, you should consider transferring your credits to a bachelor’s course to give yourself the best possible opportunity to find work after graduation. Find out more about mapping your career and study path.

 

Ready to start applying? You can find an associate degree based on your preferences and qualifications using our course matcher tool. Don’t forget to make sure you also stay up to date with the latest in international student news.

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