What is an Associate Degree?

By: Launa Freeman

Associate degrees are offered by a number of accredited colleges and universities and come in a variety of different types and programs. Understanding the benefits and differences can help you choose what is best for your educational needs.

What is an Associate Degree?

An Associate Degree is an undergraduate degree that requires a minimum of at least 60 semester credit hours, which is the equivalent of (2) two years or (4) four semesters study. This is the lowest academic degree offered in the US and Canada that prepares you for vocational (work) purposes or transfer to a four-year bachelor’s program.

The program usually consists of three parts; general education requirements, major requirements, and electives that are generally part of a major.

It can be done in-classroom (on campus) or out-of-classroom (Internet or distance education). Out-of-classroom can also include an online accelerated associate degree. The advantages of out-of-classroom study include doing it at your own pace and convenience.

This type of degree is awarded by community, junior and technical colleges and indicates that the completed program of study is broad based in general education with knowledge in a specific area.

Associate Degree Programs:

  • Associate of Arts Degree (AA)-this prepares one for transfer to a four-year university bachelor’s program
  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS)-this prepares one for transfer to a four-year university program, career entry, or job
  • Associate Degree of Science (AS)-this degree prepares one for transfer to a four-year university program
  • Occupational Studies/Applied Degree (AOS)-this prepares one for entry into the workforce upon graduation or transfer to a
    four-year university program.

Associate Degree Designations:

  • Transfer degrees allow the completion of general education
    requirements to transfer to a four-year university program.
  • Career or Professional Degrees are intended for persons to enter the workforce,
    upgrade professional status, or transfer to a bachelor’s program.
  • AAT (Associate Degree in Arts in Teaching)
  • AA (Associate of Arts)
  • AS (Associate of Science)
  • AAS (Associate of Applied science)
  • AOS (Associate of Occupational Studies)
  • ABA (Associate Degree in Business Administration)
  • AF (Associate Degree of Forestry)
  • AT (Associate Degree Technology)
  • AE (Associate Degree in Engineering)
  • AET (Associate Degree in Engineering Technology)
  • AN (Associate Degree in Nursing)
  • AGS (Associate Degree of General Studies)
  • AIS (Associate of Individualized Study)
  • AGE (Associate in General Education)


An Associate Degree in the USA, Australia, or Canada is equivalent to the first two years of a four-year bachelor’s degree, the UK s foundation degree, France’s diploma d’etudes universitaires generales (DEUG), and Hong Kong’s higher diploma.

Entry Requirements

Admission criteria vary for different institutions and specific programs and should therefore be inquired about when applying for a program. However, most institutions generally base admissions on the following:

  • High school diploma/GED
  • Good standing at previous school
  • Previous Vocational Courses
  • GPA-grade point average (usually 2.5-4.0)
  • Military service
  • Mature student (work experience)

Benefits of Pursuing an Associate Degree

  • Kick start to career path
  • Smooth transition to a bachelor’s degree program.
  • Cheaper than a bachelor’s degree program yet can equip you for the workforce.
  • Enables you to have professional job while completing your specific field of
  • Enter workforce at greater advantage to non-graduates in terms of knowledge
    and earning power.

By Launa Freeman, a writer at Helium.com