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Associate Degree Explained

By Mary P. Ivy,
Staff Writer

Getting your associate degree is the first step towards reaching your career goals

An associate degree, also called a two-year degree, is the perfect fit for a variety of students. These degrees are usually granted by community colleges or vocational schools, many of which partner with traditional colleges and universities to offer what is known as a two-plus-two degree. This allows students who complete their associate's to move seamlessly into a four-year program later if they so desire.

Who chooses an associate's degree?

An associate's degree is perfect for anyone who wants to begin a career as quickly as possible. Associate's degrees are offered in almost every field, from science and technology to business and health care. Graduates with an associate's degree may find it is all they need to begin a rewarding career.

Because of its flexibility, an associate's degree is a good choice for:

· Students who want post-secondary training but have limited financial resources. Community college costs much less, especially when students live at home.

· Students who are unsure of their goals when they graduate from high school. It is a good first step, especially when the school granting the associate's degree partners with a traditional four-year college or university.

· Students who want to try out a career before committing the time and money required for a bachelor's degree.

· Students who have been out of school for some time. They may find an associate's degree lets them ease back into the academic life.

· Older workers who want to pursue a new career or update skills for their current position.

What are the advantages of an associate's degree?

· Students can begin work much sooner. They also save a lot of money, not only in tuition but also in housing costs.

· They will get at least a two-year head start on their lifetime earnings compared to their peers who enroll in a bachelor's degree program. While the bachelor's degree holder may ultimately earn more, they also lose at least two years of earnings and may have higher loan balances to repay.

· The associate's degree holder can always pursue a bachelor's degree later on. The second two years may be more meaningful and relevant to workers who have been employed in the field for a while before they go back to school.

Associate's degrees are offered in almost every field. Many students have a dream job in mind but cannot make the time and financial commitment required for a four-year degree. An associate's degree allows them to get into the field faster, where they prove their abilities. Talented people who work for a company that offers tuition assistance may have part or all of their tuition paid if they pursue a bachelor's later on.

Flexibility and affordability make an associate's degree a popular and versatile degree choice for a wide variety of students. Choosing a two-year degree from an accredited institution assures students their efforts will bring rewards for a fulfilling lifetime career. Whatever path students pursue with an associate's degree, they are likely to see earnings of between 9 to 13 percent higher than those who only have a high school diploma, according to Natalia A. Kolesnikova's article "Community Colleges and Economic Mobility" (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review 2010).

Last edited: April 16, 2012, 6:12 pm EST
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