An online associate degree is a convenient way of getting a college-level education. Students can finish it in two years’ time or less—most programs require the completion of 60 credits and above while others require less. And being online, there is flexibility in study hours.
Moreover, the mean annual salary of males with an associate degree is $59,223. Meanwhile, females with an associate degree earn an average of $39,239 per year (U.S. Census Bureau, 2020). In the academic year 2018-19, there were 1.036 million graduates of associate degrees. That number is projected to reach 1.07 million by 2029-30 (NCES, 2020).
In this article, we will discuss the viability of online associate degrees, why an associate degree is important, the costs, the requirements, and the possible career paths.
An associate degree is a two-year undergraduate degree. Typically, it takes 60 credits to complete. Vocational schools and community colleges usually offer these though some colleges and universities also have select online associate degree programs. These are designed to give students basic knowledge and skills in an area to help them gain employment right after graduation. Moreover, instruction for associate degrees is conducted on-campus or blended. And in some cases, it is possible to finish an associate degree in less than two years.
The online associate definition is similar but with one major difference: the mode of instruction and learning. As with the word “online,” this is a degree that students can complete over the Internet.
Learners can expect to have the same high-quality instruction online as they would in in-person settings. It can be more affordable compared to on-campus degrees, too. Plus, it offers flexibility, as students can study on their own time (though you still need to adhere to deadlines) (LUCMS Team, 2021).
With an online associate degree, you can go directly from graduation to employment. Since there are numerous concentrations available, you can follow a career path in any industry you want. For example, you can be in business management, information technology, cybersecurity, and legal (University of Phoenix, 2021). You can also have a profession in medical-related fields and homeland security (Tross, 2021).
An online associate degree can also be a starting point for those who want to pursue a higher degree while working or at a later time.
Online associate degree tuition is more affordable compared to on-campus degree programs. While there are colleges and universities that waive non-tuition fees, students may still encounter miscellaneous fees, support fees, and the like. The tuition cost of online associate degrees can also be per credit compared to per semester or per academic year. It should also be noted that there are institutions that have the same tuition for online degrees and on-campus programs.
Below is a table showing tuition costs for different online associate degrees in various educational institutions.
|Degree Type||Public In-State (Tuition and Fees Only)||Public Out-of-State (Tuition and Fees Only)||Private (Tuition and Fees Only)|
Yes, getting an online associate degree is worth it. Holders of associate degrees can find good-paying entry-level jobs. It also leaves the door open for further studies should you decide to enroll in a full bachelor’s degree program.
There are several sources that list over 20 best or high-paying online associate degree jobs (Vista College, 2019). These range from IT and medical to HVAC and more.
Among the top five highest-paying jobs you can get with an online associate degree is radiation therapist. The job outlook for radiation therapists is 7% from 2019 to 2029. This rate is faster than the national average. And the projected employment change within the same period is 1,300.
There are more professions whose typical entry-level education is an associate degree. The job outlook for many of these is faster than average. Thus, if you are planning to take an online associate degree, you can look forward to a job and security.
If you are still on the fence about taking an associate degree, the educational attainment trend in the United States population points toward an increase in associate degree holders. According to NCES (2020), there are 49% more individuals holding an associate degree or higher.
Of all the possible jobs you can get with an online associate degree, being an air traffic controller is the most lucrative. According to O*NET OnLine (2021), the median annual wage is $130,420. It is followed by radiation therapists and web developers who earn $86,850 and $77,200 annually on average, respectively (BLS, 2021).
Source: BLS, 2021
There are three common online associate degree types. The first two are Online Associate in Arts and Online Associate in Science. These are similar to Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science, albeit they take less time to finish and cover a more narrow range of topics. Despite that, these can be intensive depending on the field of study. Another type of online associate degree is an Online Associate in Applied Science. It is more technical compared to the first two (SNHU, 2019).
Average time to complete: 2 years
An Online Associate in Arts degree takes two years to complete or faster. It covers the development or the honing of soft skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication, which are valued by employers. A wide range of disciplines is available to students who wish to pursue this track. These also meet the requirements of bachelor’s degree programs. Thus, those who wish to take their studies further at a later time can transfer credits to graduate faster (SNHU, 2019).
Entry-level jobs: dental hygienist, diagnostic medical sonographer, nuclear medicine technologist
Average time to complete: 2 years
An Online Associate in Science degree takes as long as an Online Associate in Arts program to complete. And at times, you could finish it faster if the educational institution you are matriculating in offers a fast track. This type of associate degree is still broad though it has some specificity. This is because it is designed to make it easier for students who wish to take science majors later to get into the programs they want (Zegarra, 2019).
Entry-level jobs: agricultural and food science technician, chemical technician, environmental science and protection technician
Average time to complete: 2 years
An Online Associate in Applied Science differs from an Online Associate in Science in that this is a vocational degree that is not designed for credit transfer. This means that should a student wish to pursue a bachelor’s degree, he or she may not be able to transfer or have difficulty in transferring credits. Online Associate in Applied Science programs are also more technical (Air University, 2019).
Entry-level jobs: aircraft mechanic and service technician, HVACR technician, automotive service technician
|Public In-State||Public Out-of-State||Private|
|Associate Degree||$2500 - $7,000||$7,900 - $20,000||$9,500 - $18,000|
|Bachelor's Degree||$11,000 -$20,100||$27,000 -$60,000||$37,500 - $60,000|
|Master's Degree||$2,700 - $16,000||$12,000 - $40,000||$24,000 - $70,000|
|Doctoral Degree||$7,000 - $20,000||$20,000 - $45,000||$25,000 -$80,000|
|*Values are estimates.|
Admission into an online associate degree, whether in arts, science, or applied science, depends on the degree program you want to enroll in. But there are general online associate degree prerequisites that you must complete to be considered for a program. And as instruction is conducted online, there may be technological requirements as well.
Students need to provide proof of graduation from an accredited or state-approved secondary education institution. Usually, this proof would be a diploma.
Those who wish to enroll in an associate degree program must present their transcript from their high school. If they attended different high schools, then they need to get transcripts from all schools. Students should have been able to maintain at least a GPA of 2.0.
Specific coursework requirement is dependent on the associate degree a student is enrolling in. Technical programs may need students to have taken science subjects like physics and biology as well as their advanced placement counterparts.
SAT scores are no longer necessary though students may still wish to present them for the consideration of the school’s selection committee (College Board, 2021). International students may still want to take the SAT to have proof of their mastery of certain subjects.
Those who have been in the military in any capacity need to have documentation of military service. This documentation should also include proof of completion of basic military training.
For international students, mastery of English is necessary. You can show this through tests like TOEFL and IELTS.
Each position has a specific set of skill requirements, particularly when it comes to hard or technical skills. However, what will remain the same or similar across the board is soft skills. Both are important online associate degree skills, though, and should not be neglected.
A study by Deming and Kahn (2018), from Harvard University and Yale University, respectively, conducted for the National Bureau of Economic Research, showed that there are “positive correlations between each skill and external measures of pay and firm performance.” In particular, there is consistent evidence that higher-paying labor markets and employers have greater demand for higher levels of cognitive and social skills.
Cognitive skills cover problem-solving, analytical and critical thinking, and research. Some tracks might also require proficiency in maths and statistics. There are numerous positions that need individuals to find solutions to common or unique issues, particularly in finance and management.
Social skills include communication, teamwork, collaboration, negotiation, and presentation. The first two are prized skills—though there are jobs where people work alone most of the time, they still need to communicate well with others to relay information properly. Plus, there could be projects that require people to work with each other for extended periods. If one is not comfortable with teamwork and collaboration, then it could affect the way they deliver in their roles.
This is a blanket term for organization skills, being detail-oriented, and requiring the ability to multitask, time management, ability to meet deadlines, and being energetic. Time management and meeting deadlines go hand-in-hand—there are tasks or projects that are extremely time-sensitive. Thus, it is important for a person in any role to be mindful of time.
No online associate program is designed the same way. This is why it is in your favor to be selective of online associate degrees offered by schools. Below are a few criteria you can base your decisions on:
Though the institution you like offers online associate degrees, the specializations they cover may be limited. In that case, it would be prudent to look elsewhere. Also, think carefully whether you want an Associate in Arts, an Associate in Science, or an Associate in Applied Science degree. These can affect the topics covered during your course of study and the skills you pick up. Further, the type of online associate degree you achieve can make it easy or difficult for you to continue to a bachelor’s degree at a later time.
There are several accreditation bodies that focus on specialized fields. For example, if you are taking a business or finance associate degree program, you can check the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs. If you are enrolling in a health information technology associate degree or similar, you can confirm with the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education. For others, do thorough research—sometimes, the colleges and universities themselves advertise accredited programs.
The student-teacher ratio in an online setting differs from a face-to-face setting. But it is still an important factor because it directly affects the quality of instruction.
Research by Dumford and Miller (2018) of the University of South Florida and Indiana University Bloomington, respectively, showed that while students who took more online courses were more likely to engage in quantitative reasoning, “they were less likely to engage in collaborative learning, student-faculty interactions, and discussions with diverse others, compared to their more traditional classroom counterparts.” Thus, as much as possible, the student-to-faculty ratio of online classes should be low, around 17 to 1 or lower.
A federal direct student loan can be applied to an online associate degree, as in the case of Eastern Kentucky University (2021). It can either be subsidized or unsubsidized. If it is subsidized, then the government pays for the interest while you are in school. If your loan is unsubsidized, then you have to pay for the interest during your course of study. The lender could also capitalize the interest.
By matriculating in an online associate degree is convenient, it is possible that students and their parents or guardians would still have doubts. After all, you need to take into account whether an online degree is acceptable for employment. You might think that it does not carry the same weight as a traditional degree. Well, you think wrong.
Eighty-three percent of business leaders view an online degree from a recognized institution to have the same weight as its traditional counterpart. HR leaders are not discriminatory against online degree holders either—61% believe that an online degree has the same value as an on-campus degree. Furthermore, 52% of organizations presume that most advanced degrees would be offered and completed online (Knerl, 2019).
Therefore, there is not much to worry about employment with regard to online associate degrees. You can also showcase your skills and knowledge to your employer if you want to assure them that you are as good as other candidates who have traditional degrees. And if you want to go beyond an online associate degree but still want the convenience of an online program, consider over-the-Internet delivery majors like an online bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity.