Is An Associate’s Degree Worth It? [2021 Guide]

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Is an associate’s degree worth it? Associate degrees are flexible, low cost, and can be completed in two years or less.

Is An Associate's Degree Worth It

Plus, earning an associate’s degree can help qualify you for a wide-range of jobs in well-paying sectors from aviation to healthcare.

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Is getting an associates degree worth it? Associate’s degrees online or on campus are quick, convenient, and affordable, but use this guide to weigh the pros and cons to get a clear understanding of all that it involves.

Is An Associate’s Degree Worth It?

student thinking between associates degree or trade school

Yes, an associate’s degree is worth it for many students. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for jobs where an associate’s degree is needed for entry is projected to grow 6.2% over the next ten years, depending on the industry you enter.

According to the Center on Education and the Workforce, associate degree holders earn on average around $1.7 million during their careers. That’s over $400,000 more than those who just hold a high school diploma! Plus, there are more job opportunities for those with associate degrees as compared to high school graduates.

You can check out our latest program guide here: 30 Best Online Associate’s Degrees

When you want to enhance your skills, but are unwilling or unable to take 4 years to get your degree, an associate’s degree can be a good option. Associate’s degrees tend to take 2 years to complete and can help you receive a well-rounded academic experience with a concentration in your chosen field of study.

Associate’s Degree Careers & Salaries

Associate’s Degree Jobs and Salary

Earning an associate’s degree can help prepare you for a high paying job in a wide range of professions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual salary of an associates degree holder is $56,590. Your salary will depend on many things such as the field you choose, your experience, and your location.

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Here are some profitable jobs you may be able to get with your associates degree. Some companies may prefer you to have a bachelor’s degree when applying for these jobs.

Careers Annual Median Salary
Air Traffic Controller $130,420
Radiation Therapist $86,850
Nuclear Technician $84,190
Web Developer $77,200
Dental Hygienist $77,090
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer $75,920
MRI Technologist $74,690
Funeral Home Manager $74,200
Flight Data Technician $68,570
Respiratory Therapist $62,810
Electrical or Electronic Drafter $62,100

If you would rather not spend four years in college pursuing a bachelor’s degree, an associate’s degree may be a great alternative. With associate degree jobs usually paying a very reasonable salary, it’s easy to see why so many students opt for a 2 year degree.

Associate’s Degree Pros and Cons

associate degree student studying on her laptop in a cafe

An associate’s degree can help you enter the job market earlier, with smaller or no student loan debt, and earn a reasonably good salary.

On the flip side, associate’s degrees may not prepare you for certain types of employment. You will likely earn less than someone with a bachelor’s degree, and may lack specialized learning, especially in professional fields such as medicine and law.

Associate Degree Pros Associate Degree Cons
Shorter duration Lower earnings than bachelor’s degree holders
Enter the job market ahead of bachelor’s degree holders Compete for some of the same jobs as bachelor’s degree holders
Affordable tuition May take longer to attain managerial positions
You’re job-ready and can transfer credits to bachelor’s program (if desired) Not suitable if you want to pursue a professional degree

Weighing the pros and cons of an associate’s degree depends on your career goals.

Benefits of Having an Associate's Degree

What Are the Benefits of Having an Associate’s Degree?

There are several benefits to having an associate’s degree. Having an associates degree may help you progress into your chosen career sooner and make more money than if you didn’t have a degree at all. Completing an associates degree usually only takes two years, whereas a regular bachelor’s degree program usually takes four years to complete.

Associates degrees are typically less expensive, and you may be able to pay off loans much quicker because you start earning earlier.

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You may also have a wider employment pool to select from as compared to high/trade school diploma holders. It can help you to zero in on career interests if you’re initially unsure. If you wish to pursue a bachelor’s degree later on, you may be able to transfer some credits to the degree program.

Is An Associate’s Degree Useless?

associates degree students taking an exam

No, an associate’s degree is not useless. An associate’s degree is an intermediate step between a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree. An associate’s degree can be seen as complementary to the bachelor’s degree, and it is often more economically viable, according to academic and economic experts.

If you want to earn a bachelor’s degree later, you may be fast-track it and finish it in 2 years instead of 4 years when you earn an accredited degree.

Are Associates Degrees Worth Anything?

associates degree student studying at the library

Yes, an associates degree is worth it and may be a wise investment for many students. According to the Center on Education and the Workforce survey, associate degree graduates earn on average around $400,000 more during their careers than those with just a high school diploma.

Considering an associate’s degree usually takes 2 years or less to complete, gaining this credential may well be worth your while. Another advantage with associate’s degrees is that since they can be completed in 2 years, you can start earning earlier. This may give you a jump-start on those pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

What Can You Do With an Associate’s Degree?

business administrator working on her computer

There are a variety of fields you can work in with an associate’s degree including manufacturing, technology, healthcare, legal services, aviation, art and design, culinary arts, hospitality, nursing, child care, liberal arts, and business administration.

Being a typically shorter, more affordable, and swifter path to employment than a bachelor’s degree, associate’s degrees open up a comprehensive and varied range of vistas. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, associate degree jobs pay an average salary of $56,590.

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The three most common types of associate’s degrees are:

  • Associate of Arts (AA)
  • Associate of Science (AS)
  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS)

If desired, you can pursue a bachelor’s degree program at a later stage.

How Long Does It Take to Get An Associates Degree?

associates degree students walking in university

It takes most students 2 years to complete an associates degree. If you want to earn your associates degree in less time, you can enroll in accelerated classes or take your classes online.

A large number of universities now offer 8 week online courses which allow you to complete each class in half the time.

How Many Credits Is An Associate’s Degree?

associates degree student studying in the library

Most associate degree programs are 60 credit hours. At most colleges, the majority of your credits will be general education credits required of all students.

The remaining credit hours can be used for your major field of study, as well as elective courses.

How Much Does an Associate Degree Cost?

The cost of an associate degree will vary depending on a number of factors including regional location, the type of school, and how many credit hours are required for your field of study.

According to the recent College Board report, a public two year in-district tuition costs on average around $3,730 per year.

Associate’s Degree vs. Bachelor’s Degree

college student studying at home

Deciding between and associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree will depend on your desired career path, tuition cost, and field of study.

  • A bachelor’s degree usually requires 120 credits and four years to complete.
  • An associate’s degree usually requires 60 credits and two years to complete.

An associate’s degree program is typically much more affordable and can spare you from large debt burdens. Associate’s degrees usually prepare you for a specific career. If the job you want doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree qualification, an associate’s degree may be a suitable path.

This can help you get valuable experience and time in the field so that you can gain more academic qualifications whenever they’re required at different stages in your career.

Getting Your Associate’s Degree Online

business man working on his laptop in a conference room

An associate’s degree may be a good starting point to launch your career when you are unable to commit four years to a bachelor’s program.

Many students in associate’s degree programs may already be working, so programs are flexible and industry-specific. It may be a great option if you want to start working early, without being burdened by large and looming student loan debt.

Though an associate degree may not carry the same weight as a 4 year degree, it can qualify you for entry-level jobs in many well-paying sectors in half the time.

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Jordan Meeks
WRITTEN BY
Jordan Meeks
Jordan is pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and earned her Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management and her Bachelor's in Business Administration. Jordan's research focuses on adults returning to college and online degree programs.