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Phoenix Forward magazine

What can an associate degree do for you?

Associate degree

Earning a college degree doesn’t have to take four years. You can finish an associate degree in as little as two years and gain the skills to help increase your job opportunities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Enrolling in associate degree programs can have multiple benefits for students at varying points in their lives,” including improved confidence and enhanced academic skills, says Dorothy Johnsen,
MA, who teaches general studies classes at University of Phoenix.

Here are three things a two-year program can help you do:

Identify your interests while building your resumé.

If you aren’t yet sure what career path to take, an associate degree program can serve as an introduction to higher education.

“Some people are scared or insecure about starting college,” Johnsen says, noting that an associate degree lets you explore introductory courses that can help you choose a specialty to pursue in more depth at the bachelor’s level — or help prepare you for the workforce.

Many associate degree programs are more vocational in focus, emphasizes Johnsen, a retired community college administrator. “They include courses in specialized content areas, such as information technology, health care and business,” she says, “so students can start building their skill set and resumé in the first year of college.”

Boost your military career.

“I am a testament to the kind of education an associate degree brings,” says Kenneth Judd, a business consultant and retired U.S. Air Force captain who holds a Master of Public Administration degree and teaches finance courses in the associate in business program.

“I grew up on a Kentucky tobacco farm — a very rural, poor environment — and enlisted in the Air Force after only one year of college,” Judd continues. “I eventually went back to school while I was in the Air Force, and an associate degree in accounting was the first degree I finished.”

Judd uses himself as an example for his students, stressing that the associate degree inspired him to pursue his bachelor’s degree and then apply to Air Force officer candidate school.

“Once I became an officer, I needed to get a master’s degree,” he notes, “because in the Air Force, you’ll never get promoted past second lieutenant without one. But finishing the associate degree — you get the diploma, you walk across the stage in a cap and gown — was a huge motivator to me. It made it easier to take the next step toward those later degrees.”

Judd also notes that the military rewards new servicemembers who have already advanced their education. “If you enlist in the military holding an associate degree, you [can go in] at a higher rank — often an E-2 or E-3, depending on the service branch — with a corresponding increase in pay,” he says.

Help you land a job.

Associate degrees can equip you with career skills you can put to work right away, Johnsen points out.

“When I graduated from high school at age 17, I was faced with supporting myself and putting myself through college,” she explains. “The associate degree … was more realistic than enrolling in a four-year degree program, and I knew I could get a good office job with that training.”

Upon graduation, Johnsen says, she was hired as a full-time administrative assistant and went on to complete her bachelor’s and master’s degrees while remaining employed.

Judd agrees with Johnsen. “Many vocations — from paralegal to admin assistant to several technical and trade jobs — require an associate degree,” he says. “My plumber even has an associate degree, which he needed to move up from apprentice to journeyman.”