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How long does it take to get an associate degree?

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  • Often called a two-year degree, an associate degree can be a stepping-stone for your education or career. Requiring at least 60 credit hours, the degree provides essential knowledge in various disciplines, enabling graduates to enter the workforce or pursue further education.
  • Associate degrees come in four types — AA, AS, AAA, and AAS — with AA and AS paving the way for further education, while AAA and AAS focus on technical professions.
  • According to recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, associate degree graduates earn an average of $157 more per week than high school graduates.
  • University of Phoenix offers online associate degrees with start dates up to 20 times a year.
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This article has been vetted by University of Phoenix's editorial advisory committee. 
Read more about our editorial process.

Reviewed by Marc Booker, PhD, Vice Provost, Strategy

This article was updated on December 13, 2023.

What is an associate degree?

Nearly 100 occupations typically require some education beyond a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Enter, the associate degree.

An associate degree is an undergraduate degree earned after a high school diploma or GED. Often called a two-year degree, an associate degree program can be a valuable stepping-stone in your education or career. It covers the essential knowledge and skills within a given discipline, such as business, technology and criminal justice, so that graduates can either enter the workforce upon graduation or continue their education with a solid foundation.

Learn more about online associate degrees at University of Phoenix.

Who is an associate degree 'right for'?

This may come as a shock, but not everyone knows what they want to do when they graduate from high school. Does this sound like you? If so, an associate degree can be a great way to explore general classes and electives without breaking the bank, as associate degrees at community colleges are typically much less expensive than bachelor’s degrees and require less of a commitment (on average, two years as opposed to four).

For others, attending a local community college or enrolling in an online associate degree program is part of a plan to transfer into a bachelor’s degree program.

If this sounds like you, do your homework ahead of time. Check to see if your school has an articulation agreement with the college or university you’d like to transfer to. This is an agreement that governs which associate degree credits transfer.

An associate degree can also position students to apply for jobs right away in a chosen field. For example, a graduate with an Associate of Arts in Business Fundamentals could apply for a job as an office manager. At University of Phoenix, this degree program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).

How many credits does it take to get an associate degree?

An associate degree has a requirement of at least 60 credit hours of coursework. In a traditional semester format, you can think of that in terms of roughly 15 credit hours per semester.

At University of Phoenix, students take one 5-week course at a time over an approximate program length of two years. This flexibility allows working adults or parents to focus on one class at a time and attend class when it fits their lives, day or night. In fact, 92% of surveyed alumni who graduated in the past year said University of Phoenix gave them the flexibility to balance family, work, college and life.

Types of associate degrees

There are four types of associate degrees. They are:

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

Generally speaking, AA and AS degrees pave the way to continue on an undergraduate educational journey or entry-level career path, while the “applied” degrees have focused curricula that prepare students for technical or hands-on professions, such as dental hygiene, diagnostic medical sonography or computer network support specialists.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 68% of associate degrees awarded in 2018-2019 spanned three major fields of study:

1.    Liberal arts and sciences/general studies/humanities (410,600 degrees)

2.    Health professions and related programs (182,600 degrees)

3.    Business (116,800 degrees)

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Where can I get an associate degree?

Students can pursue associate degree programs at many types of postsecondary schools, including technical schools, community colleges, online colleges and universities.

With so many options, narrowing your choices down to the school that best suits your goals is not only doable, it’s essential! Questions to ask yourself include:

  • Do I eventually want to pursue a bachelor’s degree? If so, consider an institution that offers both associate and bachelor’s degree levels, or a community college that has an articulation agreement with the school you want to transfer to. Your admissions or enrollment advisor can provide this information.
  • Do I want to apply to enter the workforce immediately? If yes, examine the various AA degrees, AS degrees or applied degrees to see what lines up with your career interests. (Examples of jobs that require an associate degree can be found on job sites such as Indeed, ZipRecruiter and Monster by entering “associate degree” in the search field.)
  • Can I juggle multiple classes in a traditional semester format, or do I want to take one class at a time? While most schools operate on a traditional semester basis, others offer one 5-week class at a time. While both can lead to an associate degree in about two years, the latter can be a more flexible option for working adults or parents.
  • Do I want to attend on campus or do I want an online associate degree? This will depend on your geographic location and your schedule. Those with hectic schedules may want to consider online programs that don’t require attendance at set times.

At University of Phoenix, online associate degrees help students develop foundational skills in business, information technology, cybersecurity and criminal justice. With start dates up to 20 times a year, students can begin their associate degree when they’re ready.

FAQs about associate degrees

Are associate degree programs hard?

Just like any postsecondary degree, the degree of difficulty will depend on the rigor of the coursework as well as your work and life demands.

But let’s face it, there are times in life when we unexpectedly need a little extra support.

It’s a good idea to check out a school’s support services before you enroll. At University of Phoenix, committed academic counselors, online support for writing and math, access to clinical counseling through a Life Resource Center, disability accommodations, and other resources help students stay on track to meet their academic goals.

Is an associate degree worth it?

An associate degree can be a great building block for accomplishing financial, academic or career goals — especially for students who want to save money on tuition, enter the workforce quickly or pursue a career field open to graduates with associate degrees. 

Will I earn more money if I have an associate degree?

Statistics show that staying in school can pay off. According to 2020 data from BLS, the median weekly earnings for those with a high school diploma is $781. It jumps to $938 a week for those with an associate degree. (If you continue on to earn a bachelor’s degree, that number jumps again, to $1,305.)

According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, the lifetime earnings of a full-time, full-year worker with an associate degree will be $2 million, compared with $1.6 million for a high school graduate. (If you’re curious, the median number jumps to $2.8 million for those who earn a bachelor’s degree.)

What can I do with an associate degree?

According to BLS, the associate-degree-level jobs that are projected to have openings from 2020 to 2030 (whether from retirement of existing workers or the creation of new positions) include:

  • Computer network specialists
  • Radiologic technologists and technicians
  • Physical therapist assistants
  • Dental hygienists
  • Preschool teachers (except special education)
  • Paralegals and legal assistants

The 25 highest-paying associate degree-level jobs include air traffic controllers, radiation therapists, nuclear technicians, web developers and digital interface designers, and computer network support specialists, according to an August 2021 U.S. News & World Report article. 

What are my options after earning an associate degree?

An associate degree can position you to apply for associate degree jobs or to continue on in your education to get a bachelor’s degree. Your options will vary based on your goals, your location, what kind of job you want and how much you want to earn.

If you do want to pursue a bachelor’s degree, University of Phoenix offers a 3+1 Transfer Pathway with select community colleges, which saves students both time and money. This 3+1 program allows students to complete up to 87 credits at a participating community college and complete their remaining 33 credits at University of Phoenix to earn a BSM, BSIT, BSHM, or RN to BSN degree at a special rate.

With its focus on foundational skills, and its flexibility in being applied toward a bachelor’s degree, an associate degree can be a valuable and convenient first step in a student’s postsecondary educational career.

Ready to start your associate degree? Explore our offerings!

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Laurie Davies


A journalist-turned-marketer, Laurie Davies has been writing since her high school advanced composition teacher told her she broke too many rules. She has worked with University of Phoenix since 2017, and currently splits her time between blogging and serving as lead writer on the University’s Academic Annual Report. Previously, she has written marketing content for MADD, Kaiser Permanente, Massage Envy, UPS, and other national brands. She lives in the Phoenix area with her husband and son, who is the best story she’s ever written.

What Can You Do With an Associate Degree?

Online Degrees

July 19, 2022 • 12 minutes