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What can you do with an associate degree?

By Cooper Nelson

At a glance

  • An associate degree is an undergraduate degree usually earned at a community college, working-adult-serving university, junior college or trade school. An associate degree program can typically be completed in two to three years.
  • Affordability, academic advancement and flexibility are some of the benefits of an associate degree.
  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that workers with an associate degree earn $963 per week on average, while those with a high school diploma average $809 per week.
  • Learn about associate degree programs at University of Phoenix.

If you're undecided about your future or looking for a way to save money on your education, an associate degree may be the right choice. An associate degree is an entry-level undergraduate degree usually earned at a community college, a university that serves working adults, a junior college or some trade schools. Earning one provides a higher level of academic achievement than a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED®) test but less than a bachelor’s degree.

An associate degree can provide many of the foundational skills that are essential to a diverse number of career paths. It is possible to earn an associate degree online in as little as two years, and what you can do with it may surprise you. Read on to learn more about the benefits, continuing education opportunities and career options of an associate degree.

Benefits of an associate degree

An associate degree is a foundational college degree aimed at helping students earn credits that can be transferred into a bachelor’s degree or provide the education and skills that help prepare students to enter the workforce. Often, an associate degree can be a stepping-stone for a bachelor’s degree or a career path. It can also help individuals get started on their educational journey as they figure out where their career may go.

As a result, pursuing this option can be a good entry point for first-time college students. These degrees usually can be earned faster and at a lower cost and time commitment than a bachelor’s degree.

Here are some of the top reasons to consider an associate degree:

  • Affordability: As mentioned, an associate degree costs less to earn than a bachelor's degree because it requires fewer credits for completion. According to Research.com, which cites 2021 data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the average annual cost of an associate degree is around $11,000 compared with roughly $28,000 for a bachelor’s degree, depending on the school and in-state or out-of-state tuition, room and board, and other factors.
  • Flexibility: An associate degree can be earned online or in a traditional classroom setting. While the same can be said for a bachelor’s degree, most associate degree programs only take two years to complete, helping to prepare students to enter the workforce quicker.  
  • Transferability: A key advantage of an associate degree is the ability to quickly earn credits toward a bachelor’s degree while earning a separate credential. In this context, think of the 60 credits earned through an associate degree as the first two years’ worth of credits of a bachelor’s program. If you seek to further your studies later on, those credits can be potentially transferred, helping save time and money.

 

There are options for even more savings. University of Phoenix offers a 3+1 transfer pathway that allows students at participating community colleges to complete approximately 75% of their course requirements at the community college before transferring into a bachelor’s degree program. This means the student can earn both an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree in four years with the majority of courses completed at the community college rate.

  • Career options: In today's competitive work environment, it can be beneficial to have a college degree. Many jobs require a college degree, and an associate degree can demonstrate the fundamental skills potential employers value that a high school diploma or GED diploma cannot. An associate degree can lead to various interesting and rewarding careers. Whether you want to work in the medical field, technology industry or criminal justice, there may be an associate degree program for you.
  • Personal investment: An associate degree can not only provide the skills for a variety of career options, but it can demonstrate to employers that a candidate could be a reliable employee. By earning an associate degree, graduates have proof that they can be resilient and adaptable. An associate degree takes time and work and is one way for employers to know that someone has invested in bringing value to themselves, their work and their future.
  • Higher pay: An associate degree can lead to a higher starting salary than those with a high school diploma or a GED diploma. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that workers with an associate degree earn $963 per week on average, while those with a high school diploma average $809 per week.

The BLS Projected Growth for 2020-2030 is published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This data reflects the BLS’ projections of national (not local) conditions. These data points are not specific to University of Phoenix students or graduates.

Earning an associate degree can be a great way to enhance your education and career.

Tips for determining whether an associate degree is right for you

Now that you know a little more about the benefits of an associate degree, you may be wondering if you should pursue one or even use it as a stepping-stone to a bachelor's degree. Here are a few things to consider when making your decision:

  • Your education and career goals: First and foremost, you should consider what you ultimately want to do with your career. An associate degree can be a prerequisite for a number of job opportunities, but it's not necessary for some jobs and a bachelor’s degree may be the minimum entry requirement for others. Learn the education level required for your desired career and confirm that an associate degree is a requirement or that the credits earned can be transferred into the desired bachelor’s degree in the future.
  • Your budget: If you're looking for a lower-cost degree program to further your education, an associate degree may be a more affordable option than a bachelor’s.
  • Your schedule: It's important to think about how much time you're willing to commit to your education. If you have a busy work or family life, or you feel you don’t have four years to commit to a degree, you may want to consider an online associate degree program.

Finding the right associate degree program

If an associate degree seems to be checking all the boxes, it’s time to look for the right program and school to meet your needs. Do your research. If you find a school you like, talk to an enrollment advisor or representative and look for information on the school’s website.

When looking for the right associate degree program, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • The college's accreditation: It's essential to make sure the college you're considering is accredited. This ensures that the college meets quality assurance standards from a peer-review process.
  • The college's reputation: A reputable college can help give you the education and skills you need to succeed in today’s workforce.
  • The program's curriculum: When looking at programs, examine the curriculum to make sure it covers the topics you're interested in and sets you on the path toward achieving your career goals.
  • Program expectations: Make sure you’re familiar with any prerequisites for a given program, and understand how many credit hours you’ll need to complete for the program.
  • Financial aid or assistance: Ensure that the program fits your budget. Don't forget to look into financial aid or assistance options. Many colleges offer financial assistance to students who qualify.

Continuing education beyond an associate degree

After you complete your associate degree, you may decide to continue your education, such as completing a bachelor's degree. If you go this route, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Available transfer credits: Schools may accept credits from other accredited schools, so if you have completed your associate degree at another institution, you may be able to transfer credits toward a bachelor's degree.
  • Required additional courses: Depending on your program, you may need to take additional courses beyond your core requirements within the bachelor’s degree. Make sure to understand what credits can be transferred and what requirements remain to earn a four-year degree.
  • Admissions requirements: Be sure to check the admissions requirements for the school and program you're interested in. You may need to submit an application, transcripts and other materials or take standardized admissions exams like the SAT or ACT.

Potential career paths with an associate degree

According to BLS, about half of all occupations require some level of college education. The majority typically require a bachelor’s or master’s degree, but some career options require an associate degree at minimum for entry. Here are some of the career paths you can pursue with an associate degree:

Please note that University of Phoenix only attests to the career outcomes listed on individual degree program pages. Explore degree program pages to learn more about the career outcomes for each.

  • Computer network support specialists: Computer support specialists provide technical assistance to computer users. They might also work in customer service or help desk positions. The salary range for computer network support specialists in Arizona, for example, is $46,680 to $77,150. To become a computer support specialist, you don't necessarily need a degree, but an associate degree in computer science or information technology is helpful in learning essential skills and standing out as a candidate.
  • Information security analyst: Information security analysts are IT professionals who are responsible for implementing security measures to protect a company’s data and infrastructure. BLS reports that some employers enter the profession with at least high school diploma or certification, but some employers may require a bachelor’s degree. The salary range for this position in Arizona is $79,200 to $128,880.
  • Security officer: While information security analysts are responsible for protecting network assets, security guards and officers protect physical property and people from illegal activity. According to BLS, a high school diploma or the equivalent is typical for this position, but some security guards may choose to pursue a degree in security or criminal justice. The salary range for security officers in Arizona is $29,560 to $36,590.
  • Corrections officer: In the criminal justice system, corrections officers oversee inmates who have been sentenced to jail time or offenders who are awaiting a trial. All state agencies require a high school diploma for employment. Some may seek candidates who have a college degree, and federal prisons require a bachelor’s degree. The annual salary range in Arizona is $37,620 to $47,520.
  • Administrative and office assistants: Administrative and office assistants are responsible for the day-to-day organizational and clerical work at a company, such as scheduling appointments or maintaining files and databases. While a college degree is not typically required for this job, employers typically look for candidates with several years of experience, and BLS reports that some in this profession take college courses in fields like business and communication. The annual salary range in Arizona is $30,050 to $46,960.

Salary ranges are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including prior work experience, geographic location and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level or career advancement. BLS data is geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website.

While this is just a short list of jobs an associate degree may prepare you for, there are many other opportunities to consider. Whether you're interested in obtaining an Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice or an Associate of Science in Cybersecurity, there's an online program for you.

Associate degree programs at University of Phoenix

If you have decided that an associate degree is the right educational pursuit to help reach your goals, University of Phoenix (UOPX) can help. UOPX offers online associate degree programs in business; criminal justice and security; and technology. Classes are taught by faculty with an average of more than 28 years of professional experience in their field. Other benefits include locked-in tuition and 17 opportunities to start your degree throughout the year, so you can ensure that earning an education fits your schedule. There’s no application fee or testing requirements, and the University will even request transcripts for you.

Below is a list of just some of the associate degrees offered at University of Phoenix.

Depending on your career path, an associate degree can be the starting point toward pursuing a bachelor's degree, a master's degree or even a doctoral degree. Whether you're considering an associate degree or weighing the merits of pursuing a bachelor's degree, taking your education to the next level can help you prepare for your career goals.

Looking to start your associate degree? Find your degree program at UOPX and explore the many options available to you.