Best Online Associates Degree & Programs
Looking for a way to stand out in today’s competitive job market? Want to earn a degree fast, without a four-year commitment? An online associates degree can get you on the fast-track to a new career!
Online associates degree programs make it easier than ever for adult students to secure entry-level employment quickly, without putting their work or family obligations on hold. While most associate programs require a two-year commitment, online learning can speed up the process, allow for a flexible schedule and save you money.
But earning this degree will still be an investment of time, money and effort. We’ve gathered all the information you will need to decide whether an online associate degree is the right choice for your future!
What is an Online Associates Degree?
An online associates degree is the same as a traditional associate degree; it just means that the student has completed some or all of the coursework online.
An associate degree, sometimes called a two-year degree (though it can take longer to earn), is the undergraduate degree between a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree. These programs can be found at community colleges, technical colleges, vocational schools and some four-year colleges and universities.
Associate degrees can be used in two different ways. They can provide an educational foundation, a stepping stone from which you can easily transfer to a four-year bachelor’s program. Or, they can allow you to begin your career quickly in a technical or skilled-labor industry, in positions such as cosmetologist, computer programmer, or licensed practical nurse (LPN).
So why would someone choose to earn this degree online?
Well, there are a number of advantages, including:
- Accelerated programs can help you graduate faster
- Flexible class schedules that can fit your busy schedule
- Students aren’t limited to schools in their area
- Reduced tuition costs (depending on the program)
- Access to virtual student services and online resources
- Ability to connect with a diverse group of students and instructors world-wide
If you are self-disciplined enough to stay on task, the benefits of online learning are tremendous!
Are there different types of Online Associates Degrees?
Once you have decided to pursue an online associate degree, the next step is deciding which type of degree is right for you.
There are three main categories of associate’s degrees, and the best choice for you depends on your future career goals and whether you plan to transfer to a bachelor’s degree program after graduation or move straight into the workforce. Let’s look at the options:
- Online Associate of Science (A.S.) Degree: An Associate of Science degree is designed to prepare you for transferring to a four-year program. During the course of your two-year study program you will concentrate on completing core education courses that will lay the foundation for your future bachelor’s degree.
Examples of A.S. concentrations include:
- Computer Science
- Health Sciences
- Online Associate of Arts (A.A.) Degree: Like the Associate of Science degree, an online Associate of Arts degree program is designed to lay the foundation for moving into a bachelor’s degree program after graduation. Instead of focusing on career-specific training, your A.A. degree will cover core liberal arts curriculum that will give you a broad knowledge base of several essential subjects.
Examples of A.A. concentrations include:
- Computer Science
- History and Government
- Computer Information Systems
- Online Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S) Degree: While the A.A. and A.S. degrees are designed to give students the foundational skills needed to transfer to a four-year program, an online Associate of Applied Science degree offers something different. With this degree, you will be taking career-specific courses that offer a well-rounded education to directly enter the work-force after graduation.
Examples of A.A.S. programs include:
- Administrative Studies
- Applied Computer Studies
- Applied Health Studies
- Criminal Justice
- Mechanics and Maintenance
- Construction and Facilities Support
Are Online Associate Degree Programs credible?
Online associates degrees are just as credible, legit and respected as those earned on campus.
The key – for online and traditional programs alike – is accreditation. The best online colleges for associates degrees are those that are accredited!
To be accredited, schools must meet very strict standards established by a board or agency. In the U.S. there are two types of accreditation:
- Regional – the most widely respected; more than 85% of all colleges in the US are regionally accredited
- National – usually for-profit schools, vocational or technical programs
To find accredited programs, you can search the U.S. Department of Education’s database.
It’s also worth noting, unless your degree is earned from an online-only school or you specify it in your resume, employers won’t know that you earned your degree online.
How long does it take to earn an Online Associates Degree?
If you’re able to attend full-time, it usually takes two years to earn an online college associates degree – the same amount of time as someone attending on campus!
But some schools offer accelerated online programs that will allow you to earn an associate degree in as little as one year! Purdue University Global, for example, offers online associate degree programs in Criminal Justice, Practical Legal Training, and Health Information Technology that can be earned in just 12 months. Similarly, their programs in Medical Transcription and Medical Office Management can be completed in 15 to 18 months.
How much does an Online Associates Degree cost?
The cost of your online associate degree will depend on many factors, including the school, type of school and major.
Most schools charge the same tuition rate to online and on-campus students, but occasionally the online programs are cheaper. Here’s why:
- Often schools don’t charge out-of-state tuition fees to online students. You pay the same rate whether you live across the street or across the country.
- Online students don’t have additional expenses like campus fees, commuting costs and parking fees, and often do not have to purchase expensive textbooks and course materials.
So you can expect your online degree to cost the same or less than it would cost to earn the same degree on a college campus.
How much money can I make with an Online Associate Degree?
Earning an associate degree is about more than getting a piece of paper showing that you graduated college – it can be the ticket to a high paying career!
According to 2017 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workers with an associate degree earn $836 per year. Compared to the $712 earned by those with only a high school diploma, associate degree holders make almost $6500 more each year!
We have put together a list of some of the highest paying careers that you could pursue with an associate degree:
|Occupation||2018 Median Pay||Expected Growth, 2016-2026|
|Radiation Therapist||$82,330||15% (faster than average)|
|Nuclear Medicine Technologist||$76,820||10% (faster than average)|
|Dental Hygienist||$74,820||20% (much faster than average)|
|Web Developer||$69,430||15% (much faster than average)|
|Computer Support Specialist||$53,470||11% (faster than average)|
As you can see, these are growing fields with impressive salaries!
While some of top-paying degrees may not be able to be pursued exclusively through online education, many schools offer hybrid programs and other flexible alternatives designed for working adults.
What is the application process like for an Online Associate Degree program?
The only academic requirement to enrolling in an online associate’s degree program is a high school diploma or the equivalent. Even if you did poorly in high school, many community colleges have an open-door enrollment policy that allows you to get a fresh start by enrolling in a low-cost, online degree program.
When you’re ready to enroll, it is a good idea to take the time to meet with an academic advisor at your school of choice. They can help you understand the different degree options available and advise you on the best course of action to meet your future goals.
From there, you will need to fill out a college application. The process for this can vary based upon the type of college in which you are enrolling, but typically you will need to submit your high school diploma, transcripts, and other school-specific requirements.
If you are interested in receiving financial aid – and why wouldn’t you be? – the first step is to fill out the FASFA online. This will connect you with federal financial aid resources, including grants and loans, which may cover a significant portion of your costs. Other financial aid options may be available through scholarships or school-based aid, and your college advisor can direct you to the right programs for your needs.
Can I transfer credits I already have to use toward an Online Associate Degree?
If you started a degree program at an accredited institution – recently or years ago – your credits will more than likely transfer to the accredited college or university of your choice. But ultimately, which credits are accepted and how they apply toward your degree are at the discretion of the receiving school.
If you do have credits you wish to transfer, make sure to look at a school’s transfer policy and speak to an academic advisor to make sure you will get credit for the work you’ve completed.
What is the difference between an Online Associate Degree and a Traditional Degree?
The primary difference between online learning and traditional, in-the-classroom learning is the format – how the material is delivered to the student. Which learning format is best for you is really a personal preference.
But there are other important differences to consider as well.
Online Associate Degrees:
- Allow you the flexibility to study anywhere, anytime – whether you’re laid up in a hospital bed, sight-seeing around the world or just commuting to your 9-5 job
- Allow you to work at your own pace, so you can fly through your degree program or scale back when life gets hectic
- Make it possible to enroll at schools anywhere without having to move
- May cost less than traditional programs
- Don’t subject you to long commutes or parking hassles
- Connect you with students around the world through classroom forums, etc.
But remember, earning an online associates degree will require self-motivation and discipline. You will have to stay on top of things and keep yourself organized so you don’t fall behind!
On the other hand, Traditional Associate’s Degree programs:
- Provide a structured schedule
- Allow you to interact face-to-face with professors and classmates
- Have more safeguards such as reminders for assignments, exams, etc.
These factors are important for some students. However, traditional, in-the-classroom learning lacks flexibility! You are limited to schools in your proximity, and must deal with obstacles such as childcare, work schedules, commute, illness, and so on making it difficult to attend classes.
As you can see, there are pros and cons to both. You will have to figure out which format works best for you, fits within your lifestyle, and will help you achieve your goals.
Top 7 Best Online Associates Degrees & Programs:
Online associates degree in Early Childhood Education
This program will prepare you to shape the cognitive, emotional and social development of children from infancy through around third grade, and will also encourage you to explore the larger social context of child care. With your Associate in Early Childhood Education you could become a child care worker, preschool teacher, childcare center director or teacher assistant, for example.
Online associates degree in Accounting
Associate in Accounting degree programs will offer courses in accounting, finance, business, taxation and mathematics. They may also focus on technology used in the field, to prepare you for an entry-level career as a bookkeeper, accounting assistant, payroll clerk, tax preparer, or administrative assistant, for example.
Online associates degree in Criminal Justice
As a Criminal Justice student, you will learn about law and ethics, criminal investigation, corrections and probation, juvenile justice, homeland security, and much more. Your associate degree will allow you to pursue exciting entry-level positions such as police officer, detective, paralegal, forensic science technician, or probation officer.
Online associates degree in Healthcare Management
The healthcare field is booming, and this degree can help you get your foot in the door fast! Expect to learn about healthcare technology, medical terminology, marketing, healthcare laws and ethnics, administrative skills and more. Common entry-level positions you might consider include medical secretary, medical assistant and medical records technician.
Online associates degree in Business Administration
An Associate in Business Administration will cover business fundamentals, preparing you to work in entry-level positions – and even some management positions – in a wide variety of industries. You might choose to work as an assistant manager, office assistant, sales assistant or pursue further education.
Online associates degree in Social Work
If you’re interested in working closely with individuals, groups, families and communities and helping people resolve problems, an Associate in Social Work could be a great choice. This degree will open the door to entry-level positions such as case management aide, intake specialist, probation officer, substance abuse counselor, victim advocate associate and more.
Online associates degree in Information Technology
Information Technology involves installing, organizing and maintaining computer systems, and designing and operating networks and databases. An associate degree in this field will prepare you for a career as a computer support specialist, network systems administrator, computer systems analyst or database administrator, for example.