Online Associate Degree Programs
The variety of online associate degree programs is tremendous, with the ability for students to earn two-year degrees in everything from medical billing and coding to computer information technology to licensed practical nursing. Associates degrees are similar to vocational certificates/diplomas in regards to how quickly students can earn a degree and begin working in the field of their choice.
Community colleges or vocational schools typically award associates degree to students successfully completing a series of courses totaling a specific amount of credits as mandated by the state in which the school operates. Generally, a total of between 60 to 70 credit hours is required to obtain an associates degree.
Students taking online associates degree programs on a part time basis rather than full time will usually need three to three and one-half years to earn their degree, depending on how many classes they attend per semester. Frequently used as a stepping-stone to obtaining a bachelor’s degree, associates degree programs contain most if not all of the general education courses required to pursue a bachelor’s degree at a four-year institution. The U.S. Department of Education has indicated that these “GE” classes are necessary in order to fulfill governmental regulations regarding the validity of an associates and/or bachelor’s degree.
Examples of general education classes implemented in online associates degree programs include:
- English core courses (usually a set of two or three classes)
- Biology/Science core courses (again, a set of two or three classes)
- Mathematics (intermediate math, pre-algebra and college algebra)
- Liberal arts courses (foreign language, art, history, philosophy)
Types of Associate Degrees
For people majoring in the humanities, social sciences or general studies, community colleges provide Associate of Arts degrees (A.A.). Alternately, students majoring in the sciences, mathematics or computer/engineering technology receive Associate of Science degrees (A.S.) in that field. Examples of popular Associate of Arts degrees include graphic design, criminal justice, political science, social services and psychology. An Associate of Science degree will encompass industries involving more math and science classes such as engineering, computer technology, accounting and finance and chemistry.
Requirements for Enrolling in Online Associates Degree Programs
A high school diploma or GED (General Equivalency Diploma) and photo identification card is needed before an online school will accept an application. In addition to associates programs, many online two-year colleges offer high school courses that will help people who did not receive their high school diploma earn the credits necessary to obtain one. Thus, students may be able to earn their high school diploma and associates degree from the same college.
Guidance counselors and school representatives are always available to help you through the process of enrolling by email or phone. After submitting an application along with the required documents, students typically receive a response from the school within three to five days.
Financial Aid for Online Associates Degree Programs
Students can apply at the U.S. Department of Educations’ Free Application for Federal Student Aid website to determine if they are eligible to receive Pell Grants that help defray the cost of tuition, book fees and other college-related expenses. When filling out the application, students are asked to specify the name of the school to which they plan to enroll. If a student is found to be income eligible, the USDE will send information to that school about his or her application. Eligibility means that the USDE electronically transmits a certain amount of funds to that school, which uses the money to pay for tuition only. Any excess funds are then sent to the student via check or electronic transfer.
Students taking online associates degree programs from accredited schools should be able to transfer the majority of their credits to another school if they wish to continue their education and obtain a bachelor’s degree. Each college has definitive guidelines regarding which credits they accept and which credits fall below standards set by the school’s board of trustees.
Some online schools may allow you to transfer only recently earned credits. For example, if a student completed an associates degree program five or more years ago and has now decided to return to college in order to obtain a bachelor’s degree, the school to which he or she applies may not accept those previously earned credits. However, this might apply only to certain majors that experience rapid information developments resulting from advances in technology, such as engineering, computers and the sciences. Students with an associates degree in English, history or math may not be required to retake any of their core classes.
What are Some Popular Online Associates Degree Programs?
Early Childhood Education
An associates degree in early childhood education provides the educational foundation for students who wish to work as pre-school teachers or as teacher’s aides in higher grade levels. In addition to general education courses, an early childhood curriculum will also include classes regarding public speaking, principles of guidance and discipline, child development and psychology and safety and nutrition.
An A.A. in early childhood education can lead to earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree in teaching, which would allow students to work as elementary or middle school teachers. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the kindergarten and elementary teaching profession is projected to grow by nearly 20 percent from now until 2020, a substantial increase compared to many other job markets.
People with associate of science degrees in paralegal studies are always in demand by busy attorneys and law offices that require individuals with the knowledge and skills to:
- Assisting in preparing for trials, hearings and other important meetings
- Perform research on case law and judicial decisions and analyze that research to help attorneys present their cases
- Prepare written reports, legal arguments, pleadings and affidavits
Paralegals are responsible for much of the paperwork needed by lawyers before, during and after a trial. However, they cannot present cases in court nor are they allowed to give legal advice. Criminal charges are possible if a paralegal is caught providing advice for a fee.
Online associates degree programs for paralegal studies involve classes regarding business and criminal law procedures, principles of paralegalism, performing legal writing and research and torts.
Obtaining an Associates of Science in Criminal Justice prepares students for jobs in entry-level police work, as a corrections officer, private or public security guard, driving an armored vehicle, bail bondsman or private investigator. This two-degree educates students in areas concerning criminal law and procedure, investigation of crime scenes, ethics, juvenile justice system and corrections.
With an A.S. in criminal justice, students may advance in their careers by earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree in criminal justice. These higher degrees will make them eligible for employment as parole officers, detectives, FBI agents, U.S. Marshal agents and forensic investigators.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the job outlook for a criminal justice major will probably grow by seven to nearly 20 percent over the next decade, with correctional officers and probation officers experiencing the highest growth rate in the law enforcement industry.
Accounting and Finances
Earning an A.S. degree in accounting and finances offers a wide range of employment possibilities for the successful graduates of online associates degree programs. Jobs available to students completing an associates accounting program include loan officer, tax specialist, financial services representative, bank administrator and underwriter.
Students considering enrollment in an accounting degree program should exhibit above average skills in mathematics and be extremely organized. Classes typically include fundamentals of accounting, accounting business law, accounting information systems, computer software for business and accounting and introduction to taxation law.
A high demand for accounting majors consistently exists even in a stagnant economy. Businesses as well as individual taxpayers are always searching for ways to save money and find ways to avoid paying more taxes than necessary. In addition, the aging U.S. population is actively seeking financial advice from thousands of qualified financial advisors regarding investments and other money-market accounts in order to prepare for a financially secure retirement.
Non-declared Associates Degrees
For students who would like to get started earning a college degree but have yet to decide a major, enrolling in an associates general education degree provides a flexible and affordable option that allows you to “test” the college experience in order to find a subject you really enjoy. Many students integrate their required general education courses with a few electives in which they are interested to determine whether they want to pursue that line of work. People who study classes constituting a non-declared A.A. degree usually discover something they would love to do and continue with their education by enrolling in a four-year school and earning a bachelor’s degree.
Statistics supplied by the Sloan Consortium, an organization comprised of online learning institutions committed to providing students the best online education experience possible, show that over half of degrees earned online are obtained by completing online associates degree programs. This statistic is impressive due to the flexibility of online schooling and the ability for students to enter the job market after attending a two-year rather than a four-year educational program.